Andre Wisdom Signs New Liverpool Deal: Evaluating Reds' Options at Right-Back

Vince SiuFeatured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2013

Andre Wisdom Signs New Liverpool Deal: Evaluating Reds' Options at Right-Back

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    On Wednesday, Jan. 9, Andre Wisdom signed a new long-term contract with Liverpool, joining Luis Suarez, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Brad Jones, Jonjo Shelvey, Suso and Raheem Sterling in renewing ties with the Reds since the summer of 2012.

    Since breaking into the first team at the start of the season, Wisdom has impressed fans and pundits alike with his assured and confident performances in the right-back position for Brendan Rodgers. He is just one of several exciting youngsters to have made the breakthrough at Anfield this season.

    Bleacher Report’s Karl Matchett has discussed why Wisdom can be a key player for the Reds in the coming years. Let’s take a look at Liverpool’s options at right-back, now arguably their strongest position in terms of depth and promise.

    All statistics from WhoScored.com.

Andre Wisdom

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    Short Bio

    Andre Wisdom started his career at the Bradford City youth academy and joined Liverpool aged 14 in January 2008.

    Having progressed from the Liverpool Academy to the reserves, where he was made team captain, Wisdom made his first-team breakthrough under Brendan Rodgers in September 2012. He started his first senior game in Switzerland versus BSC Young Boys in the Europa League.

    After scoring in an impressive debut performance, he was awarded a League Cup started away at West Bromwich Albion before making his first Premier League appearance against Norwich City.

     

    Key Statistics (2012-13 Premier League season)

    Appearances:

    8

    Tackles (per game):

    2.6

    Interceptions:

    0.9

    Fouls:

    0.5

    Shots:

    0.4

    Key passes:

    0.3

    Dribbles:

    0.8

    Average passes:

    40.6

    Pass Success Rate:

    90.5%

     

    Strengths

    Wisdom’s most obvious strength is in his pass success rate: a brilliant 90.5 percent, the same percentage as midfield colleague Joe Allen and slightly shading it as the Liverpool defender most comfortable passing the ball.

    Consider Mikel Arteta’s 92.6 percent for Arsenal, and we can conclude that Wisdom has technique on the ball beyond his positional norms and beyond his years. His 0.5 fouls per game is also noteworthy and a testament to his awareness and reading of the game.

     

    Long-Term Role

    After scoring on his debut in Europe, Wisdom has yet to break his domestic duck for Liverpool, and his modest attacking statistics show that he prefers to play it safe. Looking at his general play from right-back, Wisdom does foray forward on the right flank, but he's more of a pacy and powerful outlet rather than a genuine attacking threat.

    Of course, we must consider that Wisdom’s natural position is at center-back, which makes his first-team career at right-back all the more impressive.

    In a Brendan Rodgers team that emphasizes passing and technique on the ball, Wisdom has this in spades and would be hard to dislodge from any future back line, whether he is used on the right or moved into the center.

Martin Kelly

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    Short Bio

    A local-born defender, Martin Kelly rose through the Academy and reserve-team ranks at Liverpool before making his debut in December 2008 as a substitute for Jamie Carragher in the Champions League against PSV Eindhoven.

    After a loan spell at Huddersfield Town, during which he scored one goal in seven League One appearances, he made his first start as a right-back for Rafa Benitez in a Champions League group stage fixture against Olympique Lyonnais in October 2009.

    Since then, he has been plagued with injuries, frequently to his hamstring, and has made only 28 Premier League appearances for Liverpool to date. He made his England debut in May 2012 and was part of Roy Hodgson’s squad for the Euro 2012 tournament.

     

    Key Statistics (2012-13 Premier League season)

    Appearances:

    4

    Tackles (per game):

    3.3

    Interceptions:

    1

    Fouls:

    1.8

    Shots:

    0.5

    Key passes:

    0

    Dribbles:

    0.8

    Average passes:

    43.8

    Pass Success Rate:

    85.7%

     

    Strengths

    With 3.3 tackles per game, Kelly ranks the highest out of Liverpool’s three first-team right-backs, reflecting his background as central defender but, more importantly, also providing defensive stability on the flanks.

    His few appearances this season notwithstanding, Kelly has provided more of an attacking threat down the flank than Wisdom, charging down the right and also putting in crosses to support the attack.

     

    Long-Term Role

    With key attributes in both defence and attack, it is clear that out of Brendan Rodgers’ three established right-backs, Kelly is the most complete. That makes him an attractive choice not only in his natural central position and on the right, but also in different systems (e.g. a right-sided center-back in a 3-5-2).

