It’s clear that Trent Alexander-Arnold’s future should be in midfield
The two sides of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s game are clear to anyone who has watched him in recent times. Widely praised for his natural creativity as a right back, the 24-year-old is also vulnerable in a defensive sense to such an extent Jurgen Klopp has experimented by shifting Alexander-Arnold around the pitch.
Against Nottingham Forest, Alexander-Arnold was deployed in a central position with the England international’s ability to pull the strings useful as Liverpool claimed a 3-2 victory. This came not long after a 6-1 demolition of Leeds United during which Alexander-Arnold was similarly positioned in midfield.
Liverpool haven’t had their midfield problems to seek this season. The Reds have suffered a drop-off in all sorts of statistical columns and most trace the issues back to the central unit which is ageing and in desperate need of replenishment – hence the relentless speculation around Jude Bellingham, a long-term transfer target.
Alexander-Arnold certainly won’t solve Liverpool’s midfield issues on his own, but it’s never been clearer that his long-term future is in the centre of the pitch. This should be more than just a short-term solution for the Reds. If Klopp is intent on rebuilding his midfield this summer, Alexander-Arnold’s role in that unit must be in his thoughts.
“This slightly advanced role now suits him in the moment really well, that’s good,” Klopp said after Alexander-Arnold’s performance in the win over Forest. “It’s a challenge for everybody else to cover the spaces when we lose the ball theoretically, but with him there we didn’t lose that many balls, which was helpful. That’s it pretty much, but it’s not written in stone or whatever – why should we? He can play in different ways and how he played the last two games was really, really good, that’s true.”
Of course, Alexander-Arnold isn’t the first defender to have been pushed into midfield in an innovative way by a Premier League manager this season. Pep Guardiola solved his own full back problem by deploying John Stones in central midfield and reshaping his defensive line into a back three. The results speak for themselves with Manchester City fighting on three fronts for silverware.
Stones’ ability on the ball has given Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan the freedom to push higher up the pitch with Manchester City’s back three shifting into a back four when out of possession. Nathan Ake and Manuel Akanji have made the new system possible, covering the wide areas.
Klopp doesn’t have the defensive personnel to remould his team in the same way at this moment in time, but with Liverpool believed to be on the brink of a rebuild that could change before the start of next season. Alexander-Arnold is too defensively frail to play in a conventional back four without protection from midfield, so reshaping the defence without him could work.
Talent-wise, Alexander-Arnold’s ability has never been questioned. Liverpool’s system was built to get the best out of him as a creative force on the right side. Even when the Reds were fighting for Champions League and Premier League titles, Alexander-Arnold was identified as being defensively weak, but his creativity vindicated his place in the team.
This is still generally the case, but some reshuffling is required to ensure Alexander-Arnold’s place in Liverpool’s future. His recent performances and the tactical tweaking done by Klopp have been encouraging for the 24-year-old. Right back is where Alexander-Arnold made a name for himself, but midfield is where he could take the next step in his development.