Alexander-Arnold offers a reminder of where his qualities lie as Liverpool dispatch Rangers

By Sports Desk October 04, 2022

Gary Neville's in-depth analysis of Trent Alexander-Arnold on Sky Sports' Monday Night Football gained plenty of traction.

It might have been mistaken for criticism, had the former Manchester United defender not put so much onus on making it clear just how highly he rates Liverpool's right-back.

"No full-back that I've ever seen in this country can do what he can do," said Neville, after animatedly laying out where he believes Alexander-Arnold, who has been questioned amid Liverpool's underwhelming start to the season and was left out of Gareth Southgate's matchday squad for England's Nations League match against Germany last month, can improve.

"If he can get those consistency elements, we won't just have one of the best attacking right-backs this country has ever produced, we'll have probably the best right-back the world has ever produced, because this is a Cafu," Neville continued. "This is that level of full-back. This is something unbelievably special."

Special. It's a word used frequently when it comes to youngsters, especially those in England, often propelled to stardom not long after making their first-team debuts, only to be a target of overly harsh criticism if they fail to live up to spectacular heights every time they take to the field. In relation to Alexander-Arnold, however, "special" is a suitable adjective, and he showed why in Tuesday's all-British Champions League clash with Rangers.

Work to do...

Before the game, the 23-year-old – nurtured under Jurgen Klopp since making his debut in October 2016 – had created 467 chances, provided 60 assists and scored 14 goals in all competitions. The numbers, as Neville said, are "absolutely obscene".

Of course, it is not Alexander-Arnold's attacking that has ever been cast into doubt, but his work going the other way. Indeed, with Southgate a more conservative and, arguably, pragmatic, manager than Klopp, it is perhaps no real surprise why many see Alexander-Arnold's defending as the factor holding him back on the international stage.

Alexander-Arnold hardly helped his cause when the Premier League returned following the international break. He was arguably at least partly at fault for two of Leandro Trossard's three goals in Liverpool's 3-3 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday.

It is hard to argue a case, too, for his defending when stacked up against his competitors (primarily Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Reece James) for a place in England's side. 

He had been dribbled past on 218 occasions in his 236 Liverpool games before the Rangers fixture, a figure way clear of Trippier's 157, for example. 

Prior to Tuesday's game, Alexander-Arnold's duel success rate (47.3) failed to match the other three, who vary between 56.4 (James) and 58.8 (Trippier). He does boast a better tackle success percentage of 60.6, though it only ranks third out of the four (above Trippier).

But Alexander-Arnold, it must be remembered, has played a pivotal role in a side that has won every trophy available to them over the course of Klopp's tenure, as well as reaching two Champions League finals they lost.

Liverpool did not get where they are by leaking goals, and Alexander-Arnold has helped the Reds to 80 clean sheets (following Tuesday's match), a figure bettered only by Walker (91) since the youngster made his senior debut.

Unique selling point...

Perhaps, though, there is simply too much scrutiny on the defensive side of his game after all? Perhaps, despite Neville's warning of a "juncture" in Alexander-Arnold's career, it is time to simply enjoy the player he is, not what he should be or could be, especially when he is so far from what would be considered peak age.

It was Alexander-Arnold who, after an early barrage from the hosts at Anfield following a raucous welcome for two of Britain's biggest clubs, delivered a moment of quality few other players – never mind defenders, albeit Trippier is no stranger to a fine free-kick – are capable of on such a reliable basis.

When he stepped up to take a free-kick, just under 25 yards out from Rangers' goal, in the seventh minute, there was an air of expectation. Seconds later, the ball was nestling right in the left-hand corner, giving Allan McGregor – who went on to keep the scoreline respectable for the visitors – no chance. 

Curling in a sublime strike, his sixth direct free-kick goal for Liverpool, more than any other player in the Reds squad since the start of the 2016-17 season, might not answer questions about his defending, but was a timely reminder of the talent at Alexander-Arnold's disposal. It was his second Champions League goal, his first at Anfield in almost five years.

He was a menace throughout a first half Liverpool dominated with ease, teeing up a chance for Virgil van Dijk to head in a second with a sumptuous inswinging corner in the 28th minute and keeping fellow Liverpool academy graduate Ryan Kent quiet.

One loose pass into midfield did see him exposed just after the half-hour, though Rangers never looked likely to punish the mistake.

Seven minutes into the second half, Alexander-Arnold was on hand to recover a loose ball and feed Jordan Henderson, whose raking pass found Luis Diaz. The Colombian was bundled over in the box and Mohamed Salah made no mistake from the penalty spot. Game over, with Alexander-Arnold having played his part in both goals.

Liverpool could have made it more comfortable, Darwin Nunez particularly unfortunate, but bar a late run from Junior Fashion Sakala, Alexander-Arnold was not tested.

Alexander-Arnold finished with the most touches (96), a game-high 40 passes in the opposition half and joint-most tackles (four). A stoppage-time booking before he made way to a standing ovation from the Liverpool faithful was the only blemish on an otherwise spotless copybook.

He might not be perfect, and will face harder opponents than Rangers, especially when Liverpool visit the Etihad Stadium later this month, but is exceptional at what he excels at.

That, surely, is enough for now.

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