Written By: Henry Morris (@henry_morris13)
From exciting young midfielder to stalwart right-back, Trent Alexander-Arnold is a fleet-footed, agile and, most impressively, positionally flexible. So with the rise of Neco Williams, should Jurgen Klopp be thinking about transitioning the 21-year-old from a star right-back into a potentially world-class central midfielder?
The basis of the question lays in the fact that Alexander-Arnold spent his younger years playing centrally. Indeed, he only started consistently playing as a right-back when he broke into the first team.
There’s no doubt that he possesses the positional awareness needed to shift positions, along with a natural, aesthetically-pleasing, ability on the ball. Moving Alexander-Arnold to central midfield would inevitably mean he can (and will) express himself more freely; an incredibly exciting prospect for Liverpool fans and a very scary one for everyone else.
Alexander-Arnold has a unique skill set; his range of passing is exceptional, the quality of said passing is ineffable, he’s also a swashbuckling athlete who is just as capable offensively as he is reliable defensively. And he strikes the ball so cleanly (De Bruyne-esque), as is displayed almost monotonously week in week out when he pings cross-field passes to Andy Robertson on the opposite flank. It goes without saying that he’s also an asset from the dead ball situation.
So a midfield trio of Fabinho, Naby Keita and Alexander-Arnold, or at least one with the young Englishman in it, should be considered a mouthwatering prospect.
The stats back it up
Playing Alexander-Arnold centrally would also allow him to dictate play, because, naturally, he’ll receive the ball more often. I can’t help but feel like there’s no player in Liverpool’s current squad more adept at receiving the ball off a centre back on the half-turn and who then has the ability to find the ‘right pass’ with pace and incision.
When compared to the club’s other central midfielders statistically this season, he tops the charts when it comes to the number of assists, the number of accurate passes in the opposition’s half, ‘key passes’ (leading to chances) per 90, and even interceptions per game.
But the fact he plays in what is often a more advanced position than Liverpool’s midfield means that the number of chances he has to deliver a defence-splitting pass is inflated. Then again, this particular detail could also decrease the success-rate of accurate passes as the frequency, and perhaps difficulty, of these passes increases.
Alexander-Arnold is always forward-thinking, taking risks and attempting pinpoint crosses from midway inside the opposition’s half. In Klopp’s winning machine, the emphasis is on the right-back to be ‘the creative spark’.
|Accurate passes per game||50.7 (70.6%)||52.3 (84%)||38.9 (90%)||31.7 (89%)||52.3 (84%)||27.3 (86%)|
|Accurate passes in opposition half per game||32.1 (62%)||30.1 (76%)||24.4 (89%)||21.3 (85%)||30.1 (76%)||15 (78%)|
|Key passes per game||2.3||0.9||0.4||1||0.6||0.4|
|Big chances created (season)||17||9||0||5||0||1|
|Successful dribbles per game||0.6 (40%)||0.6 (61%)||1.1 (55%)||1.2 (86%)||1.0 (60%)||0.4 (82%)|
|Duels won per game||2.7 (42%)||3.9 (56%)||3.7 (46%)||3.7 (62%||2.6 (43%)||2.2 (48%)|
|Possession won per game||0.5||0.9||0.4||0.7||0.4||0.3|
|Tackles per game||1.5||2.1||1.0||1.4||0.6||0.7|
|Interceptions per game||1.2||1.0||0.5||0.6||0.7||0.3|
A word of warning, however
Moving the 21-year-old into central midfield would, of course, mean Liverpool would need to find an adequate (actually, more than adequate) replacement at right-back. Williams is certainly an option in this regard.
Williams looked very promising in his cameo appearances against Crystal Palace, Brighton and then Burnley, but let’s not forget just how good Alexander-Arnold is. His total of twelve assists last season is the most accumulated by a defender in Premier League history; oh and he’s levelled that this season with two games still to go.
Liverpool’s full-backs are two vital cogs in Klopp’s winning machine. And it’s success relies almost inexorably on their ability to work the flanks. So why change something that’s not broken?
Food for thought
The five midfielders in the table above have only mustered ten assists between them in the league this season; that’s two less than Alexander-Arnold on his own.
The inference is this: Liverpool may actually be better off leaving the scouser at full-back. Whilst our midfielders don’t boast the stats of, say, Machester City’s midfielders, they execute their role to a tee. And there’s no guarantee that Alexander-Arnold would perform better there than in his role at right-back.
However, with multiple members of the Reds midfield ageing (Wijnaldum’s almost 30 and Hendo’s 30+), combined with Alexander-Arnold’s mindboggling potential to dominate games from the middle of the field, could we see the scouser in the Liverpool team pair up with another in Curtis Jones, and run the Liverpool midfield for years to come?
Edited By: Sam Patterson