From 'sign a f***ing left-back' to Mr. Reliable: Alberto Moreno’s Liverpool revival

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The defender reached his lowest point against Sevilla in May 2016. On Tuesday, he'll line up against them as one of the Reds' standout performers

This was never meant to be the solution, nor did it seem plausible. When Jamie Carragher's now deleted 'sign a f***ing left-back' tweet following the 2016 Europa League final against Sevilla was co-signed en masse, including by those within Liverpool, it was predestined to be the inscription on the headstone of Alberto Moreno's Anfield career.

Liverpool 12/1 to beat Sevilla 2-0

Instead, that sharp, to-the-point plea is now a measurement tool representing just how much the defender has altered his narrative. And make no mistake, as the 25-year-old faces his former club on Tuesday — the same opponents he gravely faltered against a year-and-a-half ago, when his awful clearance followed by a feeble challenge led to Los Rojiblancos' equaliser in their eventual 3-1 victory — it will be all down to him. His resilience. His fight.

For two consecutive summers, Liverpool looked to do exactly as Carragher, amongst others, had suggested: recruit a replacement for Moreno.

First, there was the pursuit of Fulham’s teenage gem Ryan Sessegnon, with the club’s long-term vision of him and Trent Alexander-Arnold enlivening the full-back positions foiled by the starlet's wish to remain in London.

A push for Ben Chilwell was in motion too, with the 20-year-old preferring a switch to Merseyside over Arsenal. But there was a question mark around how committed he was to leaving Leicester City, so the interest was abandoned.

Alberto Moreno Liverpool PS

That prompted Jurgen Klopp to turn to midfielder James Milner during the pre-season camp in California last year, deciding he would be the trusted option on the left flank.

Not by design, Liverpool failed to fortify that position through investment, and yet, Moreno managed just eights starts in 2016-17, with only two of those coming in the Premier League.

On May 28, the Reds' recruitment plans for the role took a further knock. An approach for Roma’s Emerson Palmieri was being prepped before he suffered anterior cruciate ligament damage on the final day of the Serie A season to torpedo that transfer.

A check was made on Benjamin Mendy, but the France international had already decided months in advance that he would be leaving Monaco for Manchester City, following a conversation with Kevin De Bruyne in a UEFA doping control room at the Etihad.

 

A post shared by Alberto Moreno (@amplfc18) on

A long, exhaustive search led Liverpool back to Andy Robertson, who had been tracked for two years, and Hull City banked £10 million as the Anfield side finally signed a f***ing left-back.

Moreno, meanwhile, was on the market. He knew it, but refused to accept it. There were few enquiries, all of which fell below his £15m valuation, and while minds inside and outside Melwood were erasing the Spaniard from the picture as they plotted the 2017-18 campaign, he began to rub out his flaws.

During a summer in which his young family were in a little bit of limbo, his 'big brother' Lucas departed for Lazio, his close friend Philippe Coutinho unsuccessfully agitated to join Barcelona and a competitor in his stylistic mould was added to the squad, it would’ve been natural for Moreno to crave a fresh start elsewhere.

Instead, he didn’t think of where he could go to escape his issues, but how he could effectively address them. There were the twin problems of timing and thinking: when to attack; when to hold; how to reduce the rashness; how not to overestimate his recovery pace.

Moreno Coutinho

He had to operate less on instinct and with more understanding of what was required during individual moments in relation to the collective. The "brainless" Moreno would now strategise his way through games. The "defensive impostor" would learn to prioritise clean sheets rather than blindly supporting the attack.

At the training ground, even when the Sevilla academy graduate was on the fringes of the first-team, there were never any concerns around his attitude or enthusiasm. The fundamental facet Moreno lacked was the comprehension of how to apply Klopp’s instructions correctly and consistently. The only person with the power to rectify that problem was himself.

"I always talk about my family, my daughter, my parents, how much they have helped me, and it's true," Moreno told The Guardian, "but in the end, it's the player who does it, who changes the situation. He's the one that goes out there in front of I-don’t-know-how‑many-thousand people.

"Last year was useful for me: to think, to change things, to say to myself: 'Alberto, what can you do better?' And the first thing was: defend. I'm a defender. And I've changed that.

"I'm more focused — I think you can see that — and thankfully I haven't made any mistakes. Maybe in my first few years at Liverpool, I was always thinking: 'Attack, attack, attack.' Confidence is vital for a footballer but I'm [also] more settled, more focused. Now I'm like, 'First, let's defend, keep a clean sheet and, then, let's go forward.'"

The evidence of this stacked up in pre-season with stellar displays against Crystal Palace, Hertha Berlin, Bayern Munich and Athletic Bilbao, which led Klopp to declare Moreno is "100% back," while describing him as a "new player."

Fast forward and only Mohamed Salah has a greater case to be considered Liverpool's standout performer of the campaign ahead of the full-back thus far, with his elevation at club level leading to a first Spain appearance in three-and-a-half years.

Unfortunately, there will be plenty who view Moreno through the prism of his mistakes rather than the reality of his revival. He will be wise to the fact that his unexpected rise this season won't be universally applauded and that any stumble will be still be magnified.

Moreno has proved, though, that beyond his infectious personalty, the bottle-flipping, the Hoverboard walks with his Bull Terrier and the 'Unbelievable Jeff' soundbites, there lies a steely determination to succeed.

Jurgen Klopp Alberto Moreno Liverpool PS

"I never had something like this. I never had it, to be honest," Klopp told the club’s official website of the father of two's turnaround sans any tantrums or a drop in professionalism.

"This season is not a surprise, the surprise is how (he) dealt with last season. There was not one bad word in the whole season.

"Yes, he was in my office. Yes, he asked what he could do better, and we spoke about the things he had to do better.

"On the other hand, (Milner) played really well and he's a machine. He could play every two days, so there was not a lot of reasons to make the change then — he had no rhythm.

"I felt that it was unfair after the season. I thought 'damn, we didn't use him often enough'.

Alberto Moreno

"Before the season, he came to my office and asked again, and I told him we (would) get another full-back, but it was not the plan for Milly to be in the full-back race again, so you decide what happens — and he decided it.

"How he reacted on last year is really, really good. He's now a much better defender. That's how it is; he's a brilliant footballer."

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When Sevilla sold Moreno to Liverpool in the summer of 2014, there was genuine despair at the loss of one of their own, one for the future, one to watch.

On Tuesday, when he returns to the Pizjuan for the first time, the overwhelming feeling from the hosts can be one of pride — the boy from the capital city of Andalusia has battled hard to become a man, to become the player they always knew could be.

And it's all on him.

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