Talking Tactics

How Robertson's return transforms Liverpool's attack

By Adrian Clarke 14 Feb 2024

Adrian Clarke says fit-again left-back can create overloads to stretch Brentford's compact 5-3-2 on Saturday

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be influential in Matchweek 25.

Player analysis - Andrew Robertson (Liverpool)

Fit-again Robertson immediately improves the balance and vibrancy of Liverpool’s starting XI.


TV Info - Broadcasters

The Scot, who has recovered from a shoulder injury, made a seamless return to Jurgen Klopp’s side when making his first start in four months at home to Burnley last weekend.

In his absence, Konstantinos Tsimikas and Joe Gomez filled the void extremely well, with the latter particularly outstanding in an unfamiliar left-sided berth.

Yet Robertson, who made a game-high 327 intensive runs on his comeback, brings an all-round skillset and dynamism that neither deputy can currently match.

His likely inclusion against Brentford in Saturday’s early kick-off will certainly aid Liverpool’s attempts to stretch Thomas Frank’s compact 5-3-2.

Difference in attacking threat

Gomez often inverted into central midfield to create overloads or tucked across to form a back three when the Reds’ right-back pushed into the final third.

He performed that role superbly, showcasing the versatility and temperament which has helped him earn 11 England caps.

Unavoidably, there was a slight imbalance to Liverpool’s attacking play during the period where he featured at left-back.

As you can see on the pass maps below from the Reds' last two home matches, Gomez and Robertson provided very different qualities in possession.

Joe Gomez pass map v Chelsea
Andrew Robertson pass map v Burnley

Robertson stays wide and makes significantly more contributions inside the final third.

When Gomez deputised for Robertson, Liverpool’s central defenders aimed the vast majority of their long diagonal passes to the right wing.

However, the Scot’s return should bring about greater variety in their distribution, with Virgil van Dijk, Jarell Quansah or Gomez himself aiming switch passes in his direction too, like this example from their win at Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier this season.

With Robertson in the starting XI, Liverpool’s left-sided attacker is supported at closer quarters, with overlap situations and 2v1 opportunities a lot more frequent.

1-Robbo switch

As a side, Liverpool choose to attack down their left more often when he is in the starting XI, too.

Look out for Robertson and two Liverpool team-mates trying to fashion 3v2s around Brentford’s right-sided defenders Mads Roerslev and Nathan Collins this weekend.

Ave. percentage of Liverpool's left-sided attacks
Robertson starts Tsimikas starts Gomez starts
35.25%  32.77% 33.67%

Robertson has consistently been one of the Premier League best crossers ever since he joined from Hull City in 2017.

In open play and from set-pieces, he teased some lovely deliveries into the box against Burnley (see below), and this will encourage Liverpool’s forwards to make runs for him against the Bees.

Robertson cross 1
Robertson cross v Burnley 2

His accuracy from crosses is markedly better than the slightly erratic Tsimikas and Gomez, who does not venture forward as often.

Of all the Liverpool players to have made at least five crosses this season, it is Robertson who is successful on the most consistent basis, with 28.57 per cent finding their intended target.

Liverpool left-back comparison
2023/24 Robertson Gomez* Tsimikas
Open-play crosses/90 2.92 2.12 4.47
Open-play cross accuracy 28.57% 10.0% 15.15%
Chances created in open play/90 1.36 1.06 1.08
Chances created from set-plays/90 1.25 0 0.95
Passes played into box/90 7.20 3.40 8.26

*When Gomez has played at left-back

Robertson is also a bundle of energy, so his presence in the team helps Liverpool retain a high tempo on the ball.

His top speed of 34.40km/h is quicker than the other left-back options, and he also makes more sprints (21 per 90).

In addition, Robertson produces more progressive passes (3.8 per 90) than both Gomez (2.5) and Tsimikas (1.9).

On the ball he skips forward with enthusiasm, carrying it further on average than any other Liverpool player.

Liverpool ave. ball-carry progress
Player Ball-carry progress (metres)/90
Andrew Robertson 8.80
Diogo Jota 8.32
Joel Matip 7.92
Ibrahima Konate 6.90
Dominik Szoboszlai 5.96

Up against opponents who will likely sit plenty of men behind the ball, Liverpool should feel the benefit of Robertson’s willingness to travel quickly with the ball.

He will run at Brentford, trying to commit defenders before finding others in space.

There is no doubt that Klopp’s left-back replacements filled the void well since mid-October, playing a big part in taking Liverpool to the top of the table.

But his first choice is back now, and they will be a stronger proposition as a result.

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