Defender set to return at Newcastle
If ever there was evidence one player does not make a team, it came when Liverpool last made the long journey up to Newcastle United back in April.
All eyes were on Brendan Rodgers’ side to see how they would cope without talismanic striker Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan just days earlier banned for 10 games having bitten Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic.
Ninety minutes and six unanswered goals later, the jury returned the verdict of ‘pretty easily, actually’.
But while Liverpool would go on to lose just once during the prolonged absence of Suarez – and even that was the insipid home performance against Southampton last month – supporters were advocating nothing but an immediate recall to the starting line-up.
No single player makes a team. Some players, though, are inevitably more influential than others, and often that influence is only clear once they are no longer there.
Such is the case with Glen Johnson.
Johnson’s Anfield career has not been straightforward, from constant accusations of being more interested in attacking than defending to being openly criticised by then Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson over his level of performance.
The right-back, though, has quietly become one of the cornerstones of Rodgers’ team, a key element in the way the Northern Irishman wants his team to play.
So when Johnson sustained an ankle problem while making yet another heroic block in the victory over Manchester United six weeks ago, it presented Liverpool with a problem.
“Glen is the type of player (without whom) you don’t realise what you’re missing until he is not in the team,” admits Rodgers. “He is athletic and he started the season very, very well.
“I knew him as a really young player when he came in at Chelsea and he was unfortunate he just never really got an opportunity there. He then had to go to Portsmouth, get his career back on track and show there he was a good player.
“And rightly so, he got himself back to a massive club in Liverpool and has really shown that he’s a top player. I’ve been very impressed with Glen.
“Against Manchester United he was outstanding. It will be great when we get him back.”
That could be this weekend on Liverpool’s latest trip to St James’ Park, with Johnson having this week resumed full training at Melwood.
His return was not in time for England’s World Cup decisive qualifying double header against Montenegro and Poland, with his importance for his country further underlined by the underwhelming performances of Kyle Walker in Johnson’s absence and the fudge of playing Chris Smalling at right-back on Tuesday evening.
Hodgson, like others, will have discovered a new-found appreciation for the Liverpool man.
Johnson will have noted during his spell on the sidelines the plethora of centre-backs at Rodgers’ disposal that has swayed the decision to switch to a 3-4-1-2 formation.
It is, of course, an approach that would appear ready-made for Johnson, giving him the freedom to augment the attack down the flank whenever possible and provide genuine width to Liverpool’s attack.
With Martin Kelly still some way from full fitness, Kolo Toure was initially tried on the right of a flat back four before the three-man defence saw Jordan Henderson employed as wing-back.
It was yet another string to the bow of the 23-year-old, whose stock has risen considerably since the turn of the year.
“Jordan has been outstanding in all the games,” says Liverpool first-team coach Mike Marsh. “He’s able to play anywhere across the line and he’s played wing-back on occasions. His attitude and enthusiasm for the game is there for all to see.
“His technical and tactical qualities have shone through. He’s been excellent.
“He’s settled into the position really well.
“When he plays in the central midfield role, he’s more tactically aware and when he plays in the wide role, he provides the energy up and down the lines. He’s got lots of strings to his bow.”
Henderson was back in his preferred central midfield role for Liverpool’s 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace a fortnight ago, deputising for the suspended Lucas Leiva.
Lucas was one of several Liverpool players on duty for their country during the international break having been handed a recall by Brazil and a chance to force his way into Luiz Felipe Scolari’s thinking ahead of next summer’s home World Cup.
But a series of indifferent performances – indicated by the five bookings in seven games that prompted his ban – has left the 26-year-old fighting for his starting role given the intense competition for places in central midfield.
Philippe Coutinho, another to harbour hopes of a Brazil recall, is close to a return from his shoulder problem, while Joe Allen will in the next fortnight provide another option for Rodgers.
Allen has played only 72 minutes for Liverpool since March having had last season ended early by a shoulder injury and then limped off with a hamstring problem in the Capital One Cup win over Notts County in August.
Saturday’s trip to Newcastle could come too soon, but Allen already has set his sights on an improvement.
“I can get involved more in the creative side, in assisting goals,” he says. “It’s a big thing.
“If I have the chance to play further forward, like I did in pre-season, goals are obviously another big one that I'd like to add a bit more to my game.
“It's something I felt was coming at Swansea, and last season sort of stopped a little bit. That's something I think I can offer looking forward.
“I pride myself on that fact that I can play a couple of different roles, but that's a role I have played more naturally and played the most throughout my career.”
Liverpool will resume their Premier League campaign behind leaders Arsenal only on goals scored having enjoyed their best start to a season in five years.