After starting the season as a regular in Liverpool's starting eleven, Javier Manquillo has been something of an afterthought as the new year approaches. A rocky stretch of the season saw him fade from the first-team picture, and it's now to the point that, after coming off at half-time against Leicester City, he's only made the squad on one occasion. Three matches isn't a huge number, but it's also a significant number for a player who has arguably been one of the better defensive fullbacks in the squad.
While he hasn't featured much of late, the young Spanish fullback is anticipating better days ahead in the Europa League, with a trophy and a chance to return to the Champions League on offer:
"It definitely makes it even more attractive. Apart from winning the Europa League, which would be awesome, we all want to be playing in the Champions League again next year. We'll do whatever it takes to win the competition.
"All clubs playing in European competitions - whether it's the Champions League or the Europa League - are certainly big clubs. We'll try to win this tie and go on as far as possible in this competition. Perhaps we can win this trophy, why not? As a Liverpool player, you must aim to win the greatest possible honours. That's just what we'll try to do for the rest of the season."
It would be nice to see more of Manquillo over the next few weeks, and Liverpool's crowded January calendar means an appearance or two is likely. With Brendan Rodgers switching to three at the back and utilizing Jordan Henderson as his right wingback, though, Manquillo might find himself on the outside looking in even as one of only three fit first-team fullbacks.
Given the quality of his appearances earlier in the season, his continued benching has been another puzzling choice by Rodgers; he wasn't a world-beater and is somewhat limited going forward, but defensively he had been mostly solid when selected. Rodgers may well have been protecting him through a difficult stretch of the season along with Lazar Markovic, Alberto Moreno, and Emre Can, but the manager is going to need to rely on his younger charges at some point, and hopefully Javier Manquillo is back in action sooner rather than later.