Emiliano Insua has been one of Liverpool’s biggest problems this season. The fact that we have relied on him as our first choice left-back for effectively the entire campaign has benefited neither party, and I believe bringing a good, experienced left-back to the club this summer would not only solve this defensive problem in the short-term, but also help build Insua into becoming the genuine long-term solution for this position.
Insua has had a very difficult season, and has been singled out numerous times by fans and pundits as one of the weak(est) links in what was, by Liverpool’s and Rafa Benitez’s standards, a very shaky back four (and yes, I know we finished with the joint-clean sheet record, but for large chunks of the season the defence was terrifyingly sub-standard). Insua badly needs to improve the one-one-one defensive side of his game – arguably the most important feature of the full-back position – and has consistently struggled against direct, pacey wingers who look to take on their man. The defeat at Wigan in March is one of the first games that comes to mind, when Charles N’Zogbia – a very decent, but by no means world-class, winger – absolutely took Insua apart time after time throughout the game. Crucially, though, this is an aspect of a player’s game that can be improved, though this is not best done by throwing the player into the deep end of the notoriously fast-paced and physically demanding English Premier League for an entire season. Unfortunately for Benitez, due to factors both within and outside of his control (a poor signing in the position in Andrea Dossena, and seemingly continuous injuries to Fabio Aurelio) he has had no choice but to do so.
It is a great shame about Aurelio’s injuries, because not only is he, for me, one of the most dependable and technically adept full-backs in the league when fit, but he could well have helped provide the necessary protection that would have allowed Insua – hardly the most physically daunting of players – to steadily learn how to deal with playing in a difficult league. With a fit Aurelio ahead of him, Insua could have had the luxury of finding his feet in the Premier League gradually, with the odd game here and there and a good, professional first-teamer to teach him – very much in the way that Rafael (another very promising but often defensively suspect full-back) is being integrated into the first-team by Manchester United behind Gary Neville. With Aurelio almost certainly on his way out this summer as his contract expires, though, I think that it should be high on Rafa’s list of priorities to bring in a decent, experienced left-back, preferably for minimal money (easier said than done, I know). This would have the twofold effect of not only improving our defence in the short-term, but also alleviating the pressure on Insua that would allow him to relax, slowly develop his game, and eventually fight for the privilege of a place in the starting XI as opposed to fearing the inevitability of it.
While he is neither the quickest nor strongest, I do see Insua as having the fundamental characteristics to grow into a very good full back for Liverpool. He is very technically proficient: his first touch is excellent, he is comfortable on the ball, and is able to deliver a decent cross from out wide. Of course, there is still room for improvement in these areas, but the raw talent is undoubtedly there – see his ball in for Gerrard’s header against Wolves on Boxing Day for evidence. It is the less technically-orientated aspects that he struggles with – positional play, one-on-one defending and occasionally his choice of pass. Again, these can and will be improved under the supervision of an older, more experienced player. This is by no means calling for Rafa to find the next Roberto Carlos, just a solid, professional defender (the left-back equivalent to Kyrgiakos, for instance), who can be relied on to do a job there, when needed, for a season or two. At 22-years-old, Insua is no longer a prospect for the future, but being a fixture in a struggling side this season has done him no good, with some very experienced players going through (admittedly well due) patches of poor form not helping. However, if this pressure is taken off him with the signing of an older head in his position, I can see him developing into the long-term solution to out left-back problems over the next few years.
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