Paul Grant discusses the option of Brendan Rodgers continuing with Liverpool’s fantastic younger players next season.
Are they good enough to get Liverpool firing at the top for the next few years to come or should they be upgraded?
Although we are currently in our biggest push for the title in however many years and have potentially our biggest game since Athens 2007 upcoming, I want to take a little sideways/forward look at our squad and more importantly the likes of Jon Flanagan, Jordan Henderson et al.
Young Flanagan has made a real impact since coming into the squad this season for the injured Jose Enrique and has certainly won a place in many fans’ hearts, particularly the locals as we feel he is almost living our dream. This was certainly shown when he scored his first goal for Liverpool against Tottenham late last year. Every player ran towards him to celebrate, everybody looked delighted for him.
Whilst on the way to play Champions’ League football for the first time since 2009 you may think we seemingly need to improve with a few players if we’re going to compete at the highest level. Look back to January and we were desperate to sign a quality full-back and a central midfielder, but could you imagine how harmful that might have been to the progression of not only Flanagan himself but the team as a whole? In fact one of the main reasons, I believe, why we are where we are is because Rodgers has been sticking with an almost consistent line-up, the players know their place and know that this has and will continue to be a huge year for us.
Some of my personal criticisms of Flanagan – as well as ones I’ve heard from others – are mainly his attacking threat and defensive positioning. I would argue that the latter is to be expected though from a young full-back, especially in the current age of having your full-backs operate up and down the wing, something which requires not just a lot of stamina and pace but also a great deal of judgement.
Looking at Flanagan from a more statistical point-of-view creates some interesting findings. Flanagan has makes more tackles (3.6 per game) than other top-table left-backs such as Kieran Gibbs (2.5), Gael Clichy (2.7), Cesar Azpilicueta (3.5), Leighton Baines (3.1) and Patrice Evra (2.4). Also out of those five only Clichy and Evra make more key passes per game than Flanagan. This would suggest that Flanagan can certainly compete with others around him, and it’s made even more outstanding due to the fact he is the youngest of those previously mentioned at just 21 years old and is also right-footed!
I always enjoy the fact that we look to our reserve/academy players in times of need rather than doing what the likes of Manchester City or Chelsea might do and just look to buy ‘quality’ in all positions, overlooking their tremendous youth talent. Although you could argue this is partly down to FSG’s stance of more quality for as little as possible, you have to hand it to Rodgers and his coaching staff who have stuck with the likes of Flanagan, given him belief in his own game and now is probably an injury to Kyle Walker or Glen Johnson away from making the plane to Brazil this summer.
So the question begs, should we stick with Flanagan for the next few seasons as one of our starting full-backs or do we try and take a punt by buying a new ‘quality’ full-back?
I feel the same could be said for Jordan Henderson, maybe to a lesser extent, as it seems that most fans believe we could do with another classy midfield player, maybe someone very creative who can also put in the leg-work defensively. Myself, I certainly see Henderson in that role for many years to come and I am sure he will improve on his final touch, the quality I feel he lacks most, but will the management/ownership see it this way?
Will we look to the transfer market to improve upon these roles? Although this might not be the biggest thing we should be thinking about at the moment I feel it is definitely something to consider, and I feel that these next 5 games will almost definitely hold the answer to my questions. Although I don’t doubt these players’ qualities and strengths to the team, I will point out one quote: ‘it is hard to make it to the top, it is even harder to stay at the top’.