Kolo Toure insists he’s the man to replace Mamadou Sakho for Liverpool’s Europa League semi-final first leg against Villarreal on Thursday.
News broke on Saturday that Sakho is under Uefa investigation following a failed a drugs test and has been suspended by the Reds until a verdict has been reached.
Sakho had formed a formidable partnership with Dejan Lovren in the heart of the defensive over the past month, with the pair scoring vital goals in Liverpool’s miraculous victory over Borussia Dortmund to advance to the last four of the Europa League.
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Jurgen Klopp opted to play Toure ahead of Martin Skrtel in the Merseyside outfit’s 2-2 draw against relegation-threatened Newcastle United on Saturday and it could once again be the centre-back pairing he chooses against Villarreal later this week.
And Toure, at the ripe age of 35, believes he can step up to the plate in the absence of Sakho and inspire Liverpool to a big result in Spain.
“If they call me up, of course I will be really happy. I think I did some good things [against Newcastle],” the Ivory Coast international told the club’s official website.
“I need to recover and I’ll be ready mentally.
“Martin Skrtel is there as well and Lucas [Leiva] can play at the back too. It is up to the manager.
“For me, the most important thing is the club, the team. It is going to be a big two games and you need to do your best for the club.
“We’re without a few good players and it’s tough times when your mates are out but we have shown the strength of the squad.”
Who will Klopp choose?
Klopp will be gutted he does not have the services of Sakho given the France international’s form in recent weeks.
If the ex-Dortmund boss does choose Toure to partner Lovren in the heart of his rearguard, one thing he will be able to rely on is his experience in big, European matches.
Toure was a core member of the Arsenal team who were beaten 2-1 by Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final. He’s a defender who has been there, done that, and would not allow the occasion to get to him in Spain.
Although he is coming to the end of his career at the top level, Toure has proved the doubters wrong on several occasions.
When Liverpool were beaten by Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu by Real Madrid in the Champions League last season, Toure was arguably the best player in the red shirt. He put his body on the line and made several key tackles and blocks, with Madrid only managing a 1-0 win that evening.
Once an indispensable member of Brendan Rodgers’ side, Skrtel has seemingly fallen out-of-favour under Klopp and his Anfield career looks in jeopardy. After a spell on the sidelines due to injury, the Slovakia international replaced Lovren when Liverpool were 2-0 up away at Southampton at half-time.
However, a series of mistakes from Skrtel led to the Saints reversing the scoreline and Liverpool returned to Merseyside empty-handed.
All confidence has seemingly vanished in the former Zenit Saint-Petersburg man. On a recent poll ran by the Liverpool Echo, just 22% of Kopites voted for Skrtel to start against Villarreal.
Lucas could be the man
Liverpool veteran Lucas could possibly see himself being slotted in as a make-do centre-half in Spain. He came out on top of the poll with 37% and would be able to put in a shift if asked to by his boss.
The Brazilian has played in the role numerous times before, most recently in the Reds’ 2-1 win at Bournemouth earlier this month.
However, with Jordan Henderson and Emre Can out with injury, it’s unlikely Klopp will drop Lucas to defence. Instead, he’ll likely utilise the ex-Gremio man’s capabilities and use him as a shield for the back-four.