Martin King reviews the incredible season that Trent Alexander-Arnold has had, making it to the Champions League final with Liverpool and being selected for the England World Cup squad.
15 August 2017.
A date long etched in the heart and mind of Trent Alexander-Arnold, as the night the youngster stepped up like he never did before, to introduce himself to Europe.
It was just a few minutes after the half-hour mark in a match between Hoffenheim and Liverpool, where a place in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League was at stake. The Reds were awarded a free-kick a few yards outside their opponents’ box and Alexander-Arnold stepped up to curl the ball over the wall and into the back of the net.
Whoa! Few people, if any, knew the youngster had that much quality in his locker, but that moment would go on to serve as the perfect opening to a season that saw Alexander-Arnold go from local lad to international star.
At just 19 years of age, playing in a Liverpool team that boasts a wealth of quality and top-flight experience, having represented the Reds from as early as 6 years-old, was always viewed as a significant step forward for Alexander-Arnold. Whether or not he could maintain his upward trajectory was, however, still up for debate.
Either way, with the faith of manager Jürgen Klopp and the injury woes suffered by two of Liverpool’s right-backs in Joe Gomez and Nathaniel Clyne, Alexander-Arnold was given a great opportunity to prove himself in the first team and he responded strongly.
Alexander-Arnold made 31 appearances in all competitions last season, scoring two goals and recording the same number of assists from fullback.
His flying runs from deep were a perfect match for a Reds team well known to flood forward in attack and that free-kick against Hoffenheim was a classy extension of his technical ability, which he used often to deliver crosses into the box.
Going in the opposite direction was and still is just as crucial to his development, though, and on the whole, the West Derby-born youngster has done well, contributing to 17 clean sheets, as Liverpool finished fourth in the Premier League.
That, plus a Champions League final finish has earned Alexander-Arnold tones of valuable experience that will serve him well for seasons to come, not to mention, a place in England’s FIFA World Cup squad.
For all the good that has come out of this season for Alexander-Arnold, though, there is still the perception that the youngster has a mistake or two in him, and will, therefore, be targeted by opposition attackers in certain games.
Rewind to league games against Manchester United and Manchester City, when strikers Marcus Rashford and Leroy Sane found it rather easy to exploit Liverpool’s right-side of defence, which the defender is in charge of.
Performances like those, which were poor in their entirety, perhaps cast a shadow of doubt over whether Alexander-Arnold is ready to carry the mantle full time for his side at right-back but just when you think you have him all figured out, he goes on to produce a performance like he did last Saturday in the Champions League final – against Cristiano Ronaldo, no less!
So, it’s fair to say that he has demonstrated a great attitude in learning from his mistakes and applying the lessons.
That then means his mishaps could be written off as nothing more than growing pains, however, Liverpool’s number 66 must heed the warning that as Anfield becomes home to a host of new global stars, so must any below-par displays make their way out the door.
2017/18 has been a great season of emergence for Liverpool’s young right-back, who has caught the eye more than he has disappointed. The driving factor behind his continued growth heading into next season will always be Klopp’s faith in him, which hasn’t wavered even for a single minute.
His place in the England national team’s trip to Russia will only add to his experience and playing time to his growth as a player, as everyone at home wishes him the best of luck and a safe return.
When he does come back, he will undoubtedly face strong competition from fellow countrymen Joe Gomez and Nathaniel Clyne for his position, however, the season Alexander-Arnold’s just had suggests he won’t yield his place in the team that easily.