With Andre Wisdom’s loan spell at West Brom having taken a turn for the worse over recent weeks, Ben Twelves takes a look at what’s behind the slump and the possible implications on his Liverpool career.
Andre Wisdom currently finds himself out of the West Brom team having not played a single minute of action since the end of January.
The Reds loaned man had made the right-back position his own under Alan Irvine, and kept his place at the beginning of Tony Pulis’ reign too, but for the last month-and-a-half Wisdom has been stuck on the bench for five consecutive league and two FA Cup games.
In a season that was hoped would see the 21-year-old’s steady development continue gaining experience on the Premier League stage, his campaign has taken a concerning downward turn.
So what has gone wrong?
West Brom Performances
In the Albion team, Wisdom featured predominantly at right back – with regular in-game switches to the left – as both Baggies bosses have opted for a greater physical presence at centre back – with Gareth McCauley, Craig Dawson and Joleon Lescott first choice picks.
While an unfavoured position, full-back is far from an unfamiliar role – Wisdom previously played there for Liverpool and all last season in a successful season loan at Derby – and the youngster cemented his place on the right of the back four ahead of fellow new recruit and Costa Rica World Cup star, Cristian Gamboa.
Such was Wisdom’s dominance at right-back, he completed 90 minutes in 21 of his 22 appearances out of the first 23 league matches – missing only for West Brom’s defeat at Anfield – but though his consistent inclusion suggested the same of his performance level, form didn’t reflect his selection with mixed performances and only five wins in 22 matches ensuing.
Wisdom’s production offensively and defensively over those games proved contrasting and surprising in equal measure.
The defender boasts the joint-highest chance creation with nine (the same as Emre Can) – none of Albion’s other defenders have more – alongside completing the most dribbles, and claiming one assist for Stephane Sessegnon’s excellent opener against Man United in October – a decent return in a team that’s largely struggled.
Defensively however it’s a different story. Wisdom has posted the lowest tackle and interceptions per-game rate of the regular Albion defenders with 1.1 and 1.4 respectively, as well as having made one defensive error leading directly to an attempt on goal – only Jonas Olsson has made more than the academy product.
This lacklustre defensive output no doubt lead to the youngster ending up among the substitutes.
Dropped to the Bench
The move to the Black Country was meant to provide the perfect platform for the natural centre back to push on his development ahead of a return to Anfield next season, but it hasn’t gone to plan.
Struggling at right back, Wisdom’s lowly defensive production in a relegation scrap clearly unimpressed Pulis, resulting in the new manager hauling him off after an hour of the Baggies’ 3-0 home defeat to Tottenham – a move which proved popular with the Hawthorns faithful who cheered the decision. Wisdom hasn’t played a minute since.
Wisdom – by trade a centre half. Now playing right back &left back in his first full Prem season. Deserves a bit of a break from some. #wba
— London Baggies (@LondonBaggies) January 24, 2015
An improvement in results has followed the decision to reshuffle the dysfunctional back line – the Baggies have won two, drawn two and lost only one of their last five league matches keeping three clean sheets in the process – a sequence that has seen Pulis’ team move to 13th in the table and eight points clear of the relegation zone.
The upturn in form since Wisdom’s exclusion will certainly make his life more difficult in regaining his place.
Impact on Liverpool Future
“It’s everybody’s dream there to be in the Liverpool first-team and I’m no different.”
The Leeds-born defender said in November holding down a regular spot at Liverpool is still his “ultimate goal”, but following the post-Christmas slump, it’s highly questionable whether it can be achieved.
There have been high hopes for the academy graduate since breaking into the team in Brendan Rodgers’ first season as manager and committing to a “long-term” deal in 2013 – with Jamie Carragher even tipping him for a permanent role at right back when Glen Johnson departs – but that now seems unlikely.
.@thehockjr With Glen's contract running down and the way Wisdom played last night could certainly be a good replacement.
— Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) October 21, 2014
A lot on Wisdom’s future will depend on whether Rodgers sticks with the 3-4-2-1 formation, as in the back three in particular with Kolo Toure and Johnson possibly leaving, there could be a place for Wisdom to feature in the squad with his attributes making him a possible option as a right sided defender.
Stepping out with the ball – as a three man defence requires – is where the Baggies man could come unstuck however. In comparison to Can’s 83% pass success, 0.6 key passes and 1.2 dribbles per-game, Wisdom’s number are less impressive with only 78% pass success, 0.4 key passes played and 0.6 dribbles to show – numbers that also make it hard to see a potential move to wing-back.
Should Rodgers choose to revert back to a four man defence however, Wisdom could see his Liverpool days numbered following his evident struggles at right back, as well as already having a number of central defensive options ahead of him and talented youngsters coming through.
With game time likely to be increasingly limited for the rest of the campaign, Andre Wisdom has to bide his time at the Hawthorns before returning to Anfield for what is set to be a make-or-break pre-season in his career.