Since making his professional debut in 2016, Trent Alexander-Arnold has been a fixture on the right side of Liverpool’s defense. While making the position his own, the young scouser has gone to levels that few would have imagined this quickly. While gaining influential experience at the game’s top level, supporters would be crazy to question if Trent can continue his progression to the top of the elitist, of levels.
With rival fans looking to discredit Liverpool’s achievements, there has been an ongoing debate that Alexander-Arnold is not apt defensively. Add in the fact that Alexander-Arnold is one of the best goal creators in the world, there will always be a call from the peanut gallery that he would be better equipped in a midfield role.
Against Andorra on Sunday, England Manager Gareth Southgate put out an experimental lineup. Alexander-Arnold was provided with a rare start in midfield alongside Jordan Henderson, providing some nostalgia to the 22-year-old whose midfield career in the Liverpool Academy system must feel like decades ago.
After the match, Southgate praised Trent in saying “He has outstanding quality with the ball. I don’t think we lost anything by having a look.” While admittedly stating that the space was tight throughout the first half, Southgate suggested he tried to get the best of Trent while finding space for his favorite pupil, Reece James. This did not work and the manager relieved James of his duties on the righthand side of the defense for Alexander-Arnold to start the second half.
Alexander-Arnold fared in the game better along his customary channel than in midfield. Finishing the game with a trademark ‘corner taken quickly,’, this time it was Bukayo Saka who benefitted from Alexander-Arnold’s quick thinking, while Andorra’s defense was doing its best Barcelona impression (Still Smiling).
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Offensively, Alexander-Arnold possesses abilities on the ball that defy logic. He has both the vision to see, as well as the skill to execute seen pass or shot. His final product is often a masterclass from the same position that other players would provide merely speculative efforts. LFC is blessed to have such dynamic movement ahead of Alexander-Arnold in Salah, Mane, and Firmino. But the final pass must be pinpoint for these goal scorers to succeed.
Jurgen Klopp has often relied on his outside defenders for outlets of creativity while trusting his midfielders to keep the progression of the ball and play. Over the course of any of Liverpool’s recent seasons, there is no coincidence that Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold both accumulate the most assists within the team.
While Robertson might just be, the best two-way left-back in the world, there will always be some questioning Trent defensively? Personally, I feel Alexander-Arnold is a victim of his own success. A player of his caliber offensively is at such an elite level that when a miscalculation is made, the overwhelming response is that of calamity. Yet when other defensive linchpins make errors, as we’ve seen from the best goalkeeper and center defender in the world, Alisson Becker and Virgil Van Dijk, respectively, their errors are forgiven.
Alexander-Arnold offers so much creativity from a position that has not been known for such an attribute that people truly believe he is out of place. Yet, for some that truly appreciate the evolution of football, it is an exciting time for a change. It is no longer an unwanted position for a child to play, right-backs rejoice! Alexander-Arnold has provided an example that most elite attackers can establish themselves from an outside back position without excusing the defensive side of the game.
Jurgen Klopp saw this before anyone else could. Liverpool has been blessed with some of the most creative central midfielders in the history of the game. Recent history of Xabi Alonso pinging a piercing pass or Steven Gerrard striking a long-range effort with venom makes fans look beyond the horizon with fond memories and a gleaming smile. But Klopp knows his style of football is relentless. There is a responsibility from midfielders that works beyond an eye-watering pass and a beautiful goal. Klopp relies on his midfielders to be expert footballers across the board and shoulder the most gruesome of tasks in running ninety minutes for a Jurgen Klopp Football team!
Nobody would ever think that England and Liverpool play in the same style or formation (thank goodness). But Southgate’s approach and overcrowding of the midfield benefits Trent in the wide areas. All too often, there is congestion in the center of the pitch that must be broken down with precision and pace. The ball pings with force from one player to another. By providing space and time out wide for your most creative player, a team can flourish. And until the wings become as congested as the center of the pitch, we will continue to see Trent express himself to levels few others have accomplished.
As the years’ progress, no one can truly predict where Alexander-Arnold’s positional future lies. We have seen players in the same position as Alexander-Arnold such as Philipp Lahm and Joshua Kimmich make the elite transition. Closer to home, we saw Gerrard’s illustrious career constantly have positional changes and tweaks based on the type of player he was at the time. Who’s to say that Trent won’t follow suit? We could have a midfield maverick on our hands in the years to come. For the time being, enjoy watching Alexander-Arnold continue to revolutionize the position and prove his doubters wrong.