Every season, there are always a couple of young English talents that burst out of relative obscurity. In recent years we’ve seen Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Marcus Rashford and Dele Alli all make huge impressions on the Premier League. This season, it has been the turn of Trent-Alexander Arnold.
It is rare for a young defender to step up and deliver solid performances at one of Europe’s top clubs, but that is exactly what Alexander-Arnold has done.Embed from Getty Images
A Scouser born and bred, the youngster has been tipped to make it to the highest echelons of world football for a few years now, with Steven Gerrard predicting he will go on to achieve big things before he even made his first-team debut. So whilst his recent rise to international recognition isn’t a surprise to those around him, few would have expected him to be the star man in a high-octane Champions League quarter final against one of the most in-form wingers in the country, Leroy Sane. Recently announced as the PFA Young Player of the Year, Sane was given no time or space to weave his magic across the two legs, with Alexander-Arnold putting in a dominant performance against the German magician,
There have been errors, of course. He was caught out of position as Liverpool conceded goals to Marcus Rashford and Wilfried Zaha, although he was not helped by generally lacklustre defending from Liverpool’s centre backs. People always highlight errors made by defenders, but rarely criticise young attacking players when they miss easy chances. But what is easy to forget is that he is still only 19. For a teenager to have this impact, at both ends of the pitch, is almost unprecedented. He isn’t anything near the finished article yet, and that is the scary part. His potential is through the roof, and under Jürgen Klopp he can achieve some of football’s highest accolades.
There are a number of different qualities that separate Trent Alexander-Arnold from others his age. He isn’t an old fashioned right-back in the Gary Neville mould, who was superb defensively but offered little going forward, nor is he your typical modern-day attacking full-back who makes bombarding overlapping runs down the wing. He combines the two styles, with a sprinkle of flair. Helped by the fact he was originally a central midfielder, his ability to pick out a player 60 yards away on the far corner of the pitch is one that is rarely seen by a full-back, nor is his prowess from dead ball situations. His never-say-die attitude and will to improve will see him rise quickly through the ranks both at Liverpool and on the international stage.Embed from Getty Images
Despite claims about his defensive shortcomings, statistics would suggest otherwise. In Premier League games this season, he averages more clearances, tackles, blocks and interceptions than both Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier – his two main rivals for a spot in England’s World Cup squad. Of course, stats should always be taken with a pinch of salt, but is too much made of his apparently poor defending? If he can do it against one of the world’s top wingers in a Champions League quarter-final (twice), what’s stopping him from doing it on the biggest stage of all?
Looking ahead to the summer and the World Cup, he is probably an outsider to make the squad, with Walker and Trippier ahead of him in the pecking order – and understandably so given their respective performances for Manchester City and Spurs this season. What will give Alexander-Arnold’s chances a boost, however, is the fact that Gareth Southgate will likely play Walker on the right side of a back 3, with one of Trippier and Alexander-Arnold in the right wing-back role. It is this position that I think could bring the best out of the teenager. Where he’s been caught out this season is the ball travelling over his head and in behind him.Embed from Getty Images
However, with Kyle Walker’s pace on the right side of the back three, long balls over Alexander-Arnold’s head will easily be covered. We have seen his accomplished defensive abilities one-on-one, and with a greater range of passing than Trippier, we could see Alexander-Arnold not only make the squad, but land himself a starting berth in England’s first game. This is not to put Kieran Trippier down – he is one of the top right-backs in the country and would be fully deserving of a starting on the right-hand side – but another attribute that plays nicely into Alexander-Arnold’s hands is his ability to whip in dangerous set-pieces. England are severely lacking in the dead ball department, and the last thing fans want is to have Harry Kane on corner duty again.
This World Cup may come a season too soon for Trent Alexander-Arnold. But whether he makes the squad or not, what he needs to do now is carry on his recent form not only through the rest of this season, but produce consistent performances over the next 12 months too. He needs to prove the hype around him is real, and that he can carry out the achievements he is capable of. One thing for certain though is that if Liverpool make it to the Champions League final, with Alexander-Arnold playing the starring role again, Gareth Southgate will find it very hard to leave him at home.
Written by Dan Walker.
21. Spanish and Economics student at University of Leeds. Jurgen Klopp worshipping Liverpool fan passionate about all things sport. Part of the 90MAAT analysis sub-team. @DanWalker0104