Friday 23 August 2019

Comment: Sooner or later Liverpool's attacking stars will look for a club where defensive howlers aren't tolerated

SEVILLE, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 20: (L-R) Roberto Firmino of Liverpool FC; Alberto Moreno of Liverpool FC and Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool FC looks on prior to their Champions League match against Liverpool FC at Estadio Ramon SAnchez Pizjuan on November 20, 2017 in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
SEVILLE, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 20: (L-R) Roberto Firmino of Liverpool FC; Alberto Moreno of Liverpool FC and Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool FC looks on prior to their Champions League match against Liverpool FC at Estadio Ramon SAnchez Pizjuan on November 20, 2017 in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)

Dermot Crowe

Sevilla, the old club of Alberto Moreno, returned to haunt him on Tuesday night when the skittish full back produced the latest in a growing catalogue of monstrously inept defensive performances, enabling the home team to recover and draw a match they looked to have little hope of rescuing at half time.

On the night this sloppiness cost Liverpool automatic qualification for the knock out stages of the Champions League.  

Moreno, playing like a man determined to make a game of it, was directly involved in the goals that revived the home team. On the first occasion he clumsily conceded a free kick - flying in like a drunk in a brawl - and was then caught at the near post when the ball was delivered. The player who was Moreno’s immediate responsibility, Wissam Ben Yedder, stole a yard and headed the ball past Loris Karius.

And you could sense the panic in Liverpool then and, out of nowhere, the sudden hope in Sevilla that had been almost extinguished. In his second contribution to the evening’s events, Moreno showed lamentably poor ball control. In trying to retrieve the situation again he jumped in and gave away a penalty, outfoxed by a player with quicker feet and brain. At that point, even Jurgen Klopp decided that they could endure no more and hauled him off.

What Klopp sees in Moreno is impossible to fathom given his calamitous influence and it may be all a public relations bluff at this stage. But the point has long passed where it has corroded his own standing and reputation as a judge and manager. No matter how hopelessly out of this depth Moreno continues to be, Klopp appeared stubbornly determined to provide excuses that make no sense. After the latest fiasco, he claimed he was “really happy with his (Moreno’s) shape and his performance”. What on earth does he mean by that?

“I told him I trust him 100 per cent,” he added. Commendable as the show of solidarity may be, it is clearly not working. How can he trust a player as unsuited to the primary role of his position, defending, as Alberto Moreno?

In the absence of any other plausible explanation, and his attacking ability is not one, it looks like Moreno has become a gravely misguided pet project for the manager. It is possible he believes that a holistic approach, the supply of endless unconditional love, will eventually see Moreno triumph over all this adversity. Unfortunately, all that positive affirmation won’t turn a poor defender into a good one, or even a reasonably competent one. Moreno cannot give Klopp what he needs in return.

Twenty minutes watching Moreno should be enough for any self-respecting judge of football to realise he is a misfit, a player hopelessly unqualified of the responsibility that he is being given.

It is not rocket science. Some years ago, Glen Johnson, a former Liverpool defender in the Moreno vein, turned his back on a corner during a match at Anfield and jogged towards his own box. As he did so the opposing team had two players converging at the corner flag, ready for the short corner. By the time Johnson realised what was happening it was too late. The corner was taken and a goal resulted. That was enough, those few seconds, to set the alarm bells ringing that this player knew little about the fundamentals of defending a corner. And if he didn’t know that, what was he doing there in the first place? Johnson was bought by Rafa Benitez for almost €20m. He went on to cost Liverpool a flurry of goals but kept getting picked.

Where Johnson was pedestrian, Moreno is rash. And still, Klopp persists. As he does with Ragnar Klavan (at fault for the last goal on Tuesday) and Dejan Lovren (already substituted for poor play this season against Spurs but now reinstated). Klavan's miscued header for the third goal completed another night when some wonderful attacking player was overshadowed by third-rate defending. It is staring Klopp in the face and he has not acted.

And while they concede goals as cheaply as they do, with no acceptance from their manager that a serious problem exists, they will lose and draw games they should have won. Like Tuesday night. And the players trying to bail out all that water, the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah, will sooner or later look elsewhere to a club where this insanity doesn’t prevail in the same way. And would you blame them.

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