The position left back at Anfield has been a problem position for a while. Djimi Traoré, John Arne Riise, Fábio Aurélio, Stig Inge Bjørnebye, Steve Harkness, Steve Staunton, Emiliano Insua and Paul Kon... (I can't even bring myself to say it, sorry Paul) have all been regular left backs over recent years. Whilst there have been some steady performers, some did have the ability but were hampered by injuries, some were raw young talent and some were just not good enough. The fact that right backs and centre backs have regularly been played in the position highlights the lack of quality overall that has occupied the role at the club. Last season Glen Johnson and young Jack Robinson performed very well when called upon, but a regular natural first choice was lacking. When comparing that other top sides in the Premiership have had Ashley Cole and Patrice Evra, two of the best left backs in the world in recent times, this shows up the problems that have been encountered at Melwood.
In my opinion the best of those left-backs were Riise and Aurélio. Riise hit the ground running with his bullet like left foot scoring goals, for the good seasons though there were poor ones. He left the club at the right time for all concerned maybe even a year too late, highlights being 'that goal', important goals against rivals and providing the cross for Gerrard's goal in Istanbul. Aurélio has been refered to from fellow players as technically not just one of the best players at Liverpool in his time but one of the best in the Premiership. However injuries permitted him from rarely showing it with his best season being 08/09. 130 games in 5 seasons tells its own story, with 322 games in his career so far at the age of 31. With Riise a year younger having notched up 552, this illustrates the ongoing battles that the Brazilian has faced.
So to recent new signing José Enrique Sánchez Díaz, , having arrived in England in 2007, 'El Toro' (The Bull) has not only perfected the art of attacking play from the left full back position within the Premiership but has also spent a season in what could be argued the more physical Championship. Before arriving on the island in which we call England and adjusting to the famous Tyneside climate, Enrique spent the majority of his time in Spain in the Valencian Community. Being born in Valencia, he spent his youth career at Levante, the smaller and poorer of Los Che's rivals. Playing just 19 games for the B team, he was soon snapped up by their near neighbours at the Mestalla. Straight away he was loaned out to the North-West of Spain to Celta Vigo where he played a further 18 games. His performances caught the eye of Villarreal, without ever playing for Valencia's first team. A move slightly north to El Madrigal for a fee in the region of €4 million saw José make 25 appearances in the 06/07 season, under the tutorship of Manuel Pellegrini. It took his transfer to Newcastle however to finally settle, at just 21 he signed a five-year contract for the Magpies. Sam Allardyce brought the Spaniard in for a fee of £6.3 million, which along with Joey Barton was the full extent of his coup's during his short spell at the club. Not including caretaker managers, he has had 6 different bosses during his tenure in 4 years, hardly a place of stability. He was once sent away by Kevin Keegan in the summer of 2008 to lose some weight but ended up losing too much.
Speed has been an attribute he has possessed from a very early age. At 16, he had the decision between a career in sprinting representing his country or kicking a ball around - thankfully for Liverpool he chose the latter. His pace has made him dangerous down the left hand side but has also enabled him to get back to make last-ditch tackles, as he recorded an 84% success rate of the 61 tackles he attempted. It's often presumed that full backs that are an attacking threat are poor defensively. Whilst this may be the case with some, others suffer from not being able to be in 2 places at once. When Enrique decides to push forward with his side in possession is it his fault if the central midfielder gives the ball away and the opposing side uses the space in behind which he no longer occupies ?
That's down to communication and around better players they will cover for positions that have been vacated and possession will not be surrendered so easily. Last season he was beat just 9 times in 36 games by opposing players, compared to Evra (23) and Cole (38).
His composure on the ball and ability to pick out a pass means that he is well suited to the style of football that Kenny Dalglish and Steve Clarke have and will be implementing, he will look to improve on his 75% pass rate. Perhaps playing with a team a little less direct and more patient in their build up play will assist. His skill in possession when looking to beat a man is that to rival Glen Johnson on his opposite flank. As the Spaniard completed 65 successful dribbles in 3125 minutes of playing time on an average of 48 minutes per dribble. The former West Ham and Chelsea full-back completed 42 dribbles in 2168 mins, averaging 51 mins. However that was whilst playing in both his more natural right-back as well as left-back showing his versatility.
Enrique's crossing accuracy for last season was a respectable 23% of a 132 crosses attempted, whilst this was worse than Leighton Baines (28%) and wingers Ashley Young and Florent Malouda (31%) it was an improvement on David Silva (17%) and fellow left backs Evra (18%), Cole (20%) and Clichy (17%). As well as being a nice friendly guy off the pitch, it appears he carries it on to the pitch as well conceding just 15 fouls. In his entire first team appearances in Spain he only received 3 yellow cards. Surprisingly the area in which he needs to improve the most is in an aerial dual, winning just 32%. With a height of 6 foot, you would expect a higher success rate.
It's not just the adaptation to the league that is not a worry or language problems, but he knows a couple of the squad already in Andy Carroll and Pepe Reina. Perhaps key is at 25 years old he has made just 190 appearances without suffering any long-term injuries. His lack of games was down to opportunities, this illustrates the progression he has made in the last 2 years having played 37 matches in 2009/10 and 36 in 10/11. The fear of burnout or injuries caused whilst playing too much as a youngster doesn't apply here. Enrique has played for a variety of the Spanish youth teams but is yet to win a full cap, however it is rumoured that he has been taken into consideration by Vicente Del Bosque after last seasons performances. He is highly regarded at the Nou Camp as they pondered bidding for him this summer.
What will stand out most for Liverpool fans, will probably be his transfer fee of around £6 million. Having overpaid a number of times this window in order to fill the gaps, this represents good value for the club. With Enrique having just 12 months left on his contract, Newcastle were forced to sell or lose him for nothing in 2012. There are maybe better options than José currently within the Premiership but the key issues are availability and price. His certainly an upgrade on the players in the left-back position Liverpool have had over the last few seasons.
"Cuando el tren llega, hay que tener" is the saying in Spain or as Enrique says "When the train comes in, you have to take it"
All Statistics were taken from Opta Data. Comparisons were made of fellow Premiership players in order represent fair value.