Following an indifferent 2020/21 campaign, Andy Robertson was back to his brilliant best for Liverpool as his output hit another unprecedented level.
The Scot can stake a claim for being the best left-back in Premier League history.
He is, without doubt, the finest player to represent Liverpool in that position and reminded everyone of this fact in a quite exceptional 2021/22 season.
Andy Robertson, 22/2021
Started: 44 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 3
Unused sub: 8
Overall Season Rating: 8.62
What came before
Having clinched Champions League qualification on the final day of the previous campaign, most Reds were keen to move on and never speak of what had been a turbulent nine months.
Those duty whose it was to perform an autopsy on Liverpool’s failed title defence however weren’t so lucky. They would instead spend the summer seeking to identify where it all went wrong.
In truth, the root cause was glaringly obvious. Injuries.
A seemingly never-ending list of the things, the majority of which occurred within the backline, decimating the team’s defence.
While the laziest of pundits (we’re looking at you, Paul Merson) can highlight how big a loss a totem-like Virgil van Dijk can prove, they often overlook the impact it has on those around them.
Robertson came in for stinging criticism at times that season, with many ignoring the revolving cast with which he had to line-up alongside.
Forget not, he went from the reassuring and commanding presence of Van Dijk to the inexperience and rawness of Rhys Williams.
This not only tested his defensive qualities like never before but blunted his attacking instincts also.
In fact, both full-backs – so long the creative outlet for this swashbuckling Liverpool side – were reigned in to compensate for a fragility at the heart of the defence. A soft spot the opposition were only too aware of and hellbent on exploiting.
Despite this rather bleak backdrop, Robertson still mustered seven assists in the Premier League – an excellent total for any ‘ordinary’ full-back.
And in that respect, he had quickly become a victim of his own success. Certainly, we’ve become accustomed to both the Scot and Trent Alexander Arnold being ‘extraordinary’.
That’s harder to accomplish when the system itself is broken.
It becomes harder still when you’re overplayed, owing to the manager’s need for reliable figures in an unreliable time.
It’s easy to forget Robertson featured in all 38 league games in 2020/21, as well as all ten Champions League encounters.
This was on the back of three relentless seasons going toe-to-toe with Manchester City. Throw in the emotion of qualifying for a major tournament with Scotland and it’s fair to say he was burnt out.
So, with long-term absentees returning, it was surely the plan to lessen Robbo’s game time in what Liverpool hoped would be a classic revenge tour.
The chance for his lesser-spotted understudy to make an impression came far earlier than anyone expected, however.
That’s because Robbo suffered an ankle knock in his final pre-season run-out against Athletic Club, just six days out from the opener at Norwich.
Fears the injury curse had struck again were quickly eased, but he would miss the opening two games of the season.
In his stead, Kostas Tsimikas fared admirably and made it clear to Jurgen Klopp he had a viable alternative, after all.
Even so, Robertson was quickly restored to the side. Too quickly in hindsight.
Thrown in against European Champions Chelsea he looked miles off and had to be replaced late on, resembling Johnny Vegas in a marathon.
By his own standards, he then took some time to get up to speed. Closer analysis of his performances showed a hangover from the preceding COVID campaign.
During the darkest depths of 2020/21, Robertson was often marshalling the backline and became last man because of that. Relinquishing that role to the natural authority that is Van Dijk took some re-adjustment on his part.
Indeed, Robertson was often caught too deep, playing the opposition onside as Liverpool sought to reset their line much higher up the park.
This was even obvious when introduced as a late sub against Norwich in the League Cup, resulting in a goal and leading many to question his stranglehold on the left-back position.
Having made a career of silencing the doubters, however, Robertson gradually played himself into form.
A November assist for Diogo Jota against Southampton was met with a huge personal celebration, as if a weight had been lifted.
From that point on he never looked back.
Indeed, by the turn of the year, the Scot was at his barnstorming best, creating goals against Brentford, Palace (twice), Inter Milan and Leeds.
Prior to that came an eventful draw at Spurs, in which commentator Gary Neville heralded him as one of the very best in the Premier League era. This came shortly before both a goal and red card on an eventful afternoon. A costly one too, as it turned out.
If there was any doubt as to a pecking order, Robertson was preferred to Tskimas when both domestic cup competitions reached their crescendo.
Perhaps his best performance of the season came away at Arsenal in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup. Bukayo Saka is one of only a handful of players to make life uncomfortable for the Scot since joining Liverpool but barely got a kick at an expectant the Emirates that evening.
Come the final, meanwhile, Robertson was not found wanting from the spot, smashing home a decisive penalty to set up the first trophy of the season.
There remained the occasional loss of concentration. We could have done without him losing Riyad Mahrez for a late City goal in the FA Cup semi-final, but such blips became few and far between.
And the individual highlight of Robertson’s season surely came during a breathless run-in, breaking the deadlock against Everton in a tense Merseyside Derby.
With Liverpool struggling for a breakthrough, the tireless Robertson weighed in at the back post to meet a Mo Salah cross, heading home in front of a jubilant Kop.
A man who relishes the blood and thunder of a derby, along with all the needle that goes with it, he was a fitting goalscorer.
He ended the season with 15 assists in all competitions, trailing only teammates Salah and Alexander-Arnold when it came to goals created in the Premier League (10).
The aforementioned Neville – no fan of Liverpool – begrudgingly labelled him the best defender in the league ‘by a mile’.
Where to next?
As mentioned, these levels are unprecedented.
What Trent and Robbo provide for this Liverpool side is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, not just in England, but in Europe.
While few would bet against them repeating these feats next season, we must accept even a slight drop-off is understandable… maybe even expected, especially after a 58-game campaign for Robertson for club and country combined.
This Reds squad have done their best to prove their superhuman qualities in recent years but not even mentality monsters are machines.
There will come dips in form. They don’t have to be disastrous, so long as Liverpool are not over-reliant on either full-back.
Being able to call upon Tsimikas on occasion will enable Robertson to remain in peak condition. A priority must be securing similar competition on the right-hand side, which Aberdeen’s Calvin Ramsay looks set to address.
Finding a way to realise more goals and assists from midfield will also lessen the burden somewhat because right now Liverpool’s creativity stems almost entirely from their full-backs. It’s a good job we have the best in the business.
Best moment: It’s hard to look beyond the breakthrough goal against Everton, the anticipation and celebration had it all.
Worst moment: That red card against Tottenham was not Robertson’s finest moment.
Role next season: Instrumental to the Reds’ success, the standard-bearer for Tsimikas and the rest of the league, and beyond.