There are no two ways about it, Andy Robertson hasn’t been as good this season as the campaigns that proceeded it.
At the time of writing, the Scotland captain has only recorded five league assists, compared to 12 last season. Barring a huge glut in the final ten games of the campaign, the 27-year-old is highly unlikely to match the high standards he set in goal manufacturing.
Robertson’s reduced output has nothing to do with regression, however, and everything to do with his peerless fitness record and the frankly stupidly condensed fixture schedule that Liverpool has to navigate their way through.
In the league alone, the former Hull City left-back has played 2,515 minutes. This total is the highest in the squad, just ahead of the equally durable Georginio Wijnaldum, who has clocked up 2,283 minutes domestically.
Logically, given his energy-sapping style of play — covering distances up the left flank that would put an Olympian to shame — Robertson output was always going to plateau.
However, when you weigh up the Scots assists figures relative to the statistically best-attacking full-backs in the league, you can see what an effective player Robertson still is, even at 70% capacity.
West Ham’s Aaron Creswell — with seven assists — and Everton’s Lucas Digne — with six — are the Premier League’s high watermark in terms of goal manufacturing full-backs this season.
These figures need to be seen in the light of the Hammers and the Toffee’s strength at set-piece situations, though, an area Liverpool have next to no threat in since the injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip left them devoid of attacking height from corners and free-kicks.
West Ham — where Creswell is entrusted with taking many of their free-kicks and corners — have scored a league-high 14 set pieces; Everton, meanwhile, with Digne their main line of dead ball supply, have scored from 12, the joint second-highest figure in the competition.
The Reds have scored a paltry six set-piece goals this season, with only six teams in the league with worse records from these scenarios. Last season, Jurgen Klopp’s team had — along with Manchester City — the best attack from set-pieces in the league with 17 goals.
On the surface, Robertson’s attacking prowess has declined, but — to a big degree — his hands are tied and it is totally understandable that he isn’t producing the same degree and definitely not something to worry about going forward.
Another factor working against the former Celtic youth team player is the constant flux of the Liverpool defence. Injuries have meant that — in the league alone — the Reds have played 18(!) central defensive pairings. Robertson had built synergy with van Dijk over the course of the last three years, but the Dutchman’s injury has put paid to that.
In order to protect the fledgling defence, which, at times, was marshaled by two midfielders in Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, the full-backs — with Trent Alexander Arnold also having to play with a bigger focus on defending — have had to curb their attacking instincts and not bomb on as forward as frequently as they did.
Sadio Mane, too, who Robertson’s understanding with on the left-flank was at times telepathic, has also endured a difficult campaign, with a positive COVID diagnosis possibly the reason why the Senegalese has only scored seven league goals this season. Last year, the Reds’ number 10 nothced 18 league goals — as well as nine assists — but he is highly unlikely to match that figure.
Kostas Tsimikas, a summer 2020 capture from Olympiacos, was signed in order to provide Liverpool’s number 26 both competition and respite. The Greek, though, has suffered misfortune of his own thanks to an injury picked up away to Midtjylland and contracting COVID.
When the 24-year-old has been fit, Klopp has understandably picked Robertson because — as much a rest for the Scot would be beneficial — there are only so many changes you can make to a defence and expect it to function well. Besides, throwing Tsimikas in to such an unstable environment could well be damaging to his confidence and, by extension, his hopes of settling at Anfield in the long run.
Mirroring the team, almost every factor has gone against Robertson this season, but he has still maintained a level of cosistency — while it is admittedly not what it was before — and effort that demand respect. The biggest compliment you can play is that he still plays with the hunger and appreciation of a someone who — only a decade ago — was working on the tills in Marks and Spencers.
Robbo appreciates what he has and we, as fans, need to appreciate what we have in our world class Scottish full-back.