When discussing injuries over the last two seasons, Daniel Sturridge's name is often the first mentioned, and rightfully so. The lack of goals in this squad has been persistently undermining otherwise positive performances.
However, as much as we've missed Sturridge's clinical finishing in front of goal, the team as a whole has struggled with balance. Jon Flanagan, the fullback who was instrumental in our 13/14 title challenge, was often overlooked during his lengthy injury spell. This is, no doubt, in part because of the Scouse Cafu's playing style: it's not flashy and he doesn't contribute as much going forward as is often expected in the modern game. He is a fullback with a defend-first mentality, and generally, the less you notice him, the better he's defending.
That said, we all stood up and noticed him on Tuesday night, up to and including Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp who hailed Flanno's performance as "Man of the Match." Although the Scouse defender looked rusty on the ball at times, he kept Marko Arnautovic on lock-down, and put in a couple of promising--albeit fruitless--crosses in the attacking third.
In an interview with the club's official website, Flanagan described the feelings of coming back into the squad for the recent cup games:
It's a brilliant feeling. A lot of relief to be back out there, it's been a hard time for over 20 months now so just to get back in the swing of things is a great feeling. To come on against Exeter like that and for the crowd to give me that reception was brilliant for me and it was an emotional night. All the hard work I've put in, just to be back playing on the pitch and for the fans to give me that reception was amazing.
[The Stoke game] was brilliant. I think I played longer than I expected but it was just a great feeling to get to a final. It's a great achievement.
Brilliant you say? Be careful, Jon, or you might be receiving a thesaurus from Nathaniel Clyne for this year's Secret Santa. As for Klopp's compliments, Flanno repaid them in kind:
It's always nice to hear what the manager is saying. It was nice for him to say that but it was a great all round really and especially to get through that amount of game time. Ever since he has come in, all the lads are trying to impress. I'm going to do the same and hopefully I can keep a spot in the team. I've trained a few times and worked on a few things [with Klopp]. I've adapted quite well to be honest and I think it suits me the way he's planned.
With any luck--something we've been in short supply of this season--Flanagan can remain healthy and help Liverpool get some silverware before the season is out.