The sight of Alberto Moreno’s name on a Liverpool team sheet used to strike fear into the club’s own fans, rather than those on the opposition side. He was an erratic bundle of energy, a mistake waiting to happen. And, despite an upturn in form to start this season, he seemed back to his old ways last week.
Away to his old club Sevilla in a crucial Champions League group stage match, the Spaniard played a vital role in allowing a three-goal lead to slip away. The half-time scoreline of 3-0 was bitterly juxtaposed by the full-time scoreline of 3-3, with the 25-year-old’s poor positioning and rash decision-making leading to the opposition’s headed first and spot-kick second.
Moreno’s mistakes meant he was pinpointed as the individual to blame, he was responsible for Liverpool going from a victory that would have guaranteed qualification for the Champions League knockout stages as group winners to a draw that leaves elimination as a genuine possibility.
However, his manager Jürgen Klopp decided to keep faith with him, saying: “I didn’t read it but I can imagine what people were doing [after the Sevilla game]. I can’t be interested in that. The only thing that I try to really teach the players is that the only thing that is important is what I think for their future.”
The Liverpool boss stuck to his guns and kept Moreno in the starting line-up for the weekend welcoming of Chelsea to Anfield. And he was rewarded with a fine all-round display from his first-choice left-back.
MORENO BACK TO HIS BEST
Moreno’s most memorable attacking moments tend to come in, or on his way to, the final third. His pace and drive make him an effective overlapping full-back down the left flank, but against Chelsea he curbed this instinct to put in a highly constructive individual display.
Playing on the left-hand side of a back four, he took up a higher position than the centre-backs, but a lower one than that traditionally expected of him, as well as most attack-minded full-backs. He did this to aid his team-mates in their initial build-up from the back, ensuring the distance between himself and the centre-backs was never far enough to endanger Liverpool’s possession in its early going.
His passing was simple but generally assured. He completed 80.3 per cent of the passes he attempted, which was respectable. If there was one criticism of this particular aspect of Moreno’s performance, it is that he was far too keen to play long balls to the frontline of Daniel Sturridge, Mohamed Salah and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Overall he attempted 13, more even than goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, and only four reached their intended destination.
However, what caught the eye most – in a good way – was the Spaniard’s defensive work. Perhaps in an effort to atone for his errors away to Sevilla, he was noticeably solid, snuffing out multiple dangerous Chelsea attacks and counter-attacks.
When Eden Hazard merrily dribbled beyond several of his team-mates, Moreno was on hand to put an end to the Belgian’s run. When Danny Drinkwater almost burst beyond Liverpool’s back line, Moreno was covering and prevented a scoring chance. Later on, when Willian looked to turn one point into three for the away side in an incisive attacking transition, Moreno dispossessed the winger.
Occasionally, he got too tight to his opposite man, Davide Zappacosta. But generally, he marked attentively and timed his challenges to perfection. He showed good anticipation to see the next pass before it happened and position himself so as to intercept it, and he was confident enough to be aggressive when appropriate.
In total, Moreno made an exceptional eight tackles, which was almost as many as the rest of the Liverpool team completed collectively. He also made two interceptions and one clearance. It wasn’t his most adventurous outing of the season, but it was a laudable defensive performance.
MORENO JUSTIFIES KLOPP'S FAITH
Many talented Spanish players have left Anfield only to star elsewhere. Suso and Luis Alberto are perhaps the best examples – both are now among the finest attacking midfielders in Italy, for AC Milan and Lazio respectively, and recently won their first senior international caps.
Moreno looked like he could head the same way after making just two league starts last season, but his latest showing was yet more evidence of a timely career upturn. Having rallied thanks to Klopp’s belief, it is increasingly unlikely that Liverpool will squander this Spaniard’s talent.
The summer signature of Andrew Robertson was ominous, but the Scotsman has been unable to dislodge the rejuvenated Moreno, whose stats have gone up this term. He is averaging substantially more tackles and key passes, as well as more interceptions and dribbles, while his pass accuracy is up by 2.2 per cent.
Some of this will be down to the simple fact that he is playing more consistently, but there has been an undoubted improvement in his overall play that must be attributed to the player/coach dynamic. Clearly, his manager trusts him more than before, and that trust is being repaid on the pitch.
Moreno’s display against Chelsea proved that his calamitous past is behind him; he now has an exciting future at Anfield to look forward to. Klopp’s faith in him appears more sensible with every passing week.