21 March 2011

Daniel Agger, Danish Swagger

January 12th, approximately 9:30 p.m. in the United Kingdom.

That was the last time Liverpool conceded with Daniel Agger on the pitch.

It was DJ Campbell's 69th-minute winner in Blackpool, Dalglish's first league game. Since then, Agger played 45 minutes without conceding against Everton before starting in six clean sheets: against Wolves, Fulham, Stoke, Chelsea, Sparta Prague, and Sunderland. 606 total minutes, not counting whatever injury time was played in each game. That's an impressive run, to say the absolute least.

In contrast, Liverpool have won just one of the last six games when Agger hasn't played – the 3-1 victory over United. The recent record with the Dane absent is one win, three draws, and two losses – against Braga (a), Braga (h), United, West Ham, Sparta (a), and Wigan.

When fit, Agger is a prototypical modern center-back: good at almost every facet of the game. Quick, strong in the air, strong in the tackle, comfortable on the ball, and willing to pass and move or crack a shot from distance. The problem, as everyone knows, is that he isn't fit nearly enough.

Agger's played 20 of Liverpool's 46 games this season. Granted, that number's lower than it should be because of Hodgson's blatant insanity, but it's not far off past seasons. Agger played 36 of 56 in 2009-10, 26 of 55 in 2008-09, 6 of 59 in 2007-08 (when he twice broke his metatarsal), and 43 of 58 in 2006-07. That's 131 of 274 games over the last five years: just 48% of Liverpool's matches since August 2006. Admittedly, it's hard to build your defense on that availability.

But when he's available, he's worth the hype.

What Agger does doesn't always show up in chalkboards, my frequent crutch. Against Sunderland, Skrtel had more successful tackles, more successful clearances, and a better pass completion percentage.

Opta's charts don't show how Agger's cool head settles the rest of the back line. They don't show how his pace, especially compared to Liverpool's other center-backs, allows the Reds to play a higher defensive line. They don't show the times he strides forward to start the attack, linking midfield and defense. And they don't show how his presence immensely lessens Liverpool's tendency to hoof toward the forwards.

There are holes in Liverpool's defense, Agger or no Agger. Upgrades are needed at full-back and center-back. But, as the recent scoreless streak shows, any back four is better with Daniel Agger involved. It's no coincidence that Dalglish has brought him back into the fold and the defensive record is vastly improved. Under Hodgson, Liverpool had just six clean sheets in the league through 20 games. Agger only played in one – at left back in the 1-0 win over West Brom. Liverpool's kept five clean sheets in the league through Dalglish's 10 games and Agger's featured in all of them. There are coincidences and there are trends. This is the latter.

Now we can spend the next two weeks worrying that he'll come back from the international break in one piece.


Anonymous said...

I still remember his goal against Chelsea. It was beautiful.

ad said...

I agree with you totally, Nate (and with the anonymous comment for that matter). In my opinion Agger is one of the most important players in the current squad.

But I'm Danish, so maybe I'm biased.. :)


Mike Georger said...

I unfollowed that Liverpool statistics twitter account because of the mere suggestion that Skrtel is anywhere near Agger's level in any area of the game.

Frankly I don't think we have room in our squad for defenders who will never score. Yes yes I realize this means Carragher, so okay MAYBE one, but if two of your outfield players are never going to score given the chance, they better be a fucking Maldini in terms of talent.

Anonymous said...

I agree, and if they cannot score they should be able to facilitate scores with good crossing/passing abilities and strong runs(Martin Kelly/Leighton Baines)

Skrtel doesn't really offer any of that as he is a weak header (offensively) and doesn't push forward the way Agger can.

Hope Agger can stay fit (and stay at Anfield) from here one out.

I cringe every time I read he's going out on International Duty...

Anonymous said...

International breaks=potential (good and bad)...lets hope for the good.