Do returning Liverpool duo deserve immediate first-team spot?

Daniel Agger

Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson stepped up their comebacks from injury after returning to first-team training but should they be automatic starters?

One aspect of Liverpool's play which went slightly amiss during Saturday's 5-1 demolition of Arsenal was the defensive showing they put in place to deal with Arsenal's attacking riches.

The likes of Jon Flanagan and Aly Cissokho, so ruthlessly exposed when the Reds visited the Emirates Stadium in a 2-0 defeat earlier this season, were excellent, as was Kolo Toure.

The former Arsenal man seemed fired up against a team he experienced so much success with but had added fire in his belly following his gaffe against West Bromwich Albion the previous weekend which, however Brendan Rodgers wanted to gloss it up, was most certainly two points dropped.

Martin Skrtel displayed his worth in both penalty areas, taking his two goals with aplomb but also suffocating a forlorn-looking Olivier Giroud.

Liverpool's attacking display was irresistible and the high pressing was put in place so far up the field that the home side actually had very little to do but what they did have to do, they did well until Steven Gerrard's moment of madness to haul down Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and gift the Gunners a consolation.

So, with the news Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger have returned to first-team training ahead of a crucial run of games for the Reds, it has posed several questions as to whether the duo should be entitled to an instant role in a burgeoning Reds side under Rodgers' guidance.

Skrtel's transformation in particular has been one of the most pleasing aspects of Rodgers' revolution, having previously seemed at odds with the way in which the Northern Irishman wanted his side to play.

The Slovakian international is the most likely to retain his spot in the starting XI with Toure perhaps the most susceptible to Agger's return. Flanagan may be reverted to a left-back spot he has already occupied this season to accommodate Johnson's return with Cissokho the man likely to face the axe.

Toure's statistics would initially appear to back up Agger's claims for an immediate return to action. His error against the Baggies stands him out as the only man amongst five of the Reds backline to commit such a defensive crime, with an average of 0.06 errors leading to goals and shots per appearance.

But the Dane himself has an average of 0.18 errors leading to shots on goal, but he has not been punished for his actions, unlike Toure. Johnson also has an average of 0.06, leaving Cissokho and Flanagan in exclusive company.

The duo also make the most challenges per game 2.42 and 3.2 respectively, with Cissokho winning 1.42 of his tally at a 59% success rate, while Flanagan wins 2.4 on average, working out at 75%.

But Cissokho works out as the worst of the quintet, with Agger posting 72%, Toure has 85% and Johnson has an exceptional 89%.

The full-back duo of Johnson and Flanagan also impress in their interception totals per match, with 1.65 and 1.4 gazumping their fellow defensive peers.

The Liverpool-born Flanagan's place is cemented by the fact he has lost the second least amount of aerial duels (1.2) to Dan Agger (1.09) but does win the least, with just 1.4 owing to the fact he is involved in less than the central players.

Toure loses an alarming 2.35 per appearance but also wins 2.18, while Cissokho (2.17 won, 1.67 lost) fares better than positional rival Johnson with 1.71 won and 2.24 lost.

The perils of changing a winning formula may be about to finally be realised by Rodgers as some of his star defenders come back to the fore but their quality could prove paramount to the push for Champions League football. 

image: © kong niffe

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