Thursday 21 March 2019

Alexander-Arnold uses Old Trafford loss as 'learning point'

Alexander-Arnold: Back to Old Trafford. Photo: Reuters
Alexander-Arnold: Back to Old Trafford. Photo: Reuters

Chris Bascombe

Trent Alexander-Arnold makes a stark admission when recalling his last visit to Old Trafford. "The hardest point of my career other than the Champions League final," he says, acknowledging that Marcus Rashford's two goals, both sourced down Liverpool's right wing, momentarily provoked a confidence crisis.

Upon realising he was Jose Mourinho's strategic target in Liverpool's 2-1 defeat last March - the perceived weak link - Alexander-Arnold sought out mentors for reassurance.

"I still use it as a learning point," says the 20-year-old. "To look back on the harder games that you have had, learn what I didn't do well and what I could have done better.

"The United game was definitely one of those games and so, rather than let it get me down, it was important to use it as a positive and see it as a learning step to get better. I needed to use it as motivation to make sure something like that doesn't happen again."

So what did he learn? "It was about getting back to basics, not to overthink things and think you are not good enough at that level," he said. "It is important to put it behind you. Alex [Inglethorpe, Liverpool's academy director] helped me with that, so did the manager here and also the people around me who support me. They just guided me through the tough time around that game."

The England international credits Rashford for causing his concern. "I think he's someone who is going to be a really special player. If he is not world-class now, then he is someone who can definitely reach that level.

"The talent he has got is obvious. He is a fantastic player and someone who has got bags of potential. He will say he has a lot to learn and a lot to improve on, but he is showing signs he is wanting to work hard and get better and under his new manager he is doing that. I am sure he will keep up his good form and the game against Man United will be a good battle for whoever is up against him."

Liverpool and Manchester United fans will resist the suggestion, but such glowing testimony from an Anfield hero about an Old Trafford rival shows the greatest grudge match in English football may be softening up a little, or certainly evolving in a new direction.

There was a time the clubs' major personalities indulged in mutual loathing. But Alexander-Arnold, Rashford and Jesse Lingard became friends during last summer's World Cup, although the Liverpool man is adamant there will be no compromises or friendly texts when they meet this weekend.

"Definitely no," he said. "I think probably the England set-up has helped everyone overcome the bitter rivalries. That has probably helped us do so well internationally. But when you are not on international duty it is normal business as usual. You focus on your job and on the day there will be no smiles. We will be going into battle with them and hopefully we will come out on top."

It is not only the players reciprocating compliments. Jurgen Klopp names Alex Ferguson as an inspiration, and there must be empathy from the former United manager when seeing the German coach trying to end Anfield's excruciating title wait.

"I always admired him. From a distance it's easy," said Klopp. "I'm pretty sure when he was in charge he didn't want us [Liverpool] to be successful.

"Maybe he doesn't want that now, but the opinion is probably not that strong any more because he said already a couple of times, I heard, that he likes what we are doing here.

"He is a fantastic person. I met him a couple of times. My English is now good enough to understand him. I remember the first time we met at Nyon, where the managers' meeting was for the Champions League coaches, and nobody was there.

"I asked if someone was here and they said, 'Yes, Alex Ferguson is in the breakfast room'. I came in and he was like, 'Oh Jurgen, come here'.

"For the first half an hour I had no clue what we were talking about because of the Scottish thing.

"I tried to be really, really friendly and step by step I got it. I respect him a lot. Obviously he thinks I'm not completely blind as a manager, so that's good."

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