After being acquired from Hull City, Andrew Robertson has adapted perfectly to Jürgen Klopp’s tactics. The Scottish international full-back has been increasing his performance since his arrival and has become a key player in these last two years winning the Champions League and Club World Cup.
In this scout report, we are going to do a deep tactical analysis on this left full-back with an attacking-minded, becoming a playmaker in Liverpool. We are going to do an analysis of his role and attributes that make the Scottish essential when progressing the ball, and his creativity and technique being relentless in that final zone.
Role and positioning
Full-backs play a major role in teams like Manchester City and Liverpool, being the ones in charge of progressing the ball through the thirds, positioning high and wide in the pitch to stretch the compact defences. Rivals knowing the threat of Klopp’s style, tend to play with a low-block compact defence, parking their teams in their half. This allows the Reds to leave a backline of three, with the two centre-backs and the defensive midfielder. Sadio Mané in the left flank tends to play more as a second striker tucking in the half-space or central areas, leaving the whole wide channel to be exploited. If we see the heat map of Robertson’s most frequents positioning, we are not impressed to confirm this high positioning, with much more participation in the rival’s half than in the own one.
Liverpool plays a much more direct play than a positional game, albeit the dominance they have in the Premier League gives them a high ball-possession. Full-backs end up doing a high number of passes in this possession game against low-block defences. Robertson average 66 passes in 90min same as his counterpart Trent Alexander-Arnold, but outperforming him at the accuracy with an 82.7% of accuracy in passes vs a 73.58% of his partner. If we consider that full-backs roles are to penetrate the middle third, the 82.7% accuracy becomes even more important as these passes tend to be forward passes with its risk. In the next picture we can see, Mané positioned in the central area and Roberto Firmino tucking in the left half-space, Roberston receives the ball and plays the ball forward in one touch to the Brazilian, to progress the ball as direct as possible, breaking the middle line.
The other role that full-backs have in Klopp’s tactics take relevance in the final third, both full-backs are expected to arrive at this zone and get involved in the combination play to create scoring chances from the wide areas. As we said before wings favoured positioning in central areas leaves spaces to be exploited by the full-backs. We will see the Scottish combining in one-twos with Mané or bursting in peace to either overlap or underlap the left-flank and collect the ball behind the defensive line. In the next picture, we can see and underlap run through the limit of the half-space, collecting the ball in an advanced position to centre.
Progressive runs and passes
As offensive midfielders tend to take higher positions making runs in behind the defences and midfield lines, Klopp’s style relies on full-backs to progress the ball through the field. This role is perfectly managed by the international Scottish player. He outperforms in both progressive runs and passes with a tally of 3.03 runs and 12.07 passes in 90min, being the only full-backs from the Premier League to be in both metrics in the top ten of the league.
Let’s get first into his progressive runs, he has a facility to run out of pace keeping control of the ball balancing his body to easily dribble and pass rivals with a quick move. Liverpool overloads one flank and leaves the weak full-back isolated to exploit the unmarked zone. Here it becomes essential his awareness due to a previous scan of the pitch, getting the information needed to exploit the flank. As we see in the next picture, once he received the ball, he exploits his peace, breaking the first line of press and progressing into the middle third with an open field.
As the stats showed Robertson suits perfectly in the direct style used by the German coach. With his good habit of scanning before receiving the ball, he knows perfectly where are the opponents and the possible options to pass forward. Frequently we will see him opening the body when receiving the ball and aiming Mané through a curved-forward pass in behind the defensive line, as we can see in the next picture.
In the next picture, we can see a combination of both of the aforementioned progressive actions. His ability to run in pace looking forward gives him the cues needed to know what is the play asking for. He collected the ball in his half and dribble it to Sheffield United half, even though been pressured and outnumbered he perceives Mané dropping in the half-space. He took the right decision first committing the defender in front, and once the defender has come off the passing lane, he progresses the ball to the Senegalese position.
A playmaker in the final third
What makes Robertson a great player are his traits in the final third, you would expect this kind of creativity and technique from an advanced player but not so much from a full-back. He accounts for 7 assists and one goal in this season in the Premier league only outperformed in his position by his counterpart right full-back. He outperforms in perception-decision-execution in the final third, first getting into space and then executing his decision taken. He excels in running in behind the defence being in the right position and approaching the football action in the exact moment, direction, and speed. Once he collects the ball in the back of the defence, he is relentless. In the next picture, we can see this in action, he is positioned wide and high in the pitch. He has a positional advantage as the right defender is looking to the ball and he can run on his blind side. He starts the run in the right moment and speed to be on-side and collect the ball close to the box to assist Mohamed Salah for the first goal of the game.
He ranks 6th in the full-back ladder of crosses averaging 5 crosses per match outperforming Trent in this figure. In the next picture, we can see another of his assists in the Premier League. The key in this paly was his first action, he perceives the space behind the right full-back due to Firmino and Mané committing both centre-backs. He uses his technique in his first touch to outplayed him and runs in behind, collecting the ball and placing a cross-back into the Senegalese foot to draw the game.
The society created with Mané in the left flank brought huge benefits in Liverpool game-play, it includes a wide variety of simple and complex combinations that allows the Reds to easily progress through this flank. The communication built within these two players is delighting, and the variety of combination made is what make this flank combination so difficult to stop. Robertson can attack and connect with the Senegalese without even needing to look at him. That’s what a perfect communication is about, not needing to see your team-mate but knowing where your partner would be. In the next picture, we can see Robertson positioned in the left half-space, and looking backward he uses his creativity to connect with Mané with a perfect back-foot pass.
His performance has only been shadowed by Alexander-Arnold season, who’s performance has been impressive taking most of the flashes. But this duo of attacking-minded full-backs, one being as good as the other, participating in 22 goals in the Premier League reminds the likes of Brazilian duets such as Marcelo-Dani Alves or Roberto Carlos-Cafú.
This analysis has supported why this attacking full-back had become a key player in the Reds tactics and being the kind of player that suits perfectly to Klopp’s style. Speed and balance to dribble while running with the ball, intelligence to read the game and a delighting technique to support his actions made this player a top class. Now also being captain of his national team, he will be responsible for returning Scotland to the World Cup.