Talking Tactics

Klopp's dilemma with Alexander-Arnold's new role

By Adrian Clarke 16 Dec 2023
Trent Alexander-Arnold

Adrian Clarke analyses the benefits and drawbacks of the Liverpool star's hybrid position

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Player analysis: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)

How does Jurgen Klopp best utilise the brilliance of Alexander-Arnold?

This is a quandary the Liverpool manager is wrestling with on a weekly basis, as he weighs up whether to play the 25-year-old as a hybrid right-back or as an orthodox central midfielder.

Wherever Alexander-Arnold starts against Manchester United on Sunday is sure to have a significant bearing on the tactical battle that ensues.

Creating overloads to play through the lines

The biggest plus of using the England international at right-back is that he performs a twin role from one position.

Alexander-Arnold will defend the right side and provide quality on the ball in wide areas, while also drifting infield to supply progressive distribution.

When playing out from the back the Reds’ box-to-box midfielders can push on high when he inverts into central midfield.

At the base he gives them a numerical advantage, usually creating a box of four against three midfielders, helping Liverpool to build through the lines easier.

This could be effective against Erik ten Hag’s 4-2-3-1.

If opponents press him, they are wary of Alexander-Arnold bypassing them with an incisive pass, so many choose to sit off.

Yet if he is under under no pressure he can deliver pinpoint passes of exceptional quality, so it’s often a no-win situation.

This example from Liverpool’s 4-3 win against Fulham showcases how easily he can hurt opponents with his passing.

He takes up possession between the centre-backs to form a 3v2 overload, and the visitors are reticent to get tight. 

Alexander-Arnold v Fulham

With time and space to pick his pass, Alexander-Arnold then arcs an outstanding through ball that puts Darwin Nunez in behind for a 1v1 with Bernd Leno.

Very few full-backs or midfielders have this technical quality.

Alexander-Arnold to Darwin Nunez
The risk of inverting Alexander-Arnold

The downside of playing Alexander-Arnold in this hybrid role is the space it can leave down Liverpool’s right side when play breaks down.

There have been frequent occasions this season when he has been stranded infield from transitions created by the opposition.

This pulls Liverpool’s right-sided central defender out wide, unsettling the shape of their back four.

They have undoubtedly been targeted by the opposition in this area of the pitch.

In the first half of their last four matches, the vast majority of attacks have been aimed down Alexander-Arnold’s side. 

First-half-attacking-third-v-Liverpool-CRYSHU
First-half-attacking-third-v-Liverpool-FULMCI

This is a problem Klopp felt the need to fix against Fulham and Crystal Palace when Joe Gomez was brought on as a substitute after 65 and 45 minutes respectively.

On both occasions he replaced a midfielder to play at right-back, freeing up Alexander-Arnold to take up a central role.

Will Liverpool’s manager continue to view this as his Plan B, or could Klopp start with Gomez at full-back in a slightly more pragmatic move against Man Utd?

Is Alexander-Arnold ready to play in midfield?

Starting Alexander-Arnold in central midfield limits opportunities to create those overloads, and there is also a sense he still has a lot to learn to perform that role full-time.

What is undeniable is that Alexander-Arnold’s game has evolved.

When you study the key passes he has made from open play this season, and during the 2022/23 campaign, you can see the change.

Rather than being the crossing machine he was earlier on in his career, the Liverpool academy graduate’s most influential acts are now stemming far more often from central areas.

Keble-tactics-graphics-holder-Trent-passes

From those positions Alexander-Arnold is a master at executing long-range through balls.

In fact, he is second only to West Ham United’s Lucas Paqueta in the Premier League for producing through balls this season.

With an abundance of pace spearheading Liverpool’s attack, he is the ideal quarterback.

If they time their runs to stay onside, the Reds’ forwards know their talented team-mate has the ability to pick them out.

PL players most through-balls 23/24
Player Through-balls
Lucas Paqueta 18
Trent Alexander-Arnold 16
Martin Odegaard 13
Mohamed Salah 12
Bruno Fernandes 12

The England star has created 19 chances from open play, a tally that only puts him behind Mohamed Salah and Dominik Szoboszlai in the Liverpool ranks, with his team-mates producing 35 and 23 respectively.

He is an absolute must-pick for Klopp but, until he gains more experience inside packed central midfields, the choice of where to use him will remain a consistent dilemma.

Also in this series

Part 1: How Fulham revived attack after Mitrovic exit
Part 2: How Cooper has gone back in time by changing Forest's shape

Next: Adrian Clarke on Everton's revival

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