Jose Enrique: Is Criticism of Liverpool Fullback Deserved?

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistMarch 19, 2013

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 17:  Jose Enrique of Liverpool celebrates with Luis Suarez after scoring the third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on February 17, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It has to be considered a success for Jose Enrique that, as we enter the final two months of Liverpool’s season, he is still a Reds player.

A dip in form at the tail end of Kenny Dalglish’s reign which ran on into the beginning of Brendan Rodgers’ time in charge meant that doubts have existed over the Spaniard, who at times has seen both Stewart Downing and Glen Johnson moved out of their favoured positions and picked ahead of him.

If there is a turning point in Enrique’s Liverpool career though, then it probably came in the 1-1 draw against his old club Newcastle in November.

Before that he’d seemed weighed down by the pressures of playing for an underachieving Liverpool.

He’d started off his Anfield career excellently, offering Reds fans the hopes that their troublesome left-back position―a weak link for years―had finally been filled by a classy, competent performer who seemed to slot into Dalglish’s side as if he’d been there for seasons on end.

The longer 2011/12 went on though it became more and more apparent that Liverpool were conceding goals down the Spaniard’s flank―see Jamie Mackie’s winner for QPR in March and Ramires’ opener for Chelsea in the FA Cup final.

When that slump didn’t exactly look like disappearing with the arrival of Rodgers in the summer―with injury problems also not helping―it started to look as though Enrique wouldn’t be around at Liverpool much longer.

Rodgers challenged him to improve his attitude (Daily Mail), and it became clear that Enrique had reached a crossroads in his Liverpool career. But he then surprisingly started the Merseyside derby draw at Goodison Park in late October, and played his part in one of the goals of the season from Luis Suarez in that Newcastle game a week later.

Enrique’s fine pass for Suarez’s exquisite control and finish seemed to reawaken the Spaniard, and a week later a tactical reshuffle from Rodgers at Stamford Bridge saw Enrique pushed further forward as Liverpool came from behind to draw at Chelsea. He suddenly looked confident again.

For the next three league matches, Enrique played on the left side of Liverpool’s most attacking trio. He responded with his first goal for the club at home to Wigan, a wrongly disallowed effort at Swansea and an impressive display at Tottenham, where he was unlucky not to score again.

Of course he was never going to stay in that position forever, but perhaps Rodgers―who at the same time was stationing Downing at left-back―simply wanted Enrique to reawaken the attacking instincts he so clearly has, but had seemed to lose somewhere along the way.

Bar a couple of niggling injuries he’s been an ever-present in the team in his preferred position virtually ever since those matches in November, and as he looks to develop into the perfect attacking fullback in this Liverpool system he has looked largely comfortable.

Previous criticisms have fallen silent as in recent weeks Enrique has been seen popping up on the end of a stunning team move to score against Swansea at Anfield, before providing a fine pass for Suarez to score the opener in the even more recent win over Tottenham.

Question marks over some of his defensive qualities still remain, whilst it must also be considered that Rodgers hasn’t truly come round to the idea of him in his team for the foreseeable future given his initial misgivings, but for now Enrique can be proud that he is still a Liverpool player. The task now is of course to keep on improving.

His athleticism, stamina levels and a recently discovered eye for goal mean that he does have all the attributes to succeed as a modern day fullback―something that he need only study teammate Glen Johnson to learn about―and so the test now is for Enrique to push on and reach new heights.

He’s done well, but just "doing well" shouldn’t really be considered good enough at a time when Liverpool are striving to get back in touch with the elite.

The criticisms of Enrique may have stopped, but the task now is to gain more and more praise.