It’s a rarity that Liverpool have had one reliable left-back at their disposal, but now Jurgen Klopp‘s shaping up to have two with Kostas Tsimikas showing he is ready to step up.
The left-back position is one that has proved troublesome for the Reds in the modern era, with the club having searched for more than a decade or more for a player of Andy Robertson‘s ilk.
The Scot has thrived under the tutelage of Klopp, forming a key part of the team’s creative hub for a bargain price of £8 million that has been returned tenfold.
The onus on Robertson to perform was not sustainable when playing consistently for club and country and the drop off was too great to the next in line, lending itself to the need for two quality left-backs.
Then came Tsimikas in the summer of 2020, joining from Olympiakos in a deal worth £11.75 million to provide competition and cover for one of the team’s star men.
It was a slow start that did not bear much fruit, but Tsimikas is now showing his worth and it’s time for Liverpool to harness it.
“Robbo and Trent, let’s say, they cannot play every season 50-something games—it would limit their careers, to be honest, even when they come through [fit],” Klopp said last pre-season.
“So I’m really happy that we got this proper option and he is a proper option.”
It was a plan that needed to be put into effect but it was one that did not come to fruition, with Robertson clocking 4,319 minutes in 2020/21 and Trent Alexander-Arnold 3,835.
The 25-year-old was always anticipated to have a lengthy settling-in period before being handed the keys to the first team but it remained that he had a less than idyllic start to life at Anfield.
Time in quarantine for COVID-19 preceded Tsimikas’ debut for the club in the League Cup win over Lincoln City in September 2020, and his 90 minutes at Sincil Bank Stadium would be followed by just 135 more over the course of the entire campaign.
A thigh injury and subsequent knock to his knee halted any progress in his adaptation period, as too mitigating factors regarding Klopp’s decision not to make wholesale changes due to the mounting injury list.
In the end, Tsimikas would make seven appearances totalling a paltry haul of 225 minutes last season and would be an unused substitute a total of 26 times.
It was less time on the pitch than second and third-choice goalkeepers Caoimhin Kelleher and Adrian were able to amass.
The overwhelming feeling was a lack of trust from Klopp in his new addition despite his encouraging words that “he has showed already at a young age he can experience football in a different country and do well,” when he officially became a Red.
That he could keep the gears ticking over with Greece, 474 minutes, was vital with club minutes proving impossible as he continued to find his feet at Anfield amid showing flashes of the player he promised to be.
Promise he was able to show with a change of fortunes that left the door ajar.
That door was Robertson’s involvement in captaining Scotland at the Euros, leaving only Tsimikas and the academy’s Owen Beck as the specialist left-back options for Klopp in the early parts of the summer.
He caught the eye with his no-nonsense approach and attacking impetus, traits that alleviated concerns over the potential continued drop off when Robertson could not feature.
The upturn was evident from his body language and tone alone, “The first six months were very difficult for me because I had COVID and two injuries,” Tsimikas explained back in July.
“But the second half of the year was very good and I trained very hard in coming back from the injuries. Now I am more ready and in good shape to give everything for the team and help them to achieve our goals.”
In pre-season, Tsimikas featured in five games – the joint-most of any Red – and supplied three assists during that time to see Klopp praise his efforts after the 1-0 win over Bologna.
The door was then thrown open for the opening day of the season with Robertson sustaining ankle ligament damage, ensuring opportunity beckoned for the Greek Scouser who had by now endeared himself to his teammates and the fans.
And his rise to form came at just the right time for Liverpool as his importance rose in an instant following the No. 26’s injury in the penultimate pre-season friendly.
“Kostas is another one who showed up in pre-season a lot and probably with the best game tonight on top of that, is needed anyway,” Klopp said.
A first Premier League start at Norwich followed and despite a few lapses at the death, Tsimikas’ tenacity, crossing range and delivery from set-pieces stood out and marked his arrival, at last.
Then came his assist against Burnley for Diogo Jota and a show of determination with a surge from a tackle that had him on the ground, to which Anfield duly showed their appreciation.
With less than a third of the season complete, Tsimikas has already amassed 546 minutes – more than double his debut season tally – but there is an argument he ought to have been used more.
“For a manager, it’s a problem when you don’t have a left-back. When you have two, that’s no problem,” was Klopp’s assessment on the situation back in August.
Robertson has not yet hit the heights that he has previously set himself but as he is “probably the best left-back in the world” in the eye of Klopp and many others, it is his place to lose.
Usurping Robertson is not necessarily the aim, but after non-stop football for the Scot over the last few years it goes back to the careful management of his games that Klopp already stressed.
And with Tsimikas’ train finally arriving at the station, he is in the position to do what he was brought in to do, alleviate the dependency on Robertson.
There can be no questioning Robertson’s position within the side, a world-class operator that has set the standard in his position but while his form is suffering somewhat, Tsimikas is thriving.
And it hasn’t been lost on Klopp, “He had a long time, what he needed, to adapt to all the things we do, but this process is done now. He is obviously a really good football player and we are really happy to have him.”
Against teams prepared to sit back, Tsimikas’ dribbling quality and precision with the ball could prove key, especially when delivering into a packed final third.
The rotational approach even when Robertson is fit could prove hugely beneficial, especially with 12 games to come until the end of 2021 alone.
It is no longer a question of if Tsimikas can perform when called upon but rather when, and having afforded the Reds a rare luxury at left-back, it is time to harness it.