Liverpool’s transfer market success rate has been more bad than good for a couple of years, and so fans of the Reds will be wondering if Kolo Toure is going to be more Philippe Coutinho or Stewart Downing. On the surface, it looks like the latter but before writing it off completely, it is best to try to understand the logic behind the move. Reports abound that Martin Skrtel could be joining Rafa Benitez at Napoli, so is Toure an upgrade on him?
Toure is 32 years old now and the raw physical ability that he relied upon to compensate for weaker positional play and a proneness to horrible errors is naturally fading. The first thing you think when you see this signing is that he has obviously being brought in to replace Jamie Carragher, to add experience to the Liverpool defence. That could be true, but if it is, it’s a big mistake.
The reason Carragher was able to operate to a high standard at 35 is that his game was never reliant on physical gifts. He has always been a master of positioning and organisation, which gives him the capability to be in the right place at the right time. He didn’t get in to footraces because he was already in the right place. Therefore, the natural drop off in what pace he had didn’t unduly affect him.
For Toure, a player lacking such positional awareness and consistency, this is a real concern. He played his best football alongside Sol Campbell at Arsenal and Vincent Kompany at Manchester City. Both of these men played as the leader of the defence, they were the one shouting out the orders and keeping Toure in position. The Ivorian could easily out sprint both of them, which gave him the advantage against the quick players, but he needed their guiding hand.
At Liverpool he is likely to be partnered with Daniel Agger, a player who has too many similar weaknesses to make an ideal combination. Agger’s play has regressed over the last few years after a series of injuries and it is notable that his best form last season came when Carragher usurped Martin Skrtel in the first team. Agger isn’t vocal and is a bit of chance taker. Sometimes this results in wonderful interceptions but it does lead to avoidable goals. The same can be said of Toure. Agger is not quick. At his best he relied more on cerebral capability but he seems to have lost that edge.
The question is, who is going to lead the Liverpool defence? Toure and Agger are both good defenders but their weaknesses are too similar. They are good in a battle or in a chess match but in an open game, which Brendan Rodgers’ tactics will often result in, they are vulnerable. There are going to be positional issues when things get stretched or hectic.
Skrtel was really poor last season and was not much better the year before. The irony here is that the reason he struggled alongside Agger is that his positional play isn’t great and he needs someone to keep him in position. He likes a war but not a battle of wits. This is exactly how you could describe Toure. If Skrtel does go, Toure is just a like for like. It doesn’t fix the problem, it just changes who the problem is.