Pick up any speculative article about Liverpool’s transfers from last summer and one would assume that the only position Liverpool desperately needed to fill was left back. This was before Mamadou Sakho’s pre-season transgressions that have led to desperate tap ups this summer. It was also before Red Bull Leipzig and Naby Keita lit up the Bundesliga.
Alberto Moreno had endured a torrid second half in the Europa League final and the clamour for a new left back amongst the fans and the pundits was at a high pitch. But, as the summer transfer window drew to a close, Jurgen Klopp announced that Liverpool were not chasing any left-back targets as he believed that James Milner could play that role and Moreno move into a back-up role. This was very interesting because the reason why Milner had moved to Liverpool was to play in a central role, as he was fed up of playing on the right-wing for Manchester City. Klopp not only demanded that Milner put those aspirations aside, he also played him on the opposite wing and in a defending position. That Milner did not just plug the gap but also excelled in the left-back role says as much about his versatility, as it does about Klopp’s ability to inspire his players.
But one got a feeling that this arrangement was always going to be a stop-gap one and would not last beyond a season or two. Thus, it is not surprising that amongst the rumored big money moves for Virgil van Dijk and Keita, Liverpool have focused on their requirement from the last season and signed the 23-year old left-footed left-back Andrew Robertson from Hull City for a reported fee of £8 million that could rise to £10 million including add-ons.
Even before Robertson was announced on Friday afternoon, Liverpool fans were busy analyzing what impact he would have on their team. Some fans wanted to believe that Robertson will ensure that the Reds defend better this season, while others believed that with Robertson’s signing, Liverpool will have an additional central midfielder in James Milner and that the Reds should end their pursuit of the ever-more difficult to sign Naby Keita.
In this post, let us examine both the ideas a bit and see if indeed Robertson will lead to an improvement in Liverpool’s defense and whether Milner will truly be able to play the central midfield role that he covets so much.
Even though Robertson is quite young at 23 years of age, he has risen very rapidly. In 2012-13, he found himself playing in the Scottish League One with Queen’s Park FC. After a year, he was snapped up by the Scottish Premiership club Dundee United. After one year playing in the top-flight in Scotland, Robertson was signed by Hull City in the summer of 2014. Since then, he has made 99 league appearances for the Tigers in three seasons, across both the Premier League, as well as the Championship.
Robertson possesses talent and that has been evident since very young age. After his only season at Dundee United, he was voted the PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year in a season that saw him scoring five goals in 44 appearances. Even this summer, Liverpool reportedly had competition from the likes of PSV Eindhoven and Sporting Lisbon in securing Robertson’s signature.
WhoScored.com lists passing, dribbling and key passes as the key strengths of the Scotsman, while suggesting that aerial duels and tackling are his weaknesses. This would suggest that Liverpool have signed a more front-footed left-back – someone similar to Moreno. But that impression is incorrect, as shown by the stats.
Whether we look at average position by game week, or crossing positions, or blocks, it is clear that at least for Hull City last season, Robertson played more defensively that Milner for Liverpool. This could be very much due to Klopp’s playing style and Hull’s minnow status, but still it seems that Robertson is someone who is comfortable in defense, unlike Moreno.
Source: Fantasy Football Scout
Robertson is certainly no mug with the ball at his feet though. His passing success rate of 76% is not really great but is above average for full-backs, while his key pass rate of 0.6 per game is also quite good. He tries to dribble as much as Milner but the veteran is more successful at dribbling that the youngster.
Just like the pitchmaps, his stats from last season narrate the story of a left-back playing a highly defensive role in a team trying to escape relegation. Just 59.1 touches per game vs 92.3 for Milner – only 15.6 (vs 31.9) in the final third show that he had to wait for the opponents to bring the ball to him. Similarly, only 33.6 passes received and 37.3 passes attempted per game vs Milner’s 53.8 passes received and 60.2 passes attempted per game, also show that as Hull were happy for opponents to have the ball, so was Robertson.
In creativity stats also, he lagged Milner. No throughballs (vs 0.1 per game for Milner), 0.6 key passes (vs 1.6), no big chances (vs 0.1), half the number of attempted crosses (3.6 vs 7.2) and 144 minutes taken to create a chance (vs 56.4), all indicate that either he lacks the creative ability or he was not given any such responsibilities by Hull. It is very likely to be the latter, as Liverpool would not have signed a player without any creative abilities to show.
Defending styles also show more proactive defending from Milner as compared to Robertson. Milner got involved in more aerial duels, more tackles and more ball recoveries, while Robertson was involved in more interceptions and blocks.
As shown above, Hull’s nature of play seems to have forced Robertson to be highly reactive and defensive in approach. Liverpool fans will be hoping that he has the ability to change his approach and that he will be slightly more proactive in a red shirt. Ideal for Liverpool would be that Robertson adapts his game to Liverpool’s style without sacrificing a whole lot of the strong defending he has been accustomed to at Hull. This would certainly help the Reds plug the defensive gap that appears every now and then in their backline.
Robertson’s move also allows James Milner to move back into the central midfield role where his creativity and shooting ability will be better used. More than those though, his immense workrate that he showed as a left-back will be a great asset for Liverpool as they cope with four competitions this year. Whether Milner can be as good as Naby Keita is a difficult question to answer but he is certainly a good midfielder and can play multiple roles in the midfield.
All in all, Andrew Robertson’s move to Liverpool seems to be a good deal for Liverpool, provided he can adapt to Klopp’s style of play and if he can be even more effective in defense than he was at Hull. For £10 million in this deal, Liverpool seem to have gained two players.