THE new season is fast approaching and at the time of writing the first of our boys in Red have returned to Melwood and met Mr Rodgers for the first time. The pictures I have seen have certainly got me excited about the new season and I am approaching it with a great deal of optimism.
There is still the matter at hand for myself in reviewing the past season for individuals and putting across my thoughts on their futures. I hope you have seen my previous pieces on Carroll, Henderson, Downing, Adam, Gerrard, Jose Enrique, Reina, Skrtel, Agger, Suarez and Lucas – if you haven’t please go check them out and let me know what you think. Next up is our England right back Glen Johnson.
For me Johnson has always been a bit of an enigma as a player. He clearly has all the tools in the locker and the potential has always been there for him to be a really top level player, but I have felt sometimes in the past that he has struggled to live up to the expectations that lay at his feet.
I believe that he moved away from West Ham too soon and like a lot of players at the time who moved to Chelsea, such as Parker and Wright-Phillips, did not get the time on the pitch they needed. For me, Johnson is very much a confidence player and I think his experiences at Chelsea will have set him back, and it was not until he got playing time at Portsmouth that he began to realise his talent.
As I have discussed previously with other players, I take no note of price tags as they are largely irrelevant as a free signing could get you a McAllister or a Voronin, whereas a lot of money can buy a Suarez or a Veron. The money spent, or lack thereof, does not guarantee success. Plus who really knows the financial workings in football? When Johnson did arrive in 2009 though we signed the England right back whose value had increased significantly due to the level of performance he put in at Fratton Park.
I believe Johnson has had a quite topsy-turvy time at Anfield, in which we have seen some very accomplished performances and some less so. In his defence he has had some injury concerns and following which will have required a period of adjustment back to find his feet and form.
This season however, I believe has been a strong one for Johnson and we have seen him find a decent level of performance and consistency during the first half of the season in which we looked extremely promising. I also felt that despite the team struggling in the second half the season; Johnson was one of a number of performers to maintain that decent level and continue to be a threat.
Offensively we have some fantastic memories of Glen from this year, the best for me being his winner at Stamford Bridge, a goal which screams of what he is all about. Easily getting away from ‘the best left back in the world’ and a finish which displayed all the coolness of a clinical striker, a trait that I wish had rubbed off on the rest of the squad.
I have felt this year the much maligned defensive side of his game has come on leaps and bounds and a nod must be given in the direction of Steve Clarke, as he has looked much more solid and reliable whereas in previous seasons there has always been that nagging voice in the back of my mind that from a defensive viewpoint he was the weak link. Unfortunately I am not alone with these thoughts as the lazy media has identified him as a ‘dodgy defender’ and this stereotype will be dragged out constantly regardless of his performances. I thought Johnson had an excellent European Championships (like the other Liverpool players) but constantly his label was dragged out.
Ex-Liverpool players such as Rob Jones and Steve Finnan, from the Premier League era, are what I would call classic right backs, solid defensively first and foremost and offered options going forward in line with the demands of the modern game. Despite offering options going forward, the further up the pitch they went the clearer it became that they were right backs as they lacked the attacking finesse a winger would possess in advanced positions, but nevertheless added to Liverpool’s attacking options. Johnson on the other hand is almost the opposite of this, looking far more comfortable in possession high up the pitch and less composed in the defensive third. I for one have often mooted that a combination of Kelly at right back and Johnson as a right midfield/right wing could be an exciting prospect for these reasons.
Back to the point in hand, if you view the skill set of Johnson and then look across the world of football and see who is similar then I would suggest you would end up looking at someone like Dani Alves. Now I can predict that people will scoff at this but bear with me. The system that Barcelona play, despite setting up with what you would call right and left backs, sees these players operate with a far more offensive mindset as the set up of the team as a whole sheds the defensive shackles that as a club and a nation we have placed on Johnson, operating almost as what you would define as wing backs. This is done through the mindset of the best form of defence is possession, if the opposition don’t have the ball they can’t score – simple.
As England found at the Euro’s the other consequence of conceding possession is that you will do a lot of running and tire quicker hunting the ball, and tired players will make mistakes allowing offensively minded players more space and a greater opportunity to attack.
I firmly believe that the way in which both Barcelona and the Spanish set themselves up is more suited to what Johnson brings to the pitch than how we have set up previously and certainly how Roy sets up the national side. Fortunately for the coming season we have a manager who sets his teams up and has the same principles as the Spanish and wants to employ a brand of football that sees Liverpool dominate possession and dictate how the game is played. If Rodgers can achieve this then Liverpool will have a larger requirement for the offensive side of Johnson’s game than his defensive and I believe this will benefit him more and we will see Glen achieve his potential and truly get the best out of him.
As always, please come and fins me on twitter @timdibs love talking about Liverpool and footie in general.