MATCHDAY PROGRAMME

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 3, 2023: Liverpool's match-winning goal-scorer Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 4-3. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Trent Alexander-Arnold may have a break-glass option – but his best position is clear

Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s response to the post-Fulham clamour for his permanent use in midfield could well have been considered strong enough to settle the debate.

As Liverpool earned victory over Sheffield United in their very next outing, the 25-year-old produced an assist and seven key passes from the hybrid role he has made his own.

And all of this while the midfield ahead of him were being completely squeezed out of the game, as Alexis Mac Allister‘s 13 first-half touches can attest.

Yet still the argument over where he might be best used raged on, with a late move into a central position against Crystal Palace serving to throw further fuel on the fire.

Still, even the manager’s more frequent flirtations with Alexander-Arnold in midfield should not be taken as conclusive proof that he must start games from that position.

It is, for obvious reasons, quite easy to get caught up in the romance of an Adidas Predator-wearing Scouser emerging as the heartbeat of the team.

However, if Liverpool’s aim is to shun romance and keep showing the sort of form that wins the Premier League, then it is hard to make a case for moving him out of his current role.

Trent Alexander-Arnold impressed against Manchester City (Rui Vieira/AP)

For starters, the Reds are the best team in the division since Alexander-Arnold first tried out his new position when Arsenal visited Anfield in early April, with neither the Gunners or Man City having picked up as many points.

What’s more, the knock-on effects that a move might have on the balance of the squad as a whole are not insignificant.

He may have been used in the holding role on occasion, but Alexander-Arnold is no specialist in defending those spaces when compared to Wataru Endo and even the improving Mac Allister.

That would leave the option of using him as a right-sided No. 8, which could only happen at the expense of the brilliant Dominik Szoboszlai.

A permanent switch would also leave Joe Gomez, who will surely be needed in the middle, and the inexperienced Conor Bradley as options at right-back, which feels like a slight step down from a player who has won every honour available in that position.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 3, 2023: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It is this combination of potential drawbacks that has former captain Phil Thompson convinced that a change should not be rushed into.

He told This Is Anfield: “I’m fighting against a lot of people who want to put him in [central midfield]!

“What works from a coaching perspective is him arriving in there. It’s a numbers game, the numbers that people have in midfield to mark our midfield three.

“Trent coming in is a bit of a surprise element, people don’t pick him up so he’s free. If he goes and stands in there, it becomes a completely different outlook on the game.

“I think there will come a time where Jurgen, as with England, will want to try it and it might work, it might not work.

“But at the moment, things are going along alright, it’s working. If it’s not broken, don’t try and fix it!”

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 9, 2023: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (R) celebrates with match-winning goal-scorer Harvey Elliott during the FA Premier League match between Crystal Palace FC and Liverpool FC at Selhurst Park. Liverpool won 2-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As Thompson points out, it is the threat of man-marking limiting Alexander-Arnold’s influence – for example, creating six chances from right-back at Selhurst Park – that makes the most compelling case for him not to be used centrally.

That may not have been a problem when both Fulham and Crystal Palace ceded space to Liverpool’s midfield late in games to try and protect leads, but in most fixtures it will be.

So in the short term at least, it is probably best that Klopp sticks with what he knows and the system that has unexpectedly thrust Liverpool into a title race.

And even then he will always have the break-glass option of Alexander-Arnold in midfield to pull the Reds out of a sticky situation.