5 Potential Replacements for Liverpool's Glen Johnson
One area that Liverpool will look to strengthen at the next opportunity is at right-back, not least because Glen Johnson's future at Anfield is in doubt due to his contract situation, as explained by James Pearce of The Liverpool Echo back in November.
"He earns in excess of £110,000 per week – making him one of the highest paid full-backs in world football" explained Pearce.
Johnson's contract expires in 2015, when he'll be 31 years old. Liverpool's owners are not likely to match such terms.
Furthermore, Johnson's form of late—although seemingly hampered by the injury that Brendan Rodgers explained last week will now keep him out "indefinitely"—has been poor.
The Guardian's Sean Ingle recently discussed the role of the modern full-back and the effects it has had on Chelsea's Ashley Cole. Ingle explained the additional physical demands of the role, something that is especially true in the idealised 4-3-3 formation of Rodgers'.
Johnson finds himself in a similar position to Cole, and Rodgers would be right to seek a long-term replacement for the England full-back.
Here are five potential suitors for the role at Anfield.
Could Clyne replace Johnson for both club and country? Liverpool would certainly be wise to contemplate such a signing.
At 22 years old, Clyne has the profile to match Liverpool and owners FSG's philosophy.
He's versed in the style of football Rodgers wishes to play at Anfield—possession based, pressing, attacking—and capable of playing at either left or right-back.
Clyne is a product of Crystal Palace's academy, where he impressed before earning a move to Southampton in 2012. While at Palace he was twice named their young player of the year, named their overall player of the year in 2011, Football League young player of the year in 2010, in the PFA team of the year in 2011-12 and, rarely for a defender, won the Championships player of the month in October 2011.
Clyne would certainly be an excellent option, but Liverpool would likely face tough competition for the England under-21 international.
Clyne's statistics this season show that he is strong in both defence and attack, according to Squawka, who explain that "the modern day full-back required to be competent in both areas, these attributes make Clyne a strong contender to replace Johnson."
Crystal Palace's Joel Ward is a player who ticks all the boxes for a potential Liverpool signing.
Ward, 24, is an extremely versatile player whose best position is arguably at right-back—or at least he was until he was recently asked to step into midfield by Tony Pulis.
That Ward hasn't looked out of place in the middle is a testament to his technical and tactical qualities.
Prior to his midfield role, ESPN writer Jim Daly wrote that "Ward is England's most in-form right-back at the moment."
Ward was signed to replace the aforementioned Clyne when he left Palace for Southampton in 2012, arriving from Portsmouth as a centre-back/utility defender. This season, he's been used at left-back, right-back and in midfield—three areas in which Liverpool need additions most.
The Englishman was named WhoScored's Palace man of the match in their narrow defeat at Chelsea back in December, despite playing in the unfamiliar role at left-back.
Crystal Palace defender Joel Ward put in another great defensive shift today: 5 tackles won, 100% headed duels success & 2 interceptions.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 14, 2013
The PalaceStats website recently looked at Ward's performances in midfield and at right-back and concluded that an England call-up was certainly not off the table.
Perhaps ESPN's Daly summed up Ward's future perfectly:
Joel Ward should be very close to being the next player from a so-called smaller club to wear the Three Lions badge. If he doesn't this season, I suspect he will in a few years when he, sadly, inevitably moves to a 'bigger club'.
Liverpool could do much worse than being that "bigger club."
Manchester City's Micah Richards is a player for whom Liverpool were linked with a move last summer and somebody I wrote about as a potential replacement for Johnson here on Bleacher Report back in October.
Capable of playing at centre-back too, with experience of being in a title-winning squad and playing in the Champions League, Richards would bring a lot of qualities to the Liverpool squad.
Strong, fast, technically sound, good friends with Daniel Sturridge, English and with the potential still to improve, he ticks all the boxes.
His contract expires the same time Johnson's does at Liverpool, so City will likely look to cash in this summer before his value drops further. A shrewd purchase could be made.
Barcelona's Martin Montoya has been heavily linked with a move to Liverpool in recent months, with The Liverpool Echo reporting the club's interest in him back in November.
There are good reasons why Liverpool would be interested in the Barca academy graduate: his age (22), his style of play, his ability to play both right- and left-back, his experience of being at a big club...
Ben Burrows of The Mirror recently wrote that Liverpool "were apparently leading the chase for the highly rated right-back but have been unable to wrap up a deal."
Montoya's contract expires this summer, and if a new deal can't be agreed upon, Liverpool will certainly be in the chase to take him from the Nou Camp.
There is one other candidate who could make the position his own and is already at Anfield.
Jon Flanagan surprised many with his performances at left-back prior to a recent injury layoff and is likely to fill Johnson's boots at right-back over the coming weeks.
The 21-year-old could impress similarly at right-back and give Rodgers reason to question whether he needs to sign anybody to replace Johnson.
Flanagan has certainly developed as a player since featuring as a teenager under Kenny Dalglish in 2011, but doubts over whether he has the attacking attributes required for the role make him an outside bet for the long-term solution to the role.