I remember early on this September, just after the transfer window had closed, deriding a Liverpool fan for his unveiled attack on Jurgen Klopp regarding the decision not to buy a left-back this summer.
This supporter, someone of reasonable stature on ‘Liverpool Twitter‘, said that Klopp was showing a stubbornness and an Arsene Wengerish tightness by failing to address a glaring problem.
Alberto Moreno had partly cost us the Europa League Final and put in an equally shocking performance on Premier League opening day away to Arsenal. The media had, by this stage, decided he was the country’s worst fullback and took it in turns making increasingly outlandish statements about how disastrous the Spaniard actually is. Gary Neville labelled him ‘absolutely garbage’. Our own Jamie Carragher wasn’t much kinder.
So when this Liverpool supporter joined in; slamming Klopp’s decision to go with natural midfielder James Milner as Moreno’s left-back competition this season, I told him he was wrong. “In Klopp we trust,” I replied – able to offer nothing more than laboured cliche. “We got Klopp in to make his own decisions. That’s what he’s doing. Support the team,” I continued – barely believing the words myself.
The real truth was that I agreed with him. Every word. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why, with barrels of money waiting to be spent, Klopp chose to turn a right-footed right winger with 15 assists last season into a left-back.
Why were we not in for Ricardo Rodriguez? Jonas Hector, even…?
The reason, I now realise, is because Klopp knows legions more about football, tactically and in terms of player characteristics, than the fan on Twitter or myself. And more importantly, no amount of pressure from inside and outside the club was going to change his mind.
Milner has come in and been nothing short of a revelation at left-back. A 30-year-old who’s never played the position in his life and was even used as a striker at former club Leeds United, has shone brighter than any fullback in the top flight this term.
Three goals, all from penalties, have only been the tip of his iceberg offensively, as he’s played ten key passes and registered an assist to boot. With his right-foot, Milner has shown an ability to cut in and play slide-rule passes to an onrushing playmaker. That exact move led to Roberto Firmino’s goal v Leicester and Adam Lallana’s against Hull.
His energy means he covers a monstrous amount of ground, too. Not only is he a genuine attacking threat from this new position, but he has the brain and wiliness to know when he’s required to stay deep.
All this is before mentioning his experience, leadership skills, passion, discipline and physical strength.
James Milner 2016/17:
— Ben Webb (@benwebblfc) September 25, 2016
What’s more, in Moreno, we now have a decent backup option should Milner ever get injured, suspended or need a rest. The 24-year-old has caps for his country and did very well against Derby when selected in the EFL Cup. So much so, Klopp’s taken time to praise his contributions at Melwood over recent weeks.
“To be honest, one of the best players in training in the last two weeks [has been]Alberto Moreno,” Klopp told FourFourTwo. “He took [being left out] positively.”
So without spending any money, Klopp’s transformed the left-back position from Liverpool’s glaring weak-spot into one with an excellent first-choice option and a backup showing positive character and a willingness to improve.
That’s fantastic management. If we’d have spent £20m on a left-back who’d come in and done as well as Milner has, fans would be waxing lyrical about Klopp’s brilliance in the transfer market. But he’s done the same thing for free.
So Klopp: I’m sorry. If you want to turn Alex Manninger into a holding midfielder and start Connor Randall up top, I’m all for it.
In Klopp I trust. Really, actually, properly. From now on, I’ll accept his decisions even if I’m not smart enough to immediately know the reasons behind them.