Liverpool Problem Positions Part II — addressing the depth at left-back

Our Problem Positions series takes a look at the areas where Liverpool’s current squad can be improved, whether it be quality or depth. In the second instalment, Don Kopleone scouts some left-backs for the Reds to consider.

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For years, Liverpool failed to find any kind of consistent quality at left-back.

Fábio Aurélio was very good, but prone to injury. After him, the signing of Paul Konchesky highlighted the club’s financial plight of the time — he was cheap, but nowhere near Liverpool quality.

José Enrique had moments of mindlessness mixed in with his good days, Aly Cissokho was a bizarre experiment while Jon Flanagan’s moment in the sun burned out quickly.

And then the highly-rated Alberto Moreno appeared to have the concentration levels of an excitable three-year-old after downing his third espresso martini.

Enter Andrew Robertson.

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The £8million purchase from then-relegated Hull City has established himself as the benchmark, the most complete left-back in world football. Aged just 26, the Scot should be expected to hold down that starting spot in the Reds’ backline for the next five years or so.

But he cannot be expected to start in each and every game.

And while James Milner has deputised superbly for Robbo over the last two seasons, it does compromise Jürgen Klopp’s system somewhat to have a natural right-footer in that position, which is so crucial to the team’s width. Besides, Milner is now 34 and — despite popular belief — will age and regress at some point soon.

Algerian-born youngster Yasser Larouci showed some promise in his cup appearances this year, but not quite as much as the likes of Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott who will be expecting to receive more first-team minutes in the coming season. Larouci might instead benefit from a loan stint to gain playing experience.

It does feel inevitable that, if Liverpool are to dip into the transfer market this summer, they might pursue greater cover at left-back.

What profile of player would they be looking for, then? We’ve identified a range of options, considering both younger talents who will eventually want to be first-choice and older players who could offer help both on the pitch and in the dressing room.

Bukayo Saka — Arsenal

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Bukayo Saka’s current contract with Arsenal expires in July 2021, meaning the Gunners might be tempted to cash in this summer. Photo: Visionhaus

Saka broke into Arsenal’s first team earlier this season, gaining experience at both left-back and on the left-wing. The 18-year-old looks superb going forward, exhibiting his blazing pace, strong technical dribbling ability and the capacity to deliver an occasional devastating cross.

He looks destined to play at a very high level and, even if his defensive ability is not yet quite up to the ideal standard, at Liverpool he could join in the rotation for the left-back position as well as either wing.

In typical Arsenal fashion, the English talent has only a year left on his current contract, meaning Arsenal might be inclined to cash in on their young gem while they can — even if the price tag is lower than it might have been.

Dwight McNeil — Burnley

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Only Kevin de Bruyne, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Riyad Mahrez and Mohamed Salah have a higher xA (expected assists) stat this season than Burnley’s Dwight McNeil. Photo: Rich Linley/CameraSport via Getty Images

In much the same vein as Saka, Liverpool may struggle to convince a highly-rated young prospect who is currently a first-team regular to take on a back-up role in L4.

But McNeil has played most often in a left-midfield spot under Sean Dyche, so like Saka he could be brought in to provide cover for the attacking areas as well.

Playing that left-midfield role in Dyche’s 4-4-2 sees McNeil generally take up the attacking positions that Robertson does for Klopp’s Liverpool — like all Burnley regulars, his defensive discipline is impressive.

McNeil’s creative ability is exceptional. The 20-year-old leads his side for league assists in the 2019/20 season, and is a very respectable fifth in the Premier League for xA (expected assists), behind only Kevin de Bruyne, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Riyad Mahrez and Mohamed Salah. 

In terms of crossing ability, McNeil is one of the best in the country at this moment in time, which could make him the mirror image of Trent and perfect for the Liverpool system.

Adam Masina — Watford

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Standing at 6ft 3in, Watford’s Adam Masina would be able to offer aerial support at set-pieces. Photo: Chloe Knott/Danehouse/Getty Images

Probably more willing to take a straight backup role than the options above, Adam Masina has been in and out of the Watford first team this season, battling José Holebas for a starting berth at left-back. With that in mind, the Italy u21 international could be tempted to deputise on a bigger stage and would likely be fairly affordable.

Masina is comfortable on the ball and adequate defensively, from what I’ve seen. He does seem too good to be a backup option for a bottom-half side and, standing at 6ft 3in, he would also be able to offer aerial support at set-pieces that even Robbo lacks.

That said, Watford do have Masina tied down under contract until 2023, and with Holebas now 35 it would be no surprise if they assured Masina that he would be first-choice from the next campaign on.

Danny Rose — Tottenham Hotspur

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Danny Rose would be available on a free and is unlikely to command a huge wage. Photo: Visionhaus

Based on this last season, it’s unlikely Rose would be considered good enough to start for Liverpool, even as a backup. His occasional outings for Spurs were underwhelming at best, and his form hardly took off after a loan move to Newcastle in January.

Nevertheless, until last year, the 29-year-old had been a very solid player for the best Tottenham team of a generation, and he still made 34 appearances in the 2018/19 campaign which saw them reach the Champions League final.

Rose is balanced, with defensive quality matched by a desire to get forward. His biggest issue has always been injuries, and he appears to have lost a yard of pace in recent times — so crucial to the modern-day full-back.

That said, Rose would be available on a free and is unlikely to command a huge wage. He would also likely accept a backup role to Robertson and, considering national team connections, he would hopefully settle right into the squad.

Robert Skov — TSG Hoffenheim

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Robert Skov is a set-piece specialist, netting seven penalties and eight free-kicks for Copenhagen in the 2018-19 season on the way to breaking the Danish Superliga goalscoring record for a single campaign. Photo: TF-Images/Getty Images

Never heard of Robert Skov before? Nor had I until five minutes ago, but upon searching the top European leagues for left-backs with attacking threat and versatility to fill in elsewhere — a trait which Klopp is known to covet in rotational players — I landed upon the 23-year-old Dane.

Since signing for Hoffenheim last summer, Skov has featured mostly as a left-wing-back in a back five but has also featured as an inverted right-winger, the position he regularly filled when at FC Copenhagen.

He is a set-piece specialist, netting seven penalties and eight free-kicks for Copenhagen in the 2018-19 season on the way to breaking the Danish Superliga goalscoring record for a single campaign. The ferocity with which he strikes a dead ball is reminiscent of his fellow Scandinavian John Arne Riise.

Skov is tall, physical and would appear to have decent feet — he has also continued his good form in front of goal since moving to Germany, having bettered both his xg and xA in his debut Hoffenheim season.

With Xherdan Shaqiri expected to be heading for the Anfield exit door this summer, perhaps Michael Edwards and Jurgen Klopp will have an eye on Skov as someone who could fill the Swiss’ void, whilst also getting minutes as Robbo’s stand-in.

And it never hurts to have an extra set-piece specialist in the squad!

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