Talking tactics with Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Liverpool star speaks exclusively to Sky Sports about how his positional shift has changed the game for him. Watch Brighton vs Liverpool live on Sky Sports Premier League from 1pm on Sunday; kick-off 2pm
Friday 6 October 2023 18:38, UK
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s introduction as a late substitute against Tottenham was rather overshadowed by the drama of the day. But the return to fitness of Liverpool’s full-back turned midfielder could be a significant factor in their season.
Having long been the most creative defender in the country, Alexander-Arnold has had his role reimagined by Jurgen Klopp since April when he was thrust into his new hybrid role against Arsenal. In possession, he is a central midfielder now. And he is loving it.
Speaking to Alexander-Arnold at Anfield, in the week that he turns 25 years old, he is reflecting on the tactical journey that he has been on and why this change is so exciting. "It creates a lot more opportunities and options for me on the ball," he tells Sky Sports.
Initially, it was a little awkward. Liverpool went two down that afternoon against the then Premier League leaders. "The difference between the first and second half against Arsenal was huge. You could see it started to work and from there we have pushed on."
Liverpool have still not lost with him starting in that role.
Alexander-Arnold is keen to stress that he was not starting from scratch in midfield. "It is not like I did not know how to receive a ball and pass a ball. The foundations were there. It was just getting it set in a system that worked and got the best out of everyone."
But there are differences now. "Big differences," he says. "On the right side of the pitch you are quite limited because most of the time you are quite close to the touchline so you cannot pass to the right. When you are in the middle, you can pass left and right."
We have seen that pass into the right channel for Mohamed Salah more regularly, cutting through the defence for the second goal in the win over Aston Villa in September. "It opens up that passing option to the right out to Mo or whoever it is occupying that space out there."
There are still those balls out left as well. Some beauties for Luis Diaz and a slightly different relationship with Andy Robertson. "The only time I was connected to Robbo was a big switch of play. Now it is a much shorter pass." He is at the heart of everything now.
"It is a lot more connected," says Alexander-Arnold. "I feel like I am able to dictate games in there as well. You get more chance to get on the ball and dictate the tempo, dictate when and where we attack. Just that feeling of being in control of games."
In some respects, he feels made for this role. His vision allows him to see those longer passes and his technique is such that he can execute them. Only Kieran Trippier has bypassed six or more defenders with his passes more regularly than Alexander-Arnold.
The difference is that the others high on that list are goalkeepers and defenders, doing so from deep. Alexander-Arnold does it closer to the opposition goal now. He has made more through balls than any other Premier League player since the change of role.
The game is no longer just in front of him and that is a challenge. More options for his passes, that is a positive. More angles from which he can be dispossessed, that is tricky. It requires 360 degree vision. "That was a big change, especially at the start," he explains.
"When you receive the ball as a full-back, you never have to check your shoulders because nobody is going to sneak up on you from behind. But in there, they are all around you, coming at you from all angles, pressing in ways that you have not felt before.
"It is not just about me and the types of passes and where I am passing from that is exciting. It is how to get on the ball, checking my shoulders, understanding, asking questions, finding answers, absorbing information and just trying to make the system work.
"It is the same for everyone. A lot of the players, their positions and what is demanded of them has changed as well because of my role and this new system. It is not just me. There is a lot that is demanded of everyone else for it to work."
Crucially, although Alexander-Arnold was deployed as an out-and-out midfielder at times during pre-season, he continues to be Liverpool's right-back when out of possession. That is a complication because his hybrid role demands constant concentration.
It explains why Klopp wants to see a more measured game now. "The system only works well if we have control of the game and control of the ball. With controlled possession, it means people are really able to come in and adapt and move," says Alexander-Arnold.
"When it does become a bit end to end, like a basketball game, and I am asked to go out wide and come inside and do that every time we win and lose the ball, eventually you are going to get caught out because of how the system is. That is what we have found out."
Are you more or less confused after watching the PGMOL footage?
“I am probably as equally confused as I was beforehand. I am just disappointed by what has gone on but it is not like me saying anything now is going to affect the decision that has been made. It is what it is. It is disappointing because of all the hard work we put into the game as players. For us not to get the result, potentially, because of a decision elsewhere, a mistake not on our behalf, it hurts. But we move forward.”
Having finished one point behind Manchester City in the title race on two occasions, does that make it even more frustrating?
“It is fine margins. When it comes to the end of the season and you look at yourself in the mirror, it is easier to take when it is your fault, I think. When you know could have done more or it is because you did not win a game or whatever. But when it is potentially an outside decision that has not gone your way and it should have done – rightfully so, it should have done – that would potentially hurt even more. Hopefully, we will be able to make up the points elsewhere.”
It has, he says, "been a time of learning", but he has always embraced that. At heart, he is still the 'normal lad from Liverpool whose dream has just come true', as the mural, just yards away on Sybil Road, states. The work ethic to keep the dream alive remains.
Briefly, he discusses the Trent's Vision project that he worked on with ophthalmologist Dr Daniel Laby, trying to improve his awareness. "It is about the little one per cents. As an individual, you need to find something to put yourself ahead of the rest," he says.
"The margins are fine. It might not make the difference day to day but it might just be the difference in one or two games this season where I have seen a pass and I have been able to play it because of the extra work that I have been putting in off the pitch."
There are kindred spirits in the group, players who share that attitude, including the new arrivals. "They have really bought into what we are trying to achieve and shown signs that they want to achieve the same thing." None more so than Dominik Szoboszlai.
Liverpool supporters on social media have noted a budding bromance, one Alexander-Arnold acknowledges. "We share the same ideas, the same mentality." But he pushes back firmly on the suggestion that they will be sharing the free-kicks from now on.
"I have had conversations with him, to be honest, and I have told him he is off them now," he replies, dryly. "He has had his chance. He has got that quality but against West Ham he had two that hit the wall. I think he might be off them." Friendship has its limits.
How far this new Liverpool can go remains to be seen but the target, both individually and collectively, is clear. "Win the league," he says, emphatically. An away trip to Brighton on Sunday will be testing, particularly as Liverpool search for that control they need.
"They are the masters at it," he adds.
"It will be difficult to control the game there, not many teams can do that. When we do have the opportunity to do it, we need to make sure we do it effectively and are set up defensively to make sure they cannot control the game as much as they really want to."
With Trent Alexander-Arnold back, and in this new hybrid role, Liverpool are entitled to fancy their chances again.