Liverpool have been rewarding their star players with new deals this summer. Andy Robertson is the most recent to have put pen to paper on a new contract, following in the footsteps of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Alisson and Virgil van Dijk as the club seeks to protect their prized assets.
While that means there is less money to spend in the transfer market, tying down the players who won the club the Champions League and Premier League is good business. These players are still crucial and they provide the ideal foundation upon which to build. Liverpool have a number of inexperienced players in the squad – notably Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott and Ibrahima Konaté, a new £36m arrival from RB Leipzig this summer – so keeping the experienced crop will only help their development.
Robertson deserves his new contract after another excellent campaign. He set up seven goals in the league last season; Aaron Cresswell (eight) was the only defender with more assists. On the flip side, Robertson played all but 34 minutes of the season as Liverpool relied heavily on their first-choice left-back.
Liverpool did sign a left-back last summer, bringing Kostas Tsimikas to the club from Olympiakos for £11.75m, but he was restricted to just six minutes of action in the Premier League as Robertson started all 38 of Liverpool’s league matches. The Greek full-back started a couple of Champions League games, but he must have wondered what his future had in store, especially as Napoli and Fenerbahçe were apparently keen to sign him this summer.
However, playing for Jürgen Klopp demands patience. He has a tendency to introduce players to his first-team slowly. Even Robertson was given time to acclimatise when he joined the club from Hull City in 2017. He only started two of Liverpool’s first 14 league games in his first season as he stayed on the sidelines, learned Klopp’s style and watched Alberto Moreno play at left-back. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made seven substitute appearances before he started a league game and Fabinho did not start a game in the Premier League until October after joining the club for £40m in the summer of 2018. It can be frustrating for Liverpool players – and fans – but this is Klopp’s way.
Tsimikas originally caught Liverpool’s eye with his impressive performances for Olympiacos in the Champions League and Europa League. His average of 4.3 tackles per game in the Europa League in the 2019-20 season was the fourth best of any player in the competition. His tenacity off the ball meant he was perfectly suited to Klopp’s high-pressing Liverpool style. He also provided a solid attacking outlet for Olympiacos when in possession, able to either pick a pass from full-back or carry the ball up the line.
Having held Tsimikas back from the first team last season, Klopp’s hand was forced when Robertson picked up an ankle injury in pre-season. Tsimikas has started both of Liverpool’s league matches this season, putting in commendable shifts in wins against Norwich and Burnley. Granted, he looked a little rusty as the minutes ticked by against Norwich, committing a couple of errors. But he looked extremely comfortable in the 2-0 win over Burnley on Saturday, both on and off the ball. He set up Diogo Jota’s opener on Saturday with one of his four key passes; only Trent Alexander-Arnold (seven) made more of all players on the field. That cross into the box for Jota was reminiscent of Robertson.
Now Klopp has a decision to make. Robertson has recovered from his injury quickly and might even be fit to feature against Chelsea this weekend. He is one of the very best left-backs in Europe; he has been crucial to Liverpool’s recent success; and his statistics are always impressive – over the last three seasons only three players have created more clear-cut chances in the Premier League.
Yet Tsimikas’ start to the season has given Klopp food for thought. Chelsea are one of the four other sides in the league with 100% records this season and their attack is frightening. If picked, Tsimikas’ inexperience in the Premier League could come back to haunt Liverpool. Conversely, dropping him immediately after such a promising start to the campaign could be a big blow to his confidence. Klopp persisted with Robertson even when he looked tired towards the end of last season. Dropping Tsimikas now might damage his morale again.
It is a tricky one for Klopp but he can take solace from the fact that Tsimikas has spent 12 months at the club, learning the team’s style and developing. That experience will improve Liverpool’s squad this season. Robertson was the only Liverpool player to start every league match last season but the team will not be so reliant on him this now that Tsimikas has shown he is a solid backup option.
Klopp admitted as much at the weekend, saying: “In the last few years, we had a problem that it was quite tricky to replace Robbo. I would say it’s not really possible as Robbo is a world-class player. He is incredible. He is the full package as a defender and an attacker. He is a leader in the team. Kostas needed some time to get used to all the things we are asking left-backs to do. It is great to have them both. As a manager it’s hard when you have no left-backs. Having two isn’t a problem.” Considering Liverpool’s injury woes last season, having quality cover in a key area of the pitch is a big boost for Klopp and Liverpool’s title aspirations.