Analysing Liverpool's Full-Backs: Options, Prospects and Areas to Strengthen
For the past couple of months, Liverpool have been beset with injury problems, and the Reds’ current troubles at full-back are well documented.
Jon Flanagan has reestablished himself as a strong contender in Brendan Rodgers’ starting XI, while on-loan Aly Cissokho has picked up his form of late. Just as well, given that they are just about the only senior options Liverpool have at full-back.
A piece of good news before their Premier League match against Swansea City on Sunday is that regular right-back Glen Johnson is fit again, as confirmed by Rodgers via the Mirror, but the Reds have already been linked with summer moves for full-backs to address their shortages.
The Metro have linked Chelsea’s Ashley Cole with a move to Anfield this summer, while the Daily Star have suggested that Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna is on Rodgers’ radar—both players are out of contract this summer.
Let’s look at the full-back options currently available to Brendan Rodgers, their prospects at the club and whether Liverpool should look to strengthen. Enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
It’s been a disappointing campaign for Glen Johnson so far, with the England international right-back performing nowhere near his peak levels for both club and country.
Only when Johnson was ruled out through injury in January did Brendan Rodgers reveal that he had been struggling with “a number of injuries” for a period of time, as per the Guardian.
On top form, Johnson is one of the best full-backs in the Premier League, providing width, pace and creativity from the flanks. His versatility means that at both right-back and left-back, he would place near the top in league rankings.
Premier League and Liverpool fans have long known what Johnson brings at his best. The only problem is that the 29-year-old’s contract runs out in 2015, and on a reported £110,000 a week, he faces an uncertain future at Anfield, according to the Liverpool Echo.
With Johnson set to return to the squad against Swansea this Sunday, he will not only give Rodgers another experienced option as Liverpool look to finish the season in the top four, but also look forward to convince his club that he’s worth a contract extension.
He has 12 Premier League games to show that he’s worth an extension and a continued place as the Reds’ starting right-back. Otherwise, Rodgers might have no option but to let him go in the summer before his asking price starts plummeting ahead of 2015.
First-choice left-back Jose Enrique has been a big loss for Liverpool this season. In his eight league games this season, he’s contributed two assists.
A pity for Brendan Rodgers, given that Enrique seemed to have found some consistency after an up-and-down campaign last season—and especially given Aly Cissokho’s own inconsistent form this season.
Since his injury in November, Enrique has been missing from first-team action and, according to the Liverpool Echo, has been sent to the United States for specialist advice on his knee problems.
Without a doubt, Enrique is Liverpool’s strongest left-back—though an in-form Glen Johnson would have something to say about that—but his decision-making and relative lack of finesse have also been obvious, which make his long-term first-team prospects under Rodgers far from certain.
If Enrique doesn’t step up his recovery—both physically and mentally—soon, he could well find himself out of the team come this summer, especially if Liverpool do secure Champions League football next season and they receive a decent offer for him.
Since making his debut and initially impressing with a string of encouraging performances under Kenny Dalglish back in 2011, Jon Flanagan had dropped off the radar and didn’t look to have much of a future at Anfield.
So it’s full credit to him that he’s worked his way back into the Liverpool first team, more than two years since his last real opportunity.
In Enrique’s absence and with Cissokho showing poor form previously, Flanagan defied his critics and proved to be a more than able stand-in at left-back with a series of enterprising displays. He even opened his account with a sweet strike against Tottenham Hotspur in December’s 5-0 demolition at White Hart Lane.
Flanagan’s form has been such that Brendan Rodgers has even claimed, via Sky Sports, that the young full-back deserves a chance with the England national team.
But while Flanagan has work rate, dedication and positional discipline in his locker, he lacks the speed and technique that are so important to a flying full-back in Rodgers’ system, and his crossing still leaves much to be desired.
So unless Flanagan works on his attacking game, as much as he has done to resurrect his Liverpool career, he won’t be a permanent fixture in the side just yet.
When Jon Flanagan sat out of the first team after the Christmas period due to injury, Liverpool fans would’ve been forgiven for fearing the worst, especially down the Reds’ left flank.
