Liverpool have seemingly always had a long standing problem when it comes to acquiring the perfect left back. In the last ten years or so there have been many triers but not so many doers. John Arne Riise was probably the closest Liverpool came to having a great left back but even he was poor at defending at times, but he offered goals and chances at the other end so this was often forgiven.
Then there was Fábio Aurélio, more cultured and less powerful than Riise but also very able – the only problem here was that Aurélio was always likely to injure himself, whether he was with his kids or his teammates. But here is where the nightmares really began – in 08/09 the Reds had to cope with Andrea Dossena and his exploits before Paul Konchesky signed from Fulham under Roy Hodgson during his ill fated spell at the club. Since this catastrophic appointment of non-talent the various managers and staff at Liverpool have tried and failed to find permanent or temporary left backs in the shapes of Jack Robinson, Jon Flanagan, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, José Enrique, Glen Johnson, Aly Cissokho and now, according to reports from numerous tabloid sources, Alberto Moreno. Both the British and Spanish press are certain the Spanish left back will sign for Liverpool before the World Cup (despite him not making the 23 man Spain squad) and a fee of around £16m has been touted. But what is he like and what can his stats tell us? And how does he stack up compared to Liverpool’s current full backs? This is what this article will focus on from here on in using stats provided by WhoScored and Squawka on the Premier League and La Liga.
Offence and Creativity
One of the first things Brendan Rodgers and FSG look for in a player is reliability – will they be able to start the majority of the league games? On this evidence, all Liverpool’s full backs do this and so does Moreno (warning: Enrique’s stats are from 12/13 not 13/14 in order to find a more representative image of his abilities).
One of the areas that Liverpool struggled with last season was output from the full backs in terms of goals. The two main full backs, Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan, only scored one goal between them in a combined 52 league appearances (Flanagan vs Tottenham Hotspur). This is really poor when you consider Seamus Coleman bagged six league goals last term for league rivals Everton. During the 2012/2013 season, Enrique fared better but only by a fraction. The Spaniard scored two goals but often found himself playing left-wing during the first half of the season which skews his figures somewhat. Sevilla left back Moreno starts to find the levels required for a Champions League quality player – the 21 year old scored three league goals last season and that’s the kind of output Liverpool could really use. Goals from full backs can be an important part of any season, an example of this could be from the Liverpool vs Chelsea game at Anfield when the Reds completely ran out of ideas. In a game like this, full backs often find themselves high up the pitch with the opposition sitting very deep, so a full back who can find the net when gifted this space is a real asset and an extra tactic for rivals to look out for.
Something else required of a full back is to create. It’s not usually enough for a top end full back to simply defend, they need to be up and down the touchline following the play whenever possible and Alberto Moreno is below Liverpool’s more senior full backs in this regard. Moreno creates 0.66 chances per game, compared to 0.97 and 0.9 for Johnson and Enrique respectively. This shows that Johnson does excel better than most in this area but you have to remember how much older Johnson and Enrique are than Moreno. At 29 and 28, Johnson and Enrique have no room to improve whereas Moreno does. You also have to remember that Liverpool’s primary attacking full back is Glen Johnson which means he’ll receive more of the ball from the Reds’ midfielders – because of this Johnson SHOULD have more chances created per game than Flanagan because he receives the ball more than the youngster. Johnson did make this possession count with two assists registered compared to Flanagan’s one and Moreno’s zero. Enrique did well in 12/13 with four assists to his name but games at left wing helped him, as mentioned before. Moreno could obviously improve in terms of assists but it’s much more important to look at how many chances or clear-cut chances a player makes as a player can supply as many chances as he likes but if the striker balloons every shot over the bar his assists column will reflect poorly – despite it being out of his hands.
In terms of getting forward and being involved in the forward play, Moreno does pretty well with 0.7 key passes per game compared to 0.9 and 1 for Enrique and Johnson respectively with 0.6 for Flanagan. Again, age is a big factor here as experience breeds confidence and courage to ask for the ball, so in this regard I think it’s best to compare Moreno to Flanagan rather than the more mature and powerful seniors. In truth, there isn’t a lot between the four players (just 0.4 key passes per game between Johnson and Flanagan) but the figures give us an indication of how often the players like to get forward to support the attack.
An important factor that Rodgers in particular will be looking at is how well players keep the ball. Turnovers in possession can lead to opposition counter attacks and attacks obviously break down when possession is lost. The less a player loses the ball the better and Moreno was the best out of these four players in this regard. The young Spaniard lost the ball just 0.6 times per game compared to Flanagan’s 1, Johnson’s 1.2 and Enrique’s 1.9 from 12/13. Enrique’s figures here are really poor with Johnson and Flanagan doing a little better. Moreno does very well here, hardly ever losing the ball, however, coupled with the previous stats this may paint a picture of Moreno being a cautious full back – either that, or he’s just really good at keeping the ball which is likely with the young man close to the all conquering Spain squad this summer.
