Liverpool announced that Glen Johnson will miss at least a month after tearing a knee ligament. It may be paradoxical to claim this for a recent £18m signing, but Johnson’s absence may aid the Reds in their battle for fourth.
Johnson is an attacking right back. He’s adept. He gets forward with power and pace. He spreads and penetrates defenses, presenting another angle of attack. Such a forward running fullback can be devastating, in the right system.
Barcelona uses Dani Alves in a similar role to Johnson. He races down the touchline. He plays direct balls into the box. He darts inside, creating space on the wing for Messi. Alves vacates his defensive position, but it’s seldom an issue as Barcelona holds possession. They rarely give the ball away in a disadvantageous place.
Liverpool is not Barcelona. The Reds are physical, attacking directly with haste. Steven Gerrard has many strong suits. Keeping the ball isn’t one of them. Liverpool race down the pitch with the ball, but more often than not, give it straight back.
That style is not without virtue. It unsettles complacent European teams (see Liverpool’s generally stellar record in Europe). But, with English teams that play a similarly direct counterattack, it can leave them exposed (see Liverpool’s hiccups domestically that knock them from title contention).
If Glen Johnson runs forward, and Liverpool turn the ball over. His right back position is wide open. He either can’t get back, or is scrambling and not as effective. Perhaps Jamie Carragher is not undergoing a mysterious atrophy, but is asked to cover too much ground for the ever advancing Johnson. At the very least, Johnson’s positioning is exacerbating Carragher’s difficulties. Unlike with Barcelona, a marauding right back in Liverpool’s system is a liability.
Even when Johnson is in position. He’s not an instinctual defender. When feasible, teams deliberately attack him as the weak point in Liverpool’s back line. Liverpool have allowed 23 goals in 20 matches (They conceded only 27 all last season). The major alteration was adding Johnson.
Glen Johnson was more expensive than Liverpool’s previous right backs, Finnan and Arbeloa. He may, in a vacuum, offer more than either of them. But, Liverpool have been terrible since Johnson arrived. Maybe a reliable, unspectacular right back is the tonic they need.