Regardless of who has managed them at the time, Liverpool‘s track record at signing left-backs during the Premier League era has been average at best.
The names of underperforming left-backs to pull on the famous red shirt in recent years rolls off the tongue; Traore, Dossena, Konchesky, Cissokho and most recently, Moreno. The mere mention of any one of their names will send a shiver down the spines of ardent Liverpool supporters.
Last season, Liverpool miraculously sealed a Champions League position in the Premier League in spite of having no specialist left-back, with the remarkably dependable James Milner filling in for the entire campaign.
With Moreno likely to leave and Champions League football returning to Anfield once again, Jurgen Klopp would have prioritised adding an actual left-back to his squad this summer – and Hull City’s Andrew Robertson is the chosen one.
Signing defensive players from relegated clubs can be a risk but Robertson is a highly-rated player and at the age of 23 has the capacity to improve considerably by playing with better players.
The Scotland international has become the Reds third acquisition of the summer completing a reported £8m move from Hull but is he the man to lift Liverpool’s left-back curse?
An attacking outlet
Milner performed admirably last season considering his change of position and was a great outlet for the Reds creating 56 chances in the Premier League – a total only bettered by Philippe Coutinho (65) and Roberto Firmino (76) in their squad.
However, playing a right-footer at left-back is never ideal. Milner always supported attacks down the left flank but frequently had to cut in onto his favoured right foot to hoist crosses into the box. Inswinging crosses from deep positions are far easier to defend than cutbacks from the byline.
Without a left-footed winger either, Liverpool lacked penetration and width on that side of the pitch. Klopp’s interest in Roberston, an archetypal modern day full-back who gets up and down the pitch for 90 minutes, shows that he wants to add another dimension to Liverpool’s play on that side of the pitch.
Robertson’s attacking intent is highlighted by his 26 completed take ons in the league last season (at a success rate of 62%) which was only bettered in Hull’s squad by Sam Clucas (28) and Harry Maguire (29). Furthermore, while he only created 19 chances in total, ten of those came via the left flank in the opponent’s half. He ended the campaign with two assists.
While Robertson’s attacking numbers may not be particularly eye-catching, it is worth taking into consideration he played for a side that averaged 47% possession (the 16th lowest in the division) and will be moving to a club who achieved 57% possession (2nd in the league). With more of the ball, Robertson’s attacking contributions should theoretically increase.
Liverpool’s achilles heel last season was breaking down teams who had setup defensively at Anfield and part of the problem was that there were not enough players making dynamic off the ball runs into space from wide positions to unsettle defenders. Roberston has the pace, energy and intent to make those bursts which can give Liverpool an added attacking dimension next term.
Robertson, like the majority of full-backs in the current game, is better going forward than he is defensively but that isn’t to say he will be a liability in his own half in the same way in which Moreno has been during his time on Merseyside.
He ranked third for tackles won in Hull’s squad last season with 36 – again Clucas (60) and Maguire (39) playing in central positions were ahead of him – while he also completed 97 clearances and managed 55 interceptions (working out at 1.94 per-90 minutes). Liverpool fans will also be pleased to hear that he didn’t commit a single defensive error either.
Of the above statistics, Robertson’s total number of interceptions is the most impressive as it suggests that he is a good reader of the game and can play an important role in getting his side on the front foot. Liverpool under Klopp are renowned for their pressing style of play which forces opponents into mistakes and leads to interceptions, which should stand Robertson in good stead.
Clearly, he isn’t the finished article defensively, though, and he will need to work on two aspects of his game in particular; winning a higher proportion of one-on-one duels – his tackle success rate was just 41% – and improving his positioning, which at times was exploited by opposition wingers last season.
A willing learner
After being released by Celtic as a teenager, Robertson ended up playing for Queen’s Park in the Scottish Third Division before moving back to the top-flight to join Dundee United and then signing for Hull in the Premier League, all in the space of two years. He made remarkable progress in a very limited space of time.
Liverpool fans grew exasperated at Moreno’s unwillingness (or inability) to learn from his costly mistakes and turned on him after yet another poor performance against Arsenal on the opening day of last season following a catastrophic performance in the Europa League final.
In contrast, Robertson has seemingly matured during his three seasons at Hull, making no defensive errors last season after one apiece in his first two campaigns while he is also more measured in his attacking approach, picking and choosing when to go rather than burst forward at any opportunity as he did in his debut campaign.
Roberston may not be the marquee name that Liverpool supporters crave as they re-enter the Champions League after a three-year absence nor is he guaranteed to displace Milner from the side permanently, but he will strengthen their options on the left and has the potential to make the left-back role his own for years to come.