Before the start of the 2017/18 campaign, there were probably very few people who knew who Trent Alexander-Arnold was. The young Liverpudlian burst onto the footballing scene last season, under the expert guidance of his manager, Jürgen Klopp.
He kicked off Liverpool’s famous Champions League run with a sumptuous freekick that nestled in the Hoffenheim net during The Reds’ first-leg qualifying match last August. The academy graduate made 31 first team appearances under Klopp last season, marauding up and down the right flank without trepidation.
Alexander-Arnold’s lung-busting performances soon made him a favourite among the Liverpool fans. His impressive footballing exploits at right-back didn’t just win the hearts of the Anfield faithful, however. The youngster’s fine form was rewarded by Gareth Southgate with a place in the England setup for the FIFA World Cup in Russia. It was the definition of a perfect breakout season.
With Nathaniel Clyne being eased back into the fold after a serious injury that kept him out for a full year, and Joe Gomez now being deployed at centre-back, it appears that the role of starting right-back is Alexander-Arnold’s to lose.
Although he is still only a teenager who is adapting to the challenges of the Premier League, he is playing well beyond his years. He completed 2.21 clearances per game last season, outperforming all but Hector Bellerin out of his top six counterparts.
Liverpool’s number 66 also ranked comfortably better than Manchester City’s Kyle Walker and The Red Devils’ Ecuadorian, Antonio Valencia, in the number of blocks made per game. The England international was not shy in venturing forward, as he also led the way for successful take-ons amongst the top six first-team right-backs.
So then, why were there murmurs last week that members of Liverpool’s management think that this apparent gem of a fullback’s future should lie in midfield?
Alexander-Arnold was often deployed as a number six in Liverpool’s youth teams. Pep Lijnders realised that the young star’s ability to pick out a pass was of an extremely high standard at the tender age of just 15. He used to orchestrate moves and controlled games singlehandedly for Liverpool’s Under-16s from the centre of midfield.
These traits have unsurprisingly become a key part of the 19-year-old’s game, helping to take his performances to the next level. Last season, Liverpool’s teenager from West Derby created 1.32 chances per game and had 1.26 key passes per 90 minutes. Not one of James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Klopp’s starting central-midfielders, managed to even come close to the young right-back’s creative output.
Alexander-Arnold also has the ability to find his teammates from a long distance. His average pass length was over 20m. Who can forget that delicious ball he seemed to telepathically place onto Mohamed Salah’s head in Liverpool’s 3-0 victory over Bournemouth back in April? If there was a moment to showcase what the Liverpudlian brings to Klopp’s team, it was that.
Where should he be playing?
Whilst there can be no doubt that Alexander-Arnold’s passing ability is good enough for him to feature in the centre of the park, now is not the time for his big switch to Liverpool’s midfield.
Firstly, Jürgen Klopp has numerous options available to him, with Naby Keïta and Fabinho recently joining The Reds’ already copious number of midfielders. Secondly and somewhat more importantly, what Trent Alexander-Arnold brings to the team is remarkably unique. In Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool has one of the most exciting prospects. He is more than capable of performing at the highest level, both at the back and going forward, with the passing ability of a quality midfielder.
It would not be ludicrous to say that he is Jürgen Klopp’s secret weapon. A quality passer of the ball in a fullback’s clothing, if you will. In other words, he is Liverpool’s marksman on the wing.