AS debuts go, Mamadou Sakho’s could have been better.
Liverpool conceded their first 2 goals of the league season at the Liberty Stadium on Monday night and Sakho unfortunately played a role in the build up to both of them. Jonjo Shelvey went past Liverpool’s new signing too easily en route to his fortuitous opener and Sakho was out of position (if you subscribe to Jamie Carragher’s thoughts on centre-back play rather than Gary Neville’s of course) when Michu slotted home to earn Swansea a point in the second half.
In truth, both goals were a catalogue of errors from the Reds and it wasn’t just the £18m Frenchman at fault. Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard and Jose Enrique didn’t cover themselves in glory when Shelvey scored and Martin Skrtel and Andre Wisdom could have done more to prevent Michu’s strike.
Liverpool looked understandably shaky at the back for large periods of the match. Wisdom is a fine young defender but his natural position is clearly not that of right-back, while Sakho and Skrtel had to play together for the first time as a result of Daniel Agger’s withdrawal through injury. Forging a cohesive centre-back partnership in a somewhat makeshift back four was never going to be walk in the park and mistakes were bound to occur as the Frenchman attempted to bed in with his new team mates.
Sakho’s first half was up and down to say the least. He threw himself into several full blooded challenges with varying degrees of success. For a player described as ‘a beast’ by his new captain, it wasn’t overly surprising that he sought to put a physical stamp on the game from the off. He did though, give the impression that he was perhaps trying a little too hard to impress at times, going to ground when it wasn’t necessary in an attempt to win the ball back. When it worked he looked commanding and exactly what Liverpool have missed over the past few years, but when it didn’t, memories of Djimi Traore probably began to infiltrate the minds of Liverpool supporters.
In fairness to Sakho though, his second half performance was far more assured and will have made for encouraging viewing for Brendan Rodgers. Liverpool we’re on the back foot for much of that second period and, Michu’s goal aside, Sakho dealt admirably with Swansea’s attacking play. He was certainly commanding in the air as he met numerous crosses with his head and his distribution was largely excellent. He looked more than comfortable on the ball and seems to enjoy a backheel pass, much to the annoyance of Michu at one point in the second half. The icing on the cake of an improved second 45 minutes was a match winning tackle on Michu in the dying moments when the Spanish forward looked certain to win the game for the Swans.
Despite his mistakes early in the game, Sakho demonstrated exactly why Liverpool we’re willing to spend big money on him. His physical presence, comfort in possession and aerial prowess were on display regularly and one would imagine that more time at the club and more first team appearances will help to iron out the creases in his game. Coming straight into a new defensive unit away from home against the likes of Wilfried Bony and Michu for your first appearance is no easy task and Sakho need only look to his centre-back partner on Monday night to see how a less than stellar debut can ultimately mean little.
Martin Skrtel began his Liverpool career at Anfield against non-league no hopers Havant and Waterlooville. Liverpool conceded twice on that day and Skrtel had an absolute nightmare against far less threatening opponents than Swansea City. Skrtel got over that wretched start though and went on to establish himself in the Liverpool first team. Despite currently being out of favour, no one could possibly say that Skrtel’s debut was even close to a fair representation of his career. Shaky starts aren’t always a precursor for what is to follow.
His debut wasn’t perfect but there were enough signs to suggest that, in future, Mamadou Sakho will be better. A lot better.
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