Liverpool: Who Needs to Step Up in Glen Johnson's Absence?
It was no real surprise that Liverpool looked somewhat shaky at the back for large periods of Monday night’s draw at Swansea City, a match which saw them concede a goal and fail to win for the first time in the league this season.
Daniel Agger and Kolo Toure were always considered “touch and go” following the revelation of the Dane’s knock and the problem that Toure picked up in the League Cup win over Notts County, but the biggest loss was always going to be Glen Johnson.
The England right-back is considered one of the first names on Brendan Rodgers’ teamsheet given his ability to mould strong attacking play and defensive responsibility―something he’s improved on in the last few years.
Indeed, the challenge on Patrice Evra which led to his injury in the win over Manchester United before the international break summed up so much about him.
In his, Agger’s and Toure’s absences, Liverpool’s defence featured two players who may not still be at the club had circumstances been slightly different. Andre Wisdom had been primed for a loan move elsewhere whilst Martin Skrtel could have left Anfield altogether.
Yet they stayed, and played alongside English football debutant Mamadou Sakho. Combine these three with the erratic Jose Enrique and things were never going to be plain sailing for the Reds in South Wales―although no-one expected the concession of a second minute goal to Jonjo Shelvey.
But what do Liverpool do now? Especially in the absence of Johnson for the next month?
After playing at home to Southampton on Saturday the Reds face winnable league fixtures against the current bottom three and away at Newcastle―where they won 6-0 last season―before October is out.
Getting on the front foot in those five games is likely to be vital, with the attacking impetus provided by Johnson from right-back sure to be a big miss.
The answer to the problem could have been seated on the Liverpool bench on Monday.
Wisdom did nothing wrong against Swansea, but for a greater threat going forward perhaps Rodgers will now turn to Martin Kelly instead.
Following his cruciate knee ligament injury against Manchester United a year ago, the 23-year-old is presumably nearing full fitness judging by his appearance amongst the substitutes at Swansea. It will be interesting to see if he can force his way into contention for a start when Southampton travel to Anfield on Saturday.
Much more likely is an appearance at Old Trafford in the Capital One Cup against Manchester United next week, a game which will offer more than just Kelly the chance to impress his manager.
But for the academy product in particular these next few weeks are a time to shine.
His fitness programme has been stepped up gradually during pre-season―when he scored in a 4-1 win over Norwegian club Valerenga―and now could well be the time that he puts that fitness to good use.
Rodgers clearly rates Kelly―who was a late call-up for England’s Euro 2012 squad―judging by the fact that he selected him for four of his first five Premier League matches as Reds manager last year.
But then that terrible injury struck against United and he’s barely been seen again.
He did, however, sign a new long-term contract whilst still out injured last February, and so it’s clear that there is faith in him within Liverpool’s corridors of power.
While 20-year-old Wisdom did nothing wrong at Swansea or indeed when he was pressed into service after Kelly’s injury last season, there is a belief that the older player offers more moving forward and more experience in key areas.
Kelly can only play if he’s fit enough of course, but if he is then his return to a clearly unsettled defence could be crucial to Liverpool’s hopes of prolonging their promising start.
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