Liverpool full-back Jon Flanagan is back in training and in contention for a return to the team for the Merseyside derby at Anfield next Tuesday.
While the transfer rumour mill goes into overdrive with a little over a week of the window remaining, Flanagan's return is a welcomed and timely boost for Brendan Rodgers.
The Liverpool Echo report Flanagan's return to training and write that "For Rodgers, it is a welcome boost at a time when his squad is being tested, particularly in defence."
They're not wrong; Rodgers' already thin squad is currently being tested to its limits, with only five senior defenders available, one of which hasn't started a Premier League game since September 2012.
Flanagan's injury, picked up in the win over Cardiff just before Christmas, coincided with Jose Enrique's long-term injury, meaning loanee Aly Cissokho has started five of the six games since.
Enrique remains sidelined, although is scheduled for a return later this month according to PhysioRoom, while centre-backs Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho have also been missing this month due to injury.
That has meant Kolo Toure being played in an unfamiliar role on the left of the two centre-backs. It's hardly foreign territory for the experienced Ivorian but it's fair to say a left-sided defensive combination of Cissokho and Toure is quite far down the preferred options Rodgers would wish to use.
For Flanagan it's a complete turnaround that supporters are now eagerly anticipating his return to action. There were groans when the youngster was handed his first Premier League start for 18 months in the defeat at Arsenal back in November, and similarly when he was thrown into another big match, the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park, later that month.
Against Arsenal, Flanagan was a late inclusion after Glen Johnson was taken ill, asked to play as a wing-back during a time Liverpool were playing 3-5-2; a formation Flanagan would never have played before given that the academy sides all play the same way—4-3-3.
Never thought I'd see the day everyone celebrated the return of Jon Flanagan.— Dom (@domjpearson) January 23, 2014
The Merseyside derby though was were the 21-year-old shone, defensively solid despite being asked to switch sides to the left—chosen ahead of Cissokho to do the job. He kept Everton's dangerous right-sided players Seamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas quiet.
Comparisons with Jamie Carragher were soon being mentioned, Carragher himself cementing his place in the Liverpool side during the 2000/01 season as a left-back under Gerard Houllier, after years on the periphery of the first team.
"Flanno" then started the next five matches, with the pinnacle being his superb goal at Tottenham in the 5-0 thrashing at White Hart Lane. A cult hero was born.
In Flanagan's absence, the Liverpool defence has been extremely unsettled, conceding goals at an alarming rate. His return should help to steady the ship somewhat at least.
Whether Flanagan is the long-term, or even short-term (given that Enrique should be back next month) solution to Liverpool's perennial problem position is open for debate.
Flanagan is far from the finished product and obviously will always be hindered on the left by being right-footed.
Perhaps then, once Enrique returns, Flanagan can actually compete with Glen Johnson on the other side of defence. The England international's form has been a major talking point for supporters of late.
One thing that Liverpool supporters can agree on, and you'd probably find the left-sided centre-back agreeing with them, is that Flanagan's return is a welcomed sight and a huge improvement upon Cissokho. Sorry Aly!
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