Joseph Kavaloski outlines how Liverpool’s lack of depth at fullback could see Andre Wisdom get his opportunity this season.
Coming into the summer transfer period, the position at which most fans wanted additional reinforcements was left back. Now that there are only two weeks before the first league match of the season, both full back positions look to be depleted of depth. Brad Smith was sold to Bournemouth for £6 million, while Jon Flanagan has been reported as being close to joining Burnley on a season long loan. That has left Nathanael Clyne and Alberto Moreno with very little cover at fullback, potentially opening up opportunities for previously unused players.
One of the players that may benefit from the lack of transfer dealings is Andre Wisdom. Prior to last season, the Englishman was given a new contract at Anfield, extending his stay through to 2019. In a bizarre turn of events, Wisdom was then sent on loan for the third season in a row, this time to newly promoted side Norwich City. Unfortunately, his poor performances last season at Norwich left many to believe his Liverpool career was over. However, no incoming transfers at full back and a lack of rumours linking Wisdom away from Anfield may indicate that Wisdom’s time on Merseyside is not yet complete.
After originally making his name in the Liverpool academy as a right footed center back, Wisdom has played at right back each of the past three seasons on loan. Although, this pre-season he has been getting most of his playing time on the right side of Liverpool’s central defensive pairing. Wisdom’s versatility on the right side of the Reds’ back line could be a key factor in him earning playing time this season. Although center back may not be the position in which he is asked to contribute, Wisdom could see time in cup competitions in the center of the Reds’ defence. Despite that possibility, though, Wisdom has a chance to take advantage of Liverpool’s lack of full back depth by providing cover as the second option behind Nathaniel Clyne at right back.
A centre back by trade, Wisdom is a defence-minded right back who does not contribute as much in the final third as some of the other options Klopp can call upon. Last season, in what was deemed a poor season at Norwich by many, Wisdom averaged a respectable 1.9 tackles, 0.8 interceptions, and 2.2 clearances per match. Wisdom was a sound defender that did not make any defensive errors that exposed his side. He averaged four defensive actions per match, winning an impressive 60% of his duels. In the prior season for West Brom, Wisdom made only one defensive error in 24 appearances while winning 52% of his duels. Wisdom is a capable defender at right back, but he struggles going forward which limits his capability in Klopp’s squad.
The area in which Wisdom has struggled the most is with the ball at his feet. He only completed 76.9% of his passes in 2015-16, a mark which would have been the lowest in the Reds’ first team. In 2014-15, Wisdom was slightly better at 79%, but still below average for a player that only made 0.4 key passes per match in each of the past two seasons. Wisdom’s limitations going forward will keep him well behind Clyne in the pecking order, but his defensive work could put him ahead of Connor Randall.
Randall is the only other player in the squad outside of Clyne who is a true right back. At 20 years old, Randall is very inexperienced, but he did make his first team debut last season in both cup competitions and in the Premier League. Randall was not particularly impressive in his appearances, and although Wisdom was perhaps worse at Norwich, Wisdom has significantly more Premier League experience. Randall is an average player both defensively and in attack, whereas Wisdom excels as a defender.
Klopp has traditionally liked his full backs to have the ability to get forward, and Randall is much better in that area than Wisdom. However, Wisdom could be a far more reliable option in the Reds’ back line. The former English u-21 international could be relied upon to do a job defensively without the coaches having to worry about Randall’s inexperience and lack of defensive nous opening up space on the right side of the defense. Wisdom will certainly not help a team win a match from right back, but his defensive abilities will ensure he won’t lose his team the match, something that is not always a surety with Randall.
Another place where Wisdom could see more time on the pitch than expected is at right centre back. Ideally, Klopp would like to have Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip competing for that position, but with Mamadou Sakho’s injury and behavioural problems, Lovren appears to be headed for the starting left centre back position. This leaves Matip as the only right centre back outside of Wisdom. Without European Competitions, Wisdom will likely only get a chance at playing time in cup competitions. However, his versatility allows him to play at either position on the right side of the defence—a trait that Klopp may value. Wisdom’s reliability could earn him a chance at playing time even if he is not the type of defender Klopp traditionally prefers.
The transfer window still has a month to run, but there are very few rumours linking Wisdom with a move away from Anfield. At this point, all signs appear to be indicating that Wisdom will get a chance in the squad under Klopp. Wisdom is a limited player that will not be playing regularly unless there is a severe injury crisis, but in the early stages of cup competitions, he could earn a chance to impress. Transfers and a significantly decreased fixture list has trimmed the need for a large squad, leaving certain areas of the squad lacking in depth. These factors could provide Wisdom the opportunity to earn a place in Liverpool’s squad even if it is in a limited role.