Why the Trent factor could transform Liverpool’s title hopes

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Why the Trent factor could transform Liverpool’s title hopes

It took less than three minutes of Liverpool’s win over Fulham on Sunday for Trent Alexander-Arnold to demonstrate the unique qualities that make him so important to Jurgen Klopp’s side.

After 90 seconds, a searching pass from deep in his own half which almost put Luis Diaz in behind. Soon after that, another which found him in space to attack on the right. Then, at the other end, an inch-perfect cross from which the Colombian should have scored.

Alexander-Arnold’s most memorable contribution was of course the stunning free-kick which later broke the deadlock at Craven Cottage.

But, on his first Premier League start since February following a knee injury, that brilliant opening goal was just one facet of a performance which showed the transformative potential of his return.

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Jamie Carragher believes Trent Alexander-Arnold is a unique player and feels he plays like Kevin De Bruyne at right-back

“It’s super important,” Klopp said of the 24-year-old’s comeback afterwards. “One of the shooting stars of this season is Conor Bradley, who played the position and played in a few games where we all thought, ‘Oh wow. What was that?’ But nobody is like Trent.

Nobody is like Trent.”

Certainly, there is nobody capable of replicating his interpretation of the right-back role in this team. The sight of Alexander-Arnold popping up in midfield is nothing new. It was something, though, to see the sheer variety of positions he took up against Fulham.

Consider those early passes aimed towards Diaz.

The first came from the right-hand side of Liverpool’s back three in possession, with left-back Andrew Robertson pushed forward on the opposite flank. Nothing too unusual there.

Alexander-Arnold's first pass aimed towards Diaz comes from the right of Liverpool's back three

Image: Alexander-Arnold’s first pass for Luis Diaz came from the right of Liverpool’s back three

The second, though, was delivered from the centre of the back three, having swapped positions with right-sided centre-back Jarell Quansah to assume a role akin to that of a quarterback.

Alexander-Arnold plays a pass out to Diaz from the centre of Liverpool's defence

Image: Alexander-Arnold’s second pass for Diaz came from the centre of Liverpool’s defence

This interchanging of positions with Quansah in possession became a feature of Liverpool’s performance on the day, the aim being to maximise Alexander-Arnold’s influence.

Another example of Alexander-Arnold building the play in the quarterback role

Image: Another example of Alexander-Arnold building the play in the quarterback role

It worked. Alexander-Arnold had more time on the ball and a broader range of options to aim at. According to Opta’s advanced metrics, he was involved in more open-play passing sequences than anyone else on the pitch despite missing the last 10 minutes plus stoppage time.

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“The manager has told me to get into that position to try to get on the ball and find those passes over the top,” Alexander-Arnold explained to Sky Sports afterwards.

But it was not just about playing long passes. At other times, he played short instead. In the example below, in the 16th minute, he threads a clever disguised pass through to Diaz, who has also drifted inside, allowing Liverpool to attack through the centre.

Alexander-Arnold shapes to pass to his right but instead feeds Luis Diaz ahead of him

Image: Alexander-Arnold shapes to pass to his right but instead feeds Diaz ahead of him

And yet, despite often operating from this new position at the base of the team, Alexander-Arnold still found time to roam into midfield, where he helped to sustain pressure, and towards the right side, from where he created that glorious early chance for Diaz.

Alexander-Arnold's diagonal cross for Luis Diaz provided a glorious early chance

Image: Alexander-Arnold’s diagonal cross for Diaz provided a glorious early chance

“I’ve described him in the past as being like Kevin De Bruyne at right-back,” said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher afterwards. “I’m looking at him today thinking he’s got a free role.

“I think there are a lot of full-backs playing the role where they are going into midfield. They go there to get on the ball, they are trying to stop counter-attacks. But this feels a little bit like he can go between the centre-backs, he can go into midfield, he can go wide.

“He can basically go wherever the space is because he has got such quality on the ball.”

Graphic

That quality on the ball was particularly helpful straight after half-time against Fulham, when the hosts were seeking to build on Timothy Castagne’s equaliser in first-half stoppage time.

Liverpool needed cool-headedness to tilt the momentum back in their favour following that sucker-punch and it was noticeable how they looked to Alexander-Arnold to supply it.

Indeed, nearly a quarter of his 74 attempted passes came in the eight-minute period between the start of the second half and Ryan Gravenberch scoring Liverpool’s second.

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Watch free highlights from Liverpool’s win against Fulham

Among them were a stunning switch of play to find Robertson, a nonchalant lay-off for Diaz using his chest, and a slide-rule pass through the lines to release Gravenberch.

His confidence and composure on the ball put the team at ease at a crucial point of the game, while also maintaining their attacking impetus and ensuring Fulham were forced onto the back foot.

The goal, when it came, owed a lot to Gravenberch’s individual quality but it was thanks to Alexander-Arnold that Liverpool were able to navigate that potentially stormy period and it was thanks to him, too, that they had gone in front in the first place.

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His free-kick, lifted into the top corner in sublime style, was another example of what Liverpool lacked without him. When finishing simple chances becomes an issue, as it had for Klopp’s side recently, you need someone who can convert the difficult ones.

The goal was his sixth from a direct free-kick in the Premier League, putting him behind only Jamie Redknapp and Steven Gerrard among Liverpool players. It also took him to 100 goal involvements for the club, an extraordinary tally for a right-back of only 24 years old.

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Alexander-Arnold says Liverpool will treat each of their remaining five games of the season as a final

But then, his performance against Fulham was a reminder that he is so much more than a right-back. Liverpool will need his control and quality again in the bear pit of Goodison Park, live on Sky Sports on Wednesday, and in the games remaining after that.

But their title hopes already look brighter now that he is back. It took him less than three minutes against Fulham to show why.

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