Sami Hyypia may be the best £3 million Liverpool have spent, judging by his contribution to the club's success in his seven years at Anfield. To suggest his time is up, with the young Dane Daniel Agger snapping at his heels, is premature. But the Finnish defender is facing his toughest challenge yet.
Outpaced in the Merseyside derby last weekend, he found himself suffering the rare ignominy of a place on the bench in the Champions' League against PSV Eindhoven in midweek, while the 21-year-old Agger eagerly grabbed his chance.
Agger cost £5.8m last season, and although he saw the latter half of that campaign ruined by injury, he played well against Chelsea in this season's Community Shield pipe-opener, suggesting that he may make the starting line-up again today when Liverpool take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
The Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, said: "Danny was ahead of Sami in midweek, and he may be ahead of him again. But you must not forget the seven years of outstanding service and experience Hyypia has given to this club."
Another Dane, the Liverpool legend Jan Molby, has no doubts about his compatriot's credentials. "Agger's performance in the Community Shield was particularly significant, because I'm sure that convinced the manager that Danny was now ready," Molby said. "Now he's built on that in games against Sheffield United, West Ham and PSV.
"His strength is his maturity and ability to handle any situation he faces," Molby added. "It doesn't matter how big the game is, nothing fazes him. That's been shown for his club and at international level ever since he made his debut for Brondby. It was obviously an important game for Liverpool's defence [at PSV] on Tuesday, so for Agger to come in and perform like that shows his quality.
"There were unrealistic expectations in Denmark when Agger first signed for Liverpool, with some people expecting him to force his way into the team immediately. That was never going to happen, but the few months he had here last year have worked to his advantage."
There were doubts about Agger's physical presence when he first arrived at Anfield, but during the months of inactivity through injury, the centre-back was able to work hard on his strength, and he has returned to the squad this season a much stronger competitor.
Though Andriy Shevchenko was only partly fit when Agger came up against him in the Community Shield - Liverpool's second win in succession against Jose Mourinho's side, despite the Ukrainian's debut goal - Agger did well against a man who is regarded as one of the world's greatest strikers.
The choice between Agger and Hyypia is just one of several tough decisions Benitez must make against Chelsea, who are already five points ahead of Liverpool in the Premiership. Liverpool look to have struck on a high-speed pairing up front in Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy, which could leave Peter Crouch on the bench.
Benitez will also consider Jermaine Pennant for a right-wing role following his excellent display in Eindhoven, while John Arne Riise is still out with an ankle injury.Reuse content