Trent Alexander-Arnold is a Liverpool problem with no obvious solution

Trent Alexander-Arnold Liverpool 2022-23
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The full-back's defensive capabilities continue to be questioned, so should the Reds look to sign some competition this summer?

Once again, the spotlight is shining on Trent Alexander-Arnold in the wake of a Liverpool defeat. No change there, you might say. The England full-back is, it seems, a player who divides opinion like few others in the modern game. Genius or liability? Pick a side and stick to it, until the bitter end.

Certainly, Alexander-Arnold looked more like the latter than the former as Liverpool exited the Champions League in spectacular, yet at the same time rather tame, fashion at the hands of Real Madrid on Wednesday.

The Reds’ 6-2 aggregate defeat brings with it a raft of tough questions, one of which surrounds Alexander-Arnold’s role in Jurgen Klopp’s side, and about the 24-year-old’s development as an all-round footballer.

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“Not good enough defensively,” was the verdict of Anfield legend Jamie Carragher, who was covering the game for CBS Sports in America. Alexander-Arnold’s weaknesses, Carragher continued, have become so glaring and so alarming that Liverpool, he feels, need to consider signing a right-back this summer, in order to provide competition and stimulus for their home-grown hero.

Whether that happens or not is another matter. Liverpool, we know, are targeting a midfield overhaul in the next transfer window, with most of their budget set aside for the likes of Jude Bellingham, Mason Mount and Matheus Nunes.

But whatever happens, one thing is clear. The debate surrounding Alexander-Arnold is likely to run and run…

  1. Little sign of progress

    Little sign of progress

    It feels, in truth, more than a little harsh to continually highlight the faults in Alexander-Arnold’s game, especially considering how many of his esteemed, high-profile Liverpool team-mates have struggled this season.

    Virgil van Dijk, for example, has seen his form nosedive, as has Fabinho. Andy Robertson has been short of his best levels, while Jordan Henderson has looked like a player in decline. Even Mohamed Salah, the top scorer and talisman, has been up and down.

    Alexander-Arnold, though, seems to attract the most attention and the most criticism. Maybe that is the price on the ticket, given the copious praise he received when emerging as one of the most talented (and successful) English footballers of his generation.

    As Robertson, his great pal, told BBC Sport this week: “People are quick to talk players up, especially English players. But they're also quick to knock them back down again.

    "We all show weaknesses. Every full-back gets beat by a winger every now and again. We all have dips of form. The criticism of him is quite heavy and I don't really know why."

    Maybe, though, it is because, to be brutally honest, the issues being discussed have been evident since the day he burst onto the scene at Anfield. Alexander-Arnold, remember, is a right-back who was converted from a midfield player in his late teens, and so has always looked more comfortable and more useful with the ball than without it.

    That presents a problem, especially when confronted with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Wilfried Zaha, Jack Grealish, Gabriel Martinelli or Vinicius Junior, top-class widemen who will ruthlessly exploit each and every weakness in a full-back’s game.

    Alexander-Arnold’s positioning is often criticised, but that can be attributed mainly to the demands of his manager, who wants him playing high up the field so as to influence Liverpool’s attacking play. More worrying is his lack of intensity when challenging for the ball, and his tendency to react too late - or not at all - to danger in and around his penalty area.

    However good a footballer he is, those things will continue to cost his team, and continue to bring harsh scrutiny.

  2. Don't ignore the upside

    Don't ignore the upside

    The other side of the coin, of course, is that what Alexander-Arnold brings to Liverpool on the ball is unrivalled.

    So much of the Reds’ play goes through him. Whether it is his whipped deliveries into the penalty area, both from open play and dead balls, his pitch-opening switches from right to left or his incisive, searching passes into forward players from deep, Alexander-Arnold is constantly involved as Liverpool seek to open up teams. His stats for assists, and more pertinently chances created, tell their own story.

    How Liverpool would miss him if he were not there. The man he replaced in the team, Nathaniel Clyne, was a fine player, a solid defender and a consistent performer, but Klopp’s side would never have scaled the heights they have with him in the side.

    They need Alexander-Arnold’s strengths as much now as they ever did. The question, rather, is how they can minimise his weaknesses.

  3. The idea of competition

    So do Liverpool, as Carragher suggests, need to go out and find themselves a right-back to compete with Alexander-Arnold going forward?

    Considering the likes of James Milner and Joe Gomez have been used as cover there this season, many would answer ‘yes’ to that one.

    But Liverpool did sign a right-back last summer, don’t forget. They bought Calvin Ramsay from Aberdeen, while allowing home-grown Wales international Neco Williams, who had become desperate to play regular first-team football, to join Nottingham Forest.

    The trouble is, Ramsay’s first season on Merseyside has been decimated by injury. The Scot has played only two games, and will not be back in action now until July due to a knee injury suffered in training last month.

    Liverpool believe the 19-year-old has the quality and potential to be a fine understudy and competitor for Alexander-Arnold, but they need to get him fit and healthy first. His absence this season has gone under the radar, but it has certainly not helped the Reds’ cause.

  4. The elephant in the room

    The elephant in the room

    Back to Alexander-Arnold, it should be pointed out at this point that he and Liverpool are heading into a crunch period, in terms of his contract situation.

    In the summer, he will have two years left on his current deal, signed in July 2021, and so it is expected that negotiations over a new one will begin at some point in the coming months.

    Liverpool have no intention of selling one of their best and most decorated players, of course, but there will be plenty of top clubs looking closely at how the story develops. The likes of Real Madrid, for example, would love a player of his calibre.

    Alexander-Arnold has always stated his desire to spend the bulk, if not the whole, of his career at Liverpool. He wants to captain the club, to build a legacy like his hero, Steven Gerrard.

    He’s already well on the way to doing that, having won every club trophy possible by the age of 24, and having created countless magnificent memories in doing so. He is a world-class talent, make no mistake about that.

    The smart money says he’ll agree a new contract at some point this year, with Klopp and Liverpool backing him to come through this testing time and reconfirm his position as one of the world's top players once more.