As cliché as it is, a lot can really change in the space of a year. Cast your minds back to December 2016 and an injury to Alberto Moreno would’ve gone under the radar. The Spaniard had lost his role in the Liverpool team, with James Milner replacing him as the first-choice left-back. The Reds were second in the Premier League and looked like the only team capable of keeping pace with Chelsea at the top.
As far as the majority of fans were concerned, Moreno’s career at Anfield was over. Manager Jürgen Klopp was simply retaining his services until the summer of 2017 because he didn’t want to leave his squad short if they couldn’t find a replacement during the winter window.
Fast forward a year, however, and not only did he stay on Merseyside during the summer, he forced his way into the first team and started the season as the first-choice left-back. He warranted his place in the starting XI, too. With the exception of a mad 20 minute spell against Sevilla, the 25-year-old has been one of the more consistent performers in the Liverpool backline.
Moreno departed the Anfield pitch in tears during the 7-0 victory over Spartak Moscow and isn’t expected to play again until the New Year. While Klopp has been keen to rotate his players this season the former Sevilla defender has been one of the mainstays.
Being without him for the festive period leaves Liverpool with a problem. The fact his injury leaves the Reds with such a predicament is testament to how well he’s done to turn it around.
Who should replace Moreno?
Milner replaced Moreno against Spartak and helped himself to three assists, one of which was a superb floated cross which Sadio Mané empathically fired home. It was even more impressive when you realise Milner, who so often cut inside onto his right foot last season, was pinpoint with his left-footed delivery after attacking the byline.
Andrew Robertson, an £8million summer signing from Hull City, got the nod for the Merseyside derby and on the overall he did his chances no harm. He was a threat down the left throughout and was diligent defensively.
The 23-year-old, to the surprise of many, was confident in possession. For Hull he was averaging just the 35 passes per 90 minutes but since his move to Merseyside he’s averaging over double that (71). Of course, this is very much reliant on the system he’s playing in but not all players would be comfortable with such an increase and would struggle to make the most of the ball.
In fact, only captain Jordan Henderson had more touches and attempted more passes than Robertson, while Milner had fewer touches but attempted three more passes. Robertson finished with a pass success rate of 92 per cent, high considering he put in a number of crosses – nine in total.
However, it’s ironic that what many consider to be his greatest strength – his crossing ability – could actually be the reason he’s not a guaranteed starter in the absence of Moreno.
It’s perhaps the same reason Robertson had to settle for a place on the bench when the Spaniard was fit, too, despite impressing whenever given the opportunity.
A detailed explanation of it can be found here. But, in short: it’s a combination of his use of the ball and his decision making that means he’s not yet ‘Klopp ready’.
Liverpool may have planned to put crosses in against Everton because they expected the away side to be compact and narrow. But Robertson’s execution when in good areas was underwhelming.
Of the nine crosses he attempted Everton blocked three, Robertson overhit three, put one straight into Pickford’s hands and only two would be considered be be dangerous balls into the area. One of which Roberto Firmino was inches away from sliding the ball past Pickford while Cuco Martina sliced another straight to Dominic Solanke.
Furthermore, he often ignored a pass to a teammate in a better area. This, of course, could’ve been a tactic, but if he’s going to overlook passes like that then the balls into the area need to be of higher quality.
This could be the reason why he finds himself back on the bench and behind Milner in the pecking order. The former Leeds United midfielder is by no means perfect in that role but, as shown against Spartak, he knows when to cross and when to play those balls across the face of the penalty area and into the path of Philippe Coutinho and co.
The Reds are at their best with quick combination play in and around the area and it’s impossible to do that if passes aren’t being made to players in the pockets of space they take up.
The frustrating thing for many who are very much behind Robertson is the fact he has the ability to play those passes. He poked through a ball to Mané early on against Everton and if the Liverpool No.19 didn’t slip then there’s a high chance he was testing Pickford.
Robertson may need more time on the training field with Klopp before he can be considered to be a threat to Moreno’s role as first-choice left-back for Liverpool.