Liverpool FC are currently on a seven-match unbeaten run in the league, only the third time that they’ve managed to go on such a run since their failed title challenge against Manchester United in 2008-09.
Progress has been slow under new boss Brendan Rodgers, but a noticeable change in recent weeks, among others, has been the more advanced role that full-back Jose Enrique has come to occupy on the wing, hinting at solution to what has become a long-term problem for the team.
The 3-0 Premier League win at home to Wigan last weekend really was a tale of two halves, with Roberto Martinez’s side showing little to no urgency in the opening period and the hosts left clutching on to a string of half-chances and missed opportunities. But after the break, Liverpool were a transformed outfit, and while forward Luis Suarez will have hogged most of the headlines with his two-goal salvo to maintain his superb recent form, it was Jose Enrique who perhaps caught the eye the most with a swashbuckling display on the left wing.
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Rodgers has shown a growing tactical flexibility in recent week, straying away from his preferred 4-3-3 formation, experimenting with a 3-5-2 system in Europe against Anzhi Makhachkala and in the second half to take the sting out of a energetic Everton side in the Merseyside Derby, but the 4-3-3 made a return to good effect away against Chelsea and Wigan.
Given the personnel at his disposal, Rodgers has cleverly pushed Jose Enrique onto the left wing, slotted Glen Johnson behind him at left-back and kept the promising Andre Wisdom at right back and the result is a much more balanced, but consistently threatening threat from the flanks.
The 39-year-old boss challenged both Jose Enrique and Stewart Downing earlier on in the campaign to prove themselves at Anfield this term, arguing that ‘talent alone is not enough’, and that they needed to start putting performances in when it mattered. This saw Downing utilised on a couple of occasions at left-back, but he didn’t even make the bench against Wigan, with Joe Cole preferred instead, which tells you all you need to know about where he’s viewed in the pecking order.
However, despite seeing both Johnson and Jack Robinson chosen over him at times in his natural position at the back this season, Jose Enrique has reinvented himself in recent weeks and his work-rate has been nothing short of phenomenal. His longevity at the club is directly intertwined with his ability to adapt and change and prompted Rodgers to compare him favourably with Tottenham winger Gareth Bale after he scored his first goal for the club against the Latics and set up Suarez after another mazy run and excellent through ball.
“He’s a terrific talent. I just felt pushing that bit further forward; you look at Gareth Bale, he played a lot at left-back and pushed forward one and really showed his strengths,” Rodgers told reporters after the match.
“Jose is someone I think can do that role with his power and pace, I said to him yesterday [about] the number of goals he and Raheem can get if they get inside the frame of the goal. If you watch the replay he makes up a lot of ground to get in there and anticipate the rebound.”
It sounds as if slowly but surely Jose Enrique is beginning to win Rodgers over, with his versatility, application and work ethic, not to mention his quality in the final third, and his assist for Suarez’s equaliser against Newcastle, striking a bouncing ball perfectly over 50 yards to the Uruguayan to control and slot home displayed the signs of an increasingly good understanding between the pair.
His place in the starting eleven is by no means guaranteed, but in the wake of the departures of Craig Bellamy, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez in the summer and the subsequent struggles of Downing, there’s an opening in the side for him to continue to impress. Doubts still linger about his defensive ability at times, his lack of positioning and his over-reliance on his left foot which sees him run down narrow corridors all too often, but with more space on the wing, he seems reborn.
With fellow Spaniard Suso being hauled off before half-time against Wigan in a tactical switch, Jose Enrique faces few rivals for the slot and while it may simply be a purple patch of good form, the fact that he’s already ahead of Cole and Downing in the pecking order speaks volumes for this unexpectedly promising development which has helped add a new dimension to Rodgers side over the last couple of weeks.
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