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The man who cost Klopp a European title: Why Moreno failed to make it at Liverpool

17:00 EAT 08/04/2019
Alberto Moreno Liverpool 2018-19
The Spaniard is set to leave Anfield on a free this summer as the Reds' squad continues to evolve

This could be a game that sums up Alberto Moreno’s Liverpool career.

Because the chances are, he won’t be playing in it.

With Andy Robertson suspended for the Reds’ Champions League quarter-final first leg with Porto on Tuesday, Moreno may have felt his chance had arrived. He is, after all, the other specialist left-back in Jurgen Klopp’s squad.

Klopp, though, is almost certain to start with James Milner there against Porto. The vice-captain remains the most versatile, trusted member of Liverpool’s first team, and he will be asked to fill in once more against the Portuguese champions.

For Moreno, it looks like being another night of watching and waiting. The Spaniard has not featured since the FA Cup defeat to Wolves on January 7. Klopp has been praising his dedication and application in training, but opportunities have been rare. He has made just five appearances in all competitions for the Reds this season – the same amount as Nathaniel Clyne, who was loaned to Bournemouth in January.

Unless there is a drastic change, these are the final weeks of Moreno’s Anfield career. His contract expires at the end of the season, and there are no plans to renew it. Liverpool have tied the bulk of their senior squad down to lucrative, long-term deals in the past 18 months, but discussions with Moreno and his representatives never got off the ground.

The feeling from both parties now is that a change is for the best.

He will have no shortage of suitors. Lazio have been linked - Moreno was in Rome recently to visit Lucas Leiva, his former team-mate – while there have also been intriguing reports of interest from Barcelona, who are in the market for an understudy to Jordi Alba. That would certainly be one of the more unlikely deals of the summer, were it to materialise.

Before that Moreno will still hope to end his five-year Anfield career on a high. He will hope to add to his 141 appearances, and to secure his first Reds medal – or medals – in the process.

It’s a harsh world, football, but for many Moreno’s Liverpool spell will be remembered not for the highs but for the lows.

The Europa League final of 2016, in particular, is hard to forget.

Moreno alone was not responsible for Liverpool’s defeat to Sevilla that night, of course, but it was his sloppiness, his lack of conviction and concentration, seconds after half-time in Basel, which turned that game on its head. Sevilla equalised, Liverpool collapsed, the Spaniards went on to win 3-1. It was, perhaps, the most chastening defeat of Klopp’s Anfield reign.

Internally, Moreno was not scapegoated. That is not Klopp’s way, and it would have been unfair in any case given the failings elsewhere that night - including in the dugout.

But something still changed that night. Moreno played in Liverpool’s next game, the 4-3 win at Arsenal on the opening day of the 2016/17 season, but since then he’s started just 26 times in the Premier League or Champions League. Often, he has found himself outside of the matchday squad entirely.

Robertson’s form means he hasn’t been missed, though Moreno may well reflect on the injury he suffered against Spartak Moscow in the Champions League in December 2017. He was in the team at that point, and playing well too. His misfortune afforded Robertson an opportunity which the Scot grasped with both hands.

Speak to anyone at Melwood and they’ll tell you the same thing. Moreno is a good trainer, a popular character and a maturing personality. He smiles and he jokes, he works hard and he lives right. When he was quoted by Spanish media in December saying he “disliked” the way Klopp had treated him, his manager understood. There was no admonishment, either publicly or privately.

The issue, rather, is one of quality. The problem is that Liverpool have evolved past players like Moreno, whose form fluctuates too much for a team with Premier League and Champions League aspirations.

They worked hard to land him from Sevilla, tracking him for more than a year before securing him in a £12 million deal in the summer of 2014. Brendan Rodgers, the manager at the time, had wanted Ben Davies, then of Swansea, or Chelsea’s Ryan Bertrand but his recruitment team pushed for two La Liga options.

Guilherme Siqueira was one, but Moreno’s potential was deemed greater. He arrived on the back of a good season with Sevilla, in which he had helped them to Europa League success, and started promisingly, scoring a fine solo effort against Tottenham in only his second appearance.

His speed, control and energy were welcome additions – Liverpool had alternated between Jon Flanagan, Aly Cissokho and Glen Johnson at left-back the previous season – but defensively there were clear question marks. And as Rodgers’ reign unravelled, it became obvious that his trust in certain players, usually those recommended by his recruitment team, was thin.

Moreno ended his first season being substituted at half-time with Liverpool 5-0 down at Stoke, and started his second campaign on the bench, Rodgers preferring new signing Joe Gomez at left-back.

“I had this inner anger, a rage almost,” he would later say. “He [Rodgers] told me that I was training well but I couldn’t see why I wasn’t getting a chance.”

Klopp’s arrival coincided with a return to the team, and an improvement in form, but the flaws were still evident. Moreno was dropped for Flanagan after an erratic performance in another final, the Carabao Cup loss to Manchester City, and Liverpool tried, unsuccessfully, to lure Leicester’s Ben Chilwell to Merseyside that summer. In the end, they played the whole of the next campaign with Milner as a reluctant, out-of-position left-back. Moreno started just two league games.

Robertson’s presence, and the fact that home-grown teenager Adam Lewis is so highly rated by Klopp and his staff, mean there is no panic over Moreno’s imminent departure.

He will leave with well-wishes and warm regards, but also regrets. His Liverpool career once promised so much more.