While Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers fears losing more experienced players once Gerrard leaves the club, retaining Glen Johnson despite his experience next season will be a mistake.
Among the many questions raised by the impending departure of Steven Gerrard from Liverpool, one among them is the fate of other senior players at the club. While Kolo Toure is the oldest player in the squad after Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva and Glen Johnson are the most senior most players in terms of experience at Liverpool, having spent time at Anfield since the tenure of Rafa Benitez. Lucas’ performances ever since he was reinstated as a first choice central midfielder make him a must-have in the squad. On the other hand, offering a new contract to Glen Johnson will be a mistake. His performances have been poor for nearly 18 months now, and paying him more than GBP100,000 a week to stay at the club as a squad player will set Liverpool back a few years in finding a reliable right back.
The argument for/against Glen Johnson
Brendan Rodgers likes full backs in his teams to contribute high up the pitch. Given that Rodgers likes wingers to cut inside and move closer to the goal, the full back is required to create the necessary width. A full back in such a setup, however, will need to be quick – both in moving forward to beat opposing full backs, but also in tracking back to help out the defence. In the words of Jamie Carragher, full backs are now box-to-box players – they will be measured not just by their ability to defend, but also by their ability to create chances and score goals. It only took so long for Liverpool supporters to lose patience with Glen Johnson because he was once a player who could do all the things Rodgers wanted him to do within a game. That was about 5 years ago, though; that version of Glen Johnson has been missing from Anfield for a long time now.
Rodgers’ primary reasoning for wanting to keep Johnson at the club is due to him being among the more experienced players in the squad. That may be a valid argument, but it is all Johnson has in his favour. Johnson could well have been starting for Liverpool against Chelsea in the second leg of the Capital One Cup semi final, but if his experience has not helped him in marking Eden Hazard on previous occasions, then he would not have magically figured that out on Tuesday.
Experience for it’s own sake will do nothing for Liverpool besides push up the wage bill. It will not make up for the lethargic passing going forward, nor will it make up for his failure to track back time and again. Liverpool supporters keenly observe their own players, and the failure of Johnson in tracking back nearly every game he plays does not go unnoticed. To be fair to the England international, it is less of an attitude problem and more of a fitness issue. He is not 24 or 25 years old anymore; and most recently, Johnson left Philippe Coutinho to deal with Cesar Azpilicueta all by himself during the home league game against Chelsea in November, this despite starting from within his own half! Remember, Coutinho isn’t even a real defender, while Johnson is one of those players Brendan Rodgers rested against Real Madrid to prepare for Chelsea in the league.
So what choice does Liverpool have?
Unless Liverpool decide to bring in someone from outside, the obvious alternatives at right back for the next season are the on loan Javier Manquillo, the injured Jon Flanagan and Northern Irishman Ryan McLaughlin, who has yet to make a senior appearance for Liverpool. (Stats courtesy Squawka.com)
|Glen Johnson||Javi Manquillo||Jon Flanagan|
|Competition||2013/14 Premier League||2014/15 Premier League||2013/14 Premier League|
|Tackles (per game)||1.86||2.49||2.81|
Comparisons between the three full backs are not possible taking the same league games into account – hence the numbers shown above can be taken with a pinch of salt. That being said, there is not much to choose from between Johnson, Manquillo and Flanagan in terms of goals scored or assists. To be fair to the England international, he holds a clear advantage in terms of contribution in attack – i.e. chance creation, shots taken.
The younger full backs are clearly a better option at right back, however, than Glen Johnson simply because of intangible factors that are not captured by statistics. One of Johnson’s biggest weaknesses is his positional sense. Johnson is often found dribbling in front of defenders rather than making runs behind them and latching on to through balls from Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho. Too many passes are made sideways rather than forward, and Liverpool often either lose possession (like in this pass straight to Eden Hazard) or pass the ball backwards towards a centre half or the goalkeeper. Such events often do not adversely affect statistics such as pass completion, and hence give a skewed picture of Johnson’s performance.
Another one of Johnson’s weaknesses that does not affect his performance statistics is his positional sense. This stems from his tendency to move forward on Liverpool’s right wing, but being unable to track back at the same pace. The goal scored by Diego Costa is a case in point; leaving Philippe Coutinho to deal with Cesar Azpilicueta all by himself is not counted as an error on Johnson’s part; it will be counted as an unsuccessful take-on for Coutinho!
Another part of a right back’s duties is to stop the source of the cross – either by blocking it on delivery, or by leaving the opposing winger with too little space and on his weaker foot. This is something Manquillo has excelled in during his time at Liverpool thus far. Flanagan, on the other hand, was seldom caught out of position while transitions were made from attack to defence last season. Remember, that was Flanagan at left back, not even his natural position.
Northern Ireland right back Ryan McLaughlin has not been included for comparison sake simply because he is yet to make a senior appearance for Liverpool. This does not, however, being asked to mark Francesco Totti in a pre season friendly at Fenway Park in Brendan Rodgers’ second game as Liverpool manager. McLaughlin did a creditable job in dealing with the Italian, who at last count, was not playing too badly at a Rome derby a few weeks ago. Rodgers likes to talk about how he is out to prove that British players can also possess the neat technique of their German and Spanish counterparts. But we will never know what he saw in Boston two years that prompted him to not give McLaughlin future opportunities at the expense of Glen Johnson.
Given the impending departure of Steven Gerrard, Liverpool are quite literally at a crossroads. They have the choice of allowing Glen Johnson to join another club of his choice, or to make him their highest paid player in the 2015-16 season. Glen Johnson has already declared that he will not crawl to Liverpool asking for a new contract; so this decision is all on Brendan Rodgers and the Transfer Committee. The Transfer Committee in question was responsible for bringing in the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho to Anfield, but are also equally to blame for bringing in Iago Aspas and Mario Balotelli. As for what will happen this time around, Liverpool supporters can only wait and watch.