With Andre Wisdom pledging his future to Liverpool until 2019 with a new contract this week, Jack Lusby asks where he fits in among the first-team squad.
Liverpool kicked off their summer of business early this week by announcing new contracts for defenders Kolo Toure and Andre Wisdom.
Wisdom, who has spent the season on loan with West Bromwich Albion, has reportedly extended his stay on Merseyside until 2019, in what was a relatively surprising move.
Such a lengthy deal suggests a first-team role for the 22-year-old next season.
But what role can Wisdom play at Liverpool?
Liverpool’s Defensive Makeup, 2015/16
Believe it or not, at this juncture Liverpool’s defence is set to be in worse shape next season than it was in 2014/15.
With the focus seemingly on bolstering the attacking ranks and replacing Steven Gerrard in midfield, so far there has been little to no indication that Brendan Rodgers is looking to add to his defence in the transfer market.
Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren and Toure could be joined by either on-loan pair Tiago Ilori or Sebastian Coates to make up Liverpool’s central defenders.
At left-back, while Jose Enrique is likely to leave, Alberto Moreno seems pencilled in to continue as first choice.
On the opposite flank, Javier Manquillo still has one more year left on his temporary move from Atletico Madrid and Glen Johnson is set to depart on the expiry of his contract.
Recent reports have suggested that, with Johnson out and with Emre Can a long-term option in midfield rather than defence, Wisdom is in Rodgers’ thinking as first-choice right-back for the upcoming season.
That means, going by reports, Liverpool’s defence for 2015/16 could line up as Wisdom, Skrtel, Sakho and Moreno.
But has Wisdom shown enough for that to be a reasonable back line on Merseyside?
Ahead of Wisdom’s move to West Brom last summer, Rodgers spoke of the great opportunity he had to establish himself in the Baggies first team, declaring: “He now has the opportunity to go to another very good coach in Alan Irvine, who I know from my youth days. He is an excellent coach and West Brom are an excellent club.”
“That will be another step for him in his development, playing regularly in the Premier League,” he later concluded.
It started very well for the 22-year-old in the West Midlands, too. Wisdom was a near ever-present under Irvine, playing the full 90 minutes in all but one game prior to the Scot’s sacking on the turn of the year.
That absence was due to the restrictions of his loan move, with Wisdom unable to feature against the Reds.
He was particularly impressive in a 4-0 win over Burnley in September, a 2-2 draw with Manchester United on October and a 1-0 win over rivals Aston Villa in December.
Seemingly progressing well, Wisdom looked a comfortable defensive full-back with high concentration and also an ability to get forward when required.
Wisdom vs. Liverpool’s full-backs, 2014/15 (Statistics via WhoScored. All output, barring games played, averaged per game.)
Enduring a torrid afternoon in which he made no real tangible defensive or attacking contribution, Wisdom struggled, with star man Christian Eriksen enjoying the freedom of the left flank.
Eriksen made four successful dribbles, two key passes and was dispossessed just once in a 90-minute, man-of-the-match display.
Can anyone please tell me why Wisdom plays every game ? I think he's the worst RB for many years #wba
— steve WBA (@WbaSteve) January 31, 2015
Wisdom was subjected to the ire of the West Brom supporters when he was substituted just after the hour mark, with many cheering his withdrawal.
Since that game, Wisdom has played just 20 minutes of football for new manager Tony Pulis’ first team. In four months.
Instead, Pulis has preferred to play a back four formed entirely out of established centre-backs—typically Craig Dawson, Gareth McAuley, Jonas Olsson and Joleon Lescott—and the Baggies have conceded 19 goals in 15 league games since that switch, or 1.27 per game.
Previously, with Wisdom a regular, West Brom shipped 32 goals in 23 games, or 1.39 per game.
Without Wisdom, West Brom improved. So is it not a risk to depend on him next season at Liverpool?
[pull_quote_center]Nothing is never assured in football but Brendan Rodgers is always in touch and pushing me to do well. That feedback makes me want to keep progressing and hopefully I can put another thought in his mind to be part of the future.
It’s everybody’s dream there to be in the Liverpool first team and I’m no different.[/pull_quote_center]
Wisdom clearly has his eye on a regular role at Anfield on his return this summer, and if reports are to be believed he could be given the vote of confidence from Rodgers—and this is backed up by his new contract.
But given his inability to hold down a place under the defence-favouring Pulis at West Brom, there should be reservations as to his suitability as a first-choice right-back.
It would be pertinent to equate Wisdom’s functional talents to those of Manquillo who, on loan at Liverpool this season, lost his place under Rodgers due to a change in system and, in turn, a changing demand upon his full-backs.
Liverpool need a complete full-back to compete next season—a player who can support the attack regularly, but also remain steadfast in defence, like Southampton‘s Nathaniel Clyne—and given Wisdom’s performances this season, it would be difficult to argue that he is that player right now.
It could be that his long-term role is in his more natural position, at centre-back.
Of course, Wisdom deserves a chance to impress the Liverpool manager during pre-season, and this would provide the defender a perfect opportunity to find a place in the squad.
As his mixed contribution on loan at West Brom this season shows, Wisdom is not yet a first-team quality right-back.
But he’s an upgrade on the dismal Johnson.
Next season, Wisdom should return to Rodgers’ first-team squad—but to compete with a more suitable summer signing at right-back, not as first choice.
What role should Andre Wisdom play at Liverpool next season? Let us know in the comments below.