15 August 2014

On Alberto Moreno

We're slightly breaking tradition here, as the deal's not completely finalized yet, but screw it. Liverpool agreed a fee a couple of days ago and clearly finished the medical, as Alberto Moreno trained with the first team today. I don't want to wait anymore. Maybe it'll be announced later today, maybe tomorrow, maybe just before kickoff on Sunday. But it's happening. And if it somehow doesn't, fine, it's my fault.

After spending the summer haggling, Liverpool have apparently filled what was arguably the biggest hole in the squad. And for £12m, it seems that FSG's hard line on fees has paid off.

So how does he compare to what Liverpool already have?

For purposes of comparison, I'm using Moreno's totals from last season and Jose Enrique's in 2012-13, as Enrique only made eight appearances (six starts) last season in an injury-hit campaign. This may be built upon a false premise – that Enrique can overcome last season's injuries and return to form, and is even in Rodgers' plans if that happens – but it seems a decent start. Both Moreno and Enrique played similar amounts of time and both 2013-14 Sevilla and 2012-13 Liverpool were marginally above average but less than impressive sides which improved over the course of the season.

As I did when Lallana signed, I'm once again straight-up stealing Ted Knutson's radar concept, as it really is a handy tool.

There are some similarities and some crucial differences between the two players.

Jose Enrique can be an excellent defensive fullback. There aren't many who make more tackles, are dribbled past less often, and foul less often. I've never seen a fullback better at shielding the ball out of play.

Moreno seems a perfectly competent defender: somewhere between average and above average in the areas where Enrique excels, but also vastly better at intercepting the ball.

However, Jose Enrique is also very bad in the air. He's a very bad crosser. And he losses possession so frequently it's beyond infuriating. Moreno is much better at all of those. But, then again, a minimal level of competency is better than Enrique in these areas.

You'd expect Moreno's key passes and total passes to rise at Liverpool, playing for a team better at keeping the ball and much better in attack, those totals hopefully nearing or surpassing Enrique's. But Moreno's chances created stat is slightly worrisome, especially since none of his 19 key passes led to an assist.

Say it quietly, and knock feverishly on wood while doing so, but Moreno's key passes look an awful lot like Aly Cissokho's from 2012-13, this graphic made almost exactly a year ago when he signed on loan.

Seven of Moreno's key passes last season came from crosses (including two corners), 36.8% of his total. For comparison, just two of Enrique's 26 key passes in 2012-13 were from crosses. There are few of the close range chances that Enrique: Moreno created just three chances inside the box, and only four key passes resulted in a danger zone shot. Five of Enrique's chances came from successful throughballs, none of Moreno's did.

Just of Moreno's eight open play chances came 18 yards or closer to the byline: five crosses and those three inside-the-box key passes. Plus the two corners and two throw-ins. He'll need to improve that, as Liverpool will need overlapping width from its fullback as the attacking player – most likely Sterling, Markovic, or Coutinho – looks to cut inside.

Ted Knutson, unsurprisingly, did his own radars for Moreno on Tuesday. That's what I get for waiting until deals are confirmed. Or all but confirmed. And for stealing a graphic idea that he started, I guess.

And Ted, being much cleverer about these things than I am, adjusts tackles and interceptions statistics for the amount of possession the player's team has. 2012-13 Sevilla had a lot more possession than 2013-14 Sevilla, which makes Moreno's numbers appear worse. 2014-15 Liverpool will have a lot more possession than 2013-14 Sevilla did.

It seems important to note that most of Moreno's attacking statistics – key passes, pass accuracy, successful dribbles, times dispossessed, and crossing accuracy (as well as shots per 90 and goals, which aren't listed) – improved from 2012-13 to 2013-14.

So Moreno compares favorably well to the man he's ostensibly replacing. What about other Premier League left-backs?

On the whole, Moreno is right around the mean, decent in almost all regards, but the best in few. Aside from interceptions, where he's far and away better than the other five left-backs listed. The only fullback who averaged more interceptions per 90 minutes in the Premier League last season was Angel Rangel, with 3.18. Debuchy, the second best, averaged 2.49. Moreno also keeps the ball well for a player who completes more dribbles than all but Luke Shaw. The warning signs are that Moreno made the fewest tackles and aerial wins (he's only 5'7") of the bunch, and also completed the fewest passes, but the latter stat is probably a symptom of playing for Sevilla. His pass accuracy is lower than the others, but not dramatically so.

Which is in line with what the radar and comparison with Enrique suggest. He looks a decent all-around fullback: good at many things, spectacular at few, and with few weakness. His best traits, aside from interceptions (which none of Liverpool's fullbacks are particularly good at) are seemingly what Rodgers looks for in a fullback: good at keeping possession and getting forward with the ball at his feet, allowing few opposition wingers to dribble past him, and – as Bass Tuned to Red notes – blocking crosses.

And having just turned 22, there's definitely room for growth. Plus, he's clearly the love child of Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard, which is another point in his column.

Welcome to Liverpool, Alberto.

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