Things seem to be getting better and better for Andy Robertson. After a stellar break-through season with Liverpool last year, the Glasgow-born talent was this week announced as the new Scotland captain at the age of 24.
On Monday, Robertson will lead Scotland out in his first competitive clash with additional responsibilities as they hope to overcome Albania in the UEFA Nations League.
Suddenly the exciting, young prospect has become the assured, professional everyone now relies upon. Intriguingly, when the defender returns to Liverpool he’ll find himself under a similar degree of pressure based entirely off of his team’s new-found dependence on him.
Indeed, Robertson’s importance to Jürgen Klopp’s team has shot through the roof over the past 12 months as he’s gone from squad player to first-team regular to now where the young Scot can reasonably be called a key player for the Anfield side.
And that much is evident from Liverpool’s season so far.
In four Premier League matches, Liverpool have picked up four victories and scored nine goals along the way. While those goals have primarily come from Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah and a few other familiar faces, Robertson has been key to the manner in which Liverpool create chances to break teams down and pick up the vital three points.
In four games Robertson already has two assists. The first came in the 4-0 opening day cakewalk over West Ham United, yet the second came against Leicester City, when the Scottish international created a pivotal goal to ensure Liverpool overcame the Foxes 2-1. And when we dig a little deeper into the stats we can see just how creative the full-back is.
While Liverpool have plenty of obvious goalscorers to pick from, Robertson sits second only to Salah when it comes to the number of key passes he creates every game. So far this season the 24-year-old is averaging 2.5 per match, which is almost twice the rate of Roberto Firmino and five times more often than fellow full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Intriguingly, outside of the central defensive pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Joseph Gomez and James Milner in midfield, no player is currently averaging more passes than Robertson in each Premier League game. And when we consider that the three aforementioned players aren’t exactly the most attack-minded talents, it’s then fair to suggest that most of Liverpool’s passes up the park tend to flow through the left back.
There is a rather obvious reason for this. On the right wing and through the middle of the park, Klopp can call upon attacking midfielders like Xherdan Shaqiri, Adam Lallana, Georginio Wijnaldum and Naby Keïta to pass and look after the ball, yet on the left wing, the former Borussia Dortmund coach relies almost exclusively on the very direct Mane.
While the Senegalese international is an exceptionally impressive goalscorer, he plays more like a second striker off the left wing rather than as a traditional winger – as shown by his four goals and zero assists so far this season – and that leaves a huge amount of space for Robertson to run in to as he searches for teammates with crosses and through balls.
At times this season, we’ve seen Robertson bomb down the left wing as if he were playing as an out-and-out winger due to the manner in which Mane cuts inside to get into the box for crosses and through balls.
Indeed, Klopp’s entire game plan is to get the ball into the box as quickly and directly as possible, which is shown by the fact that the team are averaging more through balls and key passes per match than any other team in the Premier League.
At the heart of that system are world class players like Keïta, Salah and Firmino, but more and more we’re seeing Robertson’s contributions from the left flank mould the manner in which Liverpool play their football.
Sure, Keïta can be replaced by another midfielder and maybe Mane can be swapped for another striker, but if you were to take Robertson out of this Liverpool starting XI it would make for a far slower and less deadly left flank.