Caislin Boyle looks at the battle between Andy Robertson and Alberto Moreno to start as Liverpool’s left back for the rest of the season.
There are some positions in football where consistency is valued over brilliance. One such position is fullback. This understanding forms the basis of my argument that Andy Robertson should remain as Liverpool’s left back for the remainder of this season.
I’ll frame it in these terms: ‘What can Alberto Moreno give you that Andy Robertson can’t?’
The answer, in my opinion, is nothing. However, if you turn that question on its head and ask what Robertson can offer that Moreno can’t, the answer would surely be consistency. And if that be the answer, there is only one player who should fill the left-back berth.
Consistency in this context means to reliably defend well.
Let me be clear – this is not an attack on Moreno. He was largely excellent this season prior to injury, and his improvement should not be understated. He may even be better suited to certain games.
That being said, to achieve our goals Liverpool must develop the consistency that sets apart elite teams. That is only developed with players who never fall below a 7/10 – Robertson doesn’t, Moreno does (mainly against Sevilla).
Disregarding the fact that Moreno performs emotionally when playing against his hometown club, Robertson is simply the more consistent player, a reliably good defender.
Liverpool have lost three games in the league this season, against Man City, Spurs and Swansea respectively. Two of those games were hammerings, and Moreno played in those two games. It is too simplistic to say that Moreno was the reason behind those losses, but he contributed. Having watched the Man City and Spurs games back, there was one recurring theme: Moreno spends an awful lot of time out of position in open play.
Moreno was not directly at fault for any of the City goals, but I will offer one example of how his positional discipline lets him down. In between goal four and five, Aguero has a prime scoring chance. The ball reaches him in the box as he has peeled off Ragnar Klavan.
In that scenario, Moreno should anticipate that movement and should be close to Aguero to prevent the opportunity. Instead, he is in acres of space alone. From his vantage point he can see Klavan watching the ball (and therefore not the man), and can see Aguero moving into space. He needs to be there. It didn’t lead to a goal, but easily could have.
In the Spurs game, he played a part in two of the goals, with the same folly proving dangerous. For the second goal, much is made of Dejan Lovren’s misjudgment of the ball from Hugo Lloris’ throw out. However, if you look at the space occupied by Lovren in that moment he is actually in the left back spot.
Now, this may be unfair to Moreno who was further up the pitch attempting to make an attacking contribution but his primary duty is to defend, and that is the yardstick upon which he is judged.
The fourth goal comes from a free kick conceded by Matip. That, from first reading, might appear to suggest Moreno is blameless. However, that free kick is only conceded because Harry Kane picks the ball up from a Kieran Trippier pass that should have been intercepted by Moreno. In this instance, the Spaniard is in the right position but simply doesn’t make the correct defensive choice.
Moreno did not play in our other loss of the season against Swansea. However, such was the nature of that defeat (one chance, one goal) that the entire defensive unit was not scrutinised in the same way. There was no drubbing, and if anything, it was creativity that was lacking on that cold Monday night in South Wales. The reality is that heavy defeats shine a spotlight on the defenders. Our two heaviest defeats of the season have come with Moreno in defence.
That was a very long prelude as to why Andy Robertson should be the first choice left back for the remainder of the season. I’ll focus on the Scotsman now.
I have stated that I believe Robertson to be the overall better defender, with a few examples to back that up. Against Everton, there were two opportunities that came to Bolasie, only for Robertson to shield the ball each time and usher it out of play.
Against City, there were two occasions where Gündoğan tried to find Aguero, only for the pass to be intercepted by Robertson. These are arguably two of Robertson’s best performances to date in an admittedly small sample size. However, it highlights his positional intelligence which is essential to being a good defender.
Robertson has good defensive grounding established from his time for perennially defending at Hull City, whereas it has taken a number of years to get Moreno to the level where you feel like he can be trusted most of the time.
The individual statistics of the two players aren’t necessarily reflective of the difference in their respective abilities. 57 of Robertson’s 71 Premier League appearances have come whilst playing for Hull, which skews things slightly. Moreno has 13 more Premier League appearances (with 84) and has conceded 6 fewer goals than Robertson (99 to 93).
But once again this must be considered through the prism of the fact that each of Moreno’s appearances has been for Liverpool. Almost 80% of Robertson’s Premier League appearances to date have been for a struggling Hull side.
It is notable that Robertson has made more interceptions and clearances than Moreno in fewer appearances. He has made 115 interceptions to Moreno’s 108, and 156 clearances to Moreno’s 144. This strongly suggests that Robertson is more frequently in the correct position to perform his duties. The same logic applies to Robertson’s higher number of recoveries; 371 to 315.
The outcome of this research is that the numbers conclude that Robertson has outperformed Moreno in many defensive aspects in fewer appearances. The one caveat is that Liverpool traditionally have to defend less.
Robertson should be the first choice left back going forward to the end of the season. If this analysis doesn’t convince you, there is the further argument that one shouldn’t disrupt a winning side.
What continues to let Moreno down is his positional awareness, the statistics show that when he is in the right position he has a higher tackle success rate than Robertson.
However, he is not there with the same degree of regularity as Robertson is. Consistency is what defines a defender, and Robertson has shown since his emergence that it is a quality he possesses.