Liverpool’s Left Back Woes
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on March 1, 2016
It was the final day of August 2014. The Sky cameras were at a sunny White Hart Lane, with many fixed on Mario Balotelli. Liverpool’s latest and final signing of a transfer window which placed a firm tick in the latter box of a ‘make or break’ summer for Brendan Rodgers’ Premier League runners’ up.
Whilst attention was all on the Italian enigma, whose wild and over an ambitious shooting that day summarised his debut season at Anfield, it was another summer signing who stole the show. Tackling the ball off Andros Townsend deep into his own half, Alberto Moreno began to dart forward down the left side of the pitch, cantering on in the late summer sunshine. On and on and on the little Spaniard went, entering the shadow of the South Stand which cast itself over the home side’s penalty area. Once in range, a swing of his left-foot lashed the ball across Hugo Lloris and into the inside netting of the Frenchman’s goal….’We have a left-back!’
Or so our innocent minds at the time may have thought. A summer-long pursuit and a goal like that were all the evidence the excitable fans in the away end that afternoon needed to confirm that Alberto would be the real deal. Yet in many ways that performance typified the former Sevilla man. He’s shown he is fantastic going forward, he’s quick and even enthralling at times, but as on that day where Tottenham failed to mount any serious attacks, he had done very little defensively.
Another strength of Moreno is his recovery runs. Several times we see him galloping back, chasing after opponents before leaping and sliding across the turf to pull off spectacular tackles which are great on the eye. However, it doesn’t take a former professional with a fancy gigantic iPad in a Sky Sports studio to work out why we see this from Alberto so often. His positional sense is poor, as seen in the build-up to Man City’s goal in the League Cup final and said by Jamie Carragher this week.
The former Liverpool number 23 said when analysing the goal: “It starts with the left-back Moreno. He splits initially from a goal kick, but now he knows he isn’t going to receive the ball he has to get back.”
“Sergio Aguero is in the right position to pick up the ball because his opposite full-back has gone in to go for a header. And then he (Moreno) doesn’t see the run.”
We saw Moreno’s recovering pace once more as he got back goal-side of the Argentine, but even then he wasn’t able to prevent Aguero from setting up his teammate. Even with Mignolet’s non-existent wrists aside, it was a goal that could have been prevented by better positional awareness from the left-back, who actually started this season on the bench for Liverpool. Joe Gomez was preferred by Brendan Rodgers in the early parts of this campaign, with the Northern Irishman, who even back then was under great amounts of pressure, clearly trusted the 19-year-old to help him keep his job rather than the man who joined his side for £12 million a year earlier.
A season-ending injury to Gomez allowed Moreno back into the side and with Jon Flanagan having also been missing for its’s the majority, Moreno has been virtually unchallenged for his starting berth (I don’t need to have another pop at Jose Enrique so soon after my last one). However, with the popular Scouser returning to full fitness and Australian left-back, Brad Smith impressing when given the chance, possible solutions to this issue have arisen. Flanagan has already shown during that wonderful-cum-horrific season that was 2013-14, that he is capable of being a solid full-back.
Strong in the tackle, sometimes to a terrifying extent, and far more disciplined than the Spaniard, the ‘Scouse Cafu’ as he has been dubbed with tongues firmly in cheek, could be the solution to the Reds left-back woes. Although less glamorous and far less creative, the more sensible manner of Flanagan’s game could be exactly what Klopp’s side need in the run-in to the end of the season. Especially when that flank has also been occupied by Phil Coutinho in recent games, whose unpredictable nature on the ball requires someone a little more conservative behind him. A ‘European’ away day at Old Trafford will need a more defensively aware Liverpool side, as will any other European tie that they find themselves in between here and May, and surely Flanno will solve this issue in the meantime.
In the long-term, I sincerely hope that Alberto Moreno can work on the weaknesses in his game. He’s the sort of full-back I personally love to see and the kind that we’re often told the ‘modern game’ with it’s ‘gegenpressing’ and ‘inside forwards’ requires. Finally, impressively and perhaps depressingly, our Seville-born left-back has been our most creative player this season, making 46 chances according to Squawka. On the other hand, though, I couldn’t find a stat that confirmed how many chances the opposition created whilst Moreno set off on one of those recovery runs after his attempted assist wasn’t converted.
Moreno must adapt or he may become a victim of the perceived overhaul at Liverpool this coming summer.