LIVERPOOL’S defeat at Arsenal last weekend was a disappointment and the Reds will be looking to bounce back with a win against another London side this weekend. Fulham are the visitors to Anfield and Brendan Rodgers is hopeful he’ll have more of his squad available for this game.
With Glen Johnson succumbing to an infection in his jaw Jon Flanagan was drafted in late on at The Emirates for his first start in 19 months and although he played well there was something of an outcry about why Martin Kelly wasn’t picked ahead of him. Brendan Rodgers has moved to clear this up, confirming that Kelly is still some way from being back to full fitness.
Kelly’s career has been blighted by injuries and, it seems, Rodgers isn’t willing to rush him back too soon and risk another relapse: “It’s just getting him fit,” said Rodgers, “That’s the most important element of Martin’s career at the moment.”
Kelly made a late appearance last time out at Anfield as a substitute for Glen Johnson, himself returning from a period of time out injured: “I gave him a little sample in the game at home to West Brom. He came on and, afterwards, he probably didn’t feel quite right, which is why young Jon Flanagan played in the Arsenal game.”
Reserve football is likely to play a big role in Kelly’s return to full fitness: “It’s just going to take time for him. It’s great credit to him that he’s playing in the under 21 games to get his fitness.”
As for the future role for the player, it may not be at full-back and in a squad filled with centre-backs it could be some time before he finds himself established in the first team: “He’s a multi-functional player,” says Rodgers, “he can play both full-back and centre-half well. It may well be that centre-half is his position, but he’s working very hard at his fitness and we’re trying to give him as much game time as we possibly can outside of the first team, so that when he goes in he can really contribute without having to worry about whether he’s going to break down or not.”
Rodgers was full of praise for the former Academy player: “He was excellent when I first came in here last year – he started the season very well and was one of our best players. It was unfortunate he picked up the injury. He’s a good guy, he comes in every day to work and work hard.
“Naturally, when you’ve been out for so long you’re a bit tentative. When he played against West Brom, it was his first Premier League appearance for 14 months, so naturally it’s going to affect you in some way.
“As he trains and gets more games in the under 21s, you’ll hopefully see him get back to where he was at – which is a really high level.”
He won’t be needed in Liverpool’s starting line up tomorrow against Fulham with Rodgers confirming that Glen Johnson is over the illness that kept him out of last weekend’s defeat: “Glen will be fine. We don’t know what caused it – he just woke up feeling pain in his jaw.
“He trained but gradually in the build up to the Arsenal game it got worse and worse, thankfully, he got some help at the hospital and that cleared it up.”
Rodgers is also hoping to have another option open to him at left back after Aly Cissokho was substituted at half-time in last week’s game. Jose Enrique could be back: “We’re just waiting on Jose,” Rodgers said. “He’s trained and his knee is much better so we’ll hoping he will be available for the weekend.
“That’s something we’ll assess in the next 24 hours. It’ll be great to have Jose back.”
For Brendan Rodgers, being able to use his most experienced full-backs in a formation that essentially sees them playing as wing-backs will be a massive boost in the last game before the international break.