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The Redemption of Alberto Moreno

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The Spaniard’s renaissance is trying its best to consign the refrain of “But can he play left back?” to the doldrums.

Newcastle United v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

It would appear that pressure really does make diamonds. It’s an analogy for human nature that makes intuitive sense in that it’s only human to grow complacent when unchallenged. Like how you and the bored bureaucrat behind the desk at the DMV are both well aware that your low opinion of the quality of their customer service has absolutely no bearing on their job security. Or after the honeymoon phase fizzles out, you stop going on nice dates and just go ahead and cancel that gym membership because it’s just so darned expensive. Or even those times when you’re the only recognized specialist left back in the squad and can be reasonably assured of starting spot no matter what you do.

While we at TLO cannot confidently speak to whether or not Alberto Moreno has ever succumbed to these most human of failings in all of the scenarios above, it has been clearly evident to any football fan that the young defender has taken an…indifferent approach to much of his craft in his time at the club. Electrifying going forward, Moreno often appeared to simply forget about the defensive side of his mandate; and when he did happen to remember his duties, would often play his calling card of brainless defensive blunders.

For the then-new Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, the shambolic performance in the 2016 Europa League final, in which 25-year-old was far and away the worst player on the pitch, turned out to be the final straw. An idiosyncratically erratic performance against Arsenal to open the 2016-17 season swiftly earned the left back the humiliating demotion to the bench with 30-year-old converted midfielder, James Milner taking his spot for the rest of the season. Klopp even refused to call on the defender even as Milner’s aging legs noticeably tired towards the end of the campaign. An ignominious exit in the summer window loomed, with interest coming from the likes of Napoli and AC Milan as Liverpool publicly chased after a number of replacements.

According to the internet, diamonds only form past depths of 87 miles (140km) beneath the surface at pressures of at least 10 gigapascals. For Moreno, that depth appears to have been the signing of Hull City’s Andrew Robertson; and the pressure, the plausible possibility that his career would completely derail with a second consecutive season on the bench.

The first signs of change came in the preseason win against Hertha Berlin, eight days removed from the Scotland international’s signing. Moreno’s wild, trademark, Sunday league tackles suddenly disappeared and extended periods of defensive focus chipped away at the mental errors many had come to expect as a matter of course.

Suddenly, Alberto Moreno was the unanimous starting left back, a development that received shockingly little pushback from any quarter throughout the fanbase. Essentially a winger playing in defense, things finally appeared to have clicked for the Spaniard, combining the slick link up play he’d always displayed going forward with a renewed focus at the back.

The form has surprisingly continued into the season, one of those elusive “new signings” clubs and managers, spurned by their recruiting targets, often try to spin to fans. Despite the prevailing storyline of the haphazard Liverpool defensive six, the Spaniard’s individual performances have come in for very little criticism, with stats that compare favorably with the likes of Manchester City’s £52m Benjamin Mendy and Chelsea star Marco Alonso. TLO readers have also taken notice of the improved showings this term, ranking him in the top 5 performers in six of the 10 appearances he’s made so far.

Of course, the much-maligned Red is still far from the finished article. The numbers bear out that he continues to struggle in anticipating danger and sometimes still makes naïve errors in one vs. one situations. However, the difference this season seems to be that he is employing his superior recovery speed along with an emerging maturity in the tackle that sees him scrambling to atone for mistakes as if Andy Robertson were perpetually warming up on the touchline.

In his fourth season at the club, Moreno appears to be reviving a spiraling career in an attempt to make a case for his name to be added alongside Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino, Simon Mignolet and Jordan Henderson as successful Klopp redemption projects. The season is obviously still young, but if the trend continues, it will be a massive encouragement to all Liverpool fans in the midst of a tough stretch of form. Because if even as hopeless a case as Alberto Moreno can potentially come good, then no one is completely irredeemable. Here’s looking at you and your £100K-a-week, Dejan Lovren.