Why Glen Johnson Will Be the Key Player for Liverpool Against Aston Villa

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistDecember 12, 2012

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18:  Glen Johnson of Liverpool in action during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool at The Hawthorns on August 18, 2012 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Three of Glen Johnson’s last four Premier League goals have been against West Ham United. Clearly, he isn’t one for being kind to old friends.

Instead, maybe there’s just something about claret and blue that brings out the goalscoring prowess in the former Hammer, and if there is, then it might be worth keeping an eye on his frequent surging runs from right-back when Aston Villa visit Anfield on Saturday.

Paul Lambert’s side will of course rock up on Merseyside wearing the garish, luminous green number they’ve been sporting on their travels this season, but although that will distract attention away from most things in the area come kickoff, it shouldn’t shift the focus off Johnson too much. Villa would be wise for it not to anyway.

Take Luis Suarez out of the team―and a suspension did just that at Upton Park on Sunday―and the full-back has surely been Liverpool’s best performer over the first half of the season.

One of the few genuine class acts in the squad, Johnson has seen off plenty of rivals to nail down a slot as England’s first choice right-back through successive managers. And although Liverpool supporters don’t much care about that, they have been reaping the rewards that his international experiences have brought into his club matches.

His eye for goal, excellent attacking attributes and Liverpool’s relative lack of quality on the wings often tend to lead to people suggesting that the 28-year-old should be utilised further forward, especially immediately after goals as good as the one he scored on Sunday.

But shifting one of the best full-backs in the world out of his natural position would make little sense―something that Brendan Rodgers would undoubtedly agree with given that he compared Johnson to Daniel Alves earlier this season (ESPN)―and would arguably do the team more harm than good. Moving around one of your team’s few class acts to make room for others of lesser quality simply has to be avoided―something that the England team should have realised with Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes over a decade ago.

In the hours before the West Ham game, the British newspapers were carrying an interview with Johnson in which he revealed that he is halfway through studying for a mathematics degree (The Telegraph), and with his subsequent goal on Sunday proving that he’s fond of finding advantageous angles, it looks to be something that he will perform quite well in.

Against Villa, he and Liverpool will have to make use of any spaces they find on the flanks, with rookie defenders Matthew Lowton, Eric Lichaj and Nathan Baker set for a tough task up against a man who has been at the top level for 10 years now.

With Suarez available again, it would be easy to presume that Rodgers will copy the setup he showed in the recent home win over Southampton and play Raheem Sterling and Jonjo Shelvey on either side of the Uruguayan. With both undoubtedly encouraged to move centrally, Johnson’s overlapping and his threat from out wide will come into play.

Jose Enrique limped off at Upton Park, so there is a possibility that Johnson will fill in for him at left-back―although ex-Villa man Stewart Downing would be a far more likely starter in the position. But whatever flank he’s on, Johnson will be one of the most dangerous players on the pitch, and Villa surely know that.

In a team which finds scoring goals tough, the spreading around of strikes is vital. Liverpool have had 15 different goalscorers this season (16 if you count own goals) compared to just 18 in the whole of the last campaign. It’s hard to imagine that Sunday’s stunner will be Johnson’s last for some time.

His next could come on Saturday, when his involvement will be crucial as Liverpool look to extend their Premier League winning streak to three ahead of a crucial and very winnable Christmas period.

Johnson will be heavily involved in that, and Reds fans wouldn’t want it any other way.