In Focus: Trent's fine Reds form puts him right-back in England mix
Liverpool got their title challenge back on track with a 4-0 dismantling of Arsenal on Saturday evening.
After dropping points against Brighton and West Ham prior to the international break, the Reds returned to their free-flowing best against the in-form Gunners — and a familiar face stole the show once again.
Trent Alexander-Arnold laid on two glorious assists from right-back in a brilliant performance that has quickly become the norm for the 23-year-old.
We take a closer look at how the Merseysiders’ hometown hero continues to dazzle and ask whether he can finally establish himself as England’s first-choice right-back in the coming months.
Alexander-Arnold is the epitome of a modern-day full-back, frequently making headlines for his offensive output rather than more traditional defensive duties.
The star pupil of his age group in the Reds’ famed Kirkby-based academy, his first-team debut against Tottenham in late 2016 saw him catch the eye with several lung-busting forward runs.
By his second start, Alexander Arnold had registered a first assist — and that would be a telling sign of what was to come.
Since becoming a first-team regular at the start of the 2018-19 season, the right-back has directly set up a staggering 38 goals in 113 Premier League outings.
To put that number into context, Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne has 34 top-flight assists in the same period, while his Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah only has 31.
Rarely has a full-back even been in the conversation to be considered the division’s creator-in-chief — but Alexander-Arnold is proving to be different from the norm.
Those impressive numbers have led to Alexander-Arnold being a popular topic of debate among the game’s leading pundits.
Former England striker Gary Lineker caused a stir earlier this season by suggesting that the Liverpool star would be best deployed in a midfield role to properly utilise his outstanding technical ability.
Lineker, speaking on the Match of the Day podcast last month, said: "His passing range is extraordinary.
"I think Andrea Pirlo said that the one thing missing from England is a player like Pirlo, and I think Trent could be that.
"He can pass from both ways in the middle of the pitch. I might be wrong, but it was interesting to see Gareth Southgate try it — and he was good."
That suggestion was rubbished by Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher however, with the ex-Reds defender seeing no need to tamper with something that is not broken.
Asked whether a midfield trial was wise, Carragher said: "No. Full-backs get more of the ball than anyone and a bit more time on it to pick out their passes.
"The way [Jurgen] Klopp sets up he’s virtually a midfielder in possession anyway. The amount of assists he gets means it would be mad to change his position."
The perfect system
Given he spent much of his youth playing in central midfield, Lineker’s suggestion is not as far-fetched as it may seem.
However, much of Alexander-Arnold’s success going forward can indeed be attributed to the expansive system employed by his club boss Jurgen Klopp.
In the German’s 4-3-3, inverted full-backs are urged forward at every possible opportunity with the aim of getting beyond their wingers and offering themselves as a constant attacking outlet.
What is more, with the colossal Virgil van Dijk and an industrious midfield trio more than willing to cover gaps, Alexander-Arnold and fellow full-back Andy Robertson can bomb forward with almost free will.
It means that the talented playmaker can enjoy a level of freedom in his attacking play that he simply would not get in the middle of the park.
Clearly the player is aware of that fact himself, telling the BBC recently: "I've always enjoyed right-back as there is a lot more freedom going forward. It's a lot more chaotic in the middle."
Though the assist king is rightly one of the first names on his club’s team sheet, his place in England’s starting XI remains far less assured.
While injury kept him out of this summer’s delayed Euro 2020 tournament, last week’s 10-0 rout of San Marino marked only a second start from 10 World Cup qualifiers.
With Kyle Walker, Reece James and Kieran Trippier also competing for the Three Lions’ right-back berth, Southgate possesses an embarrassment of riches in that area of the pitch.
However, the real issue for Alexander-Arnold is that the England boss places nowhere near as much emphasis on his full-backs’ forward output as Klopp does.
Asked what he wants of his full-backs earlier this month, Southgate explained: "They have to defend well, first and foremost.
"That’s the bedrock of our team and we’ve only conceded five goals in 18 matches, so defensively we’ve not been doing a lot wrong.
"If then we’ve got good quality with the ball as well and we can create chances, then that’s an added bonus."
Force his hand
As a boyhood Liverpool fan, it is hard to envisage the popular Scouser ever leaving Anfield — certainly while things are going so well.
Title tilts and Champions League adventures with his beloved Reds look assured for many years to come, so Alexander-Arnold’s biggest challenge may well be conquering the international stage.
Indeed, Alexander-Arnold admitted to ITV Sport last week that making the Qatar 2022 squad was one of his top priorities.
If his goal involvements for Liverpool continue to flow, it will be very hard for Southgate to overlook him for England’s March international clashes.
Whether he can ever make the Three Lions' right-back spot his own though remains anyone’s guess.