With Jurgen Klopp reshaping his squad this summer, Liverpool began work on a number of loan deals, with the Liverpool Echo‘s David Prentice reporting on their fail-safe clause in July, revealing that “clubs [would be] penalised financially if a player they have loaned does not play in a specified ratio of matches.”
This ratio was believed to be 75 percent, but while the likes of Danny Ward (Huddersfield Town), Ryan Fulton (Chesterfield) and Adam Bogdan (Wigan Athletic) have met that target so far, the same can’t be said of Jon Flanagan at Burnley.
Working on minutes played, the 23-year-old, who sealed a season-long loan move to Turf Moor on Aug. 5, has featured in just 6 percent of possible minutes in the Premier League—53 of 900—while overall, this is boosted to 17 percent following his 120-minute outing against Accrington Stanley in the EFL Cup.
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Flanagan came on just after half-time at Old Trafford.
Flanagan arrived in Lancashire behind on fitness, having spent 619 days on the sidelines with a series of knee injuries—the first suffered at the end of the 2013/14 campaign—but playing 46 minutes in Burnley‘s 0-0 draw away to Manchester United at the end of October, he now looks prepared to take up a more regular role.
Burnley play Crystal Palace (Nov. 5), West Bromwich Albion (Nov. 21) and Manchester City (Nov. 26) this month, and Flanagan can hope to be given his chance in a tough spell for the Clarets in the league.
In order to even go close to satisfying Klopp‘s desire for his loan stars to play at least 75 percent of their temporary sides’ games, Flanagan must look to kickstart his campaign with a series of strong performances throughout the month of November.
With Sean Dyche‘s side sitting 14th in the Premier League table, the 45-year-old can benefit from a player of Flanagan’s quality and experience if he turns to the Liverpool loanee in the coming weeks.
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Sean Dyche has hailed Flanagan’s top-level experience.
Speaking to reporters on Flanagan’s move to Burnley, Dyche hailed the defender’s title-challenging experience, saying playing a key role in Liverpool’s close-fought battle in 2013/14 “is worth a lot”:
He’s still quite young, but he’s had the big end of the experience, playing in the side that pushed it so close to winning it, so I think that experience is worth a lot. He’s played in some really big and important games.
He’s playing at a big club, who at that time were competing right at the top end of it, so there’s enormous pressure and stress. He’s certainly shown he can do that.
Flanagan established himself as Brendan Rodgers’ first-choice left-back three months into that campaign, producing an excellent showing in Liverpool’s 3-3 draw with Everton in November 2013 that earned plaudits from his captain, Steven Gerrard.
“You look at our team and our star man for me was Jon Flanagan by a country mile,” Gerrard told the Liverpool Echo‘s James Pearce. “He doesn’t get many headlines but as captain of the team he was the player I am most proud of.”
Keeping his place in the side for the majority of the season, Flanagan made 17 appearances at left-back and a further 15 at right-back, showcasing his versatility and, crucially, his defensive strength.
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Flanagan was a revelation for Liverpool in 2013/14.
Only two players to feature regularly under Rodgers in the league that season—Lucas Leiva (4.2) and Joe Allen (4.2)—averaged more successful tackles per 90 minutes than Flanagan (3.7), while only Lucas (2.4) averaged more interceptions (1.9).
Far from the most progressive full-back, Flanagan provided a useful balance with the more rampaging Glen Johnson on the opposite flank, with his full-blooded displays securing the backing of Merseyside.
Of his 23 appearances in the league in 2013/14, Flanagan suffered defeat on just three occasions, and this is the player Dyche will have been hoping to have acquired back in August—but three months on, that remains to be seen.
However, the form and fitness of Dyche‘s current first-choice full-backs, Stephen Ward and Matt Lowton, have come under question as Burnley head into the winter period.
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Stephen Ward has been preferred to Flanagan at left-back.
That Dyche has opted for Ward and Lowton as his regular fixtures at left-back and right-back, respectively, is something of a surprise this season, given the precedent set in both Burnley‘s first season in the English top flight under Dyche and in Aston Villa’s disappointing spells under Paul Lambert and Tim Sherwood.
Firstly, Ward played just nine games out of a possible 38 for the Clarets in 2014/15, with Dyche preferring Ben Mee as his starting left-back.
This made a mockery of the Irishman’s decision to opt for the Turf Moor bench ahead of regular Championship football with Brighton & Hove Albion—though he eventually received this on Burnley‘s relegation to the second tier for 2015/16.
Meanwhile, Lowton had made himself synonymous with Villa’s miserable decline, as one of Lambert’s surprise signings from the lower leagues ahead of the 2012/13 campaign, joining the Villans from Sheffield United.
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Matt Lowton has struggled at times at right-back this season.
Lowton made 37 league appearances for Villa that season, with this gradually reducing in 2013/14 (23) and 2014/15 (12) before his move to join Burnley in a deal worth £1 million in the summer of 2015.
Both Ward and Lowton did establish themselves as first-team regulars under Dyche in the Championship last season, helping seal promotion at the first time of asking, but their history in the Premier League was far from encouraging.
Lowton‘s recent struggle in Burnley‘s 3-1 defeat away to Southampton, failing to contain Saints debutant Sam McQueen, who replaced the injured Matt Targett at left-back, highlighted the flaws in his inclusion at right-back—and this could give Flanagan an opening in what was a regular position for much of his career.
But perhaps more promising for the loanee is the ailing fitness of Ward, who was forced off the field with injuries in both of Burnley‘s last two league games—at home to Everton and away to United.
44 – Burnley sub: Flanagan for the injured Stephen Ward 0-0 #ClaretsLIVE
— Burnley FC (@BurnleyOfficial) October 29, 2016
Flanagan replaced the No. 23 on both occasions, and with Burnley yet to concede with him on the field in the league—keeping only their third clean sheet of the season against Jose Mourinho’s side—he could be given the chance to impress in November.
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Nathaniel Clyne stands in Flanagan’s way back at Liverpool.
If this is the case, Flanagan must take the opportunity and stake a claim for a regular role in the Clarets’ defence, as at this stage in his career, the boyhood Liverpool supporter finds himself at a crossroads.
Klopp‘s Liverpool side have looked significantly more assured at full-back in 2016/17, with Nathaniel Clyne cemented as a steadfast and well-rounded option at right-back—playing every minute of every game in the Premier League so far—and James Milner developing well in his new role at left-back.
Sead Kolasinac could provide more competition in 2017.
In reserve, the German is able to call upon Alberto Moreno as Milner’s deputy, while academy talents Connor Randall (21) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (18) are both younger options at right-back, arguably with more scope for development than Flanagan.
In all likelihood, despite Flanagan signing a new three-year contract with Liverpool back in March, the full-back’s career at Anfield is over—particularly with German publication Bild (h/t Metro‘s Tom Olver) linking the Reds with a move for Schalke 04’s soon-to-be free-agent left-back Sead Kolasinac next summer.
Flanagan finds himself the victim of circumstance and upheaval at Liverpool but has been given a chance under Dyche at Burnley.
If he is handed his first start of the season against Palace, West Brom or City in November—either due to the form of Lowton or the fitness of Ward—Flanagan will be aware that he must perform in order to stabilise his long-term prospects.
Jack Lusby will be covering Liverpool throughout 2016/17 as one of Bleacher Report’s lead correspondents. Statistics via WhoScored.com and Transfermarkt.co.uk.
Follow Jack on Twitter @jacklusby and Facebook here.