What does an ideal centre back for Liverpool look like? He should be composed in possession, strong, quick, good in the air, intelligent to intercept danger, accurate in the tackle, and relatively comfortable in a side that has an overbearing predilection for attacking football. Images float around resemble David Luiz (maybe not after Brazil's World Cup shambles against Germany), Mehdi Benatia, Thiago Silva, Mats Hummels, Marquinhos, Raphaël Varane, and a fully focused Gerard Piqué among others. All players who are probably out of reach for Liverpool but a classy customer would be the desired addition to Liverpool's defence.
What have Liverpool got in the heart of defence?
Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho appear to be suited to such a system and could play together but never will under Brendan Rodgers. Something about a story that Brendan Rodgers heard when he was a young boy and fighting for his life everyday. He was told that when they were combined in the centre of defence that abominable and unspeakable things would happen and so it came to pass, Rodgers would never play two left-footers at Liverpool even when they were the most fitting combination for the system he wants to play.
Anyway, Daniel Agger most likely will not be a starter with Mamadou Sakho around and even though he has spoken of looking forward to the Champions League, he may still depart at some stage this window. Daniel Agger and Sakho are the only centre backs who play on the left side with any regularity while Martin Škrtel had one of his best seasons on the right side of defence. His detractors pointing that his numerous goals for a centre back were countered by poor concentration, own goals, and defensive errors but he showed improvement from a difficult time in Rodgers' first season.
Mamadou Sakho's imperious performances at the World Cup have further underlined that, at 24 years of age, the French international defender is the cornerstone of Rodgers' defence. Like Agger, the spectre of durability has hovered over how sustained Sakho's contribution will be next season be but with both players in the squad should that even be cause for worry? Kolo Touré offers experienced support but much depends on whether he'll provide his early performances from last season or the jittery defending that was both comical and maddening.
Better defenders or a better system for defending?
John Terry was just as good as Rio Ferdinand when both players were at their peak. However, both are different types of defenders. Placing Terry in a higher line would leave him more vulnerable than Ferdinand as he possessed far less pace than his former England defensive partners. Many have pointed to the partnership between the veteran Terry and Gary Cahill as an example for Liverpool. It is indeed a fine partnership but it is one that is provided protection in José Mourinho's system where fullbacks do not stray too far forward and individuals placed in midfield understand their defensive responsibilities clearly within a coherent tactical framework for defensive transitions.
Liverpool's defence is different because it gets far less protection in a world where Steven Gerrard as the single-pivot in midfield was always the plan. This Liverpool side is swift in countering and comfortable in possession yet it is overly weighted towards attacking football. Some may claim that individual defensive errors, leadership, and communication could be improved in defence irrespective of how much protection is offered by the midfield.
A defence is comprised of fullbacks, centre backs, and a goalkeeper. It is hoped that they do not function in isolation but sometimes they are isolated. Liverpool are tortuously searching for a left-back, greater competition in goal, and a centre back. Maybe those additions will be enough to create sustained competition and increased quality that Rodgers and Liverpool fans can rely on.
If a team constantly pushes for goals, has a single pivot that's relatively immobile and tactically inexperienced in the position, and encourages fullbacks to push forward with regularity then better individual defenders may provide the incremental improvements needed to concede fewer goals of an unknown number. Liverpool's current crop could do with reducing silly mistakes regardless of the pressure they're under during games.
Is the future only 12 months away?
What will become of Andre Wisdom and Tiago Ilori? Wisdom was mightily competent in last season's pre-season appearances in the heart of the defence and while this is not a true barometer of suitability for the rigours of a lengthy domestic and European campaign, it hinted at the quality the England youth international possesses. Wisdom is set to be loaned to West Bromwich Albion but will he feature at centre back after a successful loan spell at Derby where he was used as a right back?
Tiago Ilori's showings at Granada revealed that Liverpool may have found a gem of a player from Sporting's youth ranks. Pace, composure, intelligence, and defensive assuredness is what Ilori could offer Liverpool in the future. He seems to be a perfect partner for Mamadou Sakho in the future but the loan spell at Granada was interrupted by injury. Furthermore, Granada only took Ilori on loan from January but after less than a handful of appearances, there was already talk of Granada looking into the player's services for another season. He could be our very own defensive, outfield version of Thibaut Courtois without the endless time spent away and awkward meeting in a Champions League semi final.
Dejan Lovren would presumably block Wisdom and Ilori's passage to the first team but the same could be said of Liverpool's other centre backs with the exception of Touré. At this stage, Liverpool should be focused on improving the first-team squad picture for a Champions League campaign in a season where the team will be tasked to collectively make up for the loss of the league's best player in Luis Suárez. There is also the spectre of six rival clubs in the league boasting managers of considerable vision and nous where complacency and ill-judgement in this summer's transfer window will be punished.
Both Illori and Wisdom will be 22 by the start of the next league campaign and should be ready to join Liverpool's first-team squad. Two schools of thought seem to hover into view. The first is that there can be no pining for tomorrow's fruits when today's concerns can strike without remorse, leaving the afflicted without the potential for recovery. While the other is that with Agger, Sakho, Škrtel, and Touré should be sufficient for Liverpool until next summer when a decision can be made on which youngster will supplant the lovable Kolo.
It is possible that the plan could be to phase out either Agger or Škrtel this window with a new centre back taking one of their spots with the other being a reserve for Sakho and fried while the "lovable Kolo" will be ousted by Illori for a Sakho, CB, Agger/Škrtel, and Illori quartet.
What is the best type of defender to play behind and alongside (when centre backs split) Steven Gerrard?
Simply put, an all rounder. Someone who is relatively quick, composed in possession, robust, aware, intelligent enough to anticipate danger, and comfortable in a higher line than usual. The candidate should be one who possesses enough concentration to rarely make individual errors in a side that has suffered with those problems in Rodgers' reign to date.
It is a difficult task when Liverpool will continue to promulgate an attacking "way of working" in the months ahead. Leadership, communication, and reliability akin to the likes of beloved former centre backs such as Sami Hyypiä and Jamie Carragher will be essential qualities. It appears that if Liverpool are looking for a partner for Sakho then it should be one of the very best prospects or fully formed operators in European football. Whether that is one of the existing crop, a known target, or an altogether different proposition is up for debate.
Last summer, Liverpool signed three centre backs. One was signed for the first team, one for experience, and one for the future. Will a fourth complete the set and bring greater defensive stability to a Liverpool side that conceded half a century of goals?