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Trent Alexander-Arnold

Premier League Player of the Month, December 2019

If Liverpool remain on course for an even more successful season than their 2018/19 campaign, so does their influential right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold. There is perhaps no individual who provides a better demonstration of the evolving role of the full-back in modern football; it is perhaps injuries to Alexander-Arnold and left-back Andy Robertson that Liverpool can least afford.

That the 21-year-old once favoured playing in midfield has no doubt contributed much to the fact he might even be the world’s most technically gifted right-back since Dani Alves, who was once so essential – and provided similar qualities to Alexander-Arnold – to Pep Guardiola’s outstanding Barcelona team. During December, the England international contributed to his club winning their first ever Club World Cup, and in the Premier League – at what could have been a testing time for their title challenge – he scored one goal, created three others and contributed to three clean sheets as they won five from five. Their 4-0 victory at Leicester was inspired by him complementing two assists with one superb strike of his own.

“It’s a proud moment,” he said of being named the competition’s player of the month for December, ahead of fellow nominees Emiliano Buendía, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Kevin De Bruyne, Ben Foster, Danny Ings, Jamie Vardy and Adama Traoré. “We’ve had a good month as a team.”

Tactical analysis
It is Alexander-Arnold’s crossing ability that most impresses, above all else. The quality of the technique he is capable of providing to a variety of deliveries – often to complement the runs and movements of his teammates – is among Europe’s best. The speed of his releases is also often as crucial – most of those he attempts come from his first or second touch – as the speed of the delivery itself, and they therefore particularly test opposing defences, often when they are retreating towards their own goal or tracking the runs of Liverpool’s front three.

Even when he delays until after taking a touch – most commonly to control an aerial ball – the time between touches is minimal. This often leads to a quality of delivery that is as impressive as those he produces from dead balls and from deeper positions, where he is increasingly switching play to Robertson. Further passes are also being used towards teammates in central positions, before they reach the final third.

Opposing midfields are often organised to limit combinations in wider areas, so when they do Liverpool instead build attacks infield. They are yet to match the accuracy of those he attempts when targeting a teammate in the penalty area (above), but he has so far progressed at such a speed that they can be expected to soon do so.

Role at Liverpool
Alexander-Arnold is so consistently capable of attempting crosses from the areas in which he is most comfortable because of the accurate passes he receives from those around him at Liverpool. He often bypasses opposing midfields, instead advancing around them, because he can run forward in the knowledge that he is likely to receive.

Those passes, mostly attempted by the right-sided central defender, single pivot or right-sided central midfielder – most commonly and respectively Joe Gomez, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson – invite him to provide width and a passing option in behind his opposing winger (above). Opposing defences often prioritise negating the threats Jürgen Klopp’s team pose in central areas by attempting to prevent passes to the front three, or by following the varying movements offered by Roberto Firmino.

When the Brazilian withdraws into one of the inside channels and a number eight adopts the other, ultimately occupying both the opposing wide midfielder and central midfielder, Alexander-Arnold is invited to advance and receive beyond them. If Liverpool instead encounter a five-strong midfield or defence, he adjusts to make more direct runs, with which he is targeted by aerial balls over the relevant defensive block.

If it is more difficult to produce a more traditional cross in those circumstances – as is also the case after switches of play from Robertson – he will instead use his range of passing and his ability to break lines. Complemented by a more proactive number eight – perhaps Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Naby Keita – with a wider starting position, he often draws the opposing winger before delivering around the defending full-back towards those making forward runs, or disguising balls back into the inside channel (above) to contribute to the build.

When further numbers arrive to overload the right inside channel, Alexander-Arnold often capitalises by discreetly advancing as the third man, and into the territory from which he relishes playing the ball. Via either method, he represents a reliable solution to Liverpool’s attempts to overcome a determined defence – as witnessed by the fact only Manchester City’s De Bruyne has made more assists so far this season.

Trent Alexander-Arnold

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