Quite a few eyebrows were raised in August when Brendan Rodgers made it clear that he preferred to play the young center back Joe Gomez at left back over both Alberto Moreno and Jose Enrique. Gomez's initial performances were encouraging, but his fragility was soon discovered and exploited as he struggled in an unfamiliar position. Meanwhile, Alberto Moreno, the left back that Rodgers had acquired in the summer of 2014 only after failing to secure the services of then-Chelsea youngster Ryan Bertrand, was relegated to a few promising substitute performances. He was finally reinstated to the starting XI once it became clear that Rodgers's experiment had failed.
No professional wants to lose his position, and Moreno is no different. In an interview, he revealed how angry this perceived slight made him feel.
"I perhaps felt that Brendan didn’t have quite so much confidence in me, certainly at the start of the season. He told me I was training hard but then I didn’t feature for those first five or six games.
"He said to me that it was still early in the season and that my opportunity would come but after the first game against Stoke, when we kept a clean sheet, he said he wasn’t going to change anything defensively at that point.
"It is true that when I was out of the team I was angry. It never entered my head that I was going to leave as I want to stay forever, but I had this inner anger, a rage almost.
"I felt I was playing well, training well. He told me that I was training well. But I couldn’t see why I wasn’t getting a chance at the beginning."
His description of Rodgers mindset at the time confirms what most fans already knew, which is that Rodgers was letting those first two lucky results dictate the way he set up the team going forward. The biggest complaint against the former Liverpool manager at the end of his tenure was his inability to correct weaknesses in his set up, particularly in the case of his poor defense.
It's entirely reasonable for Moreno to have been frustrated by his lack of playing time, just as it's reasonable for a manager to look for other options if he feels a different player would improve his side. Rodgers had made it clear, in interviews and apparently to Moreno himself, that he had always intended to re-introduce him into the team once the games began to pile up. However, it's also likely that being told he was seen as back up to an out-of-position 18-year-old center back must have been upsetting, even if he knew he had games to look forward to in the future.
With Rodgers gone and the appointment of Klopp, Moreno feels as though his contribution is being appreciated more.
"Jurgen talks with me a lot," Moreno said. "I do feel he trusts me, he spends a lot of time with me. The fact he has spent so much time with me, I think, shows up in good performances on the field."
While we have no way of knowing what's being said between the two, it's a bit misleading to compare Klopp's position with Rodgers, since Joe Gomez was sidelined for the season mere days after Klopp took over at the club. So surely Moreno would be in the same position regardless, but the difference seems to be in the attitude of the two managers and the approach they took in their coaching.
Klopp has spent plenty of time speaking with Moreno despite the language barrier between them. Senior player Lucas Leiva has to play translator between them, a situation that has led to Moreno attending English language lessons four times a week. Rodgers speaks fluent Spanish and could comfortably converse with Moreno, so it's telling that the player feels more comfortable with the non-Spanish speaking Klopp.
"I feel like I have fully integrated into the team again. Not being in the side for the first five or six games just inspired to me work as hard as I could in training so I could fight for my place in the starting XI.
"The manager has a huge passion for the game which I think I do. He wants you to express yourself on the field. He wants you to offer not 100% but 200% when you are performing and I think I offer that. It fits in with me.
"He really wants me to learn English as quickly as possible so he can get his ideas over. I have to brush up on my English.
"Through Lucas, he tells me to get forward, to be attack-minded. When I am defending, he tells me to be aggressive and stay tight to the person that I am marking. When I am going forward, not to be scared or play with tension and to be relaxed in possession of the ball."
Moreno's quotes match the enthusiasm that other Liverpool players expressed at working with Klopp. They also paint a stark picture of what it must have been like for the team at the end of Rodgers's tenure. The fans felt a sense of lethargy and pessimism that seemed mirrored in the performances on the pitch. Moreno admits that the excitement of the fans over Klopp's appointment "transmitted to [them]."
About the differences in playing under Klopp versus Rodgers, Moreno is once again frank:
"I think that it has been a 100% change. Everything is totally different. He spoke to all the players and the first thing he said to us was that he was going to judge things on what he saw and what he felt. He told us we all started from zero. He said the present had nothing to do with the past and the previous regime."
This appears to be in line with the belief that Rodgers had favored players who he played regardless of form. The most obvious example of this Dejan Lovren, whom he started over the far superior Mamadou Sakho, but Moreno must have also felt that he was being marginalized in the team. Over the past several seasons, several former players have echoed these feelings of alienation, including fan favorite, former vice-captain, and general prince-among-men Daniel Agger.
It's nice to see Moreno has regained some confidence after a shaky start to the season, and it's encouraging to know that he feels optimistic about the direction of the team. His game-saving tackle was the highlight of a disappointing match at the weekend against Southampton. With any luck, this will be the beginning of a run of good results right when Liverpool need it the most.