All in all, Moreno could improve his output attacking wise but should be able to do that in a very offensively oriented Liverpool team.
The ability to pass under pressure is a key ability required for Rodgers to like a player and it is the two established Liverpool full backs who have to best passing accuracy. Johnson and Flanagan both hit 84% for passing accuracy but Johnson’s is more impressive with the England right back averaging an extra 11.7 passes per game. Moreno’s passing stats are slightly worrying from a Liverpool perspective, for a number of reasons. His passing accuracy is already lower than the existing Liverpool full backs from last season and he averages fewer passes per game. The Spaniard also attempts more crosses per game than the three Liverpool full backs with 0.6 per game – this would be in contrast to Rodgers’ style but this can be easily tweaked with a full pre-season to get up to speed with Liverpool’s system. Sevilla’s average possession in La Liga last season was just 48% compared to Liverpool’s 56% which could tell us why the Spaniard has so few passes per game compared to Liverpool’s full backs. Brendan Rodgers also utilises his full backs a lot with his system – pressing them high up the pitch – which shows us that Flanagan and Johnson were probably more involved than Moreno in attacking aspects.
In terms of passing, Moreno is again a rough diamond. He needs to curb his desire to cross the ball whilst also getting himself more involved with the overall play. These kinds of details can be improved upon if he was to sign for Liverpool because they seem to stem from system differences between Sevilla and the Merseysiders.
It’s a well known fact that Liverpool shipped far too many goals last season and ultimately this cost them the title. So improving the defence can be seen as an important objective this summer as Rodgers aims to take the Reds one step further than second place.
Starting with tackles per game, it’s Jon Flanagan who gets through the most work with 3.4 tackles every 90 minutes. Johnson and Enrique both complete over two tackles per game with Moreno the only full back under two. One possible explanation for Flanagan’s high tackles per game is that opposition attackers target the youngster instead of Glen Johnson – not that they’d be in for an easier ride. All three Liverpool full backs share something in common in the fact that they are all higher than Moreno for tackles per game and this may be down to Liverpool’s system yet again, or the fact that each league plays a totally different style of football. We’ve seen Liverpool’s midfield play some awesome football over the last two seasons (more so last season) but stopping attacks hasn’t always been it’s strength which could tell us why the Red full backs have to get through so much work defensively.
Interceptions are a really good way of analysing how well a player reads the game and Alberto Moreno excels in this department. The fact Moreno intercepts the ball so often shows he is very much in-tune with the Spanish way of playing football with tackling being a last resort. Interceptions are also a great way to start lethal counter attacks which could be another reason Rodgers is interested in him – the Reds were devastating on the counter attack last season and adding another weapon to that strategy could be useful. Interceptions also stop attacks early – before shots can be fired at goal which is something the Reds absolutely need to improve on and judging from the stats, Moreno can help in this regard. The 21 year old completes nearly one more interception per game than the Liverpool full backs which shows he is far more adept at this skill.
One way of knowing how a player is at defending is to look at how many times he is dribbled past per game. Jon Flanagan was one of the league’s most dribbled past players last season with the youngster being beaten 1.7 times per game – with Johnson, Enrique and Moreno all under one. Enrique really excels here which shows his brute strength and pace are used well when stopping people dribbling past him. Moreno does well to sneak under the one take-on mark but it’s Enrique who is really effective in this section. These stats can highlight how well a player uses his body to steer attackers away and Flanagan was particularly poor at this last season.
It’s also key for defenders to be good at winning one on one duels – both in the ground and in the air. You can position yourself and strategise as well as you want but one wrong bounce of the ball and the game can be lost. In terms of winning duels it’s Enrique coming out on top again, with his power and strength being key factors – winning almost 60% of your duels is very impressive for a defender. Moreno is the poorest in this regard which suggests he needs to develop physically, although there is time for this with his career barely beginning. Both 21 year olds need to develop their games in this respect with both players a long way of Glen Johnson’s 54.97%.
Alberto Moreno could be a shrewd signing for the Reds but the price tag shouldn’t go much higher than £15m. Moreno could prove to be a stellar purchase with many of his stats matching the two senior men in this comparison. It must be remembered that whilst Moreno does not completely blitz the current Liverpool full backs statistics-wise, he is nowhere near his prime whereas Enrique and Johnson really should be – this is especially true with defenders who only really fully develop in their mid-twenties, Moreno also has time to develop physically which would improve him even further. If I was Rodgers I’d snap him up now because his international recognition shows he’s obviously got class but it could be one or two years before we see him truly perform week in week out.