Has Jon Flanagan solved Liverpool’s Left-Back crisis?
There was some surprise among Liverpool fans when youngster Jon Flanagan was named in the starting line-up for the crucial clash with Everton in November – which ended 3-3 – but Brendan Rodgers’ gamble appears to have started paying dividends.
With Jose Enrique ruled out because of a knee injury, the Reds boss gave 20-year-old Flanagan only his second start of the season and a first Merseyside derby appearance, in which he thoroughly impressed, staking his claim for a regular starting berth.
The Liverpool-born defender was defensively solid, reading the game well as he made four interceptions and three clearances, but it was his tackling that was most impressive as he only failed to win the ball once in nine attempts.
Rodgers clearly feels the time is right for Flanagan to break into the Liverpool first-team, and he has acquitted himself well, staying disciplined in his position out wide. He has, perhaps, been too disciplined, though; he possibly doesn’t venture forward enough and become part of Liverpool’s attacks.
Under a fifth of his time was spent on the flank in the opposing half during his side’s 5-1 demolition of Fulham. Compare that with Jose Enrique’s last appearance – a 30-minute spell against Fulham early in November – it shows this is the key area Flanagan needs to work on to become a top full-back.
This vastly improved against West Ham as Liverpool dominated proceedings, though, and if Flanagan can add that attacking string to his bow he could soon establish himself as the first choice full-back.
Defensively, Flanagan has slotted into the back line with consummate ease, proving difficult to beat and reading the game intelligently. His defensive statistics make impressive reading; he averages six Defensive Actions per game and has already made almost as many clearances as Johnson and Enrique, despite playing far fewer minutes than his team-mates.
Flanagan’s overall Squawka Performance Score (-45) doesn’t make impressive reading, but there are several aspects of his game which will be hugely encouraging to his manager. With 100 per cent tackle, clearance and take-on success against the Hammers last weekend, he his showing real strength defensively and Rodgers can easily argue the case for keeping the 20-year-old in the side.