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Why Left-Back Is the Position Liverpool Most Need to Reinforce This Summer

Jack Lusby@jacklusby_Featured ColumnistJune 6, 2016

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - MAY 18:  Alberto Moreno of Liverpool during the UEFA Europa League Final match between Liverpool and Sevilla at St. Jakob-Park on May 18, 2016 in Basel, Switzerland. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

The criticism aimed at Liverpool left-back Alberto Moreno in the wake of a poor performance in May's UEFA Europa League final defeat to Sevilla—from pundits, former players and supporters in the stands—was undoubtedly overblown, but it also served to highlight a major flaw in Jurgen Klopp's current squad.

Leading the opprobrium was former Reds vice-captain Jamie Carragher, who took to Twitter (h/t the Telegraph's Sean Gibson) shortly after Liverpool's 3-1 loss at FC Basel's St. Jakob-Park to urge "Jurgen, transfer committee, anyone" to move to replace Moreno.

This was not the first time Carragher expressed his doubt over Moreno's ability as a top-level left-back, as the 38-year-old highlighted the Spaniard and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet as two weak links back in February, following the Reds' Capital One Cup final loss to Manchester City, speaking to Sky Sports (h/t the Liverpool Echo's Ian Doyle):

The left-back has to come out of the team. This is not a one-off today in terms of the goal.

[Jon] Flanagan has come back fit and has to go into the team in midweek, [Klopp] has to change the left-back.

Flanagan played left-back when they nearly won the league. He can't be worse than [Moreno].

Though clearly holding a long-held disdain for Moreno as Liverpool's first-choice left-back, Carragher is not alone in his call for Klopp to sign a replacement following the Europa League showpiece.

For example, Lee Thomas-Mason of Metro corralled Moreno into a group of misfiring former Liverpool left-backs in Djimi Traore, Andrea Dossena and Jose Enrique, while comparing them to "a formidable list of names" in Alan Kennedy, Ronnie Moran, Alec Lindsay and John Arne Riise.

KAZAN, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 05: Head coach Jurgen Klopp (R) and Alberto Moreno of Liverpool FC celebrate after their victory over FC Rubin Kazan in the UEFA Europa League group B match between FC Rubin Kazan and Liverpool FC at the Kazan Arena Stadium on Nov
Epsilon/Getty Images

Providing a more measured stance, however, was Bleacher Report's Karl Matchett, who concluded in his review of the Spaniard's 2015/16 campaign for This is Anfield that Moreno still has "growth in his game," despite his pitfalls.

Matchett also proffered that Moreno should be left to "adapt or improve in the background of another season with the club," rather than be sold this summer, and therein lies one of Klopp's priorities.

Reinforcing his left-back ranks should be at the top of the German's list as he builds his squad for 2016/17, his first full campaign on Merseyside—though a complete overhaul should not be on the cards at this juncture.

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Prompting Carragher's ire and sealing Liverpool's fate in the Europa League final, Sevilla midfielder Coke's second goal of the night served as the perfect encapsulation of Moreno's flaws as a left-back.

With Coke peeling off the shoulder of Moreno as he surged into the box from the right wing, the 29-year-old was left in yards of space as the Liverpool man was instead drawn to the ball—as with three of his defensive colleagues—and, failing in his interception, allowed Sevilla's No. 23 the space to fire home.

This lack of awareness was worryingly similar to that shown as City midfielder Fernandinho overlapped into the box in February's League Cup final.

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Opting to double up with defensive midfielder Lucas Leiva in standing up against Sergio Aguero, Moreno saw the rampaging run of Fernandinho elude him, with the Brazilian latching on to a simple pass from the City striker before converting beyond Mignolet.

Liverpool's Spanish defender Alberto Moreno takes a freekick during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Swansea City at the Anfield stadium in Liverpool, north-west England on November 29, 2015.    / AFP / PAUL ELLIS        (Ph
PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

It was a piece of desperate defensive work that highlighted Moreno's poor concentration in the left-back role—an aspect of the 23-year-old's game that undermines his excellent contribution in the attacking third, despite Moreno averaging 2.2 key passes per 90 league minutes in 2015/16, level with Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.

Therefore while Moreno can boast the forward thrust of Riise, he lacks the defensive nous and commitment of Moran, and while it is likely the former that has convinced Matchett of his long-term prospects, it is the latter that underlines reinforcing the position of left-back a priority for Klopp.

Speaking to reporters including the Press Association (h/t This is Anfield) in April, Klopp stressed that he would focus on strengthening his back line this summer, in order to "build up a stability."

He said:

When you build up a team, you start with the defence—that’s how it is.

It keeps you in the game and gives you the opportunity to score once and win the game.

I’m never happy with conceding goals, to be honest.

It's clear it’s how we build up a team and that’s one of the biggest targets for the next season—not for the rest of this season but for next season and then to build up a stability in this part of the game.

Likely referencing the steadfast back four of Lukasz Piszczek, Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic and Marcel Schmelzer who made themselves so invaluable during Klopp's two most successful seasons in charge of Borussia Dortmund—2010/11 and 2011/12—the Reds boss highlighted his intention to foster a defence-first approach.

Dortmund's German defender Marcel Schmelzer (L) talks with Dortmund's head coach Juergen Klopp during the warm-up for the UEFA Champions League Group D football match between Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund at the Emirates Stadium in north London on Novembe
BEN STANSALL/Getty Images

His first-choice left-back during that spell, Schmelzer, provides something of an antithesis to Moreno. Far from the most adventurous, attacking full-back, the 28-year-old serves as a more refined, reliable option on the left flank.

Dortmund conceded just 47 goals in 68 Bundesliga games as they secured back-to-back titles in 2010/11 and 2011/12, with Schmelzer's role central to this. As a regular at left-back throughout Klopp's reign, it is clear the Germany international found himself in a favourable role at Westfalenstadion.

Enjoying something of a renaissance under Klopp's successor, Thomas Tuchel, Schmelzer is unlikely to leave the club this summer, but the Liverpool manager could look to a similar talent in Jonas Hector as he strives to reinforce his left-back ranks.

Described by Christoph Biermann, writing for the Guardian, as "incredibly reliable," Hector has been regularly linked with a summer move to Merseyside—most recently by This is Anfield, though FC Cologne sporting director Jorg Schmadtke has since told German newspaper Bild (h/t ESPNFC.co.uk) that "there is no offer from Liverpool."

Schmadtke is reported to value Hector at around £15.7 million, and with the 26-year-old usurping Schmelzer's role in Joachim Low's Germany squad for this summer's UEFA European Championship, his value is clear.

Favouring a solid, defensive approach, Hector is also able to contribute in the attacking third, with his delivery from wide areas and set pieces—as well as his measured, overlapping runs—making him an all-round upgrade on Moreno.

Cologne conceded just 1.24 goals on average per game in the Bundesliga in 2015/16, compared to Liverpool's 1.32, and much of this was due to Hector's defensive prowess in the left-back role.

Carragher may have felt vindicated in his criticism of Mignolet from February when Klopp moved swiftly to sign compatriot Loris Karius from his former side Mainz this summer, with the 22-year-old poised to challenge last season's first-choice goalkeeper for the role of No. 1 in 2016/17 and beyond.

The Liverpool manager could go one step further by replacing Moreno this summer, with the No. 18's defensive naivety contributing heavily to both of the Reds' cup failures in 2015/16—and on many occasions otherwise.

Signing a prime-age candidate such as Hector would provide an immediate solution to this key area, and it would also allow—as Matchett suggests—Moreno to hone his skills in a back-up role to ensure not all hope is lost.

Statistics via WhoScored.com.

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