Max Munton


Why Liverpool must prioritise upgrading full-backs in January transfer window

Max Munton pinpoints Liverpool’s full-backs as the weak spots in the team and urges Brendan Rodgers to bring in new players in the January transfer window to fix the defensive leaks.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Boxing Day Thursday, December 26, 2013: Liverpool's Glen Johnson in action against Manchester City during the Premiership match at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There are a few areas of Liverpool’s first team Brendan Rodgers may wish were just a bit better, and as he looks to the transfer market this month for inspiration, he should be targeting new full-backs to stop a leak of goals, which is becoming a worry for the Reds.

Much has been made of Liverpool’s inability to defend set-pieces this season, but rewind the tape further and you’ll find countless free-kicks and corners being given away in wide areas, when really they shouldn’t have been.

The tactics can’t be blamed in these situations (prior to the delivery of said free-kick or corner). This simply comes down to a lack of ability.

To put it bluntly, the players playing at full-back for Liverpool right now simply aren’t good enough.

According to Squawka, Glen Johnson has given away 32 fouls this season in 16 appearances, whilst Aly Cissokho has committed 17 fouls in just 8 appearances.

Giving teams the chance of a set-piece isn’t the only problem either — with top-class full-backs in place, Liverpool could both tighten up defensively, and excel further in attack.

It’s about having the right players, in the right place, at the right time. With no compromise.


What Liverpool Need

Rodgers’ ideal full-back would be one who can reliably cover defensive responsibilities, but also charge down the wings to support the attack from wide areas.

This requires a high degree of athleticism, especially in Rodgers’ 4-3-3 formation, which leaves the two central defenders exposed if both full-backs are in attacking positions.

There is some respite though, in that most attacks are only channeled down one wing at a time, allowing the full-back who is not on the attack to drop back and act, essentially, as a third central defender.


Nevertheless, this constant movement between attack and defence needs a full-back confident in both phases of play and has the fitness levels required.

Sean Ingle of The Guardian expertly explained the physical demands of a modern day full-back:

The additional physical demands are clear from Prozone’s data. In 2003-04 Premier League full-backs made an average of 29.5 sprints – any movement greater than seven metres a second – over a game. This season that figure is exactly 50. A decade ago the average recovery time for a full-back between high-intensity activities – any movement greater than 5.5m/s, or a three-quarters speed run – was 56.4sec. Now it is 40.4sec.


What Liverpool Have

Unfortunately, in current full-backs Johnson and Cissokho, Rodgers does not have the players he craves.

Johnson’s performances this season have appeared weaker and more tired, leaving him on the back foot under the pressure of attacks.

At 29-years-old, Johnson doesn’t seem to have the pace or legs to cover such responsibilities, and has often appeared fatigued and less clinical as the season as gone on.

Furthermore, Johnson has no real competition for his place, with Andre Wisdom having been sent out on loan to Derby County early on. Martin Kelly is still on his rehabilitation trail, whilst Kolo Toure‘s is more comfortable at centre-back when called upon.

It is rather unhealthy not to have competition for places; those starting every game can easily fall into the complacency trap.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Boxing Day Thursday, December 26, 2013: Liverpool's Aly Cissokho in action against Manchester City during the Premiership match at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

On the left side of defence, Cissokho has not been the solution Rodgers may well have hoped for when, last summer, he openly revealed he was looking for a new left-back to compete for a first-team place with Enrique.

Cissokho continues to look like a lost footballer — often caught out of position and giving away needless free-kicks.

Cissokho hasn’t shown the ability to cover both attacking and defensive responsibilities, and Rodgers was thankful for an improved Jon Flanagan during Enrique’s absence.

Though Enrique does possess a high stamina – his athleticism being a key attribute of his game – his difficulty to read the game, or play the same game as his teammates holds him back from being a great player.

Unless a more intelligent and considered Enrique returns from injury in February, the Spaniard could soon be departing Anfield, along with Cissokho.


How to fix the problem

There are two steps in solving Liverpool’s full-backs problem. The first, and easiest, is to introduce a holding midfielder, as Rodgers did with Steven Gerrard against Stoke City last Sunday.

Having this defensive-minded midfielder adds protection to the defence, with Gerrard allowed to drop back and act as a third central defender during the defensive phase of play.

If you assume that at least one of the full-backs is back defending, the holding midfielder makes up a back-four, whilst the remaining full-back, in attack, is less accountable to getting back, conserving energy.


Of course, if the other full-back is going forward, the responsibilities are reversed.

Rodgers’ comments after the Stoke game about playing Gerrard in that system make complete sense — but now he needs the right personnel to make that system work.

Gerrard is not the long-term solution in that holding midfield role, but at least his presence there right now allows Rodgers to start implementing the system.

If a holding midfielder isn’t purchased this winter, expect an arrival in the summer.

Barcelona’s Martin Montoya would be the perfect January signing to fix this area for Liverpool — however, he may well be more of a dream signing, too.

Montoya, though young, has the confidence and athleticism to play as an attacking and defensive full-back, and on either side of the pitch.

Montoya, or no Montoya, Liverpool need full-backs who possess pace, fitness and ability in both phases of play.

