With question marks over who should be Liverpool’s first choice right back for next season, Ben Twelves discusses who Brendan Rodgers should put his trust in out of the options at his disposal.
Liverpool face the prospect of going into the new season with the same issues at right back that proved so costly in the last. While most live in hope that a new first choice right back arrives at Anfield, currently Brendan Rodgers has a choice of three candidates to choose from for the starting place heading into the new campaign – Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan or Andre Wisdom.
Right back is a position that increasing numbers of the fan base feel is an area for real concern in the Liverpool team. Faith in Johnson seems to be wearing extremely thin with even some of his supporters beginning to tire of having to defend his inconsistent, lethargic displays. The England man has been a certain starter for years at Anfield but as the team evolves, many feel the right back position also needs to.
Jon Flanagan played his way into contention of taking over the baton as first choice right back last season and fellow academy product Andre Wisdom, who enjoyed a productive loan spell with Derby County, will also be knocking on the door of a starting berth when he returns as the pressure on Johnson is cranked up another notch.
So with it all quiet on a potential arrival, Rodgers will have to choose who should start between these three.
On his day Glen Johnson is an asset to the team, especially with the way Rodgers utilises full-backs, wanting them to contribute to our attacking play. Rare for an English full-back, Johnson is technically very good alongside his athleticism. He has a good first touch, can run with the ball and go either way as he’s comfortable with both feet. He’s also provided quality cover for left back too over the years.
However, in recent times, Johnson hasn’t had his day anywhere near enough. The back end of last season saw the annual slump in his form once again, this time as we chased a title. He was at fault for a number of goals and stood out as one of the big weak links of the Liverpool back line.
Glen’s concentration levels have often come in for criticism but more concerning is the constantly poor decision making and hesitancy in possession which often sees him disposed and Liverpool on the back foot as a result. Criticism of his performances prompted a Twitter outburst which at least showed he still has some urgency left in him.
So many sofa experts in this game…. Absolutely no idea about football what so ever! #Jokers
— Glen Johnson (@glen_johnson) May 5, 2014
Productivity was disappointing for a player renowned for his attacking style and he didn’t score a single goal, recording just two assists in 29 Premier League appearances and four in 31 games in all competitions.
From being thrown in at the deep-end last season in a Merseyside Derby on his unnatural side, consistently impressive performances saw Jon become a terrace favourite and branded the ‘Scouse Cafu’.
Cafu: “Flanagan’s an athlete who goes after it and never gives it up. That’s exactly what I used to do.”
— LFC Fans Corner (@LFCFansCorner) May 17, 2014
A whole hearted player, he has improved immeasurably in the way he plays while maintaining the ‘tough in the challenge’ approach. A solid, more traditional defender who has adapted well to Rodgers’ attacking system, his displays have shown real understanding and confidence in what he knows he has to do. Rodgers previously praised his “positive attitude” and alluded to it as a reason why he opted to throw him into the team ahead of more senior players.
Jon has done extremely well to turn his Anfield career around but there are still doubts over whether he can be the clubs’ main right back. While being far from immobile, the local lad lacks athleticism and pace – two attributes that Rodgers likes his players to possess. At times he was a little naïve defensively too, and got caught diving in on opposing players and while this could be explained away as looking to prevent getting into a race, or looking to win the ball back as high up the pitch as he could, it is still a concern.
Productivity lacked from the full-back areas for the majority of the season and was low again on the left side with the Scouser claiming only one goal and assist in 23 league games and 25 in all competitions. However he did have an excellent first season as a regular which is important to remember.
Wisdom featured 20 times in Rodgers’ first season in charge, mostly at right back which included appearances in high profile games against Man United and Everton. He showed in that time that with development and assistance there was a player who could play and be part of Rodgers’ squad going forward.
He enjoyed a successful loan spell at Derby last season playing at right back, helping Steve McClaren’s side reach the play-off final at Wembley and will come back to Anfield looking to cement a place in the squad.
Wisdom’s athletic, quick, strong, and relatively composed on the ball. He’s a solid defender who is good in 1v1 situations which is such a huge part of defending as a full-back. A brave and committed player, he isn’t frightened to bomb forward and join in attack and he grabbed three assists in 37 appearances.
He is comfortable in possession, like Flanagan, but also similarly to his teammate, he isn’t naturally suited to playing the way Rodgers wants of his full-backs. Cleverness, intelligence and productivity in the final third would again be a concern as Wisdom is more of a traditional defender.
Liverpool need a new first choice right back who is designed to play the philosophy and style of a Rodgers’ system. Until that happens and Serge Aurier, Martin Montoya or another walks through the door at Melwood, the choice remains between one of these three to start on the opening day of the new season. That man would ideally be a new signing but in the event of that not happening, Glen Johnson should stay as the starting right back until upgraded.
Jon Flanagan showed that he’s an excellent option to have as back-up and any sloppiness from Glen should see Flanno put in without a second thought. For Wisdom, he too can provide cover there and he should be in the Liverpool squad for next season contending for space in his natural centre of defence.