The Daily Telegraph has revealed today that Liverpool right back Glen Johnson will be out to at least March with a medial ligament tear in his right knee picked up against Aston Villa. A scan had revealed that the England full-back would possibly only be out for a month after fears he would miss the rest of the season, but it now looks more likely that diagnosis will be corrected to over two. In his absence, Rafa Benitez will have to decide who will be best to deputise in Johnson’s vacant right back position in important upcoming games. Below I have listed some possible alternatives and who I believe should be the preferred replacement.
Jamie Carragher – The option to play Carra at right back seems to be the most likely one for Rafa Benitez. When Johnson has been absent this season already, Carragher has deputised at full back while pushing either Martin Skrtel or Sotorios Kyrgiakos alongside Daniel Agger in central defence. It is a desire for more defensive solidity which has encouraged Benitez to move the 31 year old to right back but at his age he can be exposed to pacey wingers due to his lack of pace, and the defence would be much more secure with him at the heart of the backline.
Philipp Degen – Bought in place of Steve Finnan, who left for Espanyol, the Swiss international has been a massive flop on Merseyside. The 26 year old has suffered from various injury setbacks since his arrival from Borussia Dortmund a year and a half ago but when he has been fit, Benitez has not been convinced enough of his abilities to play him at right back, whether in Johnson’s absence this season, or Arbeloa’s last year. Degen has bundles of pace and loves to go forward to assist attacking moves, but he is frequently exposed defensively and can’t be relied upon at the back. Benitez looks set to sell the player in the January transfer window despite the injury to Johnson.
Stephen Darby – A youngster who has come through the Liverpool ranks, Darby has looked promising at times and can be commanding in the tackle but I have question marks that he can be relied upon at the top level. When he started against Fiorentina in the dead-rubber in the Champions League, he made an error which cost Liverpool a goal in the final stages of the match. It maybe a risk starting him in a crucial match against Tottenham on Sunday considering his inexperience.
Martin Kelly – Kelly is a centre back by trade but his performance against Lyon in the Champions League impressed me and many other Liverpool fans. His height makes him strong on long diagonal balls, he is very impressive in the tackle which would be expected of a centre back, but what surprised everyone was his attacking play during the match. Comfortable in position, he could also deliver fantastic accurate crosses and he nearly provided Fabio Aurelio with a goal during the match which was his debut for the first team. He was however also injured during the match and has not played for the first team since. If he does return to fitness quickly though, he would be my first choice to cover for Johnson during his spell on the sidelines. Even though it was only one game, the performance impressed me enough that he could go right in at the deep end in a big game. He seems to have both the footballing talent and the right mental attitude to cope.
So who will Benitez decide to play instead of Johnson? For the match against Tottenham it will be a toss up between Carragher and Darby, and I think Benitez will go for Carra. But if Kelly returns from injury soon, I hope Rafa considers him as I believe it would be good to give the player the chance to prove himself.
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