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Left Back on the Bench

Following the news that Jose Enrique will be out for a couple of months, Brendan Rodgers has been assessing the talent available to him at left back in a very frank fashion.

It didn't matter how many times Luis explained, Jose just couldn't grasp perspective...why was he smaller?!
It didn't matter how many times Luis explained, Jose just couldn't grasp perspective...why was he smaller?!
Julian Finney

Since his arrival from Newcastle United in August of 2011, a surfeit of words have been dedicated by your beleaguered scribbler to the topic of José Enrique Sánchez Díaz. Many of these words have ultimately been cobbled together into rambling multi-clausal sentences, whose sole aim has been to adequately convey the unique mixture of exasperation, infuriation, mirth and affection that the Spaniard can create within me over the course of just one ninety minute match.

He is truly a unique footballer, equal parts marauding winger, muscle-bound enforcer and Pinky, of Pinky and The Brain fame. Within the space of just a few moments, he can contribute beautifully to a Liverpool attack, then later blithely brush off a formidable opponent before inexplicably seeming to mentally wander. As an attacker strolls past Enrique unchallenged, the left back will offer no more than the comically quizzical expression of a lobotomy patient on a quiz show.

Daft as a brush, as mad as a box of frogs, one sandwich short of a picnic -- in this part of the world we have no shortage of expressions that convey the idea of a slightly unhinged personality. With his on-pitch persona, allied to his ability to grow a full head of hair over a weekend and penchant for taking selfies whilst wearing short-shorts and little else, José Enrique seems to fit all of those idioms perfectly. He's an enigma wrapped up in a mystery and then worn as a funny hat.

Yet for all his idiosyncratic lifestyle choices and mid-game mental malfunctions, Enrique remains the first choice left back in the Liverpool squad and there are not many who could argue a strong case against his inclusion when fit, especially in the wake of Aly Cissokho's appearances, thus far. Indeed, upon weighing up the evidence presented to date, Brendan Rodgers, in his new-found frank fashion, has been unequivocal about how he sees the problematic position being filled.

"It's not ideal," admitted Rodgers. "You would prefer two in there to really be challenging. José is clearly one of the best left backs in the league and to have him out is a blow. We brought in a cover one in Cissokho and you have the likes of Jon Flanagan, who can play on both flanks comfortably. It is certainly something that, if José is going to be out for a long time, we would have to look at it for sure. We think José will be a few months. It's not a long-term one but will be the New Year for sure."

Somewhere, in a luxury dwelling paid for by the club, Aly Cissokho's expression has become notably saturnine. It cannot be the most pleasing moment of one's professional career to be referred to as "a cover one." It seems unnecessarily blunt from Rodgers, but the Antrim man is clearly underwhelmed by Cissokho's efforts to date and it would be difficult to present a case for the solitary French cap holder. He has been barely functional at best and disappointing in terms of both his defensive work and what he has contributed to the attack. Simply put, Cissokho has made one pine for Enrique.

If the evidence of the weekend is anything to go by, Cissokho now finds even his status as cover under threat. Jon Flanagan, whose inclusion was the subject of so much derision and scorn, had an outstanding game and was by far the most accomplished Liverpool defender on the day. His heart has never been in question but his limitations as a footballer often have. Playing out of position, he showed up England starter Glen Johnson and the shaky duo of Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger with his solidity and reading of the game. One timely Flanagan interception, in particular, was my personal highlight of the match, but then I'm odd like that.

A loan move had been looking likely for Flanagan in January, with his stock having fallen dramatically following an impressive start, when club legend Kenny Dalglish introduced both himself and Jack Robinson. Since that flying start, the youngster has not maximised his opportunities and often looked a little restricted in terms of his ability. He had settled back into representing Alex Inglethorpe's youngsters until the shock call from Rodgers a couple of weeks back. Now, however, it seems the Liverpool manager may have to reassess his plans for the young Liverpudlian.

"Jon Flanagan was immense," said Rodgers of the twenty year old's derby performance. "A young kid from the city given the chance to play in a derby game that will be on Sky Gold in about thirty years time, and given the chance because of his desire to put himself out there every single day. He did brilliant and that gives me something to think about. He needs to play football. But if he plays like played against Everton, he's going to get football."

Again, Cissokho winces and ponders the fate of the "cover one" with a sepulchral aspect. This is not a good time to be Aly. For Jon Flanagan, however, the immediate future looks propitious. At least, that is, until the fickle knee-jerkers decide that he's gone from being the Scouse Cafu to the worst player ever. All the while, the tissue in José Enrique's knee knits together and the time until we are once again exposed to his entertainingly inimitable brand of on-pitch crazy shortens. I, for one, look forward to his return.

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