After ending their 30-year drought for a league title, Liverpool supporters will now be looking forward to the 2020-21 season. Although the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Virgil van Dijk will get the headlines for the Reds’ recent trophy-winning success, Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold have arguably been more important than any other players over the past few seasons.
With goals not being a metric on which to base their contributions on, few can ignore their chance-creating abilities. So, let’s take a look at how the newly-crowned Premier League champions’ full-backs will be pivotal in their efforts to retain the title in 2020-21.
Klopp’s developed the modern-day full-back
When Jurgen Klopp first arrived at Liverpool, his starting full-back options consisted of Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne. To the Spaniard’s credit, despite having a troubled spell on Merseyside, he did come into form during his final season at Anfield following Robertson’s arrival. Clyne, on the other hand, was unfortunate with injuries and has since been released on a free transfer. Because of this, it wasn’t initially evident that Klopp was going to heavily rely on his full-backs.
However, the signing of Robertson from Hull City for £10 million in July 2017, along with the emergence of Alexander-Arnold, soon gave the Reds’ German manager more diversity regarding in-game chance creation.
During their title-winning season, Liverpool’s 21-year-old academy graduate was more creative than Mane. Over the course of last season, Alexander-Arnold recorded 13 assists. The Senegalese winger, meanwhile, set up six fewer goals than the right-sided defender. Interestingly, the Liverpool-born full-back was also more creative than Salah. As per Understat, Alexander-Arnold registered 2.43 key passes per 90 minutes, while the Egyptian recorded a total of 1.86. Furthermore, the 21-year-old’s xA90 (expected assists per 90) sat at 0.05 higher than Salah’s.
Fundamentally, the signing of Fabinho has been pivotal to unlocking the Reds’ full potential from wide spaces. When both Alexander-Arnold and Robertson push forward into offensive areas, the Brazilian midfielder is tasked with dropping back, allowing Liverpool to have three players in defence to combat potential counters. Moreover, Georginio Wijnaldum has also been instrumental in this regard. The former Newcastle midfielder brings undeniable discipline to Klopp’s midfield, with the German often relying on Wijnaldum to cover the left-sided space vacated by Robertson.
The importance of competition for places
On paper, the six-time champions of Europe will likely become more effective regarding their full-back threat in the 2020-21 campaign. While their world-class quality is evident, direct competition has been lacking for much of the last few seasons for Alexander-Arnold and Robertson. This has been apparent through Klopp’s use of James Milner as a left-back.
However, heading into the new season, the Reds appear to have tackled their lack of depth. Neco Williams’ breakthrough adds depth to the right side of the defence, while the signing of Kostas Tsimikas for £11.75 million will provide the Scotsman with much-needed competition. The Greek defender’s arrival will put pressure on Robertson to consistently perform at the top of his game, as opposed to outright replacing him.
Interestingly, there’s a growing belief that, in Tsimikas, Liverpool have found European football’s next Robertson. Costing the Reds a modest fee, the 24-year-old could develop into one of the sport’s best full-backs. Additionally, statistics also somewhat mirror the sentiment that Tsimikas is a less-developed version of Robertson.
In the Scotsman’s final season at Hull, he registered two assists; the same amount as Tsimikas in his last campaign with Olympiakos. Concerning delivery into the box, it’s clear to see why Liverpool opted for the Greek defender ahead of other options, such as Jamal Lewis. From 155 attempted crosses, Tsimikas delivered 29 successful crosses from open play in the 2019-20 Super League 1, giving him an accuracy total of 21.94 percent, according to Squawka. By comparison, prior to his move to Merseyside, Robertson’s accuracy percentage concerning crossing sat at 17.65.
Crucially, if you haven’t seen much of Tsimikas thus far, his highlight packages on YouTube show a snapshot of his playing style. As evident from those, it’s clear that his attack-minded approach is somewhat similar to Robertson’s. However, for those who are unable to view the 24-year-old’s highlight videos because of geo-specific restrictions, using a VPN would enable you to get around pre-existing limitations. At VPNOverview, the platform lists some of the best VPN providers of 2020, such as ExpressVPN, that allow prospective users to combat issues of geo-blocking and online censorship.
Forget attackers, defenders are spearheading Liverpool’s title charge
While nothing is ever certain in football, few can argue that the Reds’ full-backs won’t be central to Klopp’s plans in 2020-21. Adopting an offensive mindset without shying away from defensive responsibilities has been the key to Liverpool’s recent success, and that is unlikely to change next season. Vitally, with Tsimikas and Williams now considered as first-team options, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson can’t afford to let their levels drop.