Trent Alexander-Arnold is one of the best right-backs in the world of football, and possibly one of the greatest the Premier League has ever witnessed. So for all the extremities that he accomplishes in attack, it becomes very normal for fan-bases across the globe to try and poke holes in his game and conjure up reasons that go against his greatness.Embed from Getty Images
In some ways, the criticism surrounding his lack of defensive awareness at vital moments is valid. In more ways, it’s also over-hypothesized and unnecessarily scrutinized, to the extent that some claims become completely unfounded. In this analysis, we come to the defense of Trent Alexander-Arnold, while also providing evidence for the multiple layers that exist in his game. We illustrate the Liverpool fullback to be far from a perfect player 100% of the time, but someone who accomplishes more than enough in all phases of the game to warrant a starting birth at one of the world’s greatest teams. Here is our analysis.
ATTACKING BRILLIANCEEmbed from Getty Images
Trent Alexander-Arnold has made a name for himself as an attack-minded fullback, capable of whipping in crosses and creating chances to tremendous effect from that wide right position. He frequently gallivants up the pitch to overlap Mohamed Salah, but can also create from deeper, in an ‘Inverted Fullback‘ role.
Such is the quality and precision of his technique, Trent is often a key springer of attacks in transition, and a set-piece specialist behind many famous goals.
A Liverpool side without Trent Alexander-Arnold would simply be less effective, both in possession, and in creating chances in the final third. He provides a different threat level to 99% of the fullbacks worldwide, and that consistently shows up in the stats. He’s surpassed 10 assists in three of his last four seasons (12, 13, 7, 12), and created chances to a level on par with the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes. The start of Trent’s rise at Liverpool saw a whole host of tactical writers speaking about the rise of ‘attack minded fullbacks’, to which the Brit signified the persona better than anyone else before him – even in his early-twenties.Embed from Getty Images
This season, possibly out of a result of the criticism coming his way, Trent’s assist-making powers have become less potent. He’s making his way up the pitch to a lesser extent, staying more in that ‘inverted fullback’ role that allows him to facilitate passes from deep. With several different factors playing a part, the 24-year-old fullback is currently seeing out a career-low in xA (0.11 per 90) and in the slightly more important stat – actual assists (0.00).
But in that deep-lying role, he’s posting up his best ever numbers in passes into the final third (8.25), progressive passes (10.5), and passes into the penalty area (4.6). This is both a positive and a drawback for the Reds. While it speaks to his magnificence on the ball to spread the play and express his artistic awareness of space, it also speaks to a sense of wastefulness in possession to thrust the ball forward.
Speaking to the positives first, Alexander-Arnold’s exceptional long-range passing allows him to immediately break an opposition’s defensive press in Liverpool’s build-up, freeing up a striker to chase down a loose ball. It also allows him to hit nice diagonal switches of play, forcing the opposition to quickly shuffle across in their defensive stance.
From this deeper, reserved position, he can even thread the needle through gaps in the opposition’s defense, playing the type of line-breaking passes normally associated with a deep-lying playmaker in midfield.
When these precision passes come off, they completely undo an opposition’s defense, and offer variety into Liverpool’s attacking play. At the same time, in his desire to go long, sometimes these passes can be wasteful. For someone that attempts 30.6 long passes per 90 (the most in the Premier League), you’d expect a heightened number of key passes and assists to follow. But that hasn’t been the case. Sometimes these simply aren’t the right passes to create chances, even if they do set a forward like Darwin Núñez or Mohamed Salah away. I’d even hazard to guess that Alexander-Arnold has accumulated the most passes gobbled up by a goalkeeper this season, out of his incessant desire to spray passes into the penalty area from deep. But again, it’s not all bad.
Other times, his teammates lack the touch or timing of movement to meet his precision. Few other players in the world can pass the ball like the 24-year-old, and his technique will eventually allow the Liverpool man to fall into old habits. Known for that wicked right-foot, Trent even has the underrated ability to cross the ball magnificently well with both feet. For now, even if he’s not assisting goals, Darwin Núñez’s ‘Target Man’-like characteristics will continue to add a different dimension to Liverpool’s attack, and allow the best to come out of Trent’s progressive long passing.
Trent Alexander-Arnold hasn’t lost his step, and his positive number of crosses and key passes still speaks to a fullback who endeavours to get up and down the wing for fun. In fact, few other fullbacks in the league can compete with his numbers, even now, at a time when he’s evidently not playing his best football. He will continue to create those wide-right overloads with Henderson and Salah, and eventually, the assists will come.
