Liverpool, England – Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Simply mention the Liverpool defender’s name to spark a torrent of opinions on the strengths and weaknesses – and the best position – of the world’s best right-back, or more than exaggeration, depending on your point of view. Liverpool’s 3-2 win over AC Milan in the opening match of the Champions League group stage was the night when both teams provided all the evidence they needed to support their argument.
Alexander-Arnold had some great moments, including a curling shot that kept Fikayo Tomori off Liverpool’s first goal, and he had some bad moments, when he stopped Milan to enable Milan to score twice in quick succession before the break. One minute he was tearing up the right side, causing Milan defenders, but the next day he was running back to his position as the Italians repeatedly found space under their left with Alexander-Arnold chasing the shadows behind them.
In many ways, it was fun to watch. Alexander-Arnold is such an outstanding athlete that he was usually able to get back to where he needed to be, in time. But at some point, he has to eliminate the flaws that still give many of his critics ammunition with which to criticize his flaws and invoke his flaws.
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If we take Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi out of the equation, and the endless debate among the super-loyal fan bases of the two soccer stars, it would be hard to find any player as fiercely divided as the 22-year-old. Who is undoubtedly a very crucial element in the Liverpool squad led by Jurgen Klopp. Alexander-Arnold is less of a concern for England manager Gareth Southgate, who dropped the Champions League champions from his side earlier this year and then used him in midfield during the last World Cup qualifier against Andorra.
But the diametrically opposed positions taken by Klopp and Southgate perfectly sum up the Alexander-Arnold controversy. On the one hand, he’s a treacherous winger whose right-footed shot is among the strongest in the world’s game, but on the other hand, he’s a defender who goes nonstop a lot for a player whose primary role is, well, defending.
There were at least six key moments in this vibrant showdown in the second set that showed the good and the bad for Alexander-Arnold.
On the positive side of the ledger, there was an intrusion in the ninth minute of a Milan penalty and a low shot, which passed over goalkeeper Mike Minnian to score the first goal. Then there was the Alexander-Arnold cross of copyright from which Joel Matip went straight into Mignan’s hand.
In the second half, he hit a corner kick near the post, with a bad header from Ismail bin Nasser, which led to Jordan Henderson’s victory for Liverpool. Alexander-Arnold also saved a shot from 20 yards and started to move as Mohamed Salah – who saved a penalty in the first half – made it 2-2 at the start of the second half.
But on the other hand, Milan’s two goals came from the Alexander-Arnold stadium area. Initially, Ante Rebic lost, giving the Croatia striker space for a tie in the match. Two minutes later, Alexander-Arnold was caught halfway, leaving Rebic and target Brahim Diaz to aggregate in second for Milan. And after just a minute of helping him score Henderson’s goal, Alexander-Arnold Rebic lost again, and goalkeeper Alisson only escaped the embarrassment of his streak to deny the Milan striker.
It was crazy sometimes. Massive highs and lows within seconds of each other. But for Liverpool at least, Alexander-Arnold’s strengths far outweigh his weaknesses.
Liverpool’s victory in the Champions League in 2019, and then the English Premier League title a year later, is often attributed to his attacking qualities. In his day, he was really unstoppable.
Because his defensive ability is not in the same league as his offensive game, though, debate rages over his best position now.
Southgate thinks he could be in the midfield, while former England captain Gary Lineker has found himself embroiled in a Twitter spat with former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher over the same subject. Lineker suggested that his attacking power and passing range would be best used in midfield, with Carragher saying he’s been playing up front so far that he’s already a central midfielder, but he’s a more valuable player on the right.
In the meantime, Klopp does not doubt his best role: “Why would you make the best right-back in the world a midfielder? I don’t really understand that.”
But it can be argued that Alexander-Arnold is now a player without a specific position. Against Milan, and whenever he’s been playing for Liverpool, he’s been playing on the right flank so much that it would be wrong to consider him a right-back, especially since he also drifts inland to midfield. Liverpool seemed to play with three defenses more often than not because the right-back – if that was him – was in the right-wing role.
We have strikers drifting through the offensive third. Alexander-Arnold is perhaps a new breed of defender who drifts up and down, inside and out, and you have to accept rough things with incontinence.
While he maintains impressive energy levels that allow him to cover a lot of ground forward and back, Alexander-Arnold will remain a player who will often be Liverpool’s heartthrob. When he’s in a song, they play in an attacking wave that makes them favorites to win the Champions League.
But when he loses focus and finds himself out of position 30 or 40 yards away, Liverpool become weaker, weaker and prone to conceding a lot against their fellow Champions League rivals – which is why the Alexander-Arnold controversy will continue long after this win. against Milan.
But one thing is for sure: Klopp and Liverpool love him the way he is. As for who are on the other side of the argument? Well, don’t expect them to change anytime soon either.