Fact or Myth: Trent Alexander-Arnold cannot defend

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By Martin Graham | 27th Jun 2022

Trent Alexander-Arnold is arguably one of the best right backs in the game today. The Liverpool man has morphed into an all-important figure at his boyhood club after being given his first team opportunity as a 17-year-old by Jürgen Klopp in 2016.

He is now the club’s main conduit for attacks and is very effective in that department. He has finished as the club’s top assister for four of the six years he has played in the right back role and Liverpool cannot do without his influence.

Very composed, technical, and with a good eye for a pass, the 23-year-old has also become a staple of the England Three Lions setup. He is an invaluable player to have in any team because of the chances he can conjure from his set plays, crosses and passes from deep.

But there is an ever-raging debate about his actual defensive abilities, seeing as he is first a defender before anything else.

Many have slated his ability when in a 1v1 situation with an attacker of the opposing team. He has also been exposed a few times at the back for Liverpool in games, leaving his centre backs to cover for him. His positional awareness as a defender has also been called to question on different occasions.

However, Alexander-Arnold is adept at ball recovery and interceptions, and also has a fair amount of blocks which have denied opponents goals.

A central midfielder converted into a right back

Trent Alexander-Arnold started off as a central midfielder while in the Liverpool academy. As he morphed into a professional player, the senior coaches believed he would do a lot more good on the pitch if he was shifted into much wider spaces.

A lack of blistering pace saw his transition to a winger ruled out and the coaches decided to place him in the right wingback role defence. Their plan worked because Alexander-Arnold has racked up some serious numbers since moving out wide.

But they must have chosen to ignore his actual defensive ability because he defends like the midfielder he is, rather than an actual defender.

Trent’s key flaws

A midfielder challenging for the ball focuses on recoveries and interceptions. This has also become the case with modern defenders as a hard-tackling defender can be easily called out for being positionally inept.

But a defender is one who looks back more than they look forward and this is why Alexander-Arnold is always slated for his defending. He fails to notice runs in behind and this forces the defence into troubleshooting mode every time Liverpool are without the ball.

When they are with the ball, the instinct to look forward also kicks in and he seems like he forgets what could happen if he loses the ball in certain areas, something an average defender would never do.

Trent vs England right backs

Despite his great attacking output which is compared to Kevin De Bruyne, a midfielder, more than any other right back, he pales in comparison to the other options in the England set-up.

Alexander-Arnold falls massively behind in 1v1 situations against Reece James, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier. He also is not the best carrier of the ball despite being a full back as he depends on his excellent vision and technical ability to progress the ball more than run at defences to open up spaces.

This ability of a fullback helps to push opposition teams deeper into their own half and allows the attacking team to build a high line that can absorb counterattacks.

In that metric, he is also way behind England’s other options in the role. And in the England set-up where defense is a problem, he is largely untrustworthy because of these drawbacks.

The verdict

Alexander-Arnold has definitely improved since his debut for Liverpool but it will take a lot more to be compared to the likes of Dani Alves who not only churned out great attacking numbers, but were also very key in defence.

Martin Graham is an MFF sports writer

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