Liverpool have themselves a little bit of a crisis in central defense. Daniel Agger? Gone. Dejan Lovren? Out thanks to international football. Mamadou Sakho? Not quite healthy yet. That leaves just one name to partner Martin Skrtel coming out of the international break: Kolo Toure.
Now, it's certainly true that most teams would love to have a player of Toure's experience and success to call upon in such a situation. He's got league titles, tons of Champions League experience, and over 100 international caps to his name. But it's become clear over the last year that, at 33 years old, Kolo Toure's best days are long behind him.
He certainly started his Liverpool career well, but after the turn of the year he started struggling more and more, making bigger and bigger mistakes. Now, Brendan Rodgers trusts him little enough that he's made just one appearance this season, playing all 120 minutes in the League Cup match against Middlesbrough... in which he gave up the late penalty that allowed Liverpool's opponents to equalize in extra time and force what became an epic penalty shootout.
The mistakes are certainly worrisome in light of the tough run Liverpool are about to embark on at the other side of the break, but maybe, just maybe, Toure can keep things together long enough to do some good. Liverpool's next match is against Queens Park Rangers, a side that's struggled to maintain a cogent attack this season. If he and Skrtel can use that as a tuneup match for the midweek tilt against Real Madrid, things might not be quite so bad. Plus, Toure's mountains of experience could help settle what's been an off-kilter defense this season.
Of course, handling a front line of Bobby Zamora, Charlie Austin, Edu Vargas, and Junior Hoillet is a whole lot different than facing down Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, and James Rodriguez. While Toure can probably get away with a couple of mistakes against QPR, when Liverpool face Real Madrid every little slip, misplaced pace, and moment's hesitation will be punished harshly. Toure's been known for his concentration and focus in the past, but this will be a stern test to see how well that holds up with his physicals skills deteriorating rapidly thanks to the march of years.
And that's really where the most important question of all, above all the doubts about Toure's focus and concerns about his mistakes: does Kolo Toure have what it takes physically to keep up with Real Madrid's attack? Because if he doesn't, no matter how well he keeps locked in on the match and how few errors he commits, Liverpool will be in for a long day.
Assuming neither Dejan Lovren or Mamadou Sakho are ready for this match, which seems likely at the moment, Liverpool fans may have to just hold on and pray. Hopefully Kolo Toure is up to the challenge ahead of him. If not... well, let's just hope he is.