SAT in bored on a Sunday evening patiently waiting for the football season to start, I decided to watch an old episode of The Simpsons.
It was the one where Homer is forced to go to college to get a degree in nuclear physics and includes Mr Burns offering a washer/dryer or the mystery box as a bribe to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials “The box! The box!”, Homer running over the college dean as a ‘prank’, and a pig fainting.
It also happens to include one of the best lines ever from Homer. “Oh I’m going to lose my job just because I’m dangerously unqualified.”
So anyway, Alberto Moreno.
Before Tuesday night’s game with Roma the starting line-up revealed that James Milner would be in at left back. The ensuing excitement from Reds on Twitter loosely translated as ‘anyone but Moreno’. On awaking that morning to check the score, it became apparent that Moreno had come on in the second half and picked up an injury, which appeared to make a large amount of fans practically giddy with glee.
Thankfully it seems to have just been a dead leg, as opposed to the dead brain that many accuse him of possessing. However, it was uncomfortable seeing how genuinely happy many were that he’d been injured.
The general anti-Moreno diatribe was practically down to a simmer towards the end of last season after he showed some improvements in his game under Jürgen Klopp. Then 30 seconds into the second half of the Europa League final in Basel he undid all that good work and lost any faith he had left with a large amount of fans.
The former Sevilla man is synonymous with the words ‘brain fart’, a fan’s description for any moment where he gets caught upfield or throws in a mad challenge that possesses needless risk. It can wreck your head when you’re watching him, fearful that at any moment he could do something bonkers that puts a game in jeopardy.
But are we all being a bit harsh on the lad? Are we giving him a fair deal? Or are we just as irrational in our judgement of him as we perceive him to be every time he steps foot on the pitch?
I’ve tried to have calm and sensible discussions about him and all I usually get back is “He’s ALWAYS making mistakes and costing us goals. ALWAYS.” I can’t help but feel like if he was indeed ALWAYS costing us goals that Liverpool would have probably finished a lot further down the table, not made any cup finals and he’d have been dropped for Brad Smith or a rubber duck well before that night in Basel.
It’s been two years since Moreno arrived in England as yet another solution to our everlasting left back problem for the princely sum of £12million. He was hot property at the time after winning the Europa League with Sevilla, and it was even reported that Moreno intended to reject Liverpool due to apparent interest from Real Madrid.
However, he arrived at Anfield, scored ‘that’ goal against Tottenham at White Hart Lane and all of a sudden it looked like we had a potential star on our hands.
— Anfield HQ (@AnfieldHQ) December 20, 2014
Three years later and several are dubbing him the worst left back the club has had since Julian Dicks (does no-one else remember Dossena or Konchesky?).
You may have noticed that Liverpool have been linked with approximately 343 left backs this summer, and the general consensus with each one is that ‘he must be better than Moreno’.
He certainly does make mistakes. He certainly can improve a lot further. But is he really ‘that’ bad?
As the old saying goes, you can use stats to prove anything, so let’s do that.
I took to Squawka to find out how the ‘top-knotted one’ compared to other highly regarded full backs in the Premier League. A fair few have said they’d like the Reds to sign local lad Aaron Cresswell (though he’s injured for a large part of next season now), while Danny Rose and Cesar Azpilicueta have come in for very high praise the last two years. Then of course there’s the steady, reliable, 7/10 or more every week Nathaniel Clyne, but how do they compare?
Across last season, Moreno won 69 tackles (I like to think that he aimed for that number deliberately). Cresswell only won 23, while Rose managed 56, Clyne 63 and Azpilicueta an impressive 86.
When you look at tackles lost, Moreno lost the most with 80. However, this is only four more than Azpilicueta, so it seems that both Spaniards are being attacked a lot more than their right back counterparts, in Moreno’s case possibly due to a pre-conceived idea that he’s pap.
It could also be that Moreno doesn’t get as much protection as Clyne. There were times last season where Klopp admitted that Moreno was practically the team’s entire left side given Coutinho’s propensity for coming into the middle, whereas on the right Clyne would have a much more disciplined Milner or Adam Lallana in front of him. As evidenced in the Europa League final, Coutinho’s defensive cover is far from the best and in some cases, non-existent, which puts Moreno under far more pressure than his right back colleague.
Rather astonishingly, Squawka has suggested that Moreno did not make a single mistake that led directly to a goal in the Premier League last season. I would argue that his daft penalty gifted to Norwich was one such occasion, but seems to have been missed off their statistics. Rose allowed one, while Cresswell is accused of directly causing three goals through errors.
Even if you’re sceptical about those stats, it’s still one in the eye for those who keep on shouting ‘how many goals does Moreno’s idiocy cost us?’ The answer is remarkably few considering the level of fume.
