Trent Alexander-Arnold is unlike any other Premier League right-back.
Much has been said about his struggles with England, and why can’t he replicate his Liverpool form for his country. It is above all about the interpretation of the roles of the two teams.
At Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp rewards him with so much freedom on the right side, while Gareth Southgate generally likes his full-backs to be a bit more defensive.
The freedom Klopp gives Alexander-Arnold was fully visible in the slim 1-0 win over Steven Gerrard’s relentless Aston Villa side.
On his first return to Anfield as an opposing manager, Gerrard asked his Villa side to sit deep, refuse space and generally frustrate his former team. And for the most part, the ploy worked.
Liverpool had little space with Villa camping on the outskirts of their 18-yard box for the duration of the game. With people like Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all struggling to find space among the bodies of the Villa, it was mostly left to Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson on either side to provide the service. .
With Robertson being a bit more defensive full-back, it was up to Alexander-Arnold to use his entire attacking arsenal, and this is where the 22-year-old shines best. Villa smothered Liverpool in the middle of the pitch, leaving them plenty of room to their left.
Alexander-Arnold offered the breadth needed, and with Villa offering few attacks, he almost functioned as a fourth striker in Klopp’s 4-3-3 system.
Matches like the one against Villa demonstrate why he is a vital part of Klopp’s squad. Defensively, Alexander-Arnold can be a bit suspicious; he is not always the image of solidity in defense, but his flaws are more than offset by his ability in the other direction.
It’s easy for the opposition to smother attackers on any given day, throw enough bodies behind the ball, refuse space, and you’ve won half the battle. But the beauty of Liverpool under Klopp is that attacks can come from all sides: if not Salah and Mané, it could be Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcântara or Alexander-Arnold.
Alexander-Arnold’s delivery from crosses is almost that of David Beckham in their execution and laser precision. It was a theme in the 1-0 win over Villa, as he whipped through cross to cross in an attempt to break the deadlock.
Although he had no direct influence on Liverpool’s penalty winning and Salah converted, games like this illustrate his importance to the team. His attacking ability is unmatched in the league, and when games are remarkably close and space is at a premium, Alexander-Arnold is another offensive outlet the opposition needs to worry about.
With 10 assists already in all competitions, he surpassed his total of assists from last season and is on course to beat his best season for Liverpool – 16 in 2018/19.
While there are defensive flaws in his game, what Alexander-Arnold is offering in the future – inspired in large part by Steven Gerrard, the man in the canoe on the outside that the 23-year-old is on shaped his game growing up – more than makes up for that.
He is Liverpool’s fourth striker.