Image: Wikimedia Commons/Dudek1337
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Dudek1337

Trent Alexander-Arnold: how the “normal lad from Liverpool” revolutionalised the fullback position

“No one wants to grow up and be a ‘Gary Neville’!” Jamie Carragher’s playful remark on Monday Night Football in 2013 sent Neville into outlandish, self-deprecating laughter. In Neville’s great Manchester United side, there were many ‘superstar’ footballers and little recognition was given to the fullbacks.

The same cannot be said for Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is nothing short of adored by Liverpool fans and idolised by sports analysts. His attacking play and incredible range of passing with mesmeric accuracy has redefined the traditional role of the fullback.

Bleacher Report’s Paul Ansorge described Neville as “the embodiment of the dream of a United fan getting to play for the club”. Like Neville, Alexander-Arnold grew up around his local football club and fulfilled his dream of playing for them.

Both footballers understand the gravitas and the honour of playing for their prestigious boyhood clubs, out of which a fierce passion was established. Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp once said that “the dream is to have a team full of Scousers”, or at least those who share the same innate passion and determination for the club as Alexander-Arnold.

Alexander-Arnold made his first Premier League start in January 2017, following an injury that sidelined Nathaniel Clyne. After many strong performances that were characterised by his unrelenting willingness to join the attack and excellent decision making, Alexander-Arnold became Liverpool’s starting right-back in the 2017-18 season. Since then, he has only matured in his style of football and refined his unique playmaking skills.

Jamie Carragher is probably right: no one does want to grow up and be a Gary Neville, but there are definitely many young players who would like to be a Trent Alexander-Arnold

Under Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool continually play in a 4-3-3 formation. Yet, if we look at the team as having a right and a left side, Alexander-Arnold’s role in Klopp’s system becomes much more apparent.

With Mohamed Salah and Jordan Henderson usually positioned on the right side of the front line and midfield respectively, the players frequently interchange positions during attacking phases.

Of course, overlapping runs are hardly revolutionary, but Liverpool do it in a highly efficient and successful way.

As Salah moves more central to receive the ball, Alexander-Arnold moves onto the right wing to wait to play a cross into the box and Henderson covers his defensive duties. The Liverpool right-back’s expected Premier League assists this season is 10.4, which is extremely important for the team’s success.

The opposing attacker on the left side is forced to defend, creating a buildup of offensive pressure. This allows Liverpool to play high-intensity football without exerting a lot of energy.

The primary role of any fullback is to defend. Alexander-Arnold is not known for his defensive capabilities, but the notion that he cannot defend is ludicrous.

The Reds have kept a clean sheet in 62% of the games he has started. His tackle success rate of 57.9% and almost 10 ball recoveries per game in the 2020-21 season are further evidence of his capabilities, leaving Liverpool supporters puzzled as to why he is not favoured by Gareth Southgate for the England national team.

With Southgate’s side focalising around Harry Kane, to not start Alexander-Arnold at the World Cup despite his excellent attacking and defensive ability would be a bewildering and potentially costly decision.

After winning the Champions League in 2019, Trent described himself as “just a normal lad from Liverpool whose dream’s just come true”. His passion for his boyhood club and immeasurable infatuation with success mean that Liverpool and England fans, and enthusiasts of the sport in general, should be excited for the future of the position.

Trent Alexander-Arnold has reinterpreted the role of the fullback and pushed its normative offensive capabilities to the extreme. Jamie Carragher is probably right: no one does want to grow up and be a Gary Neville, but there are definitely many young players who would like to be a Trent Alexander-Arnold.

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