    Having already been capped by England, Kelly’s potential is widely acknowledged in a rich era of English right-backs. As he develops his game, there is a real possibility that he may eventually be moved into the center, a decision that might be swayed by his frequent injury troubles sustained during his right-flank rampages.

Glen Johnson

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    Short Bio

    A graduate of the West Ham youth academy, Glen Johnson was making waves as one of England’s most promising young defenders, joining Chelsea aged just 19 as the first signing of the Roman Abramovich era at Stamford Bridge. A slow decline then followed with clumsy defensive play overshadowing his attacking qualities, and he moved to Portsmouth after a loan spell at Fratton Park.

    It was at Portsmouth that he won his reputation back as one of the Premier League’s best full-backs, and Rafa Benitez snapped him up in June 2009. He has scored seven league goals in 95 appearances for the Reds thus far.

     

    Key Statistics (2012-2013 Premier League season)

    Appearances:

    19

    Tackles (per game):

    2.2

    Interceptions:

    1.4

    Fouls:

    0.8

    Shots:

    1.8

    Key passes:

    1.4

    Dribbles:

    1.8

    Average passes:

    51

    Pass Success Rate:

    84.2%

     

    Strengths

    That Johnson is an attack-minded full-back is well-known. He boasts by far the highest dribble average out of the three, and he is prone to storming into the center to take shots on goal. His involvement in the attack also sees him net a tidy 51 pass average.

    While his tackles per game are the lowest of the three, his interception rate is the highest, reflecting perhaps the game intelligence that his experience has developed.

     

    Long-Term Role

    While he does not offer the central-defensive option that both Andre Wisdom and Martin Kelly do, Johnson’s versatility and both-footedness mean that he is equally comfortable on the left and in more advanced positions.

    Indeed, in light of Jose Enrique’s injuries this season, Johnson has filled in as left-back and turned in some fantastic displays before injuries to his colleagues on the right meant that he had to be moved back to his natural position, with Stewart Downing playing as a makeshift left-back.

    At 28, Johnson is by far the most experienced and accomplished option at Brendan Rodgers’ disposal and will remain an integral part of a side looking to seamlessly transition defence into attack.

Young Prospects: Jon Flanagan and Ryan McLaughlin

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    Short Bios

    Amid the deserved recognition for Andre Wisdom’s rapid rise to Anfield stardom, Jon Flanagan’s quiet descent from the first team back into the reserves has filled few headlines.

    Indeed, Flanagan was first called on by Kenny Dalglish to fill in at right-back due to Martin Kelly’s absence through injury, and he made an accomplished debut at Anfield against Manchester City in April 2011. For the rest of the campaign, he contributed strong and steady performances on the right and looked destined to be Liverpool’s next first-choice-right-back-in-the-making.

    Following a few unsteady performances in the beginning of the 2011-12 season, however, Dalglish eased him out of the first team, only making the odd appearance in domestic cups. Brendan Rodgers gave him his first appearance of the season in Liverpool’s Europa League loss at Anzhi Makhachkala.

    Ryan McLaughlin, on the other hand, has been an up-and-coming star for the Liverpool youth team this season. His match-winning performance for the Liverpool U19s in the 4-1 win over Internazionale in the NextGen series confirmed his attacking threat, winning two penalties for his side.

    He had been taken by Rodgers to the Reds’ summer American tour, where he first caught the eye with a series of confident performances, including a man-marking assignment against AS Roma’s Francesco Totti.

     

    Long-Term Roles

    While Flanagan provides decent backup to the right-back slot, the reality is that he will not usurp Wisdom, Kelly and Johnson in the right-back pecking order anytime soon.

    A solid start has been impeded by a relative lack of confidence and assertiveness—perhaps due to being played a bit too often, too early—and a loan away from Anfield looks to be the best option for him to regain the necessary match fitness and confidence.

    As for McLaughlin, the 18-year-old has time on his side. Given Wisdom’s prominent place in the first team, he will perhaps see out the season in the U19s and the reserves before making yet another push for the senior squad in the coming preseason.

    His main worry has to be whether Rodgers will grant him the first-team experience that he will need at this stage of his career amid such strong competition.

     

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    For extensive coverage on the Premier League, please check out my Bleacher Report writer’s profile and my weekly roundup of English football on SoccerWithoutLimits.com.

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