There has been some talk of late about Jose Enrique's form, and in particular there have been questions asked as to whether that form has dipped after a flying start to the season saw him make a strong case for being the league's best left back—and possibly even its best fullback. Previously we looked at his numbers for the club after the first eight games and felt that as he was the only player to be clearly amongst the top three in both attack and defense, those numbers appeared to fully support the idea that he was the best in the league.
However, since that time many have felt there has been a dip in his overall level of performance. Which isn't the same as suggesting he has been poor, but with a handful of key defensive errors to point to there has been a suggestion that lately he hasn't quite been living up to those lofty standards he set at the start of the season. On the other hand, some might argue that it is little more than familiarity leading to a realisation that, like any player, Enrique isn't perfect. That perhaps those minor shortcomings existed all along, only people were too caught up in the things he was doing well to notice them in the beginning.
No matter the case it seems valid to ask if, after supporting that he was the best left back in the league after eight games, the numbers show that Enrique's form has indeed fallen in recent weeks. So, has his form actually dipped? Or has his play in fact remained largely the same, and does any shift in opinion have more to do with how people are now watching him than in how Enrique is playing?
Though the assists tally hasn't been added to in recent weeks, Enrique's crossing and chance creation statistics have remained the best in the league. Still, when one looks at his offensive numbers, there seems one clear marker that may explain why he's had trouble getting called up to the Spanish national side: His passing simply isn't as accurate as what is found amongst left backs at the other Premier League clubs challenging for a top four finish.
Still, what were Enrique's biggest strengths and weaknesses when Liverpool has possession remain the same as early in the season: He creates a lot of chances, whips in more crosses and is better than most at having them find a teammate's head, and his passing isn't quite at the level one would hope for.
In defence the story, in what will be a surprise to some, also remains the same: Enrique isn't being challenged in the air compared to most other left backs, leaving it almost impossible to judge his effectiveness in that category, but on the ground he remains arguably the best in the league. Certainly when considering his slightly above average success rate when it comes to 50-50 ground challenges alongside the clear advantage he has over other left backs when it comes to winning tackles and stopping players one-on-one, it's hard to find another player in his position that even comes close—and that goes for the second half of the season so far just as much as it did for the first.
Perhaps, then, it really is that familiarity is to blame for the feeling that Enrique's game has suffered in recent weeks. Certainly being caught unaware against Chelsea played a key role in their leveler, though Glen Johnson later won the game for Liverpool on that day. But on the whole at least, the numbers suggest that what Enrique's contributing in both attack and defence hasn't changed much since he was a near-universal pick as Liverpool's top performer of the early going. In fact, outside of a need to improve his passing numbers, it appears fairly clear that Jose Enrique remains the best left back in the league.
Note: All included left backs have played a minimum of 1000 minutes so far this season except for Arsenal's Andre Santos and Kieran Gibbs. All averages are calculated by combining these two players' statistics into a theoretical "Arsenal Left Back" alongside the numbers for Cole, Clichy, Evra, Taylor, and Ekotto.