Ben Davies has only featured in one of the last 11 games for Sheffield United, with the Liverpool loanee finding himself kept out of the side by a former Reds defender.
After being permitted to stay away from the first-team squad over the summer, Davies made his long-anticipated Liverpool debut during pre-season.
But following two brief friendly outings, the centre-back was sent to Sheffield United on a season-long loan, effectively confirming his £1.6 million switch from Preston last February as a last-resort purchase.
A talented Championship defender, Davies took up first-choice duties at Bramall Lane almost immediately, starting 14 of a possible 20 league games in the first half of the season.
Ongoing injury problems, a bout of COVID-19 and time out for personal reasons have limited his time in the side, though, and since the turn of the year the 26-year-old has only played once – completing the full 90 minutes in a 2-1 win at Birmingham.
Instead, manager Paul Heckingbottom has turned to Liverpool academy graduate Jack Robinson in Davies’ place, with the Warrington-born defender – still the Reds’ youngest-ever Premier League player – starting nine of the last 10 league games.
During that run, Sheffield United have only lost once, and ahead of Wednesday night’s clash with Blackburn have kept seven clean sheets from those 10 games to lift them into the playoff reckoning.
Robinson’s consistent, full-blooded approach has earned praise during his time at centre-back, and it is hard to envisage the three-man unit of him, Chris Basham and John Egan being broken up.
A first Blades goal for Jack Robinson. ?
The second goal yesterday in front of the Kop. ? pic.twitter.com/S1vytD8pvL
— Sheffield United (@SheffieldUnited) January 23, 2022
That is, unless Heckingbottom is forced into redeploying Robinson as a wing-back, following a season-ending injury to right-sider Jayden Bogle.
Bogle has joined Rhian Brewster on the treatment table for the remainder of the season, and Heckingbottom could face a choice between fielding Robinson out of position on the right or turning to 18-year-old Femi Seriki.
George Baldock, who scored a stunning goal in the 4-0 win over Swansea last time out, will be first choice in Bogle’s absence, but is a doubt for the visit of Blackburn.
What does this mean for Davies?
If there is a reshuffle, there is a chance that Davies comes back into the plans at centre-back, having been an unused substitute in each of the last three games.
Where this situation leaves him come the summer, however, is up in the air, with it already highly unlikely that he returns to Liverpool in a full-time capacity.
Liverpool could have hoped that Sheffield United would see enough during Davies’ time on loan to persuade them to make a permanent offer in the summer, or at least that his performances would attract suitors from elsewhere.
But having lost his place in the side to a Reds record-holder in Robinson, doubts could be cast over the No. 28 when the transfer window reopens.