Wednesday 29 January 2020

How Trent Alexander-Arnold is redefining full-back role as rivals struggle to deal with his creative impact

Full-back is redefining the role as rivals struggle to deal with his creative impact, writes JJ Bull

Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates scoring Liverpool’s fourth goal against Leicester. Photo: Reuters
Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates scoring Liverpool’s fourth goal against Leicester. Photo: Reuters

JJ Bull

Liverpool have won 26 of their past 27 league matches, are the European and world champions and on St Stephen's Day absolutely destroyed their only real title challengers for the Premier League. Jurgen Klopp's side are unique, relentless and brilliant, just like their star player in the win over Leicester.

One of the more remarkable aspects of this Liverpool team is that every week a different individual steps up to make the difference. Against Leicester, Trent Alexander-Arnold was outstanding.

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Only Kevin De Bruyne, Thomas Muller and Jadon Sancho have provided more assists than Alexander-Arnold in the top five European leagues this season.

On Thursday, the Liverpool player recorded his seventh and eighth assists of the season, before scoring a superbly finished goal from distance.

It is even more impressive considering the 21-year-old is, on paper, a defender.

Nobody has created more chances from set-pieces in the Premier League than Alexander-Arnold this season, but his delivery into the box is equally deadly in open play.

Opposition managers have devised ways to mute his influence, either pushing a winger high in the hope that it forces him to stay deeper, or assigning a midfielder or wing-back specifically to mark him.

Attempts

Neither of these has proven particularly successful. That is partly because Alexander-Arnold is so talented, but also because he has been coached to counteract attempts to keep him quiet.

When a wide player stays tight to limit his ability to put balls into the box, Alexander-Arnold simply moves into midfield and swaps position with the right central midfielder, who then operates as the winger.

James Maddison was assigned this task, but was made redundant by Alexander-Arnold's constant marauding runs. Leicester's hope would have been that the creative threat Maddison offers moving inside from wide on the left would result in Alexander-Arnold leaving his defensive station to follow him, leaving the channel open for Ben Chilwell, and that if Alexander-Arnold tried to move inside, Maddison could track and block.

Instead, the Leicester player was rendered redundant as Alexander-Arnold focused on his own game.

Maddison touched the ball only 33 times all game as the Liverpool player ran the show. By contrast, Maddison had 49 touches in the 3-1 defeat by Manchester City.

Alexander-Arnold is effectively Liverpool's most important creative player, operating as a playmaker from a wide defensive starting position.

His attacking movement is reminiscent of peak Dani Alves - more winger than full-back - but his vision to spot early balls into the box and his crossing ability are closer to a midfielder such as David Beckham.

His eight assists this season have all come from different positions on the pitch. The first against Leicester was in the second phase of a corner, as Alexander-Arnold took up a position as midfield playmaker. Leicester players were not sure whose job it was to close down a player who should technically be on the opposite wing, and a perfectly weighted chip to the back post resulted in Roberto Firmino giving Liverpool the lead.

The second assist was a drilled pass across the area to Firmino, after Alexander-Arnold looked up to spot the player in space. His best trick is the early ball into the box, bending crosses round the opposition defence while they are still getting in position, striking the delivery with enough power and accuracy that the receiver just has to direct the shot on target.

The opening-day pass for Divock Origi to score against Norwich showed that Liverpool, with Alexander-Arnold on the pitch, can create from anywhere inside the opposition half. Teams have tried to target Liverpool's right side in the past in the hope of exploiting a defensive vulnerability that has not been there for a long time.

Alexander-Arnold can still be caught out of position on occasion because he gets so far forward, but that will improve with coaching and experience.

Leicester's reality check was complete when Alexander-Arnold fired in his goal for 4-0, wrapping up a masterclass in wide play that made Brendan Rodgers's left wing redundant, overloaded the midfield and meant Klopp's side could create no matter how Leicester defended.

In Alexander-Arnold Liverpool not only have one of the world's best full-backs, but also one so uniquely talented that he is redefining our expectations of the role.

Telegraph.co.uk

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