Trent auditions for midfield but another Scouser could be Liverpool’s wildcard

As the Reds romped to victory in West Yorkshire, there was a touch of footballing Scouse House and the return of something that looked a bit like the real Liverpool.

A Monday night trip to Leeds came with an emphatic away win against demoralised relegation candidates.

There was confidence on offer, a touch of footballing Scouse House and the return of something that looked a bit like the real Liverpool, after navigating a pedestrian opening half-hour.

They were all added to by a cameo appearance from a long-injured friend in the shape of Luis Diaz – reasons to be cheerful, part three.

It would have been very Liverpool 2022/23 of us, had we gone to Elland Road and lost to the team which had just shipped five goals at home to a Roy Hodgson tactical plan.

It was just as Liverpool 2022/23 of us to go one better by putting six past Leeds, however.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - Monday, April 17, 2023: Liverpool's Luis Díaz after the FA Premier League match between Leeds United FC and Liverpool FC at Elland Road. Liverpool won 6-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

At some stage, we might well look back at that comeback against Arsenal and bask in the enduring reverberations it caused.

It is mid-April, and the Reds are sat in a lowly eighth place. It has been a campaign littered with potential springboards which have gone unutilised.

Despite a night that was good for the soul, there are still reasons to be sceptical too.

Even within this one, there were mood swings.

Until Cody Gakpo opened the scoring in the 35th minute, there was a defined ‘can’t-be-arsed’ vibe permeating Liverpool’s players, whose motions were largely set to slow.

Third gear seemed an outlandish ambition at that stage, let alone the higher gears we eventually hit as the game progressed.

Across the most difficult season of Jurgen Klopp‘s time at Liverpool, events such as the 9-0 against Bournemouth, the 7-1 against Rangers, the 7-0 against Erik ten Hag’s United and now this 6-1 drubbing of Leeds have all offered mirages of the Liverpool we can still be.

Yet, the trick for us has been our disjointed attempts at riding the waves those results should have created.

After Bournemouth, we went on to win just one of our next five Premier League fixtures, that being a last-gasp victory at home to a time-wasting Newcastle United.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, August 31, 2022: Liverpool's Fábio Carvalho celebrates with manager Jürgen Klopp after scoring the winning second goal in the 95th minute of injury time during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

After departing Ibrox, our Champions League hopes were still over in the last 16, while our reaction to putting Man United so impressively to the sword was to take just two of the next 12 points on offer in the league.

Will the next eight fixtures be any different or will we break the destructive patterns of autumn and winter?

It’s still a coin toss, but there are reasons to be optimistic.

Liverpool were excellent against Leeds once the deadlock had been broken.

Although an open invitation for a counter-attack, the tweak to Klopp’s system means Trent Alexander-Arnold operates as a deep-lying midfield conductor with an added roaming remit when his team are in possession – it’s a joy to watch when everything is flowing.

Even Klopp’s Champions League and Premier League-winning vintages were castigated for the lack of a true midfield genius – that playmaker, a Luka Modric or David Silva – to call our own.

Here was Alexander-Arnold auditioning for the role.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - Monday, April 17, 2023: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold during the FA Premier League match between Leeds United FC and Liverpool FC at Elland Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Food for thought has been offered by this alteration, one which kind of settles the argument over whether Alexander-Arnold could ever make a permanent structural switch to midfield at some stage.

In my mind, it has never really been in doubt that he could pull it off, given that, as a full-back who has for so long been asked to do the job of a wing-back, he has spent more of his Liverpool career in advanced parts of the pitch than he ever has in defensive ones anyway.

With two assists, influence aplenty exerted, and much of it in central areas, Alexander-Arnold’s performance was utterly compelling.

And when added to by Curtis Jones putting in one of his best performances in a Liverpool shirt, the much-needed midfield reboot has a core of players aged 24 and under that it can be built around – especially when you throw Stefan Bajcetic and Harvey Elliott into the equation too.

It will be a long goodbye for James Milner and the end of the road for Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Conversely, the experience of Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Thiago will still be vital in the transitioning of the Liverpool midfield into one that can carry the club toward the 2030s.

When it comes to new blood in midfield, hands have been wrung over the club distancing themselves from the escalating bidding war for Jude Bellingham.

Liverpool have never been an entity that has gone overly wild with the chequebook though, so it’s hardly a surprising development, but FSG will know they are going to be under intense scrutiny this summer.

BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 29, 2023: Liverpool's Curtis Jones during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. Brighton won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Jones is the wildcard in all of this.

He is a polarising player who has talent to burn. If you take social media at face value, then he is widely unpopular among a support base that has made their minds up about him and won’t be for budging, no matter what.

But for match-going Reds, while the jury is still out, there’s backing for him and a will to see him succeed, even while there are doubts if he will do so or not.

What is certain is that this run of games has done Jones the power of good and you can see his confidence rising.

The ball he plays to set Diogo Jota free to score Liverpool’s third goal was nothing short of magnificent. He offers Liverpool something very different, as seen in his contribution to our first goal against Arsenal a week or so ago.

The Alexander-Arnold and Jones show was pure footballing Scouse House and I hope to see more of it in the coming weeks.

Against Leeds, it was the foundation that allowed Mo Salah, Gakpo, Jota, and later Darwin Nunez to exploit the gifts that our hosts bestowed to us.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - Monday, April 17, 2023: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (L) celebrates with team-mate Cody Gakpo (R) after scoring the fourth goal during the FA Premier League match between Leeds United FC and Liverpool FC at Elland Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

For some, hopeless dreamers as we are, these eight remaining games are all about an uphill struggle to book a seat for next season’s Champions League, or to at least qualify for or avoid the Europa League, depending on your outlook.

For me, they are all about some advanced evolution towards the fresh start of the 2023/24 Premier League campaign, with a willingness to accept any belated end-of-season bonus this time around should others hit the self-destruct button – I’m looking at you Newcastle and Tottenham.

These are valuable days in which Klopp can give Jones a run of games; where he can experiment with Alexander-Arnold’s role; where he can test any other theories that he still has on the drawing board.

All that, within a competitive run of games, rather than in the docile environment of pre-season.

Next up, Nottingham Forest come to Anfield on Saturday, another potential step on the road to rehabilitation.