Friday 23 February 2018

Brendan Rodgers defends decision to select Kolo Toure ahead of Dejan Lovren

Arsenal's French striker Olivier Giroud (L) vies with Liverpool's Ivorian defender Kolo Toure during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates
Arsenal's French striker Olivier Giroud (L) vies with Liverpool's Ivorian defender Kolo Toure during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates

Chris Bascombe

Brendan Rodgers has defended his decision to select Kolo Toure ahead of £20 million signing Dejan Lovren, raising questions about the Croatian’s determination to force his way back into the Liverpool side.

Rodgers said that Touré was the preferred choice against Arsenal at the weekend because of his daily application in training, ensuring he could be trusted to give his all.

There was no direct criticism of Lovren, but the hint was clear as it is evident that the experienced African – roundly criticised for his performance at the Emirates Stadium – has been considered more worthy of inclusion.

“The thing with Kolo is he gives me everything every single day so I know what I am going to get with him,” Rodgers said. “Dejan was someone who was out over the international break, now he is fighting well and looking strong. He will be in contention for the cup game for sure.”

Lovren’s chances of returning against Blackburn Rovers for the FA Cup tie on Wednesday are more a consequence of necessity than choice. Martin Skrtel and Emre Can are suspended, so if Rodgers wants to persist with his favoured 3-4-3 formation he must choose between Lovren and Glen Johnson.

Liverpool head to Ewood Park with Rodgers facing familiar questions about the quality of the club’s recruits, the £20 million invested on Lovren by no means the only deal under scrutiny.

Mario Balotelli, a £16 million purchase, has also contributed little to the campaign. Adam Lallana, Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic have enjoyed promising performances but never been consistent. Rickie Lambert has been barely used and the full‑back Javier Manquillo has become a deputy rather than starter. Only Can’s debut campaign will be considered a success.

“You bring players in with all the intentions of them doing well,” Rodgers said. “What you cannot vouch for is when you come into a club of this size how long that adaptation process is going to take. You’ve seen that over many years at this club. You can be a very good player and not hit it off for some reason or it just takes time, like Lucas Leiva. These players need time and you don’t get that in modern football.

“In the transfer market there are always going to be some players that work for you and some that don’t, and it’s about getting the balance shifted towards the positive. We had a big influx of players last summer so it was always going to be difficult for them all to hit it off straight away but I think you can see the progress that has been made.”

Progress in the FA Cup has taken on extra significance following back-to-back defeats in the Premier League. Two weeks ago Rodgers was fending off questions about interest from Manchester City. He arrived at Melwood on Monday morning confronted with the idea of a ‘crisis’ after setbacks against Manchester United and Arsenal made the pursuit of the top four look forlorn.

Despite admitting that securing a Champions League spot is tougher, there was no concession speech from the Liverpool manager.

“It is certainly not the mindset or attitude we want here at the club,” he said. “We have to fight to get in there, and whatever the barriers are in front of us, whether it is finance, whatever of other clubs, we have to do everything we can to break that barrier. We recovered the season in that mid-section and now we have to fight until the very end and look to keep progressing as much as we can.”

One of the problems for Rodgers is that the fluency of his side has not been the same when Daniel Sturridge plays in a 3-4-3, the forward’s most impressive performances coming with a strike partner. That explains why Raheem Sterling was preferred at the Emirates Stadium, but the loss of other personnel showed.

“We had a number of important players missing on Saturday,” Rodgers said. “There was a group of important players that were out. We are still trying to find solutions at the top end of the field. Our top goal-scorer is on six goals – that’s the reality of where we are at, three players on six goals – so we have to find solutions for that. When everyone is fit and available we are able to compete with this squad.”

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