Trent Alexander-Arnold & Andy Robertson’s importance – and a long-term priority for Liverpool

Liverpool’s 5-0 win over Watford reaffirmed the importance of full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, but also the need to establish backups.


Wednesday night brought a welcome rarity for Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds.

In the third consecutive 5-0 victory over the Hornets at Anfield, all five assists came through the full-backs: Alexander-Arnold set up three, while Robertson supplied two.

One of the Scot’s was a simple pass to allow Divock Origi to do the rest, but every assist counts for the pair as they vie to top the charts at the end of the season.

This deluge of goals was particularly well-received as it came on the back two 0-0 draws against high-profile opposition, and three days on from the stalemate away to Man United it was a significant win.

With Alexander-Arnold restored to the starting right-back spot after his omission at Old Trafford, it was clear how influential this full-back pairing are in tandem.

For Klopp this is a long-term positive, as 10-assist Robertson is still only 24 and six-assist Alexander-Arnold is 20.

But by the same token, the contrast between Liverpool’s last two results highlights a summer priority.

 

Trent & Robbo vs. Watford

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 27, 2019: Liverpool's two goal hero Virgil van Dijk (L) and man-of-the-match that Trent Alexander-Arnold (who created three goals) celebrate with Andy Robertson at the final whistle during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Watford FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 5-0. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

Against Watford, Klopp made just two changes to his starting lineup from the 0-0 draw with Man United, with Alexander-Arnold coming in for Jordan Henderson and Origi replacing the injured Roberto Firmino.

But the manager sprang a surprise on his counterpart Javi Gracia with a number of tactical alterations, one of which was James Milner moving into midfield to facilitate the return of Liverpool’s first-choice right-back.

With Sadio Mane driving through the middle and Origi providing physicality in an unorthodox left-wing role, the main focus was on feeding Mohamed Salah on the right—with 47 percent of the Reds’ chances coming from that side.

Though his 50th Premier League goal for Liverpool eluded him, Salah enjoyed an excellent game up against hapless left-back Adam Masina, and this was aided immensely by a world-class showing from Alexander-Arnold.

Having been rested at the weekend in order to avoid recurrence of any injury, the No. 66 was a constant source of energy on the right flank.

“Obviously he’s fit, if you see how he was chasing back in all the counter-attacks [from Watford],” Klopp explained after the game.

“He was involved in pretty much each offensive situation and then when we lose the ball that’s the nature of the thing, and you have to run back.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 27, 2019: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold and Watford's Gerard Deulofeu during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Watford FC at Anfield. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

This perfectly summarised the role Alexander-Arnold played at Anfield: he was involved in everything, from defence to attack, and even taking set-pieces.

No player made more touches than the right-back (102), who also created the most chances (five) and contributed the joint-second most tackles for Liverpool (two).

And he became the youngest player to register three assists in one Premier League game.

Similarly influential, however, was Robertson, whose overlapping runs gave Origi an out-ball: the left-back made the fourth-most touches (85), created the second-most chances (two) and also made two tackles.

In an excellent all-round team display, it was crucial that both of Klopp’s full-backs performed to the highest standard.

And with the manager telling reporters after the game that “we wanted to play like this every day,” their importance to Liverpool’s system was hammered home.

 

Klopp’s Full-Back Philosophy

WATFORD, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 24, 2018: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp (L) and Trent Alexander-Arnold after the FA Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road. Liverpool won 3-0. Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Speaking this time last year, Klopp described full-back as “an unbelievably important position,” explaining how they are required to be “sometimes defenders and sometimes attackers.”

This followed up from his comments on Sky SportsMonday Night Football in 2016, when he said “a Jurgen Klopp full-back has changed in the last few years.”

“This kind of full-back in the team now, it’s much more like a midfield player,” he detailed.

“They have to play in the half spaces, they have to play really high, they are the wingers or central midfielders sometimes.

“The rule is be an option to get the pass or be protection for all the players.”

Klopp’s last line is particularly pertinent when considering the role Alexander-Arnold and Robertson play, and the input of all of Liverpool’s full-backs this season.

Of the Reds’ 37 games in all competitions this season, a full-back has had the most touches in 16 (43 percent), while either the left-back or right-back has created the most chances in 13 (35 percent).

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 25, 2018: Liverpool's Andy Robertson (right) and Brighton & Hove Albion's Anthony Knockaert (left) during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Eighty-five of the Liverpool’s 300 chances created in the Premier League this term have come from full-backs (28 percent): Robertson has created the third-most (35, only 17 fewer than Salah), with Alexander-Arnold the sixth-most (25).

Of every full-back in the English top flight, only Everton‘s Lucas Digne (46) has created more than Robertson.

The No. 26 is Klopp’s chief assist-maker in the Premier League, with eight, and is only behind Ryan Fraser, Raheem Sterling, Paul Pogba, Leroy Sane, Christian Eriksen (all nine) and Eden Hazard (10) league-wide.

Alexander-Arnold, who is joint-10th in the league and third for Liverpool with six, has as many assists as Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero, while the only full-back to tally as many so far is Watford‘s Jose Holebas.

The only full-back in Europe’s top-five leagues to have laid on more domestic goals than Robertson is Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich (10), but the German has also played in midfield.

These are elite-level creative figures, and this is why Alexander-Arnold and Robertson are so crucial to Liverpool’s success, and why Klopp will need to establish adequate cover for the pair this summer.

 

Further Depth Required

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 27, 2019: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp and Trent Alexander-Arnold during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Watford FC at Anfield. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

Klopp is fortunate to be able to call upon two of the very best full-backs in world football, and that they both have excellent fitness records and, crucially, time on their side.

Neither Alexander-Arnold or Robertson are at their peak, and this is hugely encouraging as Liverpool cement themselves back at the top.

However, as Milner’s lacklustre displays as stand-in and Alberto Moreno‘s absence from the substitutes’ bench in 12 of 28 league games this season proves, when Liverpool’s first-choice full-backs are unavailable, they suffer.

The Reds’ fortunes against United and Watford perfectly highlight this, and with Moreno set to leave on the expiry of his contract at the end of June and Milner having turned 33 in January, cover is required.

Joe Gomez‘s future is at centre-back, while the ill-fitting Nathaniel Clyne is certain to depart following his loan spell with Bournemouth, but the transfer market is not necessarily the avenue Klopp will need to explore.

Instead, the work being undertaken in Liverpool’s academy could provide a big hint as to the club’s future plans at full-back.

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Monday, January 7, 2019: Liverpool's Rafael Camacho shoots during the FA Cup 3rd Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Both Rafa Camacho (18, RB) and Yasser Larouci (18, LB) have been converted from advanced wide positions and excelled, while Adam Lewis (19, LB) has trained regularly with the first team and Neco Williams (17, RB) impressed before injury.

Camacho has even made the matchday squad for eight Premier League games already this season, and debuted at right-back in the FA Cup in January.

Crucially, all four of Camacho, Lewis, Larouci and Williams are predominantly attacking players whose defensive efforts are improving rapidly, which certainly suits Klopp’s demanding system.

So while Alexander-Arnold and Robertson are rightly established as Liverpool’s first-choice full-backs for the long term, there could already be backup solutions breaking through.

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