England and Liverpool right-back Glen Johnson has been criticised by his club manager Roy Hodgson for failing to step up to this plate this season.
Having started the campaign poorly, Johnson was told that he may not be worthy of a place for club or country unless he can change his out-of-touch form.
The 26-year-old returned to training last week after picking up a groin injury early last month, and is hopeful that Hodgson will recall him to duty against Stoke today.
The Liverpool boss maintained that fitness would be his only criterion regarding whether or not to pick Johnson, yet was wary of his England selection, claiming that the player's recent form does not justify his international status so far this season.
The £18m signing seemed to prove his worth last season but has struggled with his game recently, according to Hodgson.
“The big thing with Glen Johnson is whether he is fit enough to play any part at Stoke. That is the major question, rather than the selection process, because he is England's right-back, and if he plays like an England right-back, you would expect him to get his place back,” said Hodgson, according to The Daily Mail.
“But he would have to be playing like an England right-back for that to happen, and up to now this season, to be quite frank, he has not performed at the level you would expect. Not very often, anyway.
“The reasons? You would have to ask him that. Perhaps you should ask him, 'Do you think you are playing at the top of your form? Do you think you are really performing like the best right-back in the country when you play for your club?' If the answer is 'yes', then we will have to agree to differ. If it is 'no', you could ask him why not.”
Johnson has been linked with a move away from Anfield, with Italian giants Juventus lurking in the wings; yet the former West Ham, Chelsea and Portsmouth defender may fall far from the tree if his troubled form continues.
20-year-old starlet Martin Kelly has proved worthy in Johnson’s absence, having played fantastically in their 2-0 victory over Chelsea last weekend, whilst also demonstrating Johnson-esque attacking capabilities against Wigan on Wednesday.
“If you asked me if anyone has surprised me this season, Kelly would be the first name I would mention,” said Hodgson.
“Chelsea was a really tough fixture to throw him into, because they are at their best when they attack down the left, and there is many a right-back who would not relish a test like that. But he came through really well and played his part in an excellent win.”
However, Johnson is not the only player in Roy Hodgson’s squad who has had difficulty finding his form this season: £4m signing Christian Poulsen faced form-related criticism this week and reports link the Dane with a move away from Anfield as early as January.
Yet the Liverpool boss strategically placed Poulsen in midfield, to provide alternative attacking options for Kop hero Steven Gerrard.
"When I sent on Poulsen for the last 15 minutes or so against Wigan, it enabled Steven to push forward more and add a bit to our attacking endeavours," said Hodgson. "It almost won the game for us, because Steven was very unlucky with a shot that came back off the underside of the bar."