Last night’s 4-0 victory over Stoke City wasn’t a mind-blowing performance, but was a vitally important victory for the Reds, to bounce back from defeat on the opening day of the season.
The performance of Glen Johnson in particular caught the eye of the Kop as he dazzled on his home debut on the right hand side.
Johnson’s awareness and acceleration are the best qualities of his game and the wings are something Liverpool have struggled with for many years now. However this 24-year-old England international may be the solution we have been craving for.
With a burst of pace to come in from the right and cleverly toe-poke the ball past the on-coming Spurs goalkeeper and win the penalty on Sunday, Johnson last night showed further reasons why Rafa Benitez thought his £17.5million price-tag was justified.
He’s got the skills and trickery to puzzle defenders and endure them to a nightmare down the right-wing, which he seems to claim as his own throughout the whole 90 minutes, controlling forward play.
Here’s a first half example of how his explosion of pace and awareness of opportunities on the pitch could give Premier League defenders an awful headache this season.
Jamie Carragher brings the ball out of a very high Liverpool back-line and over to the right side. He spots space for Johnson to run into and picks out a fast-paced through ball for the right-back to run onto.
Johnson’s positive run and acceleration away from the defenders opens up space for him on the right side of the box and he has the chance to slide the ball across to Dirk Kuyt who is waiting to pounce in front of goal.
On this occasion, Stoke cleared the danger comfortably from Johnson’s cross, and there were other points in the match where it had seemed he had done all the hard work but his final ball let him down. So there’s still work to be done on his distribution in the final third of the field.
After scoring Liverpool’s second goal of the game a minute before half time with an acrobatic effort from close-range, Johnson showed more flourishes of brilliance and attacking flare down the right side in the second half.
With the Stoke City defenders getting more tired as the game continued, Johnson tormented them with a barrage of strength and pace.
In this example, I’ve illustrated Johnson’s run as he picks up a Yossi Benayoun pass to the right into a very good goalscoring opportunity for himself out of nothing.
He has this ability to keep the ball close to his feet and invite defenders to run with him towards goal. His determination and speed allowed him to cut inside at ease, take the ball away from his marker and open up an opportunity for a low left-foot shot on goal which Sorenson did well to save.
It was a performance full of confidence a delight to see him causing so many problems down our right side.
Tactically it allows Kuyt to be relieved of more of his playmaking pressures and push up to join Torres up front as a lurking striker ready to pounce on these balls into the box.
He also appears a very intelligent player and in this final example, he gave himself a helping hand in the build-up to his goal, and Liverpool’s second of the night.
Here he is standing in front of Stoke goalkeeper Sorenson as Steven Gerrard delivers his corner just before half-time with Liverpool 1-0 up.
He’s blocking Sorenson’s vision and causing him confusion and disorientation as Kuyt meets the corner with a firm header that the keeper could only parry and Johnson was there to turn in the re-bound and the Reds go into half-time with a comfortable 2-0 lead over the visitors.
There’s definitely still room for improvement in his crossing ability and his ability as a defender seems yet untested in a Liverpool shirt, but it feels like there’s something special happening on our usually quiet right wing.