Along with Stewart Downing, fullback Jose Enrique seemed clearly unfavoured by manager Brendan Rodgers in the opening months of the season. And like Downing, after Rodgers publicly talked about the player's need to improve his game or find himself on the trading block, Enrique has since become a fixture in the starting eleven following a series of strong performances.
For the Spaniard, the turning point was a spell in the autumn when the club's lack of attacking depth forced Rodgers to use him on the left wing. To the surprise of many, the defender who hadn't scored a league goal in six years in England impressed. Months later, he is the club's on form defender—and he's doing it by continuing to approach games as though he's still up on the wing.
"I have always been an attacking fullback but with this manager I'm even more," Enrique said. "Against West Ham I played like a striker and a lot of the time I have been in the box. I really like this style of play. You have to defend less sometimes; you always enjoy it more when you attack than when you defend—that's normal. He has always said to me and Glen, and the other full-backs as well, that we have to play really high up the pitch."
It's a insight into Rodgers' approach that hints at just why Liverpool's defence has continually seemed less solid than it did when Kenny Dalglish and Steve Clarke were in charge. Even with a strong holding midfielder like Lucas in the lineup—and even as he has slowly worked his way back towards something at least reminiscent of the form he was on before missing a season through injury—it's an approach that falls heavily on the attacking side of the scales.
At its best, when the passing is crisp and finishing deadly, it can be great fun to watch. When it's not, having only the two centre halves and one midfielder primarily concerned with the defensive side of the game often ends with the ball in Liverpool's goal and fans wondering why the side is so prone to conceding against the run of play. Still, as much as Enrique enjoys attacking and believes it's key to what Rodgers wants, he insists that at the end of the day he has to be solid at the back first and foremost.
"Our first thing is to defend," he added. "We are defenders so we have to defend. It's really important to have a clean sheet as often as we can. Our first thing is defence but, of course, in a lot of games—not just at home, a lot of times away—we have possession and control of the game.
"[Rodgers] wants the full-backs to try to be another attacking player. It's good because it's not just about defending and then attacking sometimes, he wants us to go all the time as another attacking player. It's really good, I really enjoy this type of football.
"It's difficult to get used to this system for players that have never played that type of football. Now you can see even in the games we are not winning, we are playing really well—Southampton is the only game that we didn't play that well. Against West Ham, we tried until the end and played really well; we didn't have luck in the final third."
Despite Enrique's protestations, it's a solid bet the Liverpool left back will spend a hefty portion of the final few games of the season camped in the attacking end of the pitch. Whether that speaks to a side that has yet found the proper balance between attack and defence under Brendan Rodgers is another question entirely—and one that doesn't yet appear to have a convincing question.
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