Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield: Is it a sustainable approach for Liverpool?

Liverpool picked up a comprehensive 6-1 win over Leeds United on Monday night, with Trent Alexander-Arnold starring.

The likes of Diogo Jota and Mohamed Salah were highly impressive and managed to get on the score sheet multiple times as Liverpool smashed Leeds United out of the park. But it was Trent Alexander-Arnold who took home the plaudits for a masterful display in the middle of the park.

The 24-year-old has been criticised heavily this season for his defensive lapses and poor decision-making. The England international has struggled against pace and flair since the start of the campaign, and he has not been able to regain his confidence and sharpness in recent months.

However, Jurgen Klopp’s recent experiment has shown that Alexander-Arnold could still be a very important player for Liverpool if used in a different role.

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The 24-year-old full-back started in a midfield double pivot along with Fabinho at Elland Road and influenced the game with his vision, technique and ability to pick out defence-splitting passes.

Alexander-Arnold had 153 touches of the ball on the night, which is the second most of any player in the Premier League this season. Not only did he enjoy ample possession throughout the game, but he also made the most of it and created numerous goal-scoring opportunities for his teammates.

Alexander-Arnold has always been an exceptional passer of the ball, perhaps the best in the league (yes, just as good as Kevin De Bruyne). Klopp’s decision to move him into the midfield has allowed him to pick up the ball more often in the central areas and pick out his teammates with line-breaking and defence-splitting passes.

Liverpool have players like Darwin Nunez, and Mohamed Salah, who can get behind defences with their pace and outstanding movement of the last man. However, the Reds do not have the midfielders to pick out these runs with perfectly-timed passes (except Thiago Alcantara).

Trent Alexander-Arnold did exactly that with his vision and ability to execute long, passes all night against Leeds United. With that, the home defence were left in tatters.

It has been a hugely disappointing season for the 24-year-old. But the performance against Leeds offered the Liverpool supporters a chance to witness the Alexander-Arnold of old. Naturally, there have been calls to use the 24-year-old regularly as a midfielder now.

While there is no doubt that the 24-year-old has the ability to influence games from that position, the question lingers; is it a sustainable approach?

Liverpool benefited from Alexander-Arnold’s vision, technique and ability to exploit spaces against Leeds. However, it was also evident that Andrew Robertson and Ibrahima Konate faced overload at times when players like Jack Harrison and Luis Sinisterra got past the midfield.

If Klopp decides to continue with the system he employed against Leeds, the German manager must look to bring in a left-sided central defender who has a more conservative approach compared to Robertson. The Scottish international is naturally a full-back and has a tendency to venture forward, leaving gaps for the opposition to exploit.

Against the best attackers and the best teams, Liverpool could easily find themselves outnumbered in the defence. So, pursuing a right-back in the summer will also be a sensible decision.

That said, the system could still be very effective against weaker sides, who tend to sit deep. Liverpool have struggled to break down stubborn defences this season and Trent Alexander-Arnold showed exactly how to unlock these low blocks.

Alexander-Arnold’s ability on the ball is a weapon Klopp must continue to use, albeit diligently, depending upon the situation and opposition for now. If Liverpool do plan to use the 24-year-old as a midfielder next season, they will have to bring in the right personnel to support him and maintain the balance of the side.

Perhaps signing a defensively reliable right-back and a left-sided central defender could provide the foundations for the 24-year-old to start in midfield more often and dictate games with his Steven Gerrard-esque ability. Meanwhile, utilising Alexander-Arnold in midfield will also mean they will sign one less midfielder in the summer, thus easing the financial burden.

All in all, persisting with Alexander-Arnold as a midfielder should reap the rewards, both financially and in terms of results on the pitch. But it should not be the be all and end all of Klopp’s plans for the remainder of the 2022/23 season and beyond.

Note: Heatmap & stats courtesy Sofascore

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