I ended up in a Twitter ‘conversation’ with two rival fans last week.
It started when I tweeted about Trent Alexander-Arnold being a generational talent and my astonishment that Southgate had left him out of his latest England squad.
A West Ham fan couldn’t fathom the idea that Trent could be a player that England build their team around. ‘He’s a right-back,’ was the cry.
Meanwhile a Manchester United fan didn’t rate Trent either. I know, imagine my shock. ‘He can’t defend’ was the clichéd accusation. The Manc then told me that my opinion didn’t count for anything as he has a coaching badge so he knows best.
At that point I ended the conversation by wishing West Ham and England well.
I wished England well but in all honesty I couldn’t care less. I’m not from Liverpool so I can’t claim to be Scouse not English. My apathy towards England isn’t due to my sense of belonging, affinity or loyalty that I have for the city. For me, growing up as a Liverpool fan in the 90’s, I just couldn’t bring myself to cheer on Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and co.
Since then, with the Eng-ger-land culture, the championing in the media of certain players (Harry Kane being the latest) and the fact that most of my current heroes play for Holland, Brazil, Scotland, Egypt, Senegal etc, I’m just really not that arsed about the Three Lions.
Saying all that, I’m gutted for Trent. It matters to players. They have ambitions to be the best and Trent’s spoken openly about his targets and aims for club and country.
To then not be selected. I imagine there’s a sense of embarrassment for the lad.
There needn’t be.
Although Trent’s form has unquestionably dipped this season, the biggest factor in his omission is Southgate’s continuing selection of his favourites.
Trippier is Southgate’s boy. The England boss claimed Trent wasn’t picked due to poor recent performances. This may be, but due to his ban for betting irregularities, Trippier didn’t play a single game between January 7th and March 10th – how’s that for form?
Good form or not, Southgate turning down the opportunity to work with Trent’s exceptional talent seems short-sighted. However England’s loss is very much Liverpool’s gain.
No chance of him getting injured on international duty.
No chance of him wasting two weeks having to put up with Jesse Lingard’s top bantz.
Instead, Trent gets 20 days to rest and work at Kirby on the plans Klopp can put in place to help get him back to his standing as best full-back in the world.
Because that’s what he is.
Despite the West Ham fan’s mockery , Trent is a generational talent. ‘You can’t build a team around a full-back’. Yeah but most full-backs can’t do what he can. His passing and control of tempo; his ability to switch play and his Beckham-esque crossing style; his energy and bravery on the ball all set him apart.
I described Trent’s role against Sheffield United earlier this month as playing quarterback and number 10 at the same time. His offensive performance against Leipzig was world-class. He dominated that first leg, and yes Harry-the-Hammer, from right-back.
Trent has struggled as much as any Liverpool player this season. His lack of pre-season due to a Covid diagnosis, followed by the calf-injury sustained in October made sure he had no rhythm in the latter half of 2020.
Then losing both of his centre-backs, his covering right-sided midfielder and his defensive midfielder meant a different role for the buccaneering full-back.
He has more mitigating circumstances than most. And his form dipped accordingly.
14 assists in all comps last season has turned into only five this. Without Virgil or Matip serving as the aerial threat at corners and Trent’s deeper position from open-play this season, has led to fewer chances being created and ultimately, fewer assists.
It’s well-documented however that Liverpool stubbornly stuck to their same style. As form and confidence disappeared, aimless cross after aimless cross seemed to be the only option the Reds had left. And the media were all-to-happy to lay the blame at the feet of the 22 year-old.
January was a tough time.
First he got hooked against Southampton, with rival fans revelling as Sky pointed out that no player lost possession more in a single game this season. Then followed the Burnley game, losing at Anfield for the first time in 4 years and being unable to play a simple 10-yard pass to a team-mate. Followed by Gary Neville gleefully pointing out Trent’s weakness at allowing that world-class winger Raheem Sterling to cut inside him.
Yeah ,January wasn’t great.
But since then there have been signs of improvement and I’d argue that only Mo Salah (yet another ‘only Salah’ comparison) has played better over the last six weeks than Trent.
Sheffield United and RB Leipzig, I’ve already mentioned. At Wolves he kept the dangerous Pedro Neto silent all game. Against City, I thought he actually did alright too. He was our best player in the derby and only conceded the penalty on account of having a head on top of his shoulders for Calvert-Lewin to boot. Spurs away he got a goal and an assist. And his class was evident the moment he stepped onto the pitch in the ultimately-fruitless match against Fulham.
He’s top for expected-assists from right-back this season and second behind Aaron Wan-Bissaka for dribbled-past rate out of his fellow right-backs too. Yes, Trent may get caught further up the field at times, but his one-on-one defending has come on leaps and bounds.
He’ll be the first to tell you that there are areas of his game that he needs to work on. But to any Liverpool fan or neutral observer it is clear that Trent is a player that will define his position and his generation for years to come.
A player that will inspire and drive Liverpool to successes in much the same way that Steven Gerrard did 15 years earlier.
And, much like they did with Gerrard, if England don’t realise what they have on their hands and choose to marginalise Trent for lesser-talented players then their quest for a trophy will surely continue beyond its current 55 years.