It was fitting that Trent Alexander-Arnold scored the late winner in a match that underlined Liverpool’s Premier League title credentials. The 25-year-old was the driving force behind the Anfield side against Fulham and he is similarly the driving force behind their title challenge this season.
Alexander-Arnold is the most talented player in the Liverpool squad. Mohamed Salah might be the Reds’ biggest attacking threat, but Alexander-Arnold is growing into his new role as Liverpool’s creative hub. Jurgen Klopp has pushed him into the centre of the pitch from right back to further increase his influence.
Liverpool spent much of the summer transfer window rebuilding their midfield. Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita left the club with Wataru Endo, Ryan Gravenberch, Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai signed in their place. This has given Klopp new options to use in the centre of the pitch.
This reshuffle has led to Alexander-Arnold’s reinvention as a central creator. Klopp is still picking him to play at right back on paper, but the reality is very different during matches with Alexander-Arnold forming one half of a double pivot when Liverpool have possession. He is frequently the one who makes things happen, as was the case in the comeback win over Fulham.
“Nobody is in doubt about how highly I think about Trent,” said Klopp after Alexander-Arnold’s Man of the Match display against the Cottagers. “He has played since I’ve been here and the development is crazy. His shooting skills we knew before.
“Today he was a real leader on the pitch. That’s probably the biggest improvement if you want. It was super intense, but he got another push when we put him a bit more inside in that moment. He is very often in half-spaces in the centre. It was just really good and he was a real leader on the pitch, that was most important.”
With Henderson no longer at the club, Alexander-Arnold has indeed emerged as a leader within the Liverpool dressing room this season. He dragged his team to three points against Fulham on Sunday just one week after he dragged Liverpool to a point away to Manchester City. Alexander-Arnold has become a force of nature in the way he plays.
On and off the pitch, Alexander-Arnold has personality. As a local lad, he has established a genuine connection with the Anfield support and has become Liverpool’s new figurehead in the same way Steven Gerrard was for a long time. There was even something Gerrard-esque about Alexander-Arnold’s winner against Fulham.
Defensively, there are still questions over Alexander-Arnold’s position. His newfound freedom means opposition teams can target the right side of the Liverpool defence where Joel Matip (or whoever is partnering Virgil van Dijk) has more ground to cover. Fulham did this to good effect through Antonee Robinson and Alex Iwobi who enjoyed a lot of success down Alexander-Arnold’s wing.
Of course, Alexander-Arnold’s defensive vulnerabilities have long been a talking point. Gareth Southgate has preferred other, more rounded options like Kyle Walker, Reece James and Kieran Trippier at right back as England manager, and with good reason considering the number of times Alexander-Arnold has been exposed in defensive transition.
Klopp, however, has recognised the need to build around Alexander-Arnold to get the best out of him. Liverpool are still in the midst of a generational transition. They remain a work-in-progress. There have, however, been signs of what Liverpool could be in the future and Alexander-Arnold is, both metaphorically and literally, at the centre of this.