Liverpool fans across the country rejoiced as Mamadou Sakho signed a new five-year contract on Friday. Many Reds believe that Sakho is the club's top centre back and his, in the words of Brendan Rodgers, "immense" performance against Bordeaux on Thursday only reinforced this belief.
But what do the stats from the 2014/15 season say?
Martin Skrtel leads the list with a total of 13 defensive actions per game, compared to Lovren's 10 and Sakho's 8. This means that the Slovakian is far more likely to get involved with his teams defensive responsibilities and could mean that he takes some defensive responsibility.
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However, the Slovakian made far more appearances (33) than Sakho (16) and Lovren (26) meaning that this average is spread out across a wide variety of performances. Of course, this could mean that he repeatedly takes this responsibility - it could also mean that Skrtel had a greater chance to be a part of defensive actions.
Unfortunately for the Croatian, Lovren committed the most defensive errors last season with 6, closely followed by Skrtel with 5 and Sakho with 2. This means that Lovren made 0.23 errors a game (or close to 1 every 4 games), Skrtel made 0.15 errors per game (close to 1 every 7 games), and Sakho comes in at 0.13 errors per game ( close to 1 every 8 games).
This could show that Lovren is an inferior centre back to both Sakho and Skrtel as he is far more likely to commit an error and will commit and error more frequently.
Positively for the £20m defender, however, is that his errors are less likely to lead to a goal than Sakho's. Last season, 2 of Lovren's 6 errors lead to a goal (33%) whilst 1 of Sakho's 2 errors lead to a goal (50%).
None of Skrtel's defensive errors directly lead to a goal last season. Therefore, although Lovren is shakier at the back, his errors come in less consequential areas than Sakho, perhaps showing that Lovren shows better composure where it is needed.
Lovren emerges top of the pack with 5.54 duels won per game, with 1.35 tackles, 0 take-ons and 3.62 aerial duels won. Sakho comes in second with 5.19 duels won per game, with 1.31 tackles, 0.81 take-ons and 2.81 aerial duels won. Skrtel finishes last with 4.91 duels won per game with 1.03 tackles, 0.09 take-ons and 3.27 aerial duels.
This makes it seem that Lovren is the guy you want at CB at corners and also when teams are counter attacking (most tackles and headers won), but when it is broken down intro percentages Lovren's stats become less impressive. 1.35 tackles a game is more than Sakho and Skrtel, but this is only 44% of the tackles he attempts. Sakho completes 53% of his tackles and Skrtel completes 58%.
Lovren boasts no successful take-ones, whilst Sakho completes 93% of his and Skrtel completes an astonishing 100%.
The only stat that shows Lovren's quality is his aerial ability. Lovren wins 72% of his aerial battles, whereas Sakho wins 57% and Skrtel wins 65%.
Skrtel is far more likely to give away a foul with 0.73 per game. He also leads in the way of cards with eight yellows last season. Lovren is the second least disciplined, giving away an average 0.69 fouls per game and picking up four yellow cards last season. Sakho is by far the 'cleanest' player with 0.5 fouls committed per game and one yellow card.
Some of this could be due to the increased number of games that the former two have played- giving them more opportunity to commit fouls and pick up cards. However, when broken down per game the impact of game time is lessened.
Less importantly for a defender, but still important for a Brendan Rodgers' side, is passing accuracy. Both Skrtel and Sakho have an average passing accuracy of 90%. One could infer that this shows composure at the back, going against the general and widespread notion that the Frenchman is not comfortable on the ball.
The average pass length of both of these players is also 19m or 20 yards, meaning that they aim to play it relatively short and along the floor.
Dejan Lovren has a slightly less accuracy (85%) and a slightly longer average pass length (21m/22 yards). This could show that Lovren is more willing to take risks and play a more attacking, longer ball - but the difference in length is so minimal it is almost not worth noting.
I would not drop Dejan Lovren. If Brendan Rodgers plays with a back four - I would drop Skrtel. Skrtel is far more likely to give away a free-kick (possible goal-scoring opportunity) and is also 30-years-old.
Liverpool need Lovren's aerial ability and his willingness to enter into duels with opposing players. Liverpool will also benefit from Sakho's tackles and composure. Plus, with him only being 25 and Lovren 26, the two could forge a long-term partnership in the way Skrtel and Agger did three years ago.
In a perfect world, all three would play in a back 3/5 instead of Can dropping deeper and have Clyne and Moreno as attacking wing-backs, but that is another question for another article.
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