Kenny Dalglish made a number of mistakes in selecting his starting line-up yesterday, from leaving both Raul Meireles and Dirk Kuyt on the bench in favour of Jordan Henderson to risking Luis Suarez on short rest, to blooding 4 new players in a single match. However, the single greatest mistake was the one which cost Liverpool the clean sheet, the win and 2 points.
John Flanagan may be many things as a footballer. He appears to be astute when on the ball. His passing numbers reflect that he is precise with his short passes and he is loathe to give away possession in this manner. However he has a number of weaknesses that make playing him at the back a liability.
Flanagan appears to actively avoid the ball when it is in the Liverpool’s defensive half. Thought he is good to win 86% of all his aerial challenges last season, that statistic lies. In fact, Flanagan won less than 1 aerial challenge per match, requiring 103:30′ to make and win an aerial challenge. The fact that Seb Larsson scored a wonder strike should not minimize the fact that there could not have been any expectation on the part of Liverpool’s staff that a ball crossed to Flanagan’s side of the pitch would have been won by Flanagan. Further, he makes on ONE aerial challenge a game. Compare that to a player who was unavailable yesterday, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, who played just 1,080′ last season and was involved in 91 aerial duels, winning 58 (64%). Kyrgiakos averaged an aerial challenge every 11.8′ and won one every 18.62′ . Because he was unavailable, or at least did not make the squad sheet, we’ll simply compare Flanagan to a player who was on the bench, Martin Kelly.
In addition to the statistics above, Flanagan conceded 11 fouls in his 621′ while drawing only 4. Kelly conceded just 6 fouls, and earned 8. Kelly also earned only a single booking in his 10 matches, John Flanagan drew three yellow cards in his 7 matches. Offensively Kelly is far superior to Flanagan, creating 8 chances from open play while Flanagan created just 3. Further, Flanagan’s passing becomes worse the further up the field he ventures. His overall passing in open play results in a 77% completion. Once into the attacking half that fall’s to 66%. In the air, his passes are even worse, completing only 50% of his chipped passes (12/24) and his accuracy on long balls falls to just 18% (4/22). In short, Flanagan is a liability at the back, and one who does not offset this liability with his attacking prowess. Daglish may claim to have been short of fit bodies to play at the back, but to have Kelly on the bench was a mistake. And it cost 2 points.
To read a less articulate rant on the subject, with minimal information, I’ve written this.