Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge’s return to training has overshadowed the fact Jon Flanagan is also nearing a return after a long time out. You can’t blame people for overlooking Flanagan though, one is the Liverpool captain, the other is the club’s best striker whereas Flanagan is just a back-up player.
The local lad has a bit of a cult following at Liverpool. Local lad come good and he’s living out the dreams of so many supporters. Known for his crunching tackles and no nonsense style it was easy to see why he was pegged as the next Jamie Carragher, he made his name playing as part of the side that finished runners up in 2013/14.
I think we’d all agree his personal highlight in a Liverpool jersey is his goal against Spurs at White Hart Lane which spawned the popular “Oh fuck off even Flanagan has scored” tweet.
Many fans on Twitter have greeted the news of his return in positive fashion. His return brings needed relief in the full-back area because as things stand we currently have Nathanial Clyne and Alberto Moreno practically playing every single game and it’s only a matter of time before one, or both, pick up an injury. Flanagan’s versatility means he can fill in on both sides of the defence. He’s what you’d call a steady player, you know what you’re getting from him and there’s no changing that.
His stats over his Liverpool career are fairly solid. For starters he averages an 83% pass success rate. I know how much Liverpool fans love the tackles stat so I looked at that and was surprised to see him make 3.4 tackles per 90, 1.3 fouls per 90 and 1.7 interceptions per 90. (Stats from whoscored.com) To add some context Alberto Moreno averages 88% pass success rate, 1.3 tackles, 1 foul and 2.3 interceptions. Nathanial Clyne averages 76% pass success rate, 3.5 tackles per 90, gives away 0.6 fouls per 90 and makes 1,7 interceptions per 90. Statistically Flanagan holds his own when compared to our current full-backs.
I’m a local lad and I’m happy to see Liverpudlians involved with the first team squad but there has to be a time when sentiment goes out of the window and you look at the situation properly. This isn’t me having a pop at Jon Flanagan’s ability, this is me wondering whether his strengths align with the strengths Klopp demands from his full-backs and herein lies the problem.
Liverpool’s full-backs now have one thing in common; pace. The full-backs Klopp used at Dortmund all had an abundance of it to. From Lukas Piszczek, Marcel Schmelzer and Dede to Kevin Grosskreutz, one thing that all of them had was blistering pace.
In Klopp’s systems it’s always the full-backs offering the width and they’re expected to overlap the wide player. Due to the nature of his tactics, the gegenpress/high pressing game, his full-backs are expected to go from defence to attack in a matter of seconds numerous times within a match. Does Flanagan have it in him to do that? Will he be able to bomb down the flank to support the attack? He’s always struck me as a defensive minded full-back. A full-back Brendan Rodgers would have liked and maybe that’s why he used to mention him in interviews as being a big miss?
I know many will say he has the quality to play for Liverpool having helped the club finish second but how much of that was down to him? Was he not part of a Liverpool defence that conceded 50 goals? I’m not blaming him for those goals conceded obviously, that was a team failing, likewise people can’t credit him for that 2nd place finish either so there’s only so much weight that argument holds.
Not to mention the fact he’s just coming back from a serious knee injury and Klopp’s tactics put a lot of strain on the body. We as a team can’t afford to be carrying a player that can’t meet the requirements and that’s a real possibility. If you’re executing a press and one player is a few seconds late then the opposition can break the press and you’re in a predicament you don’t want to be in. These are the things you have to consider when asking yourself whether Flanagan has a future at the club, even as a squad player. Again I’d like to reiterate I’m not slating him ability wise just implying his ability would be better served at a different club perhaps?