As Lewis Dunk’s close-range volley found the net to equalise for Brighton & Hove Albion last Saturday, Andy Robertson threw back his head in frustration.
The Scotland international had been positioned as the first line of defence for Solly March’s free kick, but his body position did not allow him to clear. Instead, he left it and the consequences were severe.
Given his character, Robertson will have wanted to put that right in Liverpool’s next game against Everton a week on Saturday. Instead, the 29-year-old will probably have to wait after a dislocated shoulder ended his night early in Scotland’s European Championship qualifier with Spain on Thursday. Robertson has flown back to Liverpool to undergo scans to learn the extent of the damage caused by his collision with Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simon.
It is a blow for Robertson, but also for Liverpool – the left-back has been a cornerstone of Jurgen Klopp’s starting XI since 2018.
Unlike Trent Alexander-Arnold’s recent hamstring injury, which forced Joe Gomez to fill in at right-back, a like-for-like replacement is available in Kostas Tsimikas.
The 27-year-old has proven to be a capable backup to Robertson since arriving from Olympiacos in 2020, even if his chances have been limited to 18 Premier League starts. He is well-liked in the dressing room and earned cult hero status among fans when he scored the winning penalty in the 2022 FA Cup final shootout against Chelsea.
Tsimikas has never started more than two league games in a row, a testament to Robertson’s form and fitness, and the concern for Klopp will be that the Greek international – who signed a new four-year contract last month – has lacked rhythm in his three starts in all competitions this campaign.
He struggled against Europa League opponents LASK in Liverpool’s opening group game and was caught in possession for Leicester’s goal in the Carabao Cup the following week – although he felt he was fouled.
But the chances are Liverpool will need to rely on him for several weeks, so what can he offer in Robertson’s absence?
From the 1,660 Premier League minutes he has played, his open-play chances created map shows he loves to swing crosses into the penalty area.
It illustrates that he is a threat, creating opportunities from open play both in deeper outswinging crossing positions and when he gets to the byline and cuts the ball back. Like Robertson, Tsimikas takes set pieces.
The left-back averages 34.6 touches per 90 minutes in the attacking third in the Premier League. It is more than Robertson (29.7), who has played significantly more games, and it is higher than both Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah’s average in the same time period.
This is likely to be skewed by him coming on late in games Liverpool are dominating, but his desire to get forward is clear.
Tsimikas is more of a dribbler – averaging 7.4 progressive carries per game to Robertson’s 4.8 – while the Scot is more of a forward passer (22.5 passes per game to Tsimikas’ 17.7). It could lead to a change of dynamic of attack on that left-hand side.
Defensively, he is aggressive. His ‘true’ tackle (tackles won + tackles lost + fouls committed while tackling) completion rate is similar to Robertson’s (56.9 per cent to 56.3 per cent), showing he wins a good proportion of his attempted challenges.
His 6.6 true-tackle attempts per 1,000 opposition touches is higher than Robertson’s (4.1), suggesting he puts his foot in more often with his team out of possession, but he commits almost three times as many fouls per game (1.85 to 0.68).
Much has been made of the change in Robertson’s role since Liverpool changed to the 3-box-3 system. It may ask him to ignore his attacking instincts on occasion, but he has grown in comfort and confidence. He is a solid defender who has to be more selective picking his moments to get forward.
Klopp’s classic 4-3-3, which required creativity to primarily come from his full-backs, suited Tsimikas; the 3-box-3 system does not. In the only Premier League game Tsimikas has started since Klopp’s formation switch, Liverpool conceded four to relegated Southampton – although none of the goals were necessarily his fault.
We still do not have a true answer to whether Tsimikas can adapt his game in the way Robertson did. There is more defensive responsibility required because in possession the left-back becomes the third centre-back. He cannot gallop forward at will, either.
The form of Joel Matip and Joe Gomez had quietened the frustrations that Liverpool did not improve their defensive options this season, but if Tsimikas cannot adjust, those discussions may begin again.
The club were open to signing a young left-sided centre-back if they were of the right quality and price. If they had signed one who could also play left-back (Chelsea’s Levi Colwill, for instance), then they would have been able to slot in a player who more naturally suits the system.
It is up to Tsimikas to prove that Klopp was right when he backed the defensive options at his disposal and that his new contract was justified.
(Top photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)