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April 6, 2021

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Alexander-Arnold out to prove a point

It was the kind of cross that few in world football could have expected to deliver, certainly not a player whose status has apparently plunged to being the fourth best right back in England.

Yet there was Trent Alexander-Arnold, bending in a stunning delivery with whip, pace and precision from the right wing for Diogo Jota to head home and set Liverpool on its way to a big English Premier League win at Arsenal.

Alexander-Arnold turned away, pumped both fists and — with a fierce stare — gave out a guttural roar. It was a release of emotion that probably wasn’t lost on England coach Gareth Southgate.

Or Real Madrid.

Liverpool heads into its matchup with Real in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals with some of its key players back on song after a difficult season — among them a player who, in a way, has redefined the right-back role.

From his position out wide, Alexander-Arnold has been the most creative player on a team that has conquered Europe and, finally after 30 years, the English game over the past couple of years.

His long-range passing, his set pieces and most obviously his assists have made him arguably the world’s stand-out right back since 2018, even if his defending has been criticized on occasion.

This season, though, his level has dipped. He missed some of the condensed preseason after contracting the coronavirus and then picked up some niggly injuries. Playing in a patched-up Liverpool defense missing injured center backs Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez then Joel Matip hardly helped Alexander-Arnold during the middle part of the season as the champion’s EPL title defense imploded and its star right back visibly struggled for confidence.

One game particularly stood out: the 0-1 loss to Southampton on January 4 when he gave the ball away 38 times, a league-high for the season, before being substituted in the 77th minute.

The last couple of months have been more like the Alexander-Arnold of recent seasons, however, even if that wasn’t enough to convince Southgate to pick him in his most recent England squad — the last before Southgate must choose his 23-man group for this summer’s European Championship.

That left Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp flabbergasted.

“I am not criticizing Gareth Southgate, and I don’t want to have an argument. I respect his role and his decisions,” Klopp said. “But I know the player better than anybody else, any other coach, and I can say that he is a world-class player, and not only offensively.”

In Southgate’s opinion, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker and Reece James are in better form than Alexander-Arnold. To Klopp, that should not matter. “If you compare Lionel Messi every year with his best season ever, then he is not performing now like he was performing in 2005 and 2006 maybe,” Klopp said. “But he is still the world’s best player.”

Thankfully for Liverpool, whereas Messi is 33, Alexander-Arnold is 22. The best years of his career are, in theory, ahead of him.


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