Liverpool were in quite a pickle with their left-back situation last season. Jose Enrique was the original first choice to play in that position until a knee injury cut his season short, playing only eight games. Aly Cissokho, on loan from Valencia, was a readymade replacement until we realised that he just wasn’t good enough for the team. Now we’re in a dilemma, and have no choice but to throw in youngster Jon Flanagan, who is a right-back by trade, into the fold. Thankfully, the young boy did fantastically well given the situation, the fact that he’s playing in the wrong position and the calibre of team he’s playing for. Although Liverpool were poor at times defensively, Flanagan did a great job in not only being a decent full-back, but a surprising attacking threat too. However, let’s not stray from the fact that Liverpool need a new left-back pronto, and we have some options.
In terms of Premier League left-backs, two names have been mentioned over the last few weeks, Ryan Bertrand and Ashley Cole, both from Chelsea. This piece will compare their seasons against current Liverpool players Jon Flanagan and Jose Enrique, but because he was not involved in many games this season, we’ll use his stats from the 2012/2013 season in order to see what his number are over the course of more games.
Aly Cissokho has now left to go back to his parent club, leaving Jose Enrique (still injured) the only recognised left-back in the team. Rodgers will be keen to switch Flanagan back to his favoured side next season, with the ability to use him at left-back if needed. Ashley Cole revealed this week that he is now considering his options with a stay at Chelsea now looking unlikely. Many have tipped, arguably, the Premier League’s best ever left-back to a move to Anfield since the announcement. Having been on loan at Aston Villa last season, Ryan Bertrand’s name has also been thrown into the hat, especially as he fits Rodgers’s philosophy of nurturing young home-grown talent, although he would need to prove himself having been out of the Chelsea fold for some time now.
These statistics will give a good indication as to how they have fared of late but without giving them context, it will be difficult to compare the players. For example, Ashley Cole was part of a defence who only conceded 27 goals, whereas Ryan Bertrand was with Aston Villa as they finished a lowly 15th place.
As mentioned before, we are using Enrique’s statistics from the 2012/2013 season only.
First and foremost, left-backs need to know how to defend. In this day and age, we see many ball playing defenders who like to adventure out of position to help out in attacking positions. Although this is a good trait to have in the full-back position, it can leave space for the opposition to exploit if left too open.
Within the defensive attributes, we can see that Ryan Bertrand has actually fared quite well in terms of successful tackles and aerial duels and being just behind Cole in the ground duel column. Jon Flanagan also weighs in with the best minutes per tackle rate and most interceptions out of all four players, showing how confident he had become in the role, as well as good numbers all around the board. Ashley Cole has the best minutes per possession lost figure, which is not surprising considering how good he is with the ball. Jose Enrique has the best minutes per possession won, however, with 11 – which was anticipated given his strength and mobility.
Accurate passing is also a crucial trait as a defender. With the way Rodgers operates with his possession based style, his players need to be comfortable enough to pass around even in difficult positions. Although Rodgers encourages this, it has led to some individual defensive lapses, which was one of the reasons Liverpool didn’t end up winning the title.
We can clearly see from the stats that Ashley is by far the most accomplished passer out of the four. His pass completion stands at an excellent 88% with none of his zonal passing figures reaching below 80%. Chelsea are obviously gifted with many good players, which may have helped Cole but nonetheless his numbers are hard to argue with. Flanagan also impressed with his 83% passing accuracy with a defensive zone success rate of 90%. Bertrand did not have an outstanding season in terms of his passing but with Villa being quite substandard this season, it could that this had an effect.
Full-backs are encouraged to join the majority of attacks and Rodgers will definitely expect his left-back to contribute down that side to aid the offensive players. Aspects such as arriving late in the area as well as crossing to create chances are traits that are needed to make you a well rounded defensive full-back.
Jose Enrique had the best return in his 2012/13 season when he offered two goals and four assists. Ashley Cole has never been prolific in front of goal but has been up and down the left wing many a time during the last decade. Contributing two assists, 24% of his crosses were successful, the most out of all four players. Enrique managed to create the most chances in his last full season with 26, at a rate of one every 87 minutes, whilst Ashley Cole created most frequently with a chance created every 82 minutes.
Left-Backs in Europe
As well as the options in the Premier League, there are a few stars around Europe who Rodgers may want to look at in terms of a long term replacement for left back birth.
Alberto Moreno – Sevilla
Arguably one of La Liga’s best left-backs, the 21-year-old Spaniard has had a stellar season with Sevilla, helping them to a fifth place finish and winning the Europa League. Suited to Liverpool’s style of play, Moreno is confident and reliable on the ball, having only been disposed 16 times over the course of the season. Real Madrid are also chasing the highly rated youngster so Liverpool will be in stiff competition if they were to target him
Ricardo Rodriguez – Wolfsburg
Rodriguez has been a popular pick for the best left-back in Europe after a superb season with Wolfsburg in Germany. Also at 21 years of age, he contributed a whopping five goals and nine assists, numbers that most midfielders would be happy to take. He almost seems like the perfect package, with the right mixture of attacking flare, shown by his 87 dribbles last season, and defensive steel, signified by his 103 tackles. Maybe not as reliable as Moreno could be but definitely a player you would want in your team.
Marcos Rojo – Sporting Lisbon
Argentina’s first choice left-back Rojo has also enjoyed a fruitful season, with his team coming second in the Portuguese League having conceded a miserly 20 goals in 30 games. Liverpool scouts have closely watched Rojo this season with his versatility and culture on the ball being sort after. Rojo can play at either left-back or centre-back and at 6”1, his physical presence will be useful in the Premier League. However, Barcelona are also after the 24-year-old.
Guilherme Siqueira – Granada/Benfica
Liverpool fans will have heard Siqueira’s name mentioned a few times last season in an attempt to capture the Brazilian. The 28 year-old moved to Benfica from Granada on a season long loan and was highly successful, reaching the Europa League final and winning the Portuguese title after conceding just 18 goals. With no defensive errors this season, as well as winning an average 55% of his duels, he may just have the consistency and nerveless attitude needed for a team like Liverpool.
With Rodgers ready to ship one or two defenders out of the Anfield door, we could see Jose Enrique leaving and Aly Cissokho completing his loan and returning to his club. That being said, in terms of the Premier League left-backs, Ashley Cole would be an excellent acquisition with his experience at the highest level and reliability. He would also be available on a free transfer after his contract with Chelsea runs out this summer.
In terms of a long terms replacement, Moreno or Rodriguez would be two that Rodgers will want to have a look at. Rodriguez being the more offensive, it is whether you want someone who can provide going forward as well as in defence, or Moreno who is more solid in his defensive attributes.
Worst comes to worst, Liverpool still have the almighty Jon Flanagan.