Liverpool is in desperate need of a right-back backup, and the international performances of one academy graduate provide food for thought
Trent Alexander Arnold’s mixed fortunes this season have typified the broader issues that have plagued Liverpool during a season marred by inconsistency. With a lack of quality competition at right-back this season, fatigue is likely to have played a role in his struggles.
The 24-year-struggles old’s have probably been exaggerated in some quarters, but the fact that he has only provided two assists in the Premier League this season, compared to 12 last season, emphasizes the drop in his output. The West Derby-born star was crucial to Jürgen Klopp’s side’s success in previous seasons, with his creative talents from a full-back position virtually revolutionizing the role, but there is no doubt that the offensive qualities that he was known for in previous seasons have not been as prominent this season.
However, given the number of games the full-back has played in the previous two seasons, it is understandable that he has not been as effective this season — it is only March, but he has already appeared 83 times in the previous two campaigns. His approach to playing the position is often described as ‘high risk, high reward,’ but the rewards have been fleeting this season, and one could be forgiven for thinking that fatigue has been a major factor in his struggles, with backup Calvin Ramsay not having played a minute of league football this season after an injury-ravaged campaign.
Ramsay, who joined from Aberdeen last summer, was expected to provide some competition for Alexander-Arnold, but his fitness issues have inadvertently meant that the latter has not been able to rest for the entire season. In terms of outfield players, the Liverpool academy graduate is second only to Mohamed Salah in terms of minutes played, having appeared for 2,785 minutes in all competitions so far this season, having previously finished second to Virgil van Dijk with 4,234 minutes played last season.
Ramsay’s fitness issues have been unfortunate, but the amount of game time Alexander-Arnold has played in the last two years will most likely be a source of concern for Klopp. With this in mind, the hope will undoubtedly be that an understudy steps up during pre-season to establish himself as a genuine squad option at right-back.
Conor Bradley, who has impressed while on loan at Bolton Wanderers in League One this season, is one such player who could be in the mix for next season. This season, the Northern Irish full-back has played 40 times in all competitions, establishing himself as a mainstay in the side as the Trotters sit sixth in the table.
This is the 19-year-first old’s sustained taste of regular first-team football, and the experience of pitting his wits against fully-fledged professionals in a notoriously unforgiving division will be invaluable for his development. Bradley has already made five appearances for the Reds’ first team, but he made his biggest impression last season for Liverpool’s U21 side, where he was nominated for Premier League 2 Player of the Season after recording three goals and eight assists in 21 league appearances.
The youngster’s rise has also been extended to the international stage, which will be music to the ears of the powers-that-be at his parent club, with a solid outing for Northern Ireland’s senior team against San Marino in a 2-0 win this week doing no harm to his burgeoning reputation. The Liverpool academy graduate has impressed for his national team in his ten caps so far, and senior international experience will be crucial for his development.
Bradley played the full 90 minutes in San Marino, and according to BelfastLive reporter Steven Crawford, the Liverpool academy graduate impressed down the right side, with his attacking threat in particular receiving praise. The journalist gave him an eight out of ten for his performance, saying he ‘terrorized the San Marino defense down the right’ and that he posed a “real threat.”
The transition from playing for an elite club like Liverpool on a regular basis can be difficult for the vast majority of youth prospects, but by holding his own and impressing on the international stage, Bradley could establish himself as a valuable asset at Anfield in the coming years. Liverpool desperately needs a backup right-back to get the most out of Alexander-Arnold, and the role is, frankly, Bradley’s to take. The upcoming summer may provide him with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stake his claim.