Has Andy Robertson solved Liverpool’s left-back problem?
Liverpool were 4-1 up after 75 minutes against champions-elect Manchester City when Andy Robertson received a cheer from the crowd so loud, that anyone outside the stadium would have thought they’d scored a fifth.
In fact, Robertson had just taken the word ‘gegenpressing’ and given it a whole new meaning. Before giving away a free-kick on the left-hand side of Man City’s box for a foul on Nicolas Otamendi, Robertson had closed down Bernardo Silva on the halfway line, Kyle Walker at right-back, John Stones on the edge of the box, Ederson by the penalty spot and then the Argentinian centre-half.
If Robertson’s performances over the past month hadn’t impressed the Anfield faithful before then, he was certain to have convinced the home supporters after that.
It’s amazing to think that Robertson is only 23-years-old but has already earned 20 international caps for Scotland and made 214 career appearances since his debut for Queen’s Park in the Scottish Challenge Cup against Berwick at 18. That debut came on July 28, 2012, only a few weeks before Robertson was due to start university and potentially miss out on the opportunity to play professional football.
Robertson spent two seasons with Queen’s Park in the Scottish Third Division before being signed by Jackie McNamara at Dundee United. He was only in the Scottish Premiership for a year before Steve Bruce brought him to Hull where he earned his first international call-up and helped the Tigers reach the Premier League. That joy was short lived though, as Robertson stood out in a Hull team that were relegated the following season. 36 appearances in all competitions was trumped only by Sam Clucas and both players secured moves that kept them in the Premier League in the summer.
It was Robertson’s attacking endeavour, especially during the early parts of that season, that attracted interest from bigger clubs. An injury picked up in a match against Bournemouth at the end of October disrupted his run in the side, and although he returned to the starting line-up as soon as he was fit again Hull were already in a downward spiral.
At Liverpool, Robertson is playing in a side with higher expectations than he’s ever experienced before. This may be one of the reasons for Klopp taking his time introducing Robertson into the side. He only started two Premier League games before December, against Frank de Boer’s Crystal Palace and at home to Burnley, but since his appearance in Liverpool’s 5-1 win at Brighton, Robertson has started all but one of Liverpool’s games. Incidentally, Liverpool have gone unbeaten since Robertson replaced Alberto Moreno and his only defeat in a Liverpool shirt was in the Carabao Cup against Leicester.
James Milner, Alberto Moreno, Brad Smith, Jose Enrique, Aly Cissokho, Fábio Aurélio, Emiliano Insúa, Andrea Dossena.
These are the players that have played at left-back for Liverpool in the last ten seasons. They all attempted to replace John Arne Riise, who monopolised the position for seven seasons playing an important part in Liverpool’s Champions League win in 2005, (although he played in a more advanced position in this game ahead of Djimi Traore) their FA Cup triumph the following season, and won the League Cup several years beforehand. Replacing a player like Riise was never going to be easy, but when a versatile midfield player in James Milner is the man stepping into the role for an entire season, then there’s been a serious failure in recruitment.
Robertson is not yet the player that Riise was, and it will be several seasons before we can even make this comparison properly, but he does have several key attributes that will help him emulate the Norwegian full-back.
Riise’s work-rate was what made him so vital in Liverpool’s team. He was able to join in with attacks and provide an extra option on the left, something that Robertson is already well-known for. The way Robertson was able to harass Raheem Sterling whenever he received the ball and take part in Liverpool’s attacks shows he’s able to match the best wingers in the Premier League on his day.
However, one obvious difference between the two is that Riise was aware that if he was caught out of position, he’d be protected by the likes of Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypiä and Daniel Agger, and although the Reds have just brought in Virgil van Dijk from Southampton, it’s unlikely Robertson will have that same confidence in his colleagues just yet.
Riise’s impressive dead ball technique and long range shooting ability used to steal the headlines and made the Norwegian stand out amongst his peers. Robertson is unlikely to ever compete on this front, but given the amount of attacking firepower playing in front of the young Scot right now, Liverpool aren’t going to struggle if he doesn’t start chipping in with goals.
To conclude, Robertson hasn’t solved Liverpool’s problem at left-back, and further analysis suggests that their defensive problems are more deeply rooted than simply bringing in a new full-back, but Robertson is at the right stage in his career to spend several seasons growing into the role. If Liverpool are able to bring in a new ‘keeper and potentially a partner for van Dijk in the near future, then there’s no reason why Klopp’s side shouldn’t be looking to compete for the Premier League title when these issues are solved.