AT the end of July I wrote an article for this very website on Alberto Moreno and what we could expect from him in the coming season. Most of my theories went out the window when Brendan Rodgers benched him for young Joe Gomez for the first few games of the campaign.
Now that Brendan Rodgers has gone, Gomez is out for the season and Jürgen Klopp is in, it seems appropriate to revisit the Moreno debate — especially given the nature of the Spaniard’s recent performances.
Most Reds fans seemed happy that Gomez, signed from Charlton Athletic in a deal that could rise to £6million, had started the season ahead of Moreno at left back. The 18-year old Catford-born defender had impressed in the role during pre-season, and was being allowed to see if he could replicate that form in competitive fixtures at the expense of his more experienced rival.
Gomez was excellent in the opener at Stoke, and ended up playing the first five league games of the season, with his last appearance coming in the 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford.
Then Moreno managed to get into the starting line-up and never looked back (maybe that’s why he kept getting caught out of position).
The former Sevilla man made his first league start of the season against Norwich, and to his credit was very good. Squawka rated him as Liverpool’s best player in that game, and then again at Goodison Park in the last game under Rodgers.
Sadly, Gomez picked up a season-ending ACL injury within days of new manager Klopp coming in, but it was always likely that Moreno would have kept his place regardless, at least for the majority of games.
Moreno was enjoying some good form, and the competition provided earlier in the season appeared to be getting the best out of him. He mentioned about how frustrated he had been while sat on the sidelines, and said to Sky Sports: “I perhaps felt that Brendan didn’t have quite so much confidence in me, certainly at the start of this season. He told me I was training hard but then I didn’t feature for those first five or six games.
“Brendan said to me that it was still early in the season and that my opportunity would come, but after the first game against Stoke City, when we kept a clean sheet, he said he wasn’t going to change anything defensively at that point. It never entered my head that I was going to leave, I want to stay forever, but I had this inner anger; a rage almost. I couldn’t see why I wasn’t getting a chance.”
The 23-year old appeared to be answering his critics, and had Reds fans punching the air with a “Go ‘ed lad!” after a wonderful last-ditch tackle to deny Sadio Mane against Southampton (below). Some may argue that the tackle was only made necessary by being caught out of position in the first place, but it was still a crowd pleaser.
However, the same old criticisms have reared their ugly heads in the last two league games against Chelsea and Crystal Palace. Moreno was accused of not reacting to the cross that saw Ramires head home the opening goal at Stamford Bridge, and then he appeared to shy out of a challenge in the lead up to Palace’s opener at Anfield.
The same calls are starting to come again for Liverpool to upgrade on Moreno when the January transfer window comes along, but is the general consensus that little Albie isn’t performing to the levels required a fair one?
Looking at Squawka.com and comparing statistics with left backs of rival clubs (Monreal, Kolarov and Azpilicueta), as well as Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez, Moreno seems to stack up relatively well.
His pass completion has been a respectable 82 per cent, bettered only by Monreal (85%) and Kolarov (83%), and better than Gomez (79%), Clyne and Azpilicueta (both 77%).
In an attacking sense, he has outperformed all of them in terms of key passes (19) and chances created (20), with only the explosive Alexander Kolarov getting comparative numbers (19 and 19), and the Serbian has played almost 300 minutes more. Monreal (11 and 13), Clyne (8 and 8), Azpilicueta (4 and 4) and Gomez (2 and 3) don’t come close, though Gomez has played 260 minutes less than Moreno.
In terms of successful take-ons, only Monreal has more (9) compared to Moreno (8), which counts in the Liverpool left back’s favour again as Monreal, Clyne (7), Kolarov (5) and Azpilicueta (2) have all played a lot more minutes.
Defensively, it’s not as glowing, but still not as bad as perhaps is made out. Tackles won (21) compares well to Clyne (31), Azpilicueta (31), Monreal (24), Kolarov (7) and Gomez (10) when you take into account his minutes, and he has just one Squawka-defined defensive error to his name (apparently against West Ham, and not Chelsea or Palace).
