Liverpool has looked transformed in recent weeks as a result of a significant Trent Alexander-Arnold swap, but Jürgen Klopp’s long-term plans for another mainstay are now unclear
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s reinvention in an adjusted hybrid role appears to have revitalized Liverpool in recent weeks, with Jürgen Klopp’s side finally looking capable of taking control of games. Despite all of the positives, questions remain about where this leaves one Reds mainstay.
There is no doubt that Alexander-Arnold and his defensive partner Andy Robertson have been central to everything good about Liverpool over the last five years, providing an unprecedented amount of ammunition from the full-back positions. Since the 2017-18 season, the pair have combined for a whopping 133 assists in all competitions, with the Scot now holding the record for most assists by a Premier League defender.
However, while their high-up-the-field approach paid dividends during the best years of Klopp’s reign, questions have been raised about the benefits of this ‘high risk, high reward’ strategy as a result of inconsistent form this season.
The Reds’ improved fortunes following their swashbuckling second-half performance against Arsenal, in which Alexander-Arnold played as a ‘inverted full-back’ to great effect, raises further doubts about whether Klopp’s side will ever return to the style that they used to great effect in previous seasons.
Two goals in the second half against Arsenal, followed by six against Leeds United, three against Nottingham Forest, and two against West Ham, would suggest that Liverpool are re-energized offensively, with Alexander-Arnold’s five assists in this foursome of games a major reason for the turnaround. Prior to the game against Mikel Arteta’s side, the West Derby-born ace had only managed two assists in the league this season.
With that in mind, one would not expect Klopp to look to reintroduce Alexander-Arnold to his more familiar full-back role anytime soon if Liverpool’s improved form continues. As much as the Reds academy product appears to be at home as a ‘inverted full-back,’ Robertson’s role appears to be less set in stone, which Klopp is all too aware of.
In his post-match press conference following Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest, Klopp explained Robertson’s new role, saying, “We cannot have one full-back in the center of the field and the other one constantly high up on the left side.” That’s a challenge.
“Yes, his positioning has changed slightly in the first moments of the build-up.” But [Robertson] is obviously a very experienced, very smart player who knows when we need him.”
Clearly, in recent games, an emphasis has been placed on Robertson essentially filling in as a third center back to allow for Alexander-Arnold’s adjusted role when Liverpool is out of possession, with the Scotland captain operating as a more traditional full-back when the Reds are on the attack.
On the one hand, the potential loss of Robertson’s assist potential may be a loss for Liverpool, but this is clearly a risk Klopp is willing to take in order to revitalize Alexander-Arnold. Robertson’s role in Mohamed Salah’s goal at Elland Road was an intriguing moment during the last three games. The 29-year-old committed himself forward on the overlap, supplying a cross that eventually found the Egyptian via Cody Gakpo.
In many ways, this goal exemplified Klopp’s words in action, with Robertson using his intelligence to determine whether he should commit to an attack. The Kop favorite is a seasoned performer, and it is clear how his role will evolve over the course of the campaign.
It remains to be seen whether Klopp will continue with this — thus far — successful experiment next season, and it will be interesting to see if Liverpool invests in a center back this summer, and what implications this may have for Robertson.
As things stand, Klopp appears to be open to the possibility of Robertson successfully adapting his game, and another assist — albeit from a set piece — against West Ham will not have hurt his case. However, if the German eventually decides to use a more traditional center back in a back three to accommodate Alexander-Arnold, the Scotsman’s minutes may be reduced.
Of course, a lot depends on how the Reds perform in the remaining six Premier League games, where he will be eager to demonstrate his suitability for his new role. Much has been made of Alexander-Arnold’s new position in recent weeks, but popular left-back Robertson will be just as eager to prove he’s the right man for Klopp in the new system.