In the latest Talking Reds, Harry Hugo examines the importance of Glen Johnson to Liverpool's progress.
Blistering pace and mature offensive positioning are two things you look for in a right-back, aside from the inescapable defensive capabilities. The greats have amalgamated the three with consummate ease; Cafu, Maldini and Carlos all spring instantly to mind but there are some that go slightly unsung.
Glen Johnson, although he may not go down alongside those particular names, is a player that fulfills everything you look for in a full-back and more. In the system that Brendan Rodgers looks to adopt, be it a 5-3-2 with wing-backs or a 4-2-3-1 with full-backs flying on, Johnson has the perfect set of attributes to compliment the team. His calm nature on the ball, his fleeting feet as he bursts forward and his eye for a spectacular finish mean that, to him, a switch in formation isn't any more tasking than flicking a light switch; and bring light to the team he does. He's a natural footballer, a player born to play the game through both athleticism and skill.
With injuries this year hitting a few of Liverpool's key players (Coutinho, Toure and Suarez's time on the sidelines through suspension) it would be fair to say how well Rodgers has proportioned the team to make amends for his losses. However, the loss of our right-back for a few weeks earlier this season paralysed the team more than most would have expected and there's no bigger compliment to Johnson than that. The case with Glen this season seemed to be one of 'you never know how much you miss him until he's gone.' He's a player with such an underlying influence to the team, prompting balance in the defence, midfield and forward line by providing a trustworthy outlet and reputable class. It feels like Steven Gerrard enjoys playing with a full-back without limitations and this is made possible through the good work of Lucas Leiva, who slots in to cover Johnson when the full-back bombs forward. The dynamic has all been worked out to allow the best from Liverpool's best players.
While it may be fair to say that Johnson haddefensive deficiencies in his game, those creases have been ironed-out over the past few years. To put it to bed, last season Johnson made a singular 'clear' defensive error (Kyle Walker made five) and attempted 90 tackles of which he won 81 per cent (only Rafael was more successful). Pair this with his cunning and guile going forward (52 per cent dribble success - the most successful forward thinking full-back last season) and you have a player that's pretty difficult to fault both going forward but first and foremost as a defender.
I think what's also crucial to remember is also how flexible he is. He's Liverpool's best full-back and wing-back whom can play comfortably on both sides of the pitch, something that is exceedingly rare. When the team is narrow because of a packed midfield or with Luis Suarez playing in a free role on the right (in a 4-2-3-1), Johnson's tireless overlapping prowess shines a beacon of solidarity down the right flank. The current starting 11 is very much akin to a set of weighing scales: we are playing so much central attacking talent that a balance is needed through the use of wide players. This equilibrium is found through two pressing wing-backs in Johnson and Enrique, further backed up with centre-backs who can slide apart to create space; namely Agger and Toure. It's fair to say that this system suits Johnson the most out of the lot because he is able to use his long-celebrated offensive instincts to flourish.
As a mentor he also serves a purpose. Glen has been nothing but a model professional at the club, giving Liverpool a good name both on and off the field. Young players like Martin Kelly, Jon Flanagan and even Ryan McLaughlin need to take note and stand to be Johnson's number two - of which there is no shame in being.
Glen Johnson is at the peak of his powers and there's everything to say that he is essential to Rodgers' plans in the present and the future. I'm sure he's one of the first names on the teamsheet at Anfield and that should come as no surprise to anyone because if you look like-for-like around the league, he's one of the best; pairing explosive raw talent with consistent displays of form. That's the best thing for me - form. Johnson's form never seems to drop to a level of disregard; it always stays at a platform where you'd expect a professional player to be regardless of how his teammates fare around him.
Johnson, when you put it all together, is Liverpool's trusty pair of slippers, he makes everything that little bit more comfortable but you always take him for granted; missing him when he's gone.