But Aly Cissokho rose to the occasion with some solid performances at left-back, proving to be an important member of the defence, particularly at a time where their central defensive options were both limited and unconvincing.
Having said publicly that he’d like to make his season-long loan deal from Valencia permanent—according to ESPNFC—Cissokho has come a long way from his early season horror shows, but still lacks the attacking nous and defensive consistency to become a long-term member of the squad.
While Cissokho’s Anfield future is still up in the air, Rodgers will be looking at bringing in more quality to his left-back spot.
When Martin Kelly made his first start for Liverpool in the Champions League against Olympique Lyonnais back in 2009, he had the world at his feet. The then-19-year-old showed the strength, pace and defensive ability that suggested he’d become Liverpool’s next great right-back.
Then injuries started taking their toll. A slew of serious injuries have restricted Kelly’s first-team appearances for Liverpool, as he’s only played 62 games for his hometown club, and only 33 of them have come in the Premier League.
And as he continues to fight his way back to full fitness after each passing injury, he has seemed to take ever longer to recover and recapture his top form, which, considering his potential and natural ability, is a real shame from Liverpool’s point of view.
As Jon Flanagan has stepped up his claim for a first-team place under Brendan Rodgers—and in the process even fighting his way into national-team contention—Kelly has been left on the sidelines and only thrown on as an additional defensive option from the substitute’s bench on occasion.
He will face a crucial few months in his career, and if things don’t pick up for him by the summer, he looks likely to be on his way out of the club—even if on loan initially—which would present yet another case of a promising career curtailed by injuries.
Last season’s lack of squad depth meant that Brendan Rodgers integrated three impressive youngsters into his first team in the first few months of the campaign.
Out of Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom, only the former has been playing for Liverpool a year on, as Suso and Andre Wisdom have had to bide their time with first-team chances out on loan.
Wisdom, who has joined Championship side Derby County on loan for the season, had played most of his first-team games for Liverpool as a right-back, but had emerged from the academy ranks as a centre-back.
For Steve McClaren’s side this season, Wisdom has played mostly on the right side of defence and has impressed as Derby have risen to third place in the Championship so far.
Brendan Rodgers and his management team will have been keeping an eye on Wisdom’s progress at Derby and looking forward to giving him a run-out with the first team over preseason this summer.
He remains an interesting prospect for the Reds’ right flank but still has plenty of work to do before he can become a fixture in a Champions League-chasing team.
Much like Wisdom, Jack Robinson has been impressing on loan in the Championship. He’s made 25 league appearances for Blackpool, notching an assist in the process.
His overall performance levels have been decent enough to link to rumors of a midseason return to Liverpool, which ultimately didn’t materialize.
Strong in the tackle, quick off the traps and intelligent in his positioning, Robinson was once the youngest player to ever have played a first-team game for the Reds, and as such is clearly highly regarded at Anfield.
With five yellow cards and three reds this season, however, Robinson’s disciplinary record has been patchy at best and is something he needs to work on ahead of a summer return to Liverpool.
While Robinson doesn’t seem like forcing himself into Brendan Rodgers’ first team immediately next season, he might become Liverpool’s backup left-back if he enjoys a productive preseason.
Rated as a Glen Johnson-type attacking right-back, McLaughlin has long been slated for a bright future with the Reds, and if his two league appearances for Barnsley thus far are any indication, he may find himself a valuable squad member for Brendan Rodgers next season.
While Liverpool have strength in numbers—when fully fit, of course—what they lack is medium- to long-term quality.
Glen Johnson’s hefty wages mean that his future at Anfield is uncertain, while Jose Enrique doesn’t seem to have the fine technique that Rodgers demands from his players. Jon Flanagan’s work rate is admirable, but he seems to lack the genuine quality to remain a long-term first-team option.
Martin Kelly’s injuries have set him back a few years, and despite the ravings at Ryan McLaughlin’s future, he has yet to kick a ball in anger for Liverpool’s first team.
Whether or not Liverpool make the top four come the end of the 2013/14 Premier League season, full-back, currently one of their weakest areas of the field, is surely a priority area for Brendan Rodgers this summer.
Right-back or left-back, there will be more than a few names bandied about in the Anfield boardroom. Ian Ayre will have to deliver this time.