LIKE everyone, I expected to see Liverpool sign a left-back this summer. I expected it from the point when Alberto Moreno was substituted in the Capital One Cup Final against Manchester City. That day James Milner sat in at full-back. The mistake in the Europa League Final only emphasised that further — Liverpool would surely act quickly to deal with the position, as they did with the goalkeeping position. That hasn’t happened and reports overnight suggest it now isn’t going to happen in this transfer window.
Rather than ask whether or not it should have happened (it probably should is the short version of my answer to that), instead let’s wonder why we think it hasn’t happened. What has been Liverpool’s game in general around the full-back positions?
As it stands, Liverpool have no senior alternatives to Nathaniel Clyne or Moreno in either full-back position. Milner started there against Barcelona but — until recently — it would have been considered a surprise if he is to be Moreno’s main competition come September 1.
Trent Alexander Arnold was on the bench against Arsenal, presumably to come on at right back should an injury befall either of the full backs; Clyne moving to left back should Moreno need to be substituted. Arnold isn’t yet 18 and may not prove to be a senior right back.
Joe Gomez, who featured at left back last season, is injured. The manager is supposed to view the player as a centre back long term but there may be the idea he could do a job at full back this campaign. However we have no sense of how likely he is to come back from his long0term absence. Speaking of which…
Jon Flanagan has gone on loan to Burnley. His lack of match fitness might have counted against him — if he is in and out of the side it is difficult for him to get the time on the pitch he would need to build his fitness back up to ‘match-sharp’. He didn’t start at the weekend for Burnley (and can’t feature against us at the weekend). There’s also the chance Klopp and his team have a had a look at him and don’t see it working out at Liverpool.
Liverpool had an interest in 19-year-old Ben Chilwell but didn’t pursue it aggressively in terms of being prepared to pay a higher fee. Apart from that there has been no persistent left-back link. Why?
As with most things it is likely to be a variety of things. Along with there being very few genuine links to Liverpool having an interest in a left back, there have been no links to Moreno leaving the club either. Jürgen Klopp may well like Alberto Moreno. He is working with him every day. He may well feel he has room to develop and qualities he wants in his first-choice left back. First and foremost he has pace, something we’ve seen Klopp focus on this summer.
Beyond that, it is worth remarking that very few left backs have moved this summer to date. I think I am right in saying at the time of writing only two specialist left backs have been signed on permanent deals by Premier League clubs this window. The first is Arthur Masuaku, who has gone to West Ham after Aaron Cresswell’s injury for about £6million. The second is Brad Smith, who Liverpool sold for around £6m. Watford have got a lad from Napoli in on loan who is very clearly declared as a left wing back called Juan Camilo Zuniga and Chelsea have sent Baba Rahman on loan to Schalke.
This isn’t a ton of movement. There is no-one who Liverpool can be criticised for missing out on. It’s fair to point out that all the sides that finished above us last season are probably happy with their left backs and those left backs may well not be eager to move to Liverpool. Liverpool could perhaps have tried to force the issue with Cresswell before his injury or perhaps with Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand.
Klopp could look abroad but there have been no persistent links to date. It is becoming reasonably fair to assert that there hasn’t been a left full back going that Klopp likes enough to take a risk on, certainly not a risk involving eight figures.
Lastly, there may well be a tactical aspect. The manager wants his full backs so involved with play he may well think he can ask a player who has specialised elsewhere to be able to contribute from there to such a good level that the idea of getting someone in doesn’t appeal.
We’ve seen this elsewhere in recent years and it happening at full back at Liverpool may well not appeal to the purists (“first and foremost a defender must be able to defend”) but Klopp is gearing up for two very specific sets of challenges — Liverpool against the bottom 10 and Liverpool against the top six.
It has been mooted that Moreno was sitting in for Milner against Arsenal. The 30-year-old is especially intriguing in the position. He has useful attributes and attitude. The manager may well feel he can’t find a better fit for what he wants than Milner. So why go into the market?
We might think him right or wrong about all this — he’s Liverpool manager though, and will be for some time to come. He gets to make his decisions and he gets to think long term. If he can’t — for whatever reason — get the type of left back he wants for the next five years he doesn’t seem prepared to do a Ragnar Klavan style signing for the position.
It is very easy to see the roles Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum, Loris Karius, Marko Grujic and Joel Matip all have in a Klopp Liverpool squad in three years’ time, even if a player like Mahmoud Dahoud is signed next summer. Klopp is building his side.
In the meantime, respecting Klopp means respecting the decision even if we don’t agree with it. It means getting behind the player during the 90 minutes he is selected — remembering he is a Liverpool player Klopp has chosen to retain in his summer of change outside of those 90 minutes.
Alberto Moreno is Liverpool’s only senior specialist left back. This is something which has been thought about, and has been accepted, not something that has happened by accident.
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