Regarded by critics as the posterboy for Liverpool’s defensive frailties under Brendan Rodgers and now Jurgen Klopp, it would have been easy for Alberto Moreno to hide away or even leave Merseyside altogether.
Instead, the heavily tattooed 25-year-old is sat defiantly in the media room at Melwood ahead of today’s match at Newcastle United, fronting up, avoiding nothing.
In rattle-fast Spanish, aided by a translator, he explains with passion and conviction why he stayed at Anfield, why it’s wrong for Liverpool’s defenders to carry the can for conceding goals, and why his personal form this season has been good enough to make the anti-Morenoistas ‘shut up’.
Liverpool’s soft underbelly has been one of the most talked-about themes of the season so far with 14 goals conceded in six away matches in all competitions, including a 5-0 drubbing at Manchester City after Sadio Mane had been sent off.
Moreno, who spent last season kept out of the side at left-back by thirty-something midfielder James Milner, always seems to be singled out. Even Liverpool legends have joined in. ‘We have players like Alberto Moreno who is good going forward but just cannot defend properly,’ said Mark Lawrenson, one of their Eighties greats.
It should be pointed out that of the five away matches Moreno has played this season, the City game is his only defeat.
He clearly feels his personal form is good and Klopp appears to echo that view, regularly selecting him ahead of Scotland international Andy Robertson, who was signed from Hull during the summer.
‘We can’t deny that we’ve been conceding too many goals and have to improve defensively. We really have to aim for a clean sheet,’ says Moreno. ‘But football is a team game, made up of 11 players who attack and defend together. It would be a pretty tough job if you only relied on the four guys in defence and the goalkeeper.
‘To attach blame only to them is a little unfair. It’s a team issue and it’s about working together as a team and as a block.
‘A lot of football these days is based on attack-minded full-backs, but my mind first and foremost is to defend. Obviously you also want to help the team as much as you can by getting forward and creating chances at the other end.
‘As a defender you do get some teams (Chelsea, Atletico Madrid) where the wide men tuck in, drop back and make it a lot easier for you. The team as a whole defends deeper and you are getting help from midfielders. But I just enjoy playing regardless of the team style, full stop.’
Behind the bravado, Moreno doesn’t hide that a naturally attacking coach such as Klopp has been spending a little more time recently working on the other end of the pitch in training. The season started with a dramatic 3-3 draw at Watford and has been a rollercoaster since.
‘It’s something that we are working on. Maybe as a result of the last few games we are more attentive and conscious as players that we have to make less errors and particularly tighten up at dead-ball situations. The aim in training is to improve that defensive aspect and try to concede less.
‘Mr [Klopp] has always been faithful to the way he wants to play the game. His approach has always been to defend well and when we attack, attack in numbers. His most fundamental idea is that as soon as we lose possession, do everything we can to surround the ball and get it back just as quickly as possible, so it’s ours again.
‘The goals we have conceded are down to a lack of concentration more than anything else. It’s just at particular moments, maybe from a quick throw or the second ball dropping from a corner, we’ve not managed to clear. So we’ve really got to work on not losing that focus for 90 or 95 minutes, however long the game lasts.’
The price of every mistake is also higher when Liverpool are missing chances at the other end. They had 126 shots in their six September matches, but scored only seven goals.
‘I pray to him upstairs that if we do get a chance, they start to go in a little bit more frequently,’ says Moreno. And he’s not referring to Liverpool owner John W Henry.
Moreno has faced challenges in three years at Liverpool after signing from Sevilla. But he’s no quitter despite heavy interest from Napoli in the last transfer window.
‘Things were bad over the summer,’ he says. ‘The word was that I would be leaving and I should leave. However, I wanted to stay. I’d spent a whole year pretty much without playing many games. It reflects badly on my family, they don’t have a good time either.
‘When I got back for pre- season I did chat with the manager and he was very honest. He said: “I can’t promise you a place in the side. I am signing a new left-back.” But he encouraged me to keep working and see how things went early season and that is what I did.
‘I had offers but I wanted to stay here and fight for my place, my future at this club and my career.
‘I am very happy personally with the way things are going this season. It is a club and city I love so the people who were saying I should leave should shut their mouths now.’