Liverpool have lost Andy Robertson’s greatest asset, and transfer question must now be asked
Up until mid-December or so, a strong case could be put forward that Andy Robertson was up there in the conversation for Liverpool’s player of the season. Game after game, the left-back was delivering consistently excellent performances both in an offensive and defensive sense, rarely ever dropping below a 7/10.
His relentless energy to bomb up and down the wing and supply quality deliveries into the box was a core component of Liverpool’s attacking play, even more so than Trent Alexander-Arnold on the opposite flank in the early months of the season. At the point Liverpool thumped Crystal Palace 7-0 at Selhurst Park on matchday 14, Robertson had already racked up five assists and a goal. He’d picked up from where he left off after a really strong finish to the 2019/20 season, providing six assists and a goal in his final 10 appearances of the title-winning campaign (eight of those appearances coming after Project Restart).
Overall, across a stretch of 24 appearances between the back end of last season and the first half of this one, Robertson had supplied 10 assists and two goals – a prolonged run during which he was, on average, directly contributing to a goal every other game.
Fast forward to the present, however, and Robertson hasn’t registered a single goal or assist for Liverpool in his last 24 appearances dating back to the 7-0 win against Palace in which he picked out Roberto Firmino for the goal which put Liverpool 3-0 up on the day. It is, by some distance, the longest barren run of Roberton’s Liverpool career from an attacking output perspective.
That drop off in productivity is reinforced by the fact that up until the 7-0 win against Palace on 19 December, Robertson was averaging 0.25 expected assists per 90 minutes in the league – higher than his average of 0.23 xA90 last season, and second only to Diogo Jota in the Liverpool squad in the first 14 games – whereas in the 19 games since then, he has only been averaging 0.14 xA90, which places him only fifth in the Liverpool squad.Read More Related Articles Read More Related Articles
Interestingly, the exact opposite pattern has occurred with Alexander-Arnold, who averaged 0.18 xA90 up until the Palace game, but 0.26 xA90 since then. Robertson’s average number of key passes have also declined quite significantly from 1.86 per 90 pre-Palace to 1.45 since, while Alexander-Arnold’s has increased from 1.68 to 2.22.
Beyond what the underlying statistics suggest, it’s been obvious watching Robertson over the past few months that he hasn’t been marauding forward with quite the same zest as usual, his touch hasn’t been as sharp, and when he has received possession in promising positions, his final ball has often lacked the conviction and precision one would normally expect from him.
In part, his reduced creative influence may be down to the fact that for much of the calendar year, Jürgen Klopp has deployed either Fabinho or Jordan Henderson (sometimes both) at centre-back, and so the robust midfield platform which would usually facilitate the full-backs effectively operating as extra attackers mostly hasn’t been there. As such, there have been numerous occasions (not every game) whereby Robertson and Alexander-Arnold have had to be a little more conservative in their positioning than usual.
But, by and large, they’ve still been playing similar tactical roles and operating in broadly the same advanced areas, it’s just that the quality of Robertson’s delivery has dipped while Alexander-Arnold’s has improved. It shouldn’t come as any great surprise that Robertson has been unable to maintain his outstanding levels from earlier in the season considering he’s started all 33 league games to date and has barely had any time off to rest and recharge his batteries, with Klopp evidently unconvinced by the Kostas Tsimikas, who was brought in specifically to lessen the burden on Robertson.
He has been almost an ever-present over the past two seasons as well (for Scotland as well as Liverpool), and given the sheer physical intensity his role entails, that accumulation of miles on the clock (and the associated mental fatigue, too) is perhaps the single biggest reason why we’re not currently watching anything like the best version of Robertson.Read More Related Articles Read More Related Articles
None of which is to say he isn’t still offering something of value to Liverpool. It was his powerful shot, for instance, which resulted in Mohamed Salah’s close-range equaliser against Aston Villa at Anfield. Against Newcastle United, he provided a perfectly good first-half cross for Sadio Mané which was headed wide, and he could have had at least one assist from a corner against Leeds United, but again, his teammates either headed off target (most notably Jota in the early moments of the second half).
That’s the fundamental limitation of using assists to measure any player’s performance, as they depend entirely on the player on the end of the pass or cross to apply the finish, which, for Liverpool, hasn’t been happening anywhere near often enough of late – hence why expected assists and key passes provide a more rounded picture of a player’s creative contribution over any given time period.
Nonetheless, in recent months, Robertson has clearly struggled to replicate the kind of form which earned him a reputation as arguably the best left-back in the world over the past two seasons. Making sure he gets back to that level and doesn’t suffer from burn out again next season is something which Klopp and his coaching staff will need to figure out a plan for moving forward.Read More Related Articles Read More Related Articles