After generally impressing in 19 scattered first-team appearances last season, it was widely accepted that Andre Wisdom needed time away on loan this year to take the next step in his development as a player. That step was delayed a while thanks to being needed on the bench early in the season as Liverpool dealt with the first of many injury crises at the back, but in late October he was given his chance, as he was sent to Derby County for the rest of the season.
Wisdom has started every match since his arrival, totaling 17 so far in the league and another against Chelsea in the FA Cup, a match where he acquitted himself well against superior competition. While many see his future at center back, he has played exclusively on the right for Derby, where he's been able to use his pace and athleticism to great effect against Championship opposition.
Wisdom has been quite effective in his time in the East Midlands, and has a string of commanding performances behind him, as well as a pair of assists, matching his season total from last season. He's been one of Steve McClaren's best players since his arrival, with one notable exception. Wisdom struggled badly against Leicester City last month, with David Nugent and Nathaniel Dyer overloading his flank and keeping him spinning in circles. Nugent would bag two goals and two assists en route to a 4-1 beating by Leicester.
To his credit, though, Wisdom seems to have taken that performance to heart, as he's played even better since then. This includes a wonderful performance against Brighton & Hove Albion in the very next match, where he seemed to break up every attack Brighton managed to put together, and dominated in the air up and down the pitch. While the match was still 0-0 when he was subbed out in the 73rd minute, Whoscored still judged his to be a Man of the Match performance, and he was widely praised elsewhere as well.
While Wisdom doesn't have elite upside looking down the road, he still looks to be a player with a solid future ahead of him. It'd be good to get him more experience at center back, as his frame and overall skillset suggest that he fits better in the middle of defense. Despite his speed and athleticism working well outside, he offers very little going forward as his passing is limited in range and his crossing is simply woeful. There's some power to his shot, but it's so wild that he's more likely to score by creating an own goal than anything he intentionally does.
Moving forward, it's not certain whether or not Wisdom has a place in the squad next season. Kolo Toure still has another year on his deal, but his increasing age and up-and-down performances look to leave his squad place vulnerable. Rumors of a potential Daniel Agger departure still pop up now and then as well and the Dane could be used as a method to add to the transfer coffers if needed. As for Sebastian Coates, who knows if he's in Brendan Rodgers' plans or not, but the odds don't appear to be in his favor.
As for Wisdom, if he isn't in line for regular Premier League minutes, particularly if the club doesn't make the Champions League, another loan should be in order, this time to a club in the Premier League. If Derby manage to win promotion, as currently appears possible based on their form and fourth-place standing, a return there could be ideal, but any club lower in the table in need of a good young defender in their rotation would do the job. He needs as much playing time as he can get over these next couple of years to maximize his potential, even if that potential isn't as strong as some other players.
Either way, the boy from Leeds certainly looks to have a place at Liverpool down the line, whether the club makes room for him next season or needs to send him out on loan again. Even if he's not going to be a regular starter for a Champions League club, he should be plenty good enough to be part of the rotation, especially with his flexibility to play several positions along the back line. Hopefully Wisdom helps Liverpool win a number of trophies while he calls Merseyside home.