Trent Alexander Arnold defiant display vs Man City showed Liverpool are title contenders
Trent Alexander-Arnold went into Liverpool’s trip to Manchester City with – again – a lot of questions to answer from those outside Anfield. He did so emphatically.
By Jack Lusby, ThisIsAnfield.com
In the buildup to Liverpool’s trip to Manchester City, much of the discourse was centred around Trent Alexander-Arnold.
His performances in midfield for England in the preceding clashes against Malta and North Macedonia sparked up the position debate again; Pep Guardiola explained how his ability to “play inside now” was the key tactical difference during his pre-match press conference; and a battle with Jérémy Doku was held up as where the game could be won or lost.
Doku emerged from his biggest game as a Manchester City player yet having completed more dribbles than any other player in the Premier League since September 2021, with 12. The Belgian also created the most chances in Saturday’s 1-1 draw, with four, and won more duels than any other player, with 18.
But the lasting image from the Etihad – bar perhaps Guardiola’s touchline spat with Darwin Núñez at full-time – was that of Liverpool’s No. 66, standing in front of the Manchester City support with his finger to his lips, having cancelled out Erling Haaland’s opener to secure a vital point.
The raw numbers produced by Doku attracted headlines, but the reality is that Alexander-Arnold, in tandem with Joel Matip, Dominik Szoboszlai and Mohamed Salah, largely kept the 21-year-old’s threat to a minimum. Those successful dribbles were often into less dangerous areas, the chances created typically snuffed out by an experienced Liverpool back line.
It was a defiant performance from Liverpool’s vice-captain, set to the backdrop of a high-profile clash that saw him singled out – Guardiola shifting his setup so Bernardo Silva dropped into spaces vacated as Doku drove on – and the latest of such against the Premier League’s traditional ‘big six’.
In 55 league appearances against Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham, Alexander-Arnold has assisted 15 goals and scored four himself, averaging a goal or assist every 2.9 games – slightly better than his average of one every 3.1 games against other clubs faced in the Premier League. Of his 55 league assists, a sizeable 26.3 percent have come against those five teams, along with an even larger 30.8 percent of his 13 goals.
Perhaps the chants of ‘feed the Scousers’ and ‘sign on’ were still ringing in his ears as he shushed the fans at the Etihad, but Alexander-Arnold’s celebration could simply have been a generational player ignoring the noise over his abilities.
There are few, if any, players of this current English crop who are as misunderstood by those outside of their own clubs than Alexander-Arnold, who is talked about more for what he should be than how good he is.
Whether he would be more effective in midfield is, in Jürgen Klopp’s eyes, academic. The Liverpool manager believes his hybrid role between right-back and tempo-setting midfielder is where he is best utilised.
Klopp now calls the right wing, where Alexander-Arnold used to be almost exclusively stationed, as his “hiding place,” where he is able to drift when it suits to “influence the game massively.”
His ghosting run and finish to make it 1-1 at the Etihad showed how valuable he is in a roving central role, too, but Klopp explained afterwards that the 25-year-old “made the difference” in the second half having been pushed further forward on the right.
“Putting Trent in a different position defensively, really stepping out in the space where they found Bernardo Silva first half constantly, plus Dom and Mo closing that gap better in the second half, gave us much more stability,” Klopp said. “From there we can play football ourselves, that’s clear.”
With that in mind, Virgil van Dijk put it best, as he dismissed questions over Alexander-Arnold’s battle with Doku when speaking to journalists in the mixed zone at the Etihad.
“I think for the moment he’s playing just fine where he is right now,” the captain said. “He has that freedom to mix it up and he has to do that because you see teams are working it out at times, so he has to be able to switch from staying on the outside and going on the inside as well.
“I think it’s a good learning curve for him as well and he did that well because obviously he was playing against one of the most in-form wingers at the moment.”
Van Dijk described his second-in-command as the “complete package,” which is more apt than attempts to shoehorn such a unique player into one position or another.
There could be occasions where Liverpool would benefit from starting a more conservative right-back, such as Joe Gomez, and allowing Alexander-Arnold more freedom to push on, while there are clearly many where his tactical intelligence and technical quality, along with the compactness of the structure around him, make him so devastating as he drifts between right-back and midfield.
Though they are often treated as such, the 90-plus minutes that play out over the course of any football match are not binary, with Klopp’s in-game tweak against Manchester City evidence of that.
Alexander-Arnold is simply one of the finest exponents of modern football as a chess match, where the advantages could crop up from anywhere. His goal at the Etihad was timely, for many reasons, not least as it served to undermine the narrative that Doku had the upper hand in a battle that, despite the statistics, weighted favourably towards Liverpool.
Most importantly, though, in gaining a point it served as a statement that Klopp’s ‘Liverpool 2.0’ are genuine title contenders. If they were to hold any hope of lifting the trophy come May, this was a must-not-lose clash, with there a general wisdom that, to do so, any side must take a minimum of four points from Guardiola’s City.
At the forefront of Liverpool’s evolution is the instalment of Alexander-Arnold as one of their leaders, and with a resounding performance in Manchester, he fit the billing perfectly.
(Images from IMAGO)
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