MY appearances on the Anfield Wrap podcast have so far been met mostly with radio silence. I like to think I’ve been doing a solidly unobtrusive job, but it might just be that nobody’s much arsed about anything I say.
All that changed this week, when a comment I made prompted a deluge of at least two tweets questioning my judgement, sanity and manhood.
Taking a hospital pass from Neil Atkinson, I wandered down a blind alley in making some criticisms of Jose Enrique and didn’t quite find my way out.
Aside from the indignation in the room and the very real danger of me being on the receiving end of one of these, I got a fair bit of stick from Twitter followers and the alarming number of people in the real world who actually pay attention to all this.
That only intensified on Tuesday, when Jose capped a generally fantastic performance with a sumptuous drilled pass to Charlie Adam, allowing the Scotsman to create Liverpool’s third goal.
I was wrong, wrong, wrong, and Enrique had proved it in style.
Based on what I said and how poorly I expressed it, yes I was. Jose Enrique is a very, very good left-back. The best we’ve had for years – arguably going back as far as Steve Staunton.
His defensive positioning often looks flawless, he gets forward enthusiastically and generally looks strong, quick, committed and skilful.
So what’s the problem? Well, firstly there’s not much of one, at least not right now. But allow me to indulge in a slightly long-winded analogy.
When I was about 14 I got a PC, a Pentium 133 with 16mb of memory and a massive, massive 1gb hard drive.
I loved that computer. It played Championship Manager 97/98 like a dream. It even pumped music off CD through the speakers while I was guiding Grimsby to European glory, pausing occasionally to scamper about with a nailgun in impossibly futuristic 3D on Quake.
Best of all it gave me access, via a cranky and reluctant dial-up internet connection, to a raft of low-quality pixellated videos of nude women going quite a bit further than Shannon Tweed tended to on Channel Five.
At the time it was impossible to imagine my PC being anything other than great. Then along came Championship Manager 3, Quake 2 and a range of lengthier, more richly detailed lady videos.
All three basically took one look at the beige box on my desk and swept off with a haughty look of disdain.
At first I tried to soldier on, waiting through hours of frustration between matches, space station shootouts and, erm, other activities.
Eventually, after much soul-searching I was forced to upgrade and leave my battered old machine behind.
This, as I so ineloquently tried to express on the podcast, is my worry with Enrique – that while he’s comfortably above the average standard of players at maybe 14 or 15 clubs in the Premier League, I’m not wholly convinced by him when we face the other four or five.
This isn’t jumping on him after one bad game or one high-profile mistake, although the poor decision he made in the build-up to United’s goal is symptomatic of the problem. In both games at the Etihad (the second as a substitute) Enrique was at times exposed, surrendering possession and territory too readily.
Dwelling on the ball for too long or taking the wrong path out of trouble is something Enrique has been guilty of fairly frequently. In most games it doesn’t matter, and often makes more sense than simply hoofing the ball away. Against sides lower down the table we need to retain possession, be positive, look to get right back on the front foot from left-back. That’s where the Spaniard excels, and the odd slip can be viewed as a blemish rather than a rash.
At times against the very best, though, we need a dose of pragmatism from Enrique. Essentially, we need good decisions nearly every time. This season it’s not likely to matter often enough to develop into a problem, but were we to qualify for the Champions League again we’d suddenly find the proportion of games where the margins are fine increasing exponentially.
Then we’ll need Enrique to show that he’s more than an excellent Premier League left-back, and can prove the likes of his national coach Vicente del Bosque wrong about his ability to cope at the very top level.
Any observant geeks reading the story about my PC will have noted that I could have avoided the crushing disappointment of finding it rendered obsolete. I could have upgraded, stuck in some more memory, a new graphics card or processor. I’d have been playing with myself, in every sense, for years to come.
That’s essentially the work I’d like to think Liverpool are doing right now with Enrique – taking the most consistently effective left-back in the Premier League and helping him move his game to another level. Crafting a defender as comfortable and assured at the Bernabeu as the Britannia.
In the meantime, his performances might just be enough to lift us up the table to where we want to be. If the plan comes together Enrique will look an even better buy than he does already.
That’s all I’m saying.
Right, now let’s move on to Charlie Adam…
Follow Steve on Twitter, but ideally don’t abuse him, @steve_graves