Alberto Moreno and the fickle nature of football fans

People were waiting for this to happen. It was always going to happen at some point, too. Eventually, Alberto Moreno would make a defensive mistake leading to a goal (on this occasion, two) and Liverpool fans would come crawling out to slaughter the Spaniard and claim “we were right all along- he’s an absolute liability”.

In fact, I’m pretty certain there are swathes of so-called Liverpool fans who are happy Moreno finally cost his team a couple of goals so that they can be “proven right” and their agendas satisfied once more. It’s all a bit mad, the whole thing.

Very few people expected Moreno to still be at the club come the start of this season, having made just two league starts in the entirety of 2016-17, relegated to the role of benchwarmer as James Milner was converted into a makeshift left-back while Moreno watched on.

Virtually no one would’ve expected Moreno to start the first game of the new season against Watford, let alone establish himself as Jürgen Klopp’s first choice left-back, especially after the summer signing of Andy Robertson. Quite justifiably, there were plenty of sceptics at first, yet slowly but surely Moreno won over his critics and more than warranted the faith shown in him by the manager.

The erratic defensive errors which littered his first couple of seasons at the club appeared to have been cut out as Moreno began playing with more focus and concentration than we’d ever seen before. Rather than bombing forward at every opportunity and vacating his position, leaving the left-hand side massively exposed, Moreno has shown a more mature approach in sensibly timing his raids up the wing, bringing real pace and drive to Liverpool’s attack at the right moments.

While his end product can still improve, his delivery has proved a real weapon from out wide as demonstrated by his three assists in the Champions League so far. He’s also winning more aerial battles and lunging into tackles far less often, timing his challenges much better.

I wrote a piece a couple of years back about how if Moreno’s weaknesses could be corrected, he has the raw skill set and potential to be a genuinely top-class left-back. It’s taken him a while, but as is often the case with full-backs he has matured significantly with time and we’ve seen the player many believed we’d signed from Sevilla in 2014 when Moreno came to Liverpool billed as one of the best young left-backs in Europe.

I’d go as far to say that he’s probably been Liverpool’s second best- or at least most consistent- performer this season after Mo Salah and it hasn’t gone unnoticed with the national set-up, earning a recall to the Spanish squad in the recent international break. That’s quite some achievement, given the wealth of options they have in that position.

Such has been the extent of Moreno’s renaissance that Robertson has hardly got a look in, which, although unfortunate and harsh on the Scot (he has performed very well when given the chance), is simply down to the fact that Moreno’s form has made him virtually undroppable so far.

There is a large enough body of evidence now, three full months into the season, to say with some confidence that this is not merely a purple patch for Moreno, but evidence of him working hard on the training ground to correct his faults and become a much-improved player. For that, he deserves great credit.

And so on to the Sevilla game. We’ve seen Moreno lose his head completely against his former side before, with his infamously poor performance in the Europa League final in 2016 after which many Liverpool fans had completely written him off. On this occasion, his first half was generally in keeping with his impressive performances this season, but as happened in Basel, it was like watching a different player (and a different team) in the second-half.

It was Moreno who gave away the free-kick leading to Sevilla’s first goal, before giving away the penalty leading to their second, thus completely changing the complexion of the game as the home side seized the momentum and constantly had Liverpool on the back foot.

The free-kick was unnecessary to give away, but the execution of the goal was outstanding. Wissam Ben Yedder’s darting run across goal and flicked header was timed to perfection and have Moreno very little chance to do anything about it. Sometimes in football, teams score very good goals which are extremely difficult to stop. While Moreno should’ve avoided giving the free-kick away in the first place, this kind of thing happens all the time (see Lucas Leiva’s entire Liverpool career) and on this occasion is just so happened to result in a goal.

For the penalty, it’s worth mentioning that Philippe Coutinho plays a pretty risky pass to Moreno in a dangerous position with two Sevilla players already closing him down. It’s fizzed at him with some pace and he mis-controls it with a heavy touch. He doesn’t see Ben Yedder lurking behind him until it’s too late and in sticking his foot out lightly treads on the striker who proceeds to take another three steps before eventually throwing himself to the floor.

It’s an unfortunate one and the referee takes an absolute age to give it following howls from the home crowd. Moreno obviously makes contact with Ben Yedder but his theatrics are what convinces the ref to give the penalty. Again, it is avoidable and Moreno shouldn’t be dangling a leg in the area like that, but it’s still quite unfortunate.

Needless to say, if Sevilla don’t score a stoppage-time equaliser then there’s arguably much less scrutiny on Moreno as everyone is delighted with Liverpool winning the group and progressing to the knockout phase. As it happened, the capitulation is being attributed almost entirely to Moreno and all the reaction is bolted on to his reputation based on performances from several seasons ago.

People have an established image of Moreno as an erratic, error-prone footballer who cannot defend properly and this reputation has fuelled the backlash since the Sevilla game. No one takes account of the fact it’s an emotional occasion for him playing against his boyhood club in front of a hostile crowd, let alone the fact his wife gave birth at the weekend (which he missed in order to play against Southampton). All this is going through his head, because he’s a human being.

In this context, there is, of course, an argument that Klopp might have given him the night off and given Robertson a game instead, but it’s worth considering the external factors which influence how players perform on the pitch from time to time.

Unfortunately for Moreno, vast swathes of fans appear happy to discard him once again and let a mad 15 minutes take precedence over what has been a very strong season for the Spaniard so far. Supporters appear to do very little actual supporting of certain individuals at the club- Jordan Henderson being another- and it’s a great shame to see Moreno so widely chastised and his significant progress written off on the basis of one really poor half of football in a crazy match (which still sees Liverpool in prime position to win the group).

Thankfully, in Klopp, Liverpool have a manager who backs his players to the hilt- which sometimes brings him criticism- but in this case, Moreno won’t be written off by the manager so flippantly. He’s had a thoroughly consistent and impressive season so far as one of the best performing left-backs both domestically and in Europe and he has built up more than enough credit in the bank to justify continuing as Liverpool’s first-choice. Supporters ought to be backing him, too.

 

 

 

 

 

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