After a testing seven days which started with a miserable defeat against Crystal Palace followed by an unconvincing draw against Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets Razgrad in the Champions League in midweek, Liverpool‘s much-needed victory against Stoke City on Saturday – their only win in November – came from an unlikely source.
Often criticised for his performances and regarded as the weak link in what is already a porous Reds defence, it was nevertheless Glen Johnson who dived in gallantly in the 85th minute to nod the ball home after Rickie Lambert’s header had hit the bar, prompting wild celebrations from the Anfield crowd who must have had problems remembering what winning felt like of late.
That Johnson subsequently required treatment for his brave match-winning act served only to strengthen his status as Liverpool’s hero of the day. However, while the England international would certainly have enjoyed securing a precious three points for his team, his post-match comments suggest that his future at Anfield is far from certain.
“I want to play for a club that wants me,” the 30-year-old said. “I am not going to go crawling to anybody.”
“The club know where I am and they know the situation. There were minor talks at the end of last season but nothing I could accept or reject.”
Johnson has every reason to want to play for a club that actually wants him on their books, yet a match-winning performance against Stoke should not disguise the fact that the former Chelsea and Portsmouth defender has been showing signs of decline during the past couple of seasons at Anfield. This is by no means a criticism of the player; it is simply a regrettable inevitability that befalls most footballers when they reach their 30s.
Once regarded as a fine attacking full-back who occasionally neglected his defensive responsibilities, Johnson has found it hard to be as effective further up the pitch as he used to be. The frustration expressed by Reds fans concerning Johnson’s ability in going forward may be borne out of a desire to see him replicate the rapid runs of Alberto Moreno, who occupies the left side of the Liverpool defence. Indeed, there does seem to be a certain imbalance in the back four, with Moreno more than happy to burst forward at any opportunity on the left yet Johnson seemingly less prepared to do so on the opposite side.
When both full-backs share an enthusiasm for attacking play – much like the duo of Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman of Liverpool’s city rivals Everton – the result can be devastating. Although Johnson does still get himself into advanced positions – as evidenced by his presence in the penalty box for his goal over the weekend – he is doing so less and less frequently. However, he can hardly be blamed for this; he may be guilty of dithering and of being too hesitant on the ball sometimes, which often riles the Liverpool fans, but Johnson cannot be expected to bomb up and down the wing each game, as his defensive weaknesses will only get exposed further.
So where does this leave Glen Johnson? While his fine performance over the weekend shows that he can still be a useful asset for Liverpool, the fact that Reds boss Brendan Rodgers brought in Spanish youngster Javier Manquillo on a two-year loan over the summer implies that he may not be able to hold down a regular berth in the first team in the long term.
Rodgers should make it explicitly clear to their long-serving right-back that he is very much wanted at Anfield, and as a squad player he would add valuable depth to the backline. However, it remains to be seen whether Liverpool’s saviour on Saturday would be content with settling for a reduced role at the club. With Johnson free to sign pre-contract agreements with other clubs in January, his situation ought to become much clearer in the near future.
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