DEFENSIVE AWARENESSEmbed from Getty Images
If anyone wanted to call into question Trent’s brilliance from an attacking perspective this season, we hope to have been able to shed some light as to why that might be unfounded. Nevertheless, most of the criticism that comes his way happens on the defensive end, where he’s often caught ball-watching or out of sorts in handling a runner in behind. It’s easy to pinpoint a countless number of examples of this and use it as a justification for Trent’s lack of defensive awareness. Even just today, you could make the argument that the Liverpool man should have shaped up his body positioning differently to not allow Gabriel Martinelli to receive so openly in space, without any chance of the fullback recovering.
But there are positive aspects to his defensive play too. If not, why would one of the greatest managers of this generation persist in playing him as a fullback? He’s not completely inept from a defensive perspective, and in fact, he’s quite an energetic presser.
It’s easy to focus on all the times where he’s made defensive mistakes in his own third. It’s more difficult to focus on all the good that he brings in supporting the intensity Jürgen Klopp wants from his players right from the very front. As soon as his opposition wing-back/fullback receives the ball, Trent readies himself to be on the player in a flash. He’s great in immediately closing down players receiving with their back to goal, and rarely over-extends himself in challenges.
His pressure percentage of 41.5% this season bests most fullbacks in the league. Admittedly, that is partially down to his team’s brilliance in the press. That can be further exemplified by the fact that only Tsimkas has a lower pressure percentage than him of Liverpool defenders to start this season (41.2%). Even at that, Trent excels in the team structures in place, making opposition players quiver in their boots and frequently resort to backwards passes.
If he can just continue to work on arching his runs to angle players wide, Trent will be a more successful presser, who doesn’t have to rely on speed and intensity to combat forward passes. He can easily be done by a dummy when flying into these situations, and that will leave his entire wide channel exposed when beaten.
It’s also worth restating the obvious that his high or inverted position in the attack often means his wide channel can be naturally exposed in defense. This is an inevitable facet of his play that Joel Matip must be ready to contend with, and fortunately, the Cameroonian defender is excellent in his 1v1 battles.
But positively, his dynamism and mobility often allows the 24-year-old to cover ground quickly and recover position. It’s one of the hallmarks of his aggressive pressing, but can even be seen in quickly shifting across to defend the wide area on a switch play. He’s excellent in galloping back in transition to stop quick attacks, and this is often how he spikes high in interceptions (1.9) and recoveries (13.0) – both decent amounts for an attack-minded player in a possession-based side.
It’s also worth noting that sometimes that inverted position even helps him in transition, allowing him greater ease of access to quickly counter-press and win back possession for his team.
Even in those 1v1 duels, you’d still back him 2/3 of the time (67.6% in actual fact), and that’s not a bad ratio to have in a defender. Just because Aleksandar Mitrović climbs over top of him to score a header, or Leandro Trossard bamboozles him with a bit of skill, it doesn’t mean that the Brit is a poor defender. As our friend of the site Aaron Moniz rightly pointed out on that opening day goal, name a defender who wouldn’t falter in the same manner.
This is where the criticism of his game often becomes overdone. Alexander-Arnold makes more vital mistakes in positioning and body stance than the average world class fullback, but that’s again compared on a scale of world-class fullbacks. If fans and pundits would start scanning for all that he does well in defense, they’d see a player who aggressively presses from the front, and excellently retreats in transition to make vital interceptions.
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Trent Alexander-Arnold is a player with many layers. He’s exceptional in attack, and despite what some stats experts will tell you when they scrutinize over xA, Trent is still creating chances for fun, and crossing the ball into the penalty area at a rate that will eventually see his assist numbers spike. His deep-lying role also means he’s playing more progressive passes, and serves as a partial explanation to his lack of true attacking potency this season.Embed from Getty Images
When it comes to the defensive side of the game, Trent accomplishes a few different facets of the game better than most will give him credit for (defensive transitions and pressing phases in particular), while evidently still lacking that true defensive awareness to cope with the top percentage of exceptional footballers in the world. That’s what we’re dealing with in the Premier League, but criticism of Trent Alexander-Arnold remains overblown, and often unfounded. In reality, he’s a magnificent footballer, that few others in his position can even come close to touching.
So there it is! An analysis of Trent Alexander-Arnold in 2022-23. Be sure to check out more of our Player Analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite and @desmondrhys. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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