With Javier Manquillo having been cast aside over recent months and his Reds future looking bleak, Ben Twelves asks what next for the Spanish right-back.
After an impressive start to his Liverpool career, Javier Manquillo’s time at Anfield has come to an abrupt stand still.
Beginning his Reds tenure promisingly, looking the answer to Liverpool’s problematic right-back spot following his arrival on a two-year loan move from Atletico Madrid, the Spanish right-back has found his chances limited since the introduction of the new formation.
This has naturally raised question marks over his future on Merseyside, so what next for the 20-year-old?
Performances This Season
A defensively minded full-back, Manquillo took no time in making the right-back spot his own as he started six of the Reds’ first seven Premier League games, albeit Glen Johnson being injured probably helped there.
Missing only for Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat at Man City, the 20-year-old impressed – with his defensive solidity almost something of a luxury having replaced Johnson – leading to calls from some sections of the fan base to turn his move in a permanent one.
Good pace, reading of the game and excellence when tasked one-vs-one saw Manquillo quickly establish himself as the club’s strongest defensive full-back – illustrated as he made no defensive errors and recorded the highest tackles and interceptions per-game of any Liverpool player with 3.2 and 2.2 respectively.
While a reliable defender, the Spain under-21 international proved rather lacking offensively, but his defence-first style seemed it would provide the perfect complement to the marauding Alberto Moreno on the opposite flank.
Following the Reds slow start to the season and dreadful defeat at Selhurst Park however, Manquillo played only 45 minutes of the following six matches – the first half of Liverpool’s 3-1 win at Leicester – as Rodgers sought to turn fortunes around.
Victim of System Change: 3-4-2-1
The successful formation switch has seen Manquillo well and truly cast aside.
Since its introduction, the right-back has featured just once in the Premier League – with Rodgers choosing to deploy naturally attack-minded players at wing-back due to the defensive assurance the system brings with three central defenders.
The game he did play, however, Liverpool produced one of their performances of the season as they thrashed Swansea 4-1 at Anfield – a result aided by the balance provided at wing-back on the night by the blistering Moreno and more cautious Manquillo.
Since that last fixture of 2014, the Atletico loaned man hasn’t played a single minute of Premier League action. Featuring only three times since the turn of the year – against Wimbledon and Bolton (home) in the FA Cup, and as a sub vs. Besiktas in Turkey recently.
That Bolton game did highlight his overall lack of suitability to the wing-back role though, often too deep and not providing the usual attacking outlet that Jordon Ibe and Lazar Markovic have offered on the right side. With Johnson playing at right centre-back that game, the two of them were often too close to each other with perhaps both slightly out of position.
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Anfield and Positional Future
As with a number of youngsters in the Anfield ranks, Manquillo’s continued presence on Merseyside hinges mostly on Rodgers’ next decision over formation, but the right-back also has further complexities contributing to his possible next move.
According to Andy Hunter of the Guardian, Manquillo’s two-year loan deal allowed for two further potential transactions:
“Atletico can break the loan arrangement and recall Manquillo for a fee next summer (2015)”, writes Hunter, while the Reds can make the deal a permanent one at the end of the 2015/16 season.
These details could provide the deciding factors in any step – should Atletico refuse to fork out the fee required to take him back to Madrid, a Red he is set to stay. For another season at least.
Should that happen, Liverpool will have an excellent, reliable defensive full-back on their hands, tailor made for a four man defence, but Rodgers will also have a player who is more suited to a traditional full back role, rather than a wide-midfield position in the 3-4-2-1.
It is hard to judge Jordon Ibe’s numbers after limited amount of game time, but a better comparison between Manquillo and Lazar Markovic shows the Serbian’s attacking output is far greater – undoubtedly the reason for his preferred inclusion and Manquillo’s absence.
Nevertheless, a possible relocation to right centre-back could be a potential way forward. Kolo Toure and Johnson are possible departures this summer, and with his defensive numbers impressive and ball-playing reliable, the switch could be an option – something that would allow Emre Can to return to his preferred midfield role.
Should Rodgers stick to a three man defence next term and Manquillo fail to force his way into central defensive contention though, the consequences could result in an unfortunate early loan termination.
There appears to be little place in the squad for a defensive wide-man – Jon Flanagan also finds himself in limbo having previously been on the verge of signing a new deal – and naturally offensive players are shoe-ins for the position.
The future of Javi Manquillo at Anfield almost entirely relies on Rodgers’ next move. Should the Reds boss revisit a four man defence, Manquillo has a genuine chance to become first choice for the right back berth, but if the 3-4-2-1 is here to stay, time could already be up.