However, one thing he could improve on is his interceptions (13), which is strange as this was a skill he was quite competent at when playing in Spain. There again, Clyne’s 17 interceptions also isn’t anywhere near as high as the likes of Monreal (35) and Azpilicueta (33), so it could just be that Arsenal and Chelsea’s styles lead to more interceptions being made by the full backs.
I know what some of you will be thinking at this point, and yes, statistics don’t tell the whole story. There are times when he makes silly mistakes that lose possession, or he gets caught out of position, or smacks cross after cross into areas where nobody is, or fails to beat the first man.
I don’t have an issue with Moreno’s incessant desire to cross the ball. When you have someone like Christian Benteke up front it would be madness not to do that. He just has to get much better at it.
Moreno’s problem seems to be that he wants to play the game at 100mph all the time. Something Klopp is going to have to do is calm him down and make him a more level-headed player.
All-action is great, and Klopp will love that side of him, too, but when you think of the great left backs like Facchetti, Breitner, Kennedy, Maldini etc., while some were capable of explosive attacking play, they were at their core very intelligent and assured players.
Moreno’s hyper-style can be a terrific weapon, but he needs to learn to temper it every now and again so that he’s more efficient with it. If you’re going to fly down the left and fire a cross in, that’s a lot of energy to expend, so make sure something comes from it.
So what kind of left back does Klopp like? At Dortmund he largely relied on Marcel Schmelzer, whom he brought up to the first team on his arrival in 2008. According to the official BVB website, Klopp is quoted as saying to Schmelzer when he first came into the side: “Play with an emphasis on defending initially. You can be attacking later on.”
Schmelzer was a big part of the Dortmund side that won two Bundesliga titles and reached the Champions League final. However, he hasn’t always been one of the stars at the Signal Iduna Park, with the general feeling from fans and outsiders being that left back was a position the club could upgrade on.
As with Moreno, or perhaps more suitably someone like Lucas, Schmelzer has an influence on a game that often goes unheralded and is only noticed when he isn’t there.
He has been back to top form this season under Thomas Tuchel, including showing more as an attacking threat. He is well versed in the ways of ‘gegenpressing’, and while he treasures defensive solidity above all else, Schmelzer is not afraid to do his work high up the pitch.
To upgrade on Moreno might be a little drastic seeing as buying top quality left backs is very rarely a cheap operation, but one thing you think would be certain is that Klopp is already considering who to bring in as competition for the 23-year old, as a resurrection of Jose Enrique doesn’t seem that likely.
In fact, Schmelzer was linked with a move to Anfield in the summer of 2014, and is reported to have said at the time: “Of course I look forward to hearing things like that [being linked with Liverpool] and it’s nice when top clubs are interested in you… But I still have a contract with Borussia Dortmund until 2016 and I feel very, very good at BVB.”
The club reportedly tried to sign Lucas Digne from PSG this past summer before the Frenchman opted to join his former boss Rudi Garcia at Roma, and on paper he seemed an ideal choice. A competent and promising young left back who wouldn’t necessarily expect to play every game and could have given Moreno the rocket up his backside that he needed, as the selection of Gomez did earlier in the season.
Perhaps now that Gomez is out long-term, Moreno’s slight dip in form could be him subconsciously feeling that he is once more a lock in that position.
Klopp picked Clyne at left-back against Bournemouth, and it led to the England international scoring his first goal for the Reds, so if Connor Randall can continue to impress in training then perhaps that could be another option if Klopp doesn’t want to splash cash in the notoriously difficult-to-buy-in January window.
Moreno is at a bit of a crossroads in his Liverpool career. He’s had the first ‘settling in’ year, and is now closer to his mid-twenties than his early twenties. Until the transfer window opens he will definitely be first choice in his position, but Klopp will not put up with passengers long-term.
I still believe that little Albie has the tools to become a high quality left back, and more to the point, that Klopp is capable of bringing that out of him.
However, he’s going to have to cut the mistakes out of his game and improve on his final third product sooner rather than later, or he could be yet another casualty on the list of lost Liverpool left-backs.
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