Daniel Sturridge scored a late winner for Liverpool as the Reds earned a hard-won three points against Southampton at Anfield on Sunday, after a lackluster performance had seen the home side come under severe pressure in the second half.
Raheem Sterling had opened the scoring in the first half, finishing expertly from a sublime Jordan Henderson pass, but Nathaniel Clyne scored a well-deserved equalizer for the Saints, before Sturridge popped up to inflict a harsh defeat on Ronald Koeman’s side.
It wasn’t a particularly good day for many of Brendan Rodgers’ charges, as a slow but composed first half was followed by a nervy and uncertain second 45 minutes—three years into his reign at Anfield, it seems that Rodgers needs a few games at the start of every season for his side to reach full stride.
But amid some unconvincing performances—the Reds midfield was much stronger and more mobile after Lucas’ withdrawal for Joe Allen, while Philippe Coutinho was nowhere near his scintillating preseason form—there was one Liverpool player who must consider his place in the squad under huge threat.
Unfortunately, that same player has already been widely earmarked as a scapegoat these days: Glen Johnson will be feeling the heat even more in the aftermath of the match.
Better Options Now Available
It must be alarming to Johnson, a right-back by trade, that his position last season has already been stripped from him immediately after the loan signing of Javi Manquillo, a 20-year-old prospect without much first-team experience even at parent club Atletico Madrid.
That Manquillo impressed on his debut against Borussia Dortmund last week and did well again in his first competitive start for the Reds on Sunday will in all likelihood have sounded the death knell for Johnson’s career as a Liverpool right-back.
According to WhoScored.com, Manquillo’s record of six tackles, four interceptions, five clearances and one blocked shot already trumped Johnson’s respective averages of 2.2, 1.7, 2.4 and 0.3 across the No. 2’s 29 Premier League appearances last season (though Manquillo’s considerably smaller sample size must be taken into account).
Consider Jon Flanagan’s rise last season as a makeshift left-back while a natural right-back, and Johnson might not even be considered second-choice in his specialist position.
So onto his new position we go. But it’s not too rosy at left-back either.
There’s the fact that Flanagan did make the Liverpool left-back spot his own last season, coming into prominence during Jose Enrique’s injury and keeping Aly Cissokho (now at Aston Villa) on the sidelines. Judging by Rodgers’ decisions over the course of preseason, Enrique might not even usurp Johnson in the pecking order, but that’s small consolation for the No. 2.
And on Sunday, looking ominously down at Johnson from the Anfield stands was new left-back signing Alberto Moreno.
His Own Lackadaisical Form
Even with the new signings and increased competition, Johnson’s place in the squad might not be as bleak if he hadn’t exhibited such deteriorating form over the past 18 months, and Sunday definitely wasn’t one of his finest performances in a Liverpool shirt.
Gone are the days when Johnson would scamper down the flanks with his trademark pace and close dribbling, cutting in and taking a shot on either foot, threatening the opposition defence with his technique.
Put simply—Glen Johnson is no longer the complete full-back with the swagger to make things happen. With his defensive susceptibilities coming to the fore without his attacking contributions to make up for them, he looks increasingly shorn of confidence, and it shows in his play.
Instead, Sunday’s performance was a microcosm of his current struggles: Time and again, with the ball arriving at his feet after a set piece or with the team on the offensive, Johnson would opt to pass the ball backward to the vocal disappointment of the Anfield crowd.
And to say his passing and first touch were off-form would be an understatement.
It also doesn’t help that Johnson seems to lack awareness in his defensive and positional responsibilities. Having ventured forward in his attempts to contribute to the attack (in vain, more often than not), he would find himself out of position, yet still saunter back to his position with his opponents on the counter.
That the likes of Raheem Sterling, Steven Gerrard, Lucas and Dejan Lovren were found making up for Johnson’s positional sluggishness by tracking back and covering the holes he left on the left flank were both alarming and damning.
The stark contrast in attitude to Flanagan’s during his spell at left-back last season is perhaps the most disappointing about Johnson’s decline.
Time Is Running Out
With younger colleagues and new signings looking to charter a bright course for Brendan Rodgers’ team, Johnson finds himself at a crossroads in his career: Aged 29, Johnson will be out of contract at Anfield this time next year and now faces the reality that his career is fast moving past his peak years.
Johnson hasn’t agreed a contract extension with the Reds yet—and any deal will likely require him to take a pay cut from the massive £120,000-per-week deal he is currently on, per The Guardian, especially for a backup player.
Queens Park Rangers have been linked with Johnson this summer, per Paul Hetherington of the Daily Star. At this rate a last payday with Harry Redknapp’s side, who has also brought in veteran center back Rio Ferdinand this summer, might sound appealing to a player who might be a permanent fixture on the substitutes’ bench once Moreno is fully fit to start.
A combination of high wages and disappointing performances make Johnson a likely candidate to make for the Anfield exit doors before the summer transfer window slams shut, yet it is for exactly the same reasons that he might not be able to find a suitor this summer.
Even if he still finds himself at the club at the start of September, only he will be able to change his fortunes as a Liverpool player. If he wishes to salvage his Reds career—unlikely as it might seem—he needs to start by showing the attitude and displaying the talent that earned him a move to Anfield in the first place.
At any rate, Johnson’s likely exit over the next year makes him another player from Rafael Benitez’s reign to depart Liverpool, continuing to mark the end of an era and signaling a new period under Brendan Rodgers.
When he leaves, Glen Johnson will depart with a less-than-desirable scoring record, especially given his reputation as an attacking full-back, and a sense that he never really fulfilled his true potential at a club who gave him an opportunity to play consistently at the highest level.