Aaron Cutler discusses Glen Johnson’s fine form and Liverpool’s hopes for 2013.
The turn of the year is a perfect opportunity to assess a season. Midway through a campaign, a half-term report can outline areas for improvement, as well as any positives drawn since August. Moreover, January can define realistic targets for the remaining five months as teams prepare themselves for that all important run-in.
A review of Liverpool to this point would probably read: so-so (not to be confused with our Spanish playmaker). A summer of upheaval and an underwhelming close to the transfer window diluted expectations. Brendan Rodgers’ appointment also brought with it a new style of play and subsequent acclimatisation. A daunting set of fixtures hardly eased the transition and extended our wait for a first league win until the end of September.
Despite numerous hiccups there are definite signs of progress. Possession rules under the Rodgers mantra and the reds have learned to retain the ball far better. Significantly, such domination is not without purpose – the side creating more chances (412) than anyone in the Premier League. Translating that into goals has proven far tougher – our conversion rate of just 8% eclipsed by all but QPR. But with Daniel Sturridge now onboard it is hoped we have found a remedy to such profligacy.
Indeed the groundwork is being laid for future development. Defensively the team is also relatively sound – with only Stoke registering more clean sheets. All things considered, discovering a clinical edge may prove the difference between a mid-table slog and a top four assault.
Such aspirations have so far suffered from painful inconsistency. An otherwise excellent Christmas period was blighted by defeats to The Potters and (unforgivably) Aston Villa. Before that an eight game unbeaten run was dashed solely in light of a crazy twenty minutes at White Hart Lane. Similarly, our defence of the League Cup ground to a halt at home to Swansea in a pitiful showing. Erasing the Jekyll & Hyde factor and finding that consistency is essential. By doing so Liverpool could conceivably latch onto the coat-tails of Arsenal and Everton as they vie for that final Champions League berth.
Though more will be asked of certain individuals a handful of players deserve great credit for their efforts thus far. Obviously Luis Suarez has been head and shoulders above everyone not just at LFC but maybe the league as a whole. Were it not for the deplorable media witch-hunt set against him, the Uruguayan would be a red-hot contender for Player of the Year. Alongside El Pistolero Raheem Sterling has been nothing short of a sensation in his debut season. Fast, energetic, tricky and industrious he is our brightest hope since Steven Gerrard graduated from The Academy. But it is his fellow countryman upon whom I want to lavish special praise.
At right-back Glen Johnson is in the form of his life. Nevertheless he is consistently overlooked and taken for granted by sections of the fan base. Whether it down to his sizable transfer fee or the fact he replaced an able figure in Alvaro Arbeloa, he seldom receives the praise merited. Indeed at this moment in time there is no better attacking full-back anywhere.
A vital component of the Rodgers game plan is the wing-backs’ ability to surge forward and influence attacks. Long celebrated for those offesnive instincts, Johnson has flourished under this model and continually looks to run beyond the three man midfield. As well as notching twice himself he has two assists to his name, two more than Joe Allen, Lucas, Fabio Borini and Ossama Assaidi combined. Good in possession and possessing terrific delivery, Johnson has become one of our best outlets in the all important final third.
[sws_pullquote_right]Johnson – Season Stats
Starts: 24 (all comps)
Goals: 2 (all comps)
Assists: 1 (all comps) [/sws_pullquote_right]Given those attacking instincts it is easy to forget his contribution defensively. The old adage is that he cannot defend – a myth preached as far back as his West Ham days. Sadly mud sticks and this lazy argument is still used as ammunition by clueless pundits and fans alike. Any deficiencies Glen had in this respect were ironed-out long ago. As if to underline the point he can switch to left-back seamlessly and perform just fine. In fact, his sustained stint on that flank aided his defensive capabilities – with Steve Clarke no doubt providing great tutelage.
Johnson’s importance to the Liverpool cause is best realised when considering the fierce competition at right-back. Martin Kelly is a fantastic player with bounds of potential and a great many advocates. Likewise Andre Wisdom has emerged as a powerful, bullish and reliable full-back, while tough-tackling Jon Flanagan is also fighting to regain his place in the first team reckoning. With an embarrassment of riches Rodgers may have considered selling Johnson in order to raise much-needed funds. However that idea, apparently, was never even thought of let alone contemplated. Furthermore Johnson has fought off all competition to remain the outright first choice. A fine endorsement.
One of the biggest compliments you can pay GJ is his level rarely drops. You can rely on him to put in a shift regardless of how his team-mates fare. He would also walk into every other Premier League side. How many Liverpool players could you say that about? Suarez definitely but anybody else? Daniel Agger possibly and Gerrard on his day but there are no other contenders. Along with the scintillating Uruguayan Johnson has been performing on a higher plain to everyone else and deserves recognition. At the very least he warrants a chant in his honour, even Igor Biscan earned one of those!
If Liverpool are to enjoy a strong second half to the campaign they will need the likes of Suarez and Johnson to maintain their level and others to match those same standards. The top four is most probably out of reach but that is not to say we cannot push on and have a say in proceedings. Currently sitting eighth we need to leapfrog West Brom and aim for a top six finish – preferably above Everton. A tough run of fixtures await – starting with a trip to Old Trafford – but the manager himself has stated his confidence coming into 2013.
There will be more bumps in the road as the group is very much a work in progress. Last year was in many ways one to forget for LFC, despite our League Cup triumph. This one will hopefully bring major improvement. Successive wins have given us a decent start, victory at Old Trafford would make it a great one.
Happy New Year!