Wednesday 18 September 2019

John Aldridge: There is one area of Klopp's team that is a major concern - and he must fix it before Real Madrid

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

John Aldridge

LIVERPOOL boss Jurgen Klopp will need to play a full-strength team in the final Premier League game of the season against Brighton after last Sunday’s defeat at Chelsea – and that may help his preparations for the Champions League final.

Klopp’s side could have secured a top-four finish with a positive result at Stamford Bridge and opened up the prospect for Klopp to rest players in the Brighton game, but I am not sure that would have been beneficial.

The Kiev showdown against Real Madrid is still almost three weeks away and while any manager would want that time to get players fully fit and in peak condition for a career-defining game, there is a fine balance between being fully rested and staying in rhythm.

The Liverpool team I was a part of in 1988 won the title with something to spare and that meant we had a few weeks leading up to the FA Cup final when we didn’t have too much to play for.

That meant we switched off a little and when it came to trying to flick back on again when we got to Wembley to play Wimbledon, we couldn’t. I will never forget what happened on that miserable afternoon.

We were clearly a far superior team in that FA Cup final, but just never got going and failed to take the chances we created, with my missed penalty a moment that still haunts me to this day as they ran out fortunate winners.

So while Klopp may have liked to wrap up a top-four finish with a game to spare by getting a result at Stamford Bridge, the defeat means all the big guns will have to play at Anfield next Sunday.

If Liverpool get through the game without injuries to star men, then a run-out 13 days before the Champions League final will be no bad thing and it may also give Klopp a chance to consider some options in one area of his team that is a big concern.

Trent Alexander-Arnold will be a top-class defender but we have seen a few occasions in recent months when the opposition have targeted him on the right side of the Liverpool defence.

This kid is still only 19 and he has been given huge responsibility by Klopp. The experience he is getting of high-profile games will stand him in good stead but Liverpool are about to play in the biggest game of them all and it will be a huge test for Alexander-Arnold.

The concern must be that Real Madrid will look at this teenager and believe mistakes can be extracted from him when the heat is on in Kiev, with that pressure unwelcome for even the most senior of prosfessionals.

After his fine performances against Manchester City in the Champions League quarter-finals, Alexander-Arnold looked vulnerable in the second leg against Roma last Wednesday night.

Yet I would argue that his shaky display in Rome was not all his fault. A youngster needs help when he comes into the first team and that support comes in a variety of ways, with one of these being vocal direction from senior professionals around you.

On the right side of the Liverpool defence, Alexander-Arnold needs to be backed up from the right-sided central defender, but Dejan Lovren is not the kind of character to bark out orders and organise a defence.

Virgil van Dijk has proved to be a good vocal leader since his arrival at Liverpool, but Lovren needs to step up and give the full-back on his side of the defence the backing he needs to shine.

If Jamie Carragher was in that defence or Van Dijk was on the right side of the central pairing, Alexander-Arnold may have a little more direction coming his way from a more experienced professional, but he is exposed a little with the player he has next to him.

Lovren has improved over the course of this season, but he is never going to be a shouting and screaming type and that may be what Alexander-Arnold needs as he prepares to play in the biggest game in European club football.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Real Madrid encourage Cristiano Ronaldo to have a go at Alexander-Arnold in the Champions League final and that would be the ultimate test for the teenager.

Klopp started with Nathaniel Clyne at right back against Chelsea on Sunday, using Alexander-Arnold in a more advanced midfield role and that could be an option for Kiev if he feels the youngster would be targeted, so maybe he will look at that again against Brighton in the final Premier League game of the season.

A win against Brighton will secure a top-four finish and Champions League football for next season before all thoughts turn to Real Madrid and the final in Kiev.

These are exciting times for everyone associated with Liverpool and they need to make sure they make the most of the opportunities they have created for themselves.

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