Jurgen Klopp has decided to be proactive and use an established Pep Guardiola tactic to shape Trent Alexander-Arnold 2.0 for Liverpool.
His tactical tweak is a welcome change of tack for the head coach and one positive to take into an almighty rebuild at Anfield.
“Why would you make the best right-back in the world a midfielder? I don’t understand that really.”
Those were the brash words of Klopp in 2021 after Gareth Southgate played Alexander-Arnold in midfield for England during a World Cup qualifying cruise against Andorra.
Even against such lowly opposition Alexander-Arnold looked lost and a positional change for the right-back, whose defending has come under an increasing level of scrutiny, has not been mooted again until the past week.
Klopp has always been against transitioning Alexander-Arnold into a midfielder, despite calls from several pundits claiming this switch would enable the Englishman to highlight his creative strengths while also hiding his defensive frailties.
The 24-year-old has been exposed several times this season, but he has by no means been Liverpool’s only problem. You can easily pick faults throughout Liverpool’s defence and midfield when the team is out of possession as they have endured a major fall from grace.
The Reds – who have seemingly run out of road after their exhausting Quadruple pursuit in 2021/22 – have drifted away from what made them so strong in past campaigns, with the renowned Klopp press being pretty much non-existent.
The respected coach has a set way of playing and even while Liverpool’s campaign has drifted into disaster territory, he has stuck with what he knows and backed his players to repay his trust.
But in a refreshing twist, Klopp has become proactive in recent weeks to amend Alexander-Arnold’s role for Liverpool.
Alexander-Arnold has previously been tightly shackled, with his work solely coming on the right flank. But against Arsenal and Leeds United, he has drifted into midfield alongside Fabinho to form a makeshift holding two while Liverpool are in possession.
This inverted full-back role is now a very familiar sight in the English game as it has been regularly adopted by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and then Mikel Arteta at Arsenal.
In truth, if Alexander-Arnold was playing for Man City, Guardiola would have transitioned him far sooner than Klopp. But this does not mean it will be any less successful.
As Klopp rightly pointed out after the huge 6-1 win over Leeds, this change makes Liverpool less perceptible to counter-attacks with two holding midfielders able to break up play and it enables Alexander-Arnold – who provided two assists at Elland Road – to pick up possession more in central areas and play defence-splitting passes, as he did for Darwin Nunez in the second half.
In an attacking sense, this is a Kevin De Bruyne-esque role. This is perfectly suited to Alexander-Arnold, as he is the only player capable of matching the Man City sensation in terms of game-changing passes and crosses.
Some outlets have incorrectly claimed that Klopp has fully caved in, with him now seeing Alexander-Arnold as a midfielder. This is not the case at all as the Englishman was often seen sprinting back to the right flank when needed.
This alteration will not always work and there will no doubt be some teething issues before the whole of Liverpool’s team becomes accustomed to the new set-up. But a particularly generous Leeds United team afforded Alexander-Arnold the platform to showcase how well he can play as an inverted full-back when everything clicks into place.
Liverpool supporters can be forgiven for feeling giddy after the hammering of Leeds, but claims that their top-four push is back on feel premature. They are still far from the final product and a remarkable end-of-season stretch of results – à la 2020/21 – is required to make Man Utd and Newcastle United nervy about their Champions League hopes.
Liverpool’s lack of consistency means a place in the top four is likely beyond their capabilities this season. But a strong end to the campaign would at least boost morale heading into the most important summer transfer window while Klopp has been at the helm.
This season will be considered a failure no matter how this season ends. But Alexander-Arnold 2.0 is one step in the right direction for a Liverpool team requiring a significant facelift with several new faces expected through the door.
While some long-serving players will be nudged elsewhere, Alexander-Arnold’s presence will remain.
Jamie Carragher argued last month that Klopp has “got to” sign a new right-back to challenge Alexander-Arnold. While competition is required, Liverpool’s new inverted right-back could now be approaching his peak and he could yet make his strongest naysayers look quite foolish in the process.