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The latest rumor doing the rounds at Anfield links Barcelona full-back Martin Montoya with a move to Liverpool in January, and according to the Guardian, the Reds’ Managing Director Ian Ayre traveled to Catalonia to open transfer talks.
In light of the recent injury blow to joint top scorer Daniel Sturridge—who, as reported by BBC Sport, is set to miss the next two months with an ankle injury—and the projected absence till February of left-back Jose Enrique due to a knee problem (c/o BBC Sport), both of which leave the squad short of first-team options, the recent Montoya links will be positive news for Liverpool fans.
Despite a surfeit of options in the center of defence following the Reds’ deadline-day swoop for Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori, they remain short on the flanks, given Enrique’s injury, on-loan Aly Cissokho’s disappointing form, and Martin Kelly’s continued absence.
Young Jon Flanagan, who impressed in his first few outings in the first team under Kenny Dalglish but suffered a loss in confidence and form since, has defied his critics in recent weeks with encouraging performances filling in on the left, but he remains a back-up option—and a specialist right-back.
Which brings us—and Liverpool, allegedly—to Martin Montoya. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons to his potential signing, assess his potential role at Anfield, and evaluate whether he’d be a good pick-up for Brendan Rodgers.
The first pro is arguably the most obvious: Martin Montoya is a La Masia youth product and has grown up in the Barcelona way since the age of eight, before graduating to the first team in the 2011/12 La Liga season.
Considering the passing-dominant style of football that Brendan Rodgers wants to implement at Anfield, Montoya, with his comfort on the ball and encouraging passing statistics—this article from Squawka shows his pass success rate in the 2012/13 season to be 91 percent—would seem to be an instant cultural fit into the philosophies currently being put in place at Liverpool.
A just reward for his perseverance in the Barcelona setup, Montoya was awarded an extended run-out in the Blaugrana first team in the injury absence of regular right-back Dani Alves last season, and took his opportunity with both hands, making Alves bide his time on the sidelines despite the latter returning to fitness.
In his time with the first team, Montoya showed a tremendous work rate, as well as consummate ease transferring play from defence to attack, while his defensive work was uncompromised by his willingness to go forward and take on opponents. The same Squawka article quoted above provides the statistical underpinnings of Montoya’s solidness as a full-back.
In his seven appearances this season, Montoya has, according to WhoScored.com, averaged 2.9 aerial duels won per game, more than any Liverpool defender in this campaign, while his 2.9 tackles per game is bettered only by Glen Johnson (Jon Flanagan’s five tackles per game is averaged over the course of three appearances).
Then there’s his impressive versatility, which has seen him play on both flanks at Camp Nou with ease. His current status as first-choice back-up to Dani Alves suggests that he is most comfortable on the right, but he has also played on the left on three occasions this season.
Such is Montoya’s completeness as a full-back that he hasn’t shown any obvious weaknesses during his time at Barcelona, besides the lack of a sustained run in the first team due to the importance and outstanding form of Dani Alves.
However, he has been dribbled past by an opponent an average of 1.3 times per game this season, higher than any Liverpool full-back, suggesting that work may be needed on both the mental and physical aspects of his defending.
His 0.3 key passes per game is lower than Johnson, Cissokho and Enrique (with Flanagan once again excepted), though his tendency to dribble may offset that as different facets of attacking and creative contributions.
Potential Role at Liverpool
Work rate, stamina, unsung squad player without a sustained run at the top level—on paper, Martin Montoya sounds a lot like Alvaro Arbeloa, who was signed by Rafa Benitez in January 2007 and went on to become a key part in his impressive Liverpool team.
Indeed, with the stats showing Montoya to be a reliable and all-rounded full-back capable of playing on either flank and of the odd surge forward, the 22-year-old Spaniard may prove to be an equally inspired capture in just a few months, if Ayre manages to secure a deal to capitalize on Montoya’s contract situation.
And at Anfield, Montoya would likely arrive as instant competition for Flanagan on the left flank in the short term. As impressive as Flanagan has been with his defensive work rate, he has not offered much of note going forward.
Enrique’s bursts into the final third, as an outlet for the likes of Philippe Coutinho, have been missed, and Montoya might just provide a bit more incisiveness and attacking threat with his dribbling and forward runs.
If he were any other key first-team player, Liverpool would have begun negotiations on a contract extension with Johnson already. But, as dissected by James Pearce in the Liverpool Echo, Johnson’s current £110,000 p/w deal at Anfield means that the 29-year-old will almost certainly have to consider a pay cut if he is to stay at Liverpool.
Which may explain why Managing Director Ian Ayre is reportedly so keen on securing Montoya’s signature this January, instead of leaving it till the summer to bring him to Anfield on a Bosman free transfer. If Montoya impresses in the next six months, Liverpool may well have secured their next long-term right-back on the cheap.
All of this leads to our conclusion that Martin Montoya should be a key priority for the Reds this January transfer window.
Whether it’s for the short term—to fill in for Jose Enrique and challenge Jon Flanagan—or for the long term—as a potential replacement for Glen Johnson if a contract extension doesn’t progress as smoothly—Montoya has the ability to establish himself in the Liverpool first team.
Compared to Johnson, a regular top performer for four seasons and an integral part of this attack-heavy Liverpool team, Montoya still has some development to do before he will mature and evolve into a top-class complete full-back, but his grounding at La Masia will have provided a stellar platform for his continued growth.
At a potentially discounted price due to his contract situation, Montoya would be too good an opportunity to pass up—and a potential regret for Brendan Rodgers and co. if he ends up at a Premier League rival on a free come next summer.
This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.