For the first time in recent memory, Liverpool is in top of the table contention as the Prem swings around for the final stretch. The strength of this side, of course, lies in attack, where Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have formed the most lethal partnership since Simon and Garfunkel. The attack has been so good in fact, that at times it's seemed as if Liverpool's defensive corps is a deliberate handicap - a ball and chain shackled to the wings of SAS in order to make it a fair fight. All this is to say that as the "Why not us?" title talk has grown from murmurs to shouts, the answer to that very question lies with the inability of Liverpool's back five to keep ball from hitting nylon.
Another question rumbling ever louder is whether this will be the final campaign in Liverpool Red for one of the key protagonists in this quest for clean sheets, Glen Johnson. Signed from Portsmouth by Rafa Benitez for almost 20 million pounds in the summer of 2009, it's somewhat hard to tell whether the Reds have gotten bang for their buck. At his best, Johnson is the archetype modern full back - a superb athlete and of more technical quality than many wingers playing further forward in attack. There have been more than a handful of matches in which Johnson was the grease in Liverpool's attack, a constant release valve for midfielders and a menace at the by-line to the opposition defense. Indeed, the former Chelsea man has racked up 50 senior caps for the Three Lions, featuring as the starting right back in both the 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro tournaments. Should he retain his fitness over the next three months, it seems likely that he'll also retain his prominent stature within Roy Hodgson's squad in Brazil this summer.
Fitness though has been the problem with Johnson for much of his Merseyside stay. Such a consistent inconsistency that you could lazily attach "just back from injury" before Johnson's name in any column, and not come too far wide of the mark. Pulling up his injury history on transfermarkt.com will send you running to look up the definition of "malleolar" on WebMD. Further, while Johnson's availability has oftentimes been spotty, his form has not been this inconsistent since the aforementioned Hodgson's shadow cast draconian darkness over Anfield Road. Johnson's performances had been sufficiently weak enough even before his most recent timeout on the trainer's table, that upon his return it was he who shunted over to left back and not the kid, Jon Flanagan.
Unfortunately for Johnson, his indifferent form and continued injury woes could not come at a worse time. This summer will see us arrive at both the Londoner's thirtieth birthday and also the final 12 months of his contract, and a very large contract at that - cashing weekly paychecks in the neighborhood of 100,000 pounds. For his part, Johnson has said that he'd love to extend his contract and stick around awhile, but it's telling that the other end of the telephone remains silent. With Champions League play looking increasingly likely for next season, the Reds will have funds to use this summer and a defensive reconstruction seems obligatory. Unless the full back is willing to take a substantial pay cut, it's likely we will see Johnson wearing a different shirt come next fall.