If you think that number is low because his mistakes are being saved by teammates, well Squawka also suggests that Moreno errors led directly to just two shots on goal all season.
In spite of the previous popular assertion that Moreno’s ills at the back come from being so attack-minded, there are some who believe that he isn’t actually all that good going forward either.
The fact he scored one goal last season would appear to back this up, but looking deeper, he made 57 key passes in 2015/16, comfortably more than all of his rivals (Cresswell – 36, Rose – 21, Azpilicueta – 17, Clyne – 24).
He is also credited with creating 61 chances, which again is far more than Cresswell (40), Rose (24), Azpilicueta (20) and Clyne (24).
In spite of all that creativity, he still only registered four assists, which was the same as Cresswell and just one more than Rose and Azpilicueta (Clyne didn’t register any) but then that could just be down to wasteful finishing from his teammates.
So that’s all the stats covered. If you’re not already convinced enough to go straight out and buy a mad toxic thunder shirt with ‘Alberto.M 18’ on the back, then read on.
It’s not that Moreno makes loads and loads of mistakes, it’s just that when he does, he makes damn sure it’s a memorable one. If you’re going to mis-time a tackle, you might as well do it while flying through the air like some sort of excitable dolphin, and if you’re going to get caught out of position, you might as well be so far up the pitch that you can read the small print on the opposition goalie’s gloves, and if you’re going to get another tattoo, it might as well be an unfathomably bizarre and massive one of a monkey holding a gun. It’s easy and perhaps even necessary to be harsher on a player like that.
There’s also a good chance that his persona off the pitch is rubbing people up the wrong way. His new hair-do is just appalling, and he even managed to convince poor Bobby Firmino to get the same one just so he wouldn’t look a tit on his own.
His impression of Chris Kamara’s “Unbelievable Jeff” catchphrase was also met with widespread ire and mockery last season, but do you not think that if Klopp or Coutinho has said it there’d likely be another flag on the Kop?
Then there’s his admission on the US Tour that he’s one of these ‘Pokémon GO’ types. The sort of people who have been walking into the sea, which I like to think of as natural selection.
If Moreno doesn’t walk into the sea in the next two weeks then he’ll probably have a place in the Liverpool team this season, much to the chagrin of many. However, at the risk of being a tad trite, it appears that Klopp rates him, so who are we to question that?
The manager said recently that his squad is now made up only of players he trusts (I presume he wasn’t including Mario Balotelli in that) and so however bad you might think Moreno is, Klopp doesn’t seem to agree. He could have sold him this summer and got a decent fee, he’s a good age and still has a fair amount of contract left, but Klopp just chose to merely try and find an understudy for him in the form of Ben Chilwell.
That move has of course not happened, and while there’s been murmurs of settling for James Milner as back-up, it’s probably best that the club does bring in another orthodox left back, especially now that Brad Smith has gone. Not necessarily to take Moreno’s place, but to give him some much needed competition. Having the threat of someone else to take your place if you don’t perform to high levels is vital for any player. How determined would you be to perform in your job every week if your alternative was Jose Enrique?
Like the rest of the squad, Moreno is receiving intensive training from Klopp and his staff, with the ultimate aim of educating and improving. If after this season there are still doubts then I’m sure Klopp will look to move him on and try another.
For now it looks like Moreno will still be there, running up and down our left side, possibly chasing Pokémon.
Those of you lovely people who subscribe to TAW Player will I’m sure have listened to the lads interviewing Klopp the other day in America, and will have noted how much importance he puts on the fans and their input. With that in mind, here’s the crux of the matter.
Question Moreno before the game, question him after it if you want to, but while he’s out on the pitch can we please limit our comments to “Go on Albie!”, “Well played son!” and “That’s a beautiful top knot you’ve got there, lad.” You might not believe it, you might still not rate him, you might just not like his face, but as Klopp says, it makes it a hell of a lot easier for the players if they’ve got the fans behind them rather than on their back.
Moreno will need to earn the trust of the fans back after Basel, but there have been signs in pre-season of him sticking to his position more and not racing away from the backline like a kid who’s been given too much sherbet dib-dab, and don’t forget it was him who played that beautiful ball over the top for Origi to run onto against Milan.
— Sky Sports PL (@SkySportsPL) July 31, 2016
In fact I’ve just had a great idea. Paint the ball like one of them Pokéballs, then paint a Pikachu in the opposition goal, and watch him bang them in left right and centre.
Then again if that doesn’t work then Moreno could just take some sage advice from Homer. “During the exam I’ll hide under some coats, and hope that somehow everything will work out.”
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