To continue the progress made this season, and remain amongst the top four in the final 17 games of the season, Rodgers must address those areas as a matter of urgency.

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Max is the Co-Editor of This Is Anfield and Liverpool season ticket holder.
All posts are reactively-moderated and must obey the comment policy.
  • Redblooded Male

    Right back Roberto Rosales (FC Twente) would be my realistic choice, he had Messi under control when Argentina played Venezuela last year, & he’s got a mean cross. Ricardo Rodriguez from Wolfsburg would be an ideal left back.

    • pukeee

      u have a strange liking for alphabet R…….

      • nehnehneh

        royally right!

  • Rob Cas

    so thats it then we need
    2 x fullbacks
    1 x left centreback (as we have recently shown)
    1 x cdm (as lucas is not up his usual standard)
    1 x cam (as coutinho needs a rest and needs to find the goal )
    1 x l/r wing (so stirling cam continue to learn his trade)
    1 x st ( backup for sturridge , aspas didnt work)

    have I missed anything ???
    and if we don’t we may as well kiss top 4 goodbye for the remainder of the century possibly milleniem …. I glad we are all clear on that point…. fickle fans to think without buying that lot we were top xmas day and currently only 6 points behind league leaders without them …… our players must be fcukin good really or maybe the refs have been paid off this year…


    Martin Montoya would be a great signing.Especially as his current contract situation would make him a free transfer in the summer.Luke Shaw for 25m is overpriced!
    When you pay over the odds on a player, it has a knock on effect with other deals you make.Clubs will see Liverpool is willing to pay a obscene amount for a left back.Then put a similar valuation on their brightest prospect.
    It took a while for clubs to stop taking the p4ss after the crazy Carroll and Downing Transfer Window.We’ve somewhat built our reputation back up, with a few smart deals.If we spend big on Luke Shaw, clubs will demand double the market value on every player we’re interested in.

    • Zinho

      Exactly. Over spending will lead to inflated quotations on future purchases. Shaw is good, but £10m is quite excessive although I would have that as our maximum offer.

      Montoya has ability. When he had an extended run the Barcelona team he looked pretty good. I think he is using us to secure a new contract at FCB though. Alves is not part of their long term plans and with general cost cutting within Spanish football and FCB involved in numerous potentially costly court cases, I do not think they will shell out on a new right back. The only circumstance I can see them parting with him soon is if they need to raise funds which really is not going to happen.

  • JonnyS

    This article is wrong on so many levels except for needing new fullbacks. Buy a RB now and move Glen to the left then sort out the rest of it in the summer.

    why would we need a DM when we have Lucas and now SG is being played there?

    The tactics you describe is exactly what’s been happening with Lucas there.

    However, Gerrard has lacked the mobility to go forth and plunder in midfield and get back to cover defensively. So Rodgers, having finally seen our midfield working as he wants when STevie was injured, is now moving the captain back to DM where he doesn’t have to get up and down the pitch to get around his immobility.

    The interesting part is if Lucas can make the adjustment to CM. He’s lost a bit of pace too but has great reading of the game and his tackling / interceptions stats are superb.

    But also, moving SG back means he can go buy a new CM/creative player. That will be good to see. fingers crossed it’ll be this month.

    • This Is Anfield

      Wrong? You seem to be agreeing with the article JonnyS! And you know full well Gerrard won’t be around forever. Granted, a DM is not as much a priority as the full-backs problem.

      Johnson’s game won’t improve by moving him to the left side. It’s so close in the Premier League, Liverpool can’t afford any slip-ups, and that means both sides of the defence, which you seem to agree with too.

  • Chalii Ya R

    Luke Shaw would be an ideal addition but the problem with English players is that they are valued more than they deserve (IMO) “Shaw valued 25million!!!??” :-0

  • Abyss

    Oh the irony in your opening sentence haha! Nice one mate cheers, that really put a smile on my face. :)

  • Redblooded Male

    I agree.

  • Luiss

    For the time being, let’s play with 10 men and send Cissokho away.

  • frizzmuncher

    if we don’t get some decent defenders/midfielders in we will be 6th/7th again and lose suarez for sure. last summer’s failure in the transfer window with poor loan/free signings shows the yanks’ lack of ambition. its on a knife edge after terrible tactics/selection/performance against villa. has bodgers blown it ? . should have abandoned system after 15 mins not at half time. tinker man strikes again. concerned red.

  • Butragenio

    Simply play Gerrard as right full back.

    • Joe Bloggs

      Hey…this doesn’t half bad an idea actually! LOL

  • Butragenio

    That only happens when your owners are not complete misers

  • Johhny Big Banana

    Dare I say it and I am by no means a Manc, but the more you begin to reflect on it the more justification you can give to Fegie’s comments that LFC are 7 Players short right now. I can’t get over how poor Johnson is, he looks fatigued and uninterested. I’m not surprised by Cissokho, the guy couldn’t cut it at Porto, that has to tell you something…, I’d get Wisdom and Robinson back for competition..Maybe offer Derby Kelly in his place. You’ve got to think that Kelly’s knee must really be shot as if he cant challenge for an FB spot at the moment, he probably never will….