Moreno Madness - Klopp's Tactical Gamble
Liverpool look a defensively weaker team with Alberto Moreno in the setup. This isn’t necessarily a criticism of Moreno himself, nor is this article intended to be a critical piece of either Klopp or Moreno. A lot has been made of Moreno since his unexpected return to the side in pre-season, compounded by mixed performances against both Watford and Hoffenheim. Moreno is clearly a decent attacking full-back and has looked dangerous in both games at times without setting the world alight in the final third. However, Moreno’s positional sense means that he often gets caught up the pitch; for Hoffenheim’s penalty, he was the furthest man pressing forwards when Hoffenheim cleared into Liverpool’s defensive left channel.
Except for the phrase: “caught up the pitch” implies that Moreno is doing something wrong. This is the point that sparks debate. Is Moreno a kamikaze player that leaves his centre-backs exposed? Or is he simply doing what he’s told, a vital attacking cog in Klopp’s machine?
The answer for me is both somewhere in the middle and for the purposes of this discussion, largely irrelevant. For what it’s worth I do think Moreno is given more of a license to bomb on, but at the same time, it leaves Jordan Henderson and his midfield partners with a lot of tracking to do and when it became clear inside ten minutes against Hoffenheim that Liverpool’s midfield were ill-equipped to deal with the defensive hole in our left-back spot, either Klopp, Henderson or Moreno himself should have stopped him being quite so attacking. So in my mind, it’s neither entirely Moreno’s fault, nor is he entirely faultless.
But the more interesting and more salient point to me is what this is telling us about Liverpool, and more specifically about Jürgen Klopp this season. Either Klopp is not saddling Moreno with as many defensive responsibilities or he is aware that Moreno is not a good defender but continues to play him anyway. Now there are reasons that aren’t tactical for playing Moreno – Robertson isn’t quite ready to play for Liverpool yet and he wants to free up Milner for use in midfield with Phil and Lallana out of action – but the fact remains that this is a gamble that Klopp is not just taking but actively endorsing. He knows exactly what Moreno is bringing to the table and is bringing him to the table anyway.
So what can we read into this decision of Klopp’s, based on the opening two games of the season? Well, it appears as though the Liverpool manager has abandoned any semblance of defending and is doubling down on the goalscoring powers of his front three, utilising very attacking full-backs to do so.
There are a few mitigating factors to discuss at this point. The first is that Klopp has always been a very attacking coach, whose teams are much better at scoring goals than preventing the opposition scoring them. That was evident last season, it just appears more obvious in the opening couple of fixtures this season. Another factor to consider is Klopp’s options. Without Adam Lallana or Phillipe Coutinho, Klopp’s central midfield trio are lacking a creative spark, so he perhaps feels he needs to utilise his full-backs as auxiliary attacking options.
And of course, as mentioned, it hasn’t helped that that midfield trio have largely struggled in the opening games. Henderson and Wijnaldum in particular have been absolutely atrocious this season so far, which makes the defensive situation far more glaring than it might have been.
All of that taken into consideration, is there a case to be made that Klopp has further decided to completely abandon any semblance of defensive cohesion and double down, gambling that his team can outscore any opponent, much as Brendan Rodgers did in 2013/14 to terrific results?
Well, quite possibly. As I reiterated at the start, Alberto Moreno’s inclusion, coupled with Trent Alexander-Arnold who Klopp has openly admitted isn’t good enough defensively just yet, emphasises that Klopp is clearly focusing on pace in attack over defence. And it’s not a bad tactic, with Moreno, Trent, Salah and Mane offering fantastic pace and overloads in the wide areas. That doesn’t mean that Klopp is happy that his team can’t seem to defend at all, but given that he made no changes from the side that played Watford to try and shore things up, there’s a case to be made that it’s something he’s come to accept and doesn’t mind.
After the Watford game, Klopp blamed Liverpool’s result on a poor offside decision and whilst some will rightly point out that Liverpool’s defending did not help the situation, Klopp also has a point. We scored three goals, they had scored two and if the third goal had been rightly ruled out then Liverpool would have won the game. 3-2 might not be a pretty win but it’s every bit as legitimate as a ground out 1-0 win.
Liverpool have not defended well for their opening two games of the season, but in both games they have been absolutely electrifying coming forwards and but for one dodgy decision from the linesman, would have won both games. So if Klopp is planning to give up on his defence, and double down on his front three, then on the balance of the opening two games, it’s working.
Which brings us right back round to Alberto Moreno. Is his inclusion a sign that Klopp is throwing caution to the wind and gambling that his team can outscore any opposition? Or is it a combination of factors, including a rejuvenated pre-season, a lack of midfield spark, Milner’s relocation and Robertson’s fitness/tactical lack of integration?
Alternatively, is the wild, overly aggressive nature of Liverpool’s performances a consequence of Moreno’s inclusion? Klopp recognising that he has to put Moreno in and that in doing so, he’s going to have to abandon defence to supplement attack?
Either way, it cannot be denied that Moreno’s inclusion has made Liverpool more exciting going forwards and more vulnerable at the back and that that is clearly not all on the Spanish full-back. If this is Jurgen Klopp doubling down on his attack and sacrificing defence then I am all for that. But equally, if it’s a short-lived and painful experiment that Klopp will abandon as soon as he feels able to, then I’m okay with that too. Only time will tell.
For now, let’s just enjoy the bonkers, entertaining start to the season. Because it’s going to be a good one.