In the midst of the relentless gossip concerning potential new signings at the club, many have forgotten about the less prominent members of the current squad.
Having contributed so much to Liverpool’s 2013/2014 Premier League campaign, it is surprising how quickly Jon Flanagan has gone missing from the radar. His lengthy absence through injury has been a major factor in many forgetting of just how impressive he was in that memorable season. The ever present defensive frailty’s of Brendan Rodgers’ side means Flanagan, without a doubt, deserves a chance to re-establish himself and fight for a place in the first team.
The uncertainty surrounding Rodgers’ plans regarding preferred formations makes it difficult to predict a place for Flanagan in the starting line up; I feel Rodgers himself is still trying to decide between a defensive trio or a quartet. Experimentation in pre-season will be crucial in giving both Rodgers and the fans a better idea of how the side will set up next season. The rumours linking us to Southampton right back Nathaniel Clyne hint at plans to utilise full backs, therefore paving the way for Flanagan to step up.
During his consistent run in the side, Flanagan displayed an admirable hunger and work ethic that instantly made him a fan favourite. Besides this, he demonstrated a great confidence and maturity when in possession of the ball in addition to an intelligence in his approach to maintaining his shape and dealing with different players. Aside from his technical ability, it is what he represents that gives him a great chance of succeeding at Liverpool.
Though he lacks the pace and attacking threat of Alberto Moreno and Liverpool target Nathaniel Clyne, he represents the old fashioned full back and it is clear that he is proud to wear the red shirt and determined to do the best for the team. The quicker Liverpool fans are reminded of this, the quicker many will be pushing for him to be given a place in the starting line-up. As bold a statement as it might be, he possesses the nature and talent to set an example to other Liverpool defenders and will be key in setting the bar for current and future players in terms of committing to the cause and putting everything into the game.
Personally, I feel he has the right traits at his disposal to make a difference to the Liverpool defence and the team overall, providing he can become fit again and rediscover his top form. A run in the side in the upcoming season will be useful in allowing fans and the club to make a more informed assessment of Flanagan with many fearful of his breakthrough year being a ‘one-hit wonder’.
Moreover, Portuguese centre half Thiago Ilori emerges as another forgotten man at Liverpool having arrived at Anfield with high expectations resting on his shoulders. Since signing at Liverpool, he has endured loan spells in Spain and France, at Granada and Bordeaux, respectively. During this time, there has been very little said about his progress, thereby leaving many Liverpool fans unable to make a perception on his chances in England. Brendan Rodgers must use Ilori during pre-season to give him a chance to play amongst first team players in order to give himself a greater understanding as to where the young defender is at in his development. It would be unfair to sell him off having given him so few opportunities to prove his worth. Like Jon Flanagan, he has as good a chance as any Liverpool defender given how poorly the likes of Dejan Lovren and even Martin Skrtel and Alberto Moreno performed at times throughout the season just passed. Temporary moves away from the club have allowed him to feature in competitive games which will surely be crucial in helping him adapt to first team football.
Having read reports from journalists who have kept an eye on Ilori in France this year, it is clear his talent lies in his composure with the ball at his feet and his pace, giving him the makings of a perfect fit for a Brendan Rodgers side. These traits very much present him as a modern day centre back. In addition to this, there is the prospect that, if Ilori can impress, the defender will allow Emre Can to take up a much preferred midfield role for the reds, which would benefit the team hugely in my opinion.
I would very much like to see him partnered with Mamadou Sakho in defence, in order to see if the composure of the young man works well with the aggressiveness of the Frenchman. I for one would like him to stay at the club this summer and am looking forward to seeing how he does in the Under 21 European Championships this summer.
Unfortunately, I have contrasting feelings surrounding the future of Javi Manquillo, who I feel doesn’t have a future at Liverpool. The interest in Clyne, the presence of Jon Flanagan and the return of Andre Wisdom says a lot about where Manquillo stands in the pecking order. He was brought in almost as a replacement for Glen Johnson however he failed to stamp his mark on authority and was never able to adapt to the Premier League. One game that stands out is the 3-1 defeat away to West Ham in which the Spaniard was substituted by Mamadou Sakho in the first half following two early goals by the home side. He was exposed physically in terms of being over powered and beaten in the air far too often, as well as looking lost tactically.
As much as he tried to get forward throughout the season, he was very disappointing in the final third and struggled to convince in most aspects of the game, even despite his admirable work ethic. Having said this, the length of his loan deal stands at two years so it will be interesting to see whether he remains at the club to see out his final season. If he is to improve, it is vital he works on his ball in the opposition half of the pitch in order to make himself more valuable to the team. Perhaps confidence is the key to him improving and if that is the case then he should be given time. It would be useful to see how he performs in training session in order to have a better judgement on what he can offer.
Similarly to Jon Flanagan, Jose Enrique also fell victim to a long term injury which gave him a torrid time on the side-lines for much of the season, causing many to forget he was still actually at the club. He was very impressive in stages throughout the 2013/2014 campaign and it will be very disappointing if it turns out that he is unable to return to top form, which looks the likely outcome at the moment. At his best, he was a match for any winger both with his pace and brute strength while he was also able to use this to make himself an attacking threat.
The game away to Basel in the Champions League last season saw Enrique return for his first game back since injury, however this appeared to be a defining moment in his Liverpool career as he put in a weak and nervy display that earned a lot of criticism. It has to be said that Brendan Rodger’s was at fault for this by throwing him back into such an important contest so soon after being injured. At 29, it is unlikely that Enrique will be preferred to younger options in Alberto Moreno and Jon Flanagan, however his undoubted technical ability does give him a hope of being able to rescue his Liverpool career in some form. His lack of game time makes it difficult to see where his future lies and I get the feeling that the club will be happy to let the fullback move on.
As for Fabio Borini, it would be a risk to say he has been forgotten given how he has seemed to constantly return to the side in some way throughout his time at Liverpool. He has never really secured a spot in the side and quite simply hasn’t been good enough when given the chance. His desire and work rate is a trait that always kept his name in the mix however this was never able to compensate for his lack of attacking prowess. His performances on loan at Sunderland did him a lot of favours in reminding people of the type of threat he was capable of posing but it is fair to say that Liverpool was too big a challenge. His is certainly good enough to remain within the Premier League but it is very evident that he is not the solution to Liverpool’s recent attacking problems. People have forgotten him as a result of the fact that a transfer away from the club is surely imminent.