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Johnson Adding Value

Glen Johnson's return to the first team against Fulham was definitive proof of how central he has become to Liverpool's chances of success. His display against the Cottagers underlined his quality and the England man is impressed with his colleagues.

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Stoke defenders failing miserably to elbow Glen
Stoke defenders failing miserably to elbow Glen
Clive Brunskill

Sometimes all you can do is smile. Last Saturday as some of you roared your support from the stands in Anfield and others made your ardent exhortations to assorted screens and monitors, your scribbler was straining to hear the occasional oblique reference to the Reds rampant display, from a local radio station that has perfunctory sports bulletins interspersed with the most vapid and anodyne of contemporary pop drivel.

The reason for my difficulty in hearing said reports was the caterwauling of my niece and nephews as they sang, danced and squealed their way through the jollity of a birthday party. My usual information lifeline, my beloved phone, was being used as a teething aid by the most charming of two year olds, but her generous amounts of infant drool rendered  the touchscreen, which might normally have yielded up a Twitter feed or an instant replay, a hazardous and nausea-inducing wasteland. The upshot of all this familial malarkey was that this most devoted of Redmen effectively missed the most dominant home display of the season to date. As I say, sometimes all you can do is smile.

Later, as I greedily devoured the match on delay, one man more than any other, caused that smile to widen and beam beatifically in the direction of the television. Glen Johnson, on his return to the first team, was a delight to watch. A remarkable athlete, Johnson is at the height of his powers as a footballer. His grace and poise in possession is matched by his power and pace and all of those attributes combine to make this Liverpool side look an utterly different prospect when he plays.

Since signing in 2009, Johnson has been the focus of some of the most lazy criticism imaginable. The received wisdom is that the England man is a poor defender. That this is a patently ridiculous observation to make about a man who has been first choice for club and country, should go without saying, but logic and truth are never easy bedfellows with sensationalist and vacuous punditry.

Even his critics must admit that he is a force to be reckoned with in possession of the football, but they lament his inability to tackle, his lack of positional awareness and inclination to switch off. To be fair, Johnson has looked badly out of position at times in recent seasons, as Liverpool have conceded poor goals, but his colleagues, to a man, have had moments in which they've been equally culpable. This season alone, one can remember each of Messrs Skrtel, Agger, Enrique and Cissokho being at fault for goals. None of these players, however, are dismissed as poor defenders with the same haughty disdain as Johnson has been.

For the majority of us, however, Johnson's centrality to Liverpool's hopes of a high league placing is glaringly apparent. Constantly involved and on the front foot, Johnson offers the side a unique and urgent impetus from his position on the right. Most importantly, when he finds himself in attacking positions, his technique, vision and decision-making at the business end of the park are outstanding. Johnson seems to revel in the intricate interplay possible with the likes of Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, and indeed, the England right back rates this current side as the finest Liverpool team he's played with in his five years at the club.

"We've had some fantastic players in the past that have obviously moved on," Johnson told the official website. "But in terms of a squad and starting eleven, I think it's the best since I've been around. Every good team bounces back after a disappointing result. To do that with a clean sheet and four goals  is an ideal day.

"When we lose the ball, for the next few seconds we want to try to win it back as quickly as possible. A few of our goals came from that and I think we looked good today. We've got to make this a difficult place for teams to come and play, and easier for us to play and get the points. If we keep working like that, and we have done in the week, I'm sure we're going to give every team a good game."

It is gratifying to hear this type of sentiment clearly expressed by one of the squads more thoughtful and eloquent souls. Johnson was sorely missed against Arsenal, when he would have occupied their defence far more than the less gifted Jon Flanagan. Although many see the wing-back role played by the youngster at the Emirates as Johnson's ideal position, it was a more conventional back four that he slotted seamlessly into against Fulham at Anfield.

The player himself is refreshingly phlegmatic about the position he occupies on the park, displaying a quiet confidence in his ability that belies the constant sniping he has endured over the years. Years of being the first choice for club and country will tend to breed a certain self-belief, of course, and Johnson insists that he is content to play wherever he best serves the manager's vision on a given day. That he is talented enough to do so, should be acknowledged here.

"I don't have a preference," he stated calmly. "Some formations work better against different teams. I don't care if I'm playing right back or right wing-back -- it's pretty much a similar job."

As I basked in the pulchritudinous vista of the Premier League table on Sunday night, I was inspired to re-watch the match, and yet again the easy assurance and insistent presence of Glen Johnson stood out as one of Liverpool's best on the day. This, of course, is nothing new. Sadly undervalued by many, Johnson may yet cause his detractors to have their Damascene moment of realisation as this season progresses. For some of us, that epiphany has long since occurred. Now, if we could only get the man a proper song...

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