Archive for November 2006
Thursday, November 16, 2006 by Paul Grech
With the final minutes of Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat at Arsenal ticking and the hacks at the Emirates Stadium thinking of new ways with which they could blame all of Liverpool’s shortcomings – and admittedly there were many of them – on Steven Gerrard’s continued deployment on the right, Rafael Benitez made one move that was indicative of where he intended to change.
Sadly for the critics (or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it) it wasn’t pushing the Liverpool captain to a more central position but rather replacing Sami Hyppia with Daniel Agger.
It was perhaps a harsh substitution on the Finnish defender, seeing that it looked as if he was the one being blamed for the goals when in reality he wasn’t more at fault than any one of Liverpool’s other defenders.
Benitez, however, is anything if not pragmatic. For him, giving the young defender a few minutes to experience playing in a big game was an excellent opportunity to salvage something from the game that was already lost. That Agger’s freshness could be vital in stopping Liverpool from falling further behind probably also featured in his thinking.
Hyppia deserves to be considered as one of Liverpool’s best ever defenders and, in any case, it is still too early to call time on his Anfield career. Yet, it has been obvious for some time that the defender’s lack of pace is increasingly being exploited and although experience still allows him to anticipate danger on most occasions he is getting caught out more often.
Compare the number of fouls he is conceding now to the totals of past seasons and you will find that the number is increasing simply because he is having to be more cynical in his handling of players.
The argument for dropping Hyppia is strengthened by the fact that Agger has been hugely impressive. Indeed, it was surprising that he was even dropped following a five game run in the side earlier on during the season.
Whilst he is still lacking in experience, Agger has been composed and effective with a penchant of playing his way out of trouble that is reminiscent of a young Alan Hansen. The six months that he spent at the club last season have served him well as he now seems to be better suited for the pace of the English game.
Having Hyppia around will still be important for Liverpool particularly when Agger hits a bad patch, and given his youth he will do so, at which point Benitez will be grateful to have a reliable replacement.
But that substitution at the Emirates Stadium probably signalled a shift in his thinking with Agger increasingly becoming the regular and Hyppia the replacement.