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Trent Alexander-Arnold

Liverpool, 2016–

There are so many strengths to Liverpool’s sensational title-winning team of 2019/20 that it is difficult to stand out, but Trent Alexander-Arnold did so, playing a hugely influential role from right-back. There are few who better demonstrate the evolving role of the full-back than Alexander-Arnold and their left-back Andy Robertson.

Alexander-Arnold grew up playing in midfield, and that past has contributed to the fact he might 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. Despite playing in defence, with a total of 13 Alexander-Arnold finished 2019/20 second to Kevin De Bruyne in the Premier League’s assist charts, just ahead of Robertson’s 12. For the second successive season Alexander-Arnold made it into double figures for goals created – a feat never before achieved by a defender in the Premier League era.

Tactical analysis
Alexander-Arnold’s most impressive trait is his crossing ability. The quality of his technique means he is capable of providing a variety of deliveries into the penalty area, and that he often looks to find a specific teammate.

The speed at which he releases the ball is as crucial – most of those he attempts come from his first or second touch – as the speed of the delivery itself. His crosses particularly test opposing defences, often when they are retreating towards their own goal and tracking the clever 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, and he tends not to sacrifice the quality of delivery.

His crossing from open play is as threatening as those he produces from dead balls. He can cross from deeper positions, and if the opposing defence drop off to anticipate his delivery, he is just as capable of switching play to Robertson in space on the left.

When an opposing midfield is set up to limit how much Liverpool can progress in the wider areas, Alexander-Arnold instead looks for a teammate infield. He is less devastating when the pitch is kept narrow than he is when targeting a teammate in the area from wide (above), but he has already progressed at such a speed that it is only natural he will have to improve some areas of his game.

Role at Liverpool
Alexander-Arnold is so consistently capable of getting into a position to cross because of the accurate passes he receives from his Liverpool teammates. He often bypasses opposing midfields, simply moving forward around them, because he can get into advanced positions in the knowledge that he is likely to receive a pass.

Those passes, mostly attempted by the right-sided central defender, single pivot or right-sided central midfielder – most commonly Joe Gomez, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson – encourage him to provide his team’s width and a passing option in behind his opposing winger (above). Opposing defences are naturally preoccupied with the threats Jürgen Klopp’s team pose in central areas – chiefly through Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané – and focus on preventing passes to those players.

Firmino makes runs into deeper positions which forces defenders to consider following him; Salah and Mané push their opponents back. Liverpool’s opponents have a significant amount to contend with even before Alexander-Arnold advances.

When Firmino withdraws into one of the inside channels and one of Liverpool’s attacking midfielders moves into the other – which usually occupies two of their four midfield opponents – Alexander-Arnold is invited to advance beyond them. If Liverpool encounter a midfield or back five he adjusts to make more direct runs deeper into opposition territory, where he is targeted by aerial balls over the relevant defensive block.

The difficulty involved in producing a more traditional cross in those circumstances – as is also the case after switches of play from Robertson – means Alexander-Arnold 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 Keïta – and with a wider starting position, he draws the opposing winger towards him before delivering around the defending full-back towards a teammate – usually Salah – making a forward run in the channel or disguising balls back into the inside channel (above).

When further numbers arrive to overload the right inside channel, Alexander-Arnold often capitalises by discreetly advancing as the third man into the territory from which he relishes crossing. In all circumstances he represents a reliable solution to Liverpool’s attempts to overcome stubborn defences – as his incredible assist numbers at the highest level prove.

Trent Alexander-Arnold

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