Liverpool finally secured a comfortable league win at Anfield this season with a 3-0 win over Wigan. This was just our second home league win of the season, their fourth of the calendar year, and only their eighth since the start of last season, but it was much needed. We had Luis Suarez to thank for inspiring the Reds to victory; he scored a terrific brace and was a constant menace throughout, and has now scored 10 of our 15 league goals (the other 2 were own goals). Our record against Wigan has been atrocious over the past few seasons, so this was a real monkey off our backs, and hopefully we can build on it heading in to the festive season.
The line-up suggested that Rodgers was going to persist with the 3-5-1-1 formation he’s used over recent weeks, but we actually went with our usual 4-3-3 formation, with Jose Enrique playing as a left winger ahead of Glen Johnson, and Suso played as the more advanced of the midfield three. It didn’t quite work out, and after a lacklustre first-half, during which neither side created any real clear cut chances, Rodgers made an inspired change. He brought Jordan Henderson on for Suso, which may look like a negative substitution on paper, but was in fact the perfect remedy to our flat midfield; we got the ball forward quicker which meant Wigan couldn’t get men behind the ball.
You can throw all the usual extravagant superlatives Suarez’s way, but Liverpool had an unlikely creator for their second and goalscorer for their third: the much-maligned José Enrique, who thrived in a more unconventional attacking role. It was a tactical masterstroke from Rodgers, who would have no doubt been castigated by fans and media alike had it not worked out, and judging by his post-match comments this may be more than a one off: Rodgers claimed that Enrique can make the transition from full back to marauding winger in a successful fashion just has Gareth Bale has done. Such emphatic declarations are clearly premature, but it shows that the Spaniard is doing enough to still warrant first-team consideration.
He certainly has all the tools to succeed. He’s strong, quick, composed and comfortable on the ball; the only downsides to his game are his sometimes suspect positional sense, his inconsistent crossing and he has the infuriating habit of holding on to the ball too long. I thought he was a player who would improve under Rodgers, who could coach the kinks out of his game, and it seems that after a bit of a slow start that may be the case. His dribbling style looks awkward and unconventional, but he seems to just bulldoze his way past players. Him and Suarez do seem to have a good understanding, with Enrique capable of reading his movement and playing early balls in to space, something he did for Suarez’s second goal yesterday and for his incredible finish against Newcastle.
Back in September, Rodgers called out some of the underperforming senior players, particularly Downing and Enrique, telling them they need to simply improve their attitude and step up to the plate or they won’t play games. Downing was briefly tried as a left-back, and has shown some promise in the Europa League, but it all seems to be too little too late as far as he’s concerned. Enrique, however, has recovered from his early season injury troubles and now seems to be the one who has the chance to save his Anfield career. I still think he has a future at left-back, and if he continues his resurgence and recaptures the form he showed in his first six months on Merseyside, he’ll be fine.
Glen Johnson does seem to perform better on the left than he does his natural right-back role, but Enrique is a better all around full back than the other options at Rodgers’ disposal, so if he gets his form back they should be Liverpool’s first choice pairing. Andre Wisdom has been consistent at right-back, but offers zero threat going forward. That’s no slight against him; he is, after all, a centre-back playing out of position and performing to a high level. But going forward, that is not where he’s best utilised, and Johnson and Enrique can offer much more, particularly if they can covert some of these chances they’ve been gifted this season.
It’s difficult to diagnose quite why Enrique’s form dipped so drastically over the final few months of last season. Perhaps it was tiredness, or complacency creeped in due to a lack of genuine competition for his place – but Rodgers will not tolerate such lapses in his game. Jack Robinson has overcome his own injury problems and will gladly capitalise on any opportunity to stake a claim for more playing time. This is the first time Enrique has been afforded a consecutive run of starts, and he’s appearing to be getting back to his former self, which would be a huge plus for Liverpool as they attempt to further strengthen their squad on a limited budget this coming January.
A fire has been lit under Enrique, and it looks like not only can he can stand the heat, but rather than get out of the kitchen, he’ll grab and apron and a pair of marigolds and get to work.