JUST minutes after Liverpool’s Europa League final defeat in Basel at the hands of Sevilla, Jamie Carragher sent the following tweet:
— Taintless Red (@TaintlessRed) May 18, 2016
It was sent in the heat of the moment after the Reds’ total capitulation in the second half – and the reckless, kamikaze performance of Alberto Moreno, in particular – but the sentiment of Carra’s tweet was one that resonates with a vast amount of Liverpool fans. Carra knows a thing or two about the art of defending.
Here we are, with little over a week left until the Reds kick off their 2016/17 Premier League campaign against Arsenal at the Emirates, and a new left-back has still yet to arrive. Brad Smith has joined Bournemouth for £6million, while Jon Flanagan looks likely to join Burnley on loan. Joe Gomez, meanwhile, is struggling with an achilles injury and looks a long way off a return to first-team action.
This leaves a certain Spaniard as Liverpool’s only “specialist” left-back for the start of the season. I say “specialist” in quotation marks, because, in truth, Moreno has looked far from that in his first two seasons on Merseyside.
I’m not quite as anti-Moreno as a lot of Liverpool fans – I still feel he has some potential for Klopp to work with. But right here, right now, there are simply too many flaws in his game to be considered a reliable option in this position if Liverpool are to achieve their aspirations – which, let’s be clear, are winning silverware and securing a top four spot (a title challenge would also be welcome).
Ever since Moreno arrived from Sevilla in the summer of 2014, he has never faced any proper competition for his place in the side. With Jose Enrique spending more time playing video games than actual football towards the end of his time at the club, Moreno had to shoulder the responsibility of being Liverpool’s first choice left-back on a weekly basis in a defence which was constantly being chopped and changed, hardly helping him settle in.
That superb solo goal at White Hart Lane had many fans – myself included – raving about our new signing. That’s our left-back sorted for years to come, we thought. Such conclusions proved very premature indeed.
— Anfield HQ (@AnfieldHQ) December 20, 2014
Moreno actually played a handful of very good games for Klopp last season, but for every 7 or 8 out of 10 performance, there was also a 4 or a 5 – and on some occasions even lower. What is clear is that Moreno has raw pace in abundance, which often allows him to make recovery tackles where other players wouldn’t be able to.
However, there are a great deal of flaws in his game which have increasingly started to drive Liverpool fans up the wall. Whether it be his lack of positional intelligence, his tendency to dive in and make wild, lunging tackles, or his lack of quality delivery in forward areas – the best way to describe Moreno is “erratic”.
He’s not awful – and it seems Klopp feels he can work with Moreno to iron out some of those mistakes – but to enter the new season with Moreno as clear first choice yet again is not an idea that fills me with confidence. It’s a position of major concern. He might do alright against weaker sides, offering width and pace out wide when Liverpool dominate possession, but the need for a cool head – a player who first and foremost can defend properly – remains a priority.
I am fully behind the mantra that we should have faith in Klopp and trust his decision-making as he constructs a Liverpool squad in his own image – but this comes with a caveat. Backing the manager should not equate to blindly agreeing to everything he says and does without questioning him on any decision. To do so would be a dangerous route to go down.
If Klopp doesn’t dip back into the transfer market for a left-back before the summer window closes, it would seem a highly risky strategy. James Milner might be able to do a job there for a few games, but the idea of him filling in for any sustained period of time is not a prospect I feel comfortable with, especially against better sides.
Milner is a solid, reliable player whose versatility allows him to play well enough in virtually every position, but his best position is probably right-midfield. Using him as an auxiliary right-back is not such a bad idea. Left-back, however, is more of a specialist position. Is he really the kind of level we want to settle for?
Klopp clearly felt he wanted to strengthen at left-back as evidenced by the seemingly never-ending, and ultimately failed, pursuit of Ben Chilwell who recently penned a new 5-year deal at Leicester, after Liverpool refused to up their initial bid from £7million to £10million.
There remains ample time to bring in a new left-back before the transfer window shuts, but who that might be – and what kind of profile Klopp might want – remains unclear. It could be a more defensive player who won’t bomb forward, but will offer more solidity at the back. It might be a young prospect with potential who could come in to challenge, but not immediately displace Moreno.
The ideal scenario, however, would be more of an all-rounder – a left-sided version of Nathaniel Clyne, if you like. There is a reason the name Jonas Hector is repeatedly linked to Liverpool. The German looks to be the perfect fit and any deal would surely be fairly straightforward in terms of persuading the player to join.
The Echo insist Liverpool are not in for the player, but it is a rumour which simply will not go away. Another “all-rounder” – perhaps the cream of the crop in Europe at the moment – is Ricardo Rodriguez of Wolfsburg, who is not only an excellent left-back but also a specialist set-piece taker – another area which Liverpool happen to be lacking in.
Whether any targets start to emerge between now and the end of August remains to be seen – but what is clear, without doubt, is that the money is there if Klopp wants to bring a new left-back in. Liverpool’s net spend currently sits at less than £20million this summer, so there will be significant funds to invest should the manager wish to do so.
Much of the business Liverpool have done this summer is highly encouraging on the face of it. Loris Karius and Joel Matip – regarded as among the best in their respective positions in the Bundesliga – have both been brought in for less than £5million combined and look sure to improve the starting XI, once both are fully fit.
A lack of pace and goals from midfield has been identified and addressed with the arrivals of Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, while Marko Grujic looks a hugely exciting prospect for £3.5million. Ragnar Klavan brings experience at the back and has impressed in pre-season so far after his £4.2million arrival from FC Augsburg.
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) August 4, 2016
Some would argue that a “controlling” midfielder is needed to partner Emre Can, although it looks as if Jordan Henderson will be that player this season as he aims to put his injury troubles behind him and return to his best form. Liverpool’s squad has quality and depth in most areas – it is not far away from looking a very strong and complete group of players which can compete on all fronts this season.
Investing in a new left-back should be the priority between now and deadline day – the final piece of the jigsaw in Klopp’s first summer transfer window at the club. It surely cannot be the case that Liverpool’s list of targets consisted of Ben Chilwell alone – and failing that, Milner as the alternative. Moreno might still come good with time, but he needs serious competition for his place.
Liverpool need more quality in this position – greater reliability and more consistency. And they need it now.