Paul Spillane analyses Liverpool’s left back problem with a lack of a natural left-footed defender hindering the side at times this season despite James Milner’s diligent work.
We are well past the half-way stage and I think we can all agree it has been a season of mixed fortunes. A promising start has quickly turned into a 2017 to forget. Whilst we may still be in the race for Champions League football, we have faltered terribly, only winning twice since the turn of the year, and have been knocked out of both domestic cups.
Many fans have tried to dissect the reason as to why we have been so poor of late, whether it be down to individual errors, a lack of creativity or a failure to break down defensive-minded teams. In my eyes, one player, in particular, has struggled to make any sort of positive contribution on the pitch of late, one James Milner.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire Milner a lot for his professionalism in adapting to playing at left back this season, and for the large part, he has done a very good job. There aren’t many players when thrust into an unfamiliar role, have the capability that Milner has shown playing out of position, and has proven to be an effective member of the side.
Milner comes with bags of experience too, which, especially in the current situation, could be heavily relied upon. When looking at the rest of the squad, it is only really Milner who has the experience gained from winning silverware (as he did at Man City), so the group could learn from and listen to him because that type of experience is vital when morale starts to drop.
But it was only ever going to be a short-term fix, and it looks increasingly like the limitations to his game have become clearer, especially now after Liverpool’s results have suffered.
His dwindling pace can be an issue, both going forward and defensively, and his natural preference for coming inside onto his right foot makes the Reds very narrow. Apart from the odd exception (i.e. Carragher worked wonders down the left side in the 2000-01 treble winning season), fans will agree with me that a left back should naturally be left-footed. Adding to that, some of his crossing has left a lot to be desired, far from the accuracy he was deploying last season when playing in midfield.
This club has been fortunate over the years to have welcomed some of the finest players the game has to offer, but at left back, especially in recent times, no one has made this role their own. Hordes of players have come and gone, some have been a lot better than others.
Take John Arne Riise for instance. It is arguable that since the departure of the charismatic Norwegian in 2008, we haven’t quite had the same impact down the left side – which is worrying. For a while it looked like Fabio Aurelio might have been the answer, but he couldn’t stay clear of injuries long enough to solidify his place in the team. Even Jose Enrique arrived on the scene having a good grasp of the English game at Newcastle and was well suited to the gritty nature of the Premier League. However, constant injury struggles and the surprising form of Flanagan in the 2013-14 season led to him ultimately being frozen out of the side.
Aly Cissokho, Jon Flanagan (to some success), Jack Robinson, Paul Konchesky are just some other of our former left backs taking us back to 2009.
Can anyone truly say any of these players were good enough for Liverpool?
This has been a deep-rooted problem for us, and currently, nothing seems to be being done about it.
What therefore seems to be the problem? Why are we seemingly incapable of having a reliable left back? When Klopp first took over I really thought this would be one of the first positions he would address (as did much of our fan base), at Dortmund he had Marcel Schmelzer at left-back, who was undoubtedly a huge success.
Presently, we have Clyne at right back, arguably one of the best the league and England has to offer. Surely, it is not too much to ask to have a player of Clyne’s capability on the left side of the defence as well?
I do not know exactly what went on in the transfer window just gone, but it was clear signings were needed yet none came to fruition. The left back role has been a problem for several years now and January was a real chance to find a solution.
Milner has proved to be a very good stop gap and can continue to thrive as a valuable member of the squad. Moreno is terribly inconsistent to be the first choice at the club, so come summer I expect changes to be made. A left-footed left-back with great pace needs to arrive before next season. A player who can add a new dimension to Liverpool’s attacking game which our current options fail to do. Someone like Danny Rose who under him, Spurs have a very good attacking full-back in their side.
Finding top drawer left backs that are available is never easy, but it would be very surprising if Klopp and co don’t have a few candidates in mind already. All we can do is support Milner for the remainder of the season, hoping he regains his early season form as quickly as possible, and thus look forward to seeing what happens in the summer.
If you’d like to chat about Liverpool’s left back conundrum with Paul, be sure to track him down on Twitter.