Trent Alexander-Arnold didn’t even get nominated for the Premier League Player of the Month award in April, which is quite frankly ridiculous.
The 24-year-old registered the most assists, most passes into the opposition box and most possessions won of any player in the country. He also registered the most passes full-stop, through-balls and touches. That’s incredible.
But since Trent has moved into his inverted fullback role, he’s been running the show for a Liverpool side that has won seven on the bounce.
When Liverpool have the ball, and since the formation change we’ve had it a lot, Trent has sat in a midfield double-pivot with Fabinho, given the ball whenever in space. Upon turnovers, he’s not been expected to cover the right-back spot immediately, as Ibou Konate shuffles over, but when the opposition has sustained possession, Trent sits in at right-back in line with the back-four.
Now, he’s capable of it. He can do a job defensively. But the thing is, he clearly doesn’t want to anymore. His lackadaisical defending for large parts of this season cost us. It’s part of the reason we’re still unlikely to make the top four, despite our superb form. Trent at right-back wasn’t working because this is a player who sees himself as too much of an asset going forward to worry about the boring stuff.
And you know what? Fair play. He’s a genius. Nobody made Andrea Pirlo run to cover the right-back spot when AC Milan didn’t have the ball. Lukas Modric doesn’t have to head to the flank and defend against silky wingers. He’s too busy running the game from just behind the centre-circle. Dictating tempo, starting attacks. This may seem hyperbolic but Trent’s passing and vision is as good as the two legends just named. It’s as good as any other player on the planet. He is enjoying his new role so much – let’s take it one step further and let him sit in midfield for good.
So what needs to happen for this plan to come into fruition? Firstly, we need a top right-back. I love the idea of Joao Cancelo. Manchester City sold Zinchenko to Arsenal, but they would probably have more reservations about offloading the Portuguese to their biggest sporting rival. If he proves unattainable, and he likely will, maybe we can raid a relegated team for a more solid option, like Southampton’s Kyle-Walker Pieters or Leicester City’s Ricardo – or maybe we push the boat out and go all our for PSG’s Achraf Hakimi. This is all speculation of course, and the hope would be Liverpool would unearth a gem from somewhere like we did with Andy Robertson all those years ago.
A top right-back though would mean we’d probably only need two new central midfielders, rather than three, to cover for the departing Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita. Alexis Mac Allister and Mason Mount have been regularly linked for a no.8 role, but I’d hope a battling defensive midfielder is also brought in. We’ll need someone like that to cover for Trent in the middle of the park, as his weakness has been following runners and he isn’t especially quick. I’d love Moises Caicedo or Declan Rice, but Arsenal are closer to both.
Many will say that ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ but they said the same thing about Trent at right-back, and it undeniably broke. He doesn’t want to play there – and he’s too good to force him into roles that don’t naturally suit his assets. Remember, Trent was shoehorned into the team as a right-back because it was his best chance of minutes as a teenager. His entire youth career he was a creative midfielder, which obviously suits his traits.
What’s more, how we currently play relies entirely on Trent. He’s given the ball by the entire team and instructed to make things happen. If he missed a game now, it would feel tactically bizarre, as nobody else could play as an inverted fullback. We need a system where he is maximised but not so crucial as to our formation being useless without him.