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What has happened to Trent Alexander-Arnold?

Having previously excelled, the Liverpool full-back has struggled this season.

Trent Alexander-Arnold (file pic).
Trent Alexander-Arnold (file pic).
Image: PA

TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD had what can only be described as a nightmare first half against Real Madrid on Tuesday.

The 22-year-old defender produced an error-prone performance in the 3-1 defeat and had a particularly bad opening 45 minutes, where he was partially at fault for the concession of the first two goals.

Even former Reds favourite Jamie Carragher, who had previously defended the under-fire full-back on Monday Night Football, suggesting he deserved a place in England’s Euros squad, was highly critical.

Analysing Alexander-Arnold’s positioning for the first Madrid goal, Carragher said: “He’s in position, he is one-v-one defending. He comes out (to close down the attacker) and there’s no bend in the leg.

“So, basically when you go out there (and you’re low with a bend in your leg), you are low and you try and go past me then I can push off.

“I can push forward. I can go this way (left) and I can go that way (right). And you defend properly. I always see him stood like that (up straight). You cannot change direction.

“So, he doesn’t have that intensity in his legs and the focus to defend. This guy is not going to go past me. It’s like he feels like defending is not his job. [That he] should be on the ball.”

Alexander-Arnold’s loss of form is symptomatic of Liverpool’s poor campaign in general. Last season, they dropped points in just six of their 38 league matches, and three of those were after they had been confirmed as champions.

But having won the top flight so comfortably, they have produced one of the weakest Premier League title defences ever, losing nine and drawing seven of their 30 matches, with even a Champions League spot next year appearing doubtful as it stands.

The young defender’s deteriorating form is just one of many issues that have contributed to the club’s downfall, but it is nonetheless a serious problem.

Klopp has so far backed Alexander-Arnold, continuing to pick him in big games and expressing surprise at his recent omission from the England squad.

Yet if he continues to make the type of errors he was prone to earlier in the week, even the Liverpool manager’s loyalty is bound to be seriously tested.

What has transpired in this campaign is a remarkable transformation for a player who was being talked up as a potential club legend as far back as 2019.

Prior to this campaign, there was a case to be made for Alexander-Arnold as the best full-back in the world. Consider the evidence: at 22, he has already won the Premier League and the Champions League (appearing in the final twice). Individually, he has appeared in the last two PFA Team of the Season selections. In 2018-19, he was of three players (along with Matthijs de Ligt and Virgil van Dijk)  nominated for the Champions League Defender of the Season. He was the PFA Young Player of the Year last season, he made the Uefa Team of the Year for 2019 and he made the Fifa FIFPro World11 in both 2019 and 2020.

So what has happened?

Well, even with Liverpool at their best, Alexander-Arnold made mistakes and never totally convinced in his own area. In their strongest backline, alongside Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Andy Robertson, he was widely seen as the weakest defensive link, though he more than made up for this flaw, given what he offered in attack (last season, he made 13 assists, with only Kevin De Bruyne managing more, while he registered 12 in the 2018-19 campaign).

Liverpool were also so dominant in games that they did not have to defend very often — they conceded just 33 goals last season, the best record in the division, while this year, they have conceded 36 with eight games still to play. They also rarely come up against sides of Real Madrid’s quality, with Alexander-Arnold’s weaknesses less likely to be exposed by most English teams.

The biggest difference this season is that with Gomez and Van Dijk out with long-term injuries, the young full-back does not have top-level players alongside him at the back to guide him through games with their leadership and tendency to compensate for his shortcomings.

Perhaps more worryingly from Alexander-Arnold’s perspective, he is looking far less effective as an attacking outlet. He has registered a disappointing (by his standards) four Premier League assists, while his distribution has frequently been poor.

It is obvious Alexander-Arnold is an exceptionally talented player — he would not have achieved all he has at such a young age were it not the case.

But at the moment, perhaps more than any other player in a Liverpool team that has generally misfired in recent months, he appears to be suffering from a significant lack of confidence, an issue that will be readily exposed at the top level.

Having gone from being talked up as the world’s best full-back, he looks in serious danger of missing the Euros, admittedly due in part to England’s abundance of riches at right-back.

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It’s certainly hard to argue with Southgate’s decision to omit him from the Three Lions’ squad recently, and he will need a serious upturn in form in the last few matches of the season if he is to convince the England manager to perform a U-turn ahead of this summer’s tournament.

Yet purely from a Liverpool perspective, the player may benefit from being left out for a few matches. The Madrid display was the culmination of a series of sub-par performances, rather than an anomaly, and now that he is in his fifth season of Premier League football, people forget he is still a young player with plenty of room for improvement in his game.

Injury problems earlier this season did not help matters, nor will the extremely strenuous playing schedule he has had to endure over the past 12 months.

Class is permanent though, and so it would be foolish to bet against Alexander-Arnold ultimately overcoming this rough patch and rediscovering his past heights.

Upcoming Premier League fixtures:

Friday

Fulham v Wolves (20.00)

Saturday

Man City v Leeds (12.30)
Liverpool v Aston Villa (15.00)
Crystal Palace v Chelsea (17.30)

Sunday

Burnley v Newcastle (12.00)
West Ham v Leicester City (14.05)
Tottenham v Man United (16.30)
Sheffield United v Arsenal (19.00)

Monday

West Brom v Southampton (18.00)
Brighton v Everton (20.15)

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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