Trent Alexander-Arnold paradox gives meaning to Klopp’s Liverpool | liverpool
OWith 67 minutes spent in a blustery Etihad Stadium, an afternoon that swayed like a heeling ship on a spring tide, Trent Alexander-Arnold could be seen twirling and slamming high up the pitch on Liverpool’s right flank, a place he occupied for much of the afternoon.
Eventually his cross was cut off by a foot from the city. Kevin De Bruyne, who produced the perfect pass for Raheem Sterling to come up the field.
Sterling ran along Liverpool’s right flank, then stopped, twirled, stopped again, ousted now by two red shirts. One of them was Alexander-Arnold himself, backing off with that stubborn style, even looking at full speed as a man trotting along the beach with a surfboard under his arm. As the ball rolled out of play, Alexander-Arnold doubled over and clutched his knees, chest heaving, the end of another episode in his own high stakes game of risk and reward.
By the end of that 2-2 draw, Liverpool’s right defensive playmaker had scored a goal, nearly scored several more, passed the ball with wonderful momentum and at other times looked like an open wound on the right, isolated by a well. -plan executed by Pep Guardiola.
No doubt the whole Alexander-Arnold methodology will be reviewed again. It has become a truism to mumble darkly about his defense, as if by allowing this monster, this defensive refusalnik to even take the field, Jürgen Klopp somehow revealed to the world his blindness, his tactical illiteracy.
The internet says that Alexander-Arnold can’t defend – and not just that he can’t defend, that his defense is a kind of outrage, a societal toxin. The truth is not only in the middle, but much more interesting. How do you solve a problem like Trent? The response to that is a blank stare, a shrug. What problem are we talking about exactly?
Better perhaps imagine a Liverpool team where the right-back sits, covers and blocks space. Because the current one, that Klopp machine that forged the era, is built to a surprising degree around that balance of risk and creativity on the right. It was all presented here in a beautifully open and beautifully flawed game of elite club football, which in many ways seemed to center around the Liverpool right-back.
Guardiola deserves credit for taking the game this way. Here the City manager was on his feet from minute one, prowling his chalk rectangle, throwing off his quilted Dalek coat, the better to twist his arms in a series of strange geometric shapes, seeing space, angles, intersections, a man trying to grasp the day in his hands.
From those opening moments, City did something simple, playing a series of long, flat, diagonal passes into space behind Liverpool’s full-backs. By half-time, the four defenders had produced 18. Both of City’s first-half goals came from quick wide movements, finding that loose, undefined space in the lines between centre-half and full-back. In the end, City had created enough chances this way to win the game comfortably enough with a competent finish.
They should have scored that way four minutes into the game, then taken the lead moments later, De Bruyne’s shot deflecting Joël Matip. It took 10 minutes for Liverpool to equalise. It was a nice goal delivered by Andy Robertson’s delicious chipped pass to the back post, where Alexander-Arnold was in place to provide a touch of velum and stuffed with goose feathers in the way of Diogo Jota, who did not had only to relax in the net.
It was a finely crafted goal. And more than that, a moment of pure, bright Liverpool full-back, kind of an overt goal, a moment that said, yes, we’re really going to keep doing this, being fully ourselves, supercharging our own strengths, you dare to overcome our weaknesses.
At half-time, Liverpool trailed 2-1. City’s passing and movement was thrillingly precise. Near the pitch, you could hear the clips, thumps and pings, like the heartwarming rat-a-tat of an electric sewing machine stitching the game, day in place.
How to react, how to close this space on the flanks? How do you protect those sick full-backs? The most interesting part of the game was Klopp’s response. What had to be done: nothing. In fact, to ask for more: more aggression, more dizziness, more and better high-risk full-back play.
Less than a minute into the second half, Alexander-Arnold was already high up the pitch, channeling the ball in one motion to find Mo Salah in space. His cross was sent high into the net by Sadio Mané.
Three times in that second half, Alexander-Arnold was the most advanced man for Liverpool. Just as much, he was back covering in extremis. No doubt there will be damning video segments in the post-game playbook, the Spotlight of Doom.
It is of course its role, to move forward, to make a difference, the only real anomaly in this brilliantly constructed team-system. This relaxation is inscribed in his game, not just freedom, but the obligation to act as a playmaker, a wandering brain, a note of creative imagination.
Afternoons like this present the paradox of Trent: a player so unusual, so sui generis that it still seems inconceivable that Gareth Southgate would find him a place in his England meat-and-potatoes team; but good enough to come to champions and provide its own unique illuminating notes.