England 1-0 Austria: Saka strikes but Alexander-Arnold injury clouds Three Lions' win

By Sports Desk June 02, 2021

Trent Alexander-Arnold suffered a late injury as England stepped up Euro 2020 preparations with a 1-0 win over Austria that was secured by Bukayo Saka's first senior international goal.

Manager Gareth Southgate was shorn of the Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United players likely to be key at the upcoming tournament, and he fielded a relatively inexperienced team for Wednesday's friendly in Middlesbrough.

It was one of the youngsters to have made the final 26-man squad who proved decisive, Arsenal winger Saka tucking into an empty net early in the second half to mark his fifth Three Lions appearance with a maiden goal.

Yet the biggest moment came late on, when Alexander-Arnold – whose inclusion in the squad has been a hot topic – suffered an apparent muscular injury in inconspicuous circumstances, which will surely cast doubt over his availability for the tournament.

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  • Klopp looking forward to reading newspapers again as he concedes Liverpool criticism has been fair Klopp looking forward to reading newspapers again as he concedes Liverpool criticism has been fair

    Jurgen Klopp believes the criticism that has come Liverpool's way in recent weeks has been justified, as he quipped he is relishing the chance to read a newspaper again.

    Liverpool have had an underwhelming start to the season and sit ninth in the Premier League following Saturday's 3-3 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion.

    They bounced back in the Champions League on Tuesday, beating Rangers 2-0 at Anfield thanks to Trent Alexander-Arnold's free-kick and Mohamed Salah's penalty.

    Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor pulled off a string of excellent saves to keep the scoreline respectable, with Darwin Nunez frustrated in his search for a first Anfield goal, but the Reds got the job done with a minimum of fuss to claim a second straight win in Group A following their 2-1 defeat of Ajax last month.

    When it was put to him in his post-match news conference if Liverpool had used criticism of their performances as additional motivation, Klopp said with a smile: "I cannot wait for the moment when I can read newspapers again!"

    He continued: "No, I have no clue. The criticism was completely fine. We are not over the moon about our situation, let’s put it like this.

    "We've still been playing some really good games, it's not like [success] was 10 years ago. Champions League nights at Liverpool are always quite enjoyable, usually.

    "I don't think it had too much to do with the situation. I saw tonight a team fully committed, that's what I like about it."

    Captain Jordan Henderson, who started alongside Thiago Alcantara in a two-man midfield as Klopp tweaked his side's formation, told BT Sport: "It can be difficult. You try to not listen to social media especially when you go through a tough period as an individual or a team.

    "You've got to switch off the noise and focus on what you do day-to-day and stay focused on what we're trying to achieve as a team. That's not easy. It can hurt players at times but you've got to try and find a way to use it as fuel and energy on the pitch."

    Alexander-Arnold has been one of the players to face the most scrutiny, but delivered an excellent performance.

    His stunning free-kick seven minutes in opened the scoring and he finished with more touches (96) and more successful passes in the opponent's half (40) than any other player, while he also produced a joint-high four tackles.

    He has now scored more free-kicks (six) than any other Liverpool player since the start of the 2016-17 season, while the England international - who was left out by Gareth Southgate for the Three Lions' final match before the World Cup against Germany - is the first Reds player to net such a goal in the Champions League since Steven Gerrard against Basel in 2014.

    "It's a wonderful goal. What can I say?" Klopp said.

    "He played a good game, defensively especially. It is not that he has had a defensive problem it's that we have had a defensive problem, because our line was not right.

    "If the timing is not right, you open gaps and these gaps are very often on the back of Trent but not because of him, but because of the situation where we put our right-back."

    Henderson added: "You've got to give Trent a license to get forward and produce what he can produce up the pitch. I thought he was good defensively tonight, he did the basics really well. I didn't have to cover too much."

  • 'The gap is obvious' – Van Bronckhorst vows to learn after Liverpool defeat 'The gap is obvious' – Van Bronckhorst vows to learn after Liverpool defeat

    Giovanni van Bronckhorst says the gap in quality between Rangers and Liverpool was "obvious", though he vowed the Scottish Premiership side will learn from a comfortable defeat to the Reds.

    Rangers have shipped nine goals in three Champions League games after a 2-0 defeat at Liverpool on Tuesday, which saw Van Bronckhorst's side remain bottom of Group A at the halfway point.

    Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah struck in either half at Anfield as Rangers failed to find the net in their first three Champions League games for the first time ever.

    While Rangers offered little in the way of challenging Alisson, barring a late chance for substitute Rabbi Matondo, Van Bronckhorst hopes his side will use the defeat as a lesson.

    "The gap is obvious, we are competing against one of the best sides in Europe – it doesn't mean you have to lose the game," the Rangers manager told reporters.

    "We competed well at times, set-pieces we defended really well. My team will learn from this game, I will learn, my players will and we will take this experience into the next game and also into the league.

    "It was an experience we had again in the Champions League, it is a league we want to compete in but it is really, really hard against the teams we are facing now.

    "It is experience, we did better than the first game but it is a level where you have to think quicker, pass quicker and move quicker.

    "There were many moments where we won the ball but then we lost it, that is what we are facing at the moment and we need to improve in the next three games.

    "The margin for error is very small against these great teams. It is everything you know, tactically, technically – first touches, movements, identifying movements when to speed up the games.

    "We are doing so much better and my team will only improve. If that is enough to go through in Europe then we will take it."

    A two-goal loss arguably flattered Rangers, who were thankful to the efforts of goalkeeper Allan McGregor after the veteran made eight saves during a fine individual performance.

    "McGregor performed really well, he can perform on this level – especially the first half he had some good saves," Van Bronckhorst added.

    "It was very positive to see his performance, also Leon King – an 18-year-old defender from the academy – and Ben Davies with his first 70 minutes of the season coming back to Liverpool he did well. There are always positives to take."

    Rangers will look to make amends against Liverpool in the return fixture next Wednesday, with Van Bronckhorst's side trailing third-place Ajax by four points in a battle for Europa League qualification.

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

    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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