Jurgen Klopp has nothing to lose by tweaking Trent Alexander-Arnold’s role
- Trent Alexander-Arnold put in a superb performance as Liverpool beat Leeds 6-1
- He again performed a new role as he was allowed to drift inside into midfield
- It raises the question over whether the right-back’s future could be in midfield
The first weekend in October 2015 and a lot of conversations around Liverpool centred on the performance of a fledgling midfielder in an Academy game.
Liverpool’s Under-18s had made the short trip to face Manchester United and there was a lot of focus on the teams; the hosts, for instance, had a striker called Marcus Rashford for whom hopes were high that he could flourish at a higher level.
But the visitors had promise in their ranks, too, particularly from a 16-year-old who was on an upward curve. How Trent Alexander-Arnold showed it that Saturday morning at Carrington, scoring twice and stamping his presence all over the contest as Liverpool won 4-0.
A day later, of course, the agenda around the club changed. Brendan Rodgers was sacked, Jurgen Klopp had been lined up to replace him and, as a result, the discussion outside Melwood, Liverpool’s old headquarters, moved away from what this flourishing novice might become.
Klopp, however, was immediately alerted to Alexander-Arnold’s potential and the first Liverpool team he saw in action was the Under-18s, who beat Stoke 1-0 at the Kirkby Academy. Alexander-Arnold, again, figured prominently.
So what Klopp saw the now 24-year-old do at Elland Road on Monday will have come as no surprise; given the opportunity to drift inside from right-back – as had been the case eight days previously against Arsenal – he delivered his finest performance of the campaign.
The numbers backed this up: 153 touches, 136 passes (91.2 per cent of which were successful) and two assists, one of which had Darwin Nunez smiling like he had received a Christmas present. At the final whistle, Luis Diaz wrapped Alexander-Arnold in a bear hug and he left the pitch beaming.
‘He won the ball back for the first goal as well,’ Klopp added. ‘Really impressive – the highlight was the last pass but he had a few more, Yeah, wherever Trent is he can be decisive in his passes. This was a good game. You can see he enjoyed it.’
All this left you thinking about what the future might hold. This, to be clear, is not an analysis of where Alexander-Arnold has fallen short this campaign. He has struggled for consistency but making him the scapegoat for everything that has gone wrong would be both ridiculous and grossly unfair.
No. This is a look at the avenues that could open up for Alexander-Arnold in the future and what, in turn, this might give to Liverpool as Klopp looks to reinvigorate his squad. Putting his no 66 a little more central and a bit more advanced has the potential to open up all manner of possibilities.
Put it this way: if Pep Guardiola can convert John Stones into a midfield conductor, why can’t Klopp do the same with Alexander-Arnold? This process, in some respects, would be much more straightforward as he already has that base, laid down as a teenager, to build from.
‘Trent is a better passer of the ball than John Stones,’ Jamie Carragher argued on Monday Night Football. ‘Stones has great composure but, in terms of defence splitting passes, there is only Kevin de Bruyne better than Trent in the Premier League.’
Again, the figures back up the words. That wonderful pass to Nunez was Alexander-Arnold’s 50th Premier League assist; it is a staggering tally and the reason Jordan Henderson regards his talent of being at “Galactico” level.
‘We have to remember he is a complete player with lots of assets and abilities, both offensively and defensively,’ said Ibrahima Konate, whose job it is to slot over when Alexander-Arnold prowls. ‘He won’t be forgetting his defensive duties because I can’t cover him all the time – I’m only human!’
Perhaps in the summer Klopp will be really able to experiment. Calvin Ramsey, whom Liverpool signed from Aberdeen to provide back up for Alexander-Arnold, will be fit after an unfortunate 12 months and his manager is eager for him to get a chance.
Why not, then, see if another string could be added to his bow? It often gets forgotten that Steven Gerrard was blooded into Liverpool’s team at right-back and we all saw what he became later on his career, as he matured and stepped forward.
There is nothing to lose here and everything to gain. Nobody would have qualms about asking Alexander-Arnold to carry on as Liverpool’s right-back but an even higher plain could await. The signs have been there all along.
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