Trent Alexander-Arnold is having a transformative effect on the full-back position. There may be no going back for football.
No one saw this coming when Alexander-Arnold broke into the Liverpool side in 2017. He was only there because of injuries to Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez, after all.
But right now, Alexander-Arnold is one of the most influential players in the Premier League. He sits in second for assists, behind only Kevin de Bruyne. That’s quite something, given the reputation of full-backs.
Full-backs were purely support players 20 years ago. The rise of players like Dani Alves changed things, though, and turned the role into essentially a traditional winger.
Virtually every team utilises full-backs in that way. Quite a few top full-backs are now ex-wingers, shifting backwards where teams now require more traditional winger requirements.
But now, at Liverpool and particularly with Alexander-Arnold, the position is changing once again. They’re now becoming the centre-mids of old.
Pressing has squeezed the time and space completely out of midfield. As a result, full-backs now have it and in a complete reversal, other players now support them. They need that support, after all, as they’re now in the best place to operate as the playmaker.
Liverpool demonstrate it perfectly. They use two midfielders in their three to pull wide and cover attacking runs for their full-backs, giving them less to worry about. They expect creativity as a result and actively look to find their full-backs in every move.
But it’s Alexander-Arnold, rather than Andy Robertson, who is truly changing things. Robertson still plays like that converted winger, whereas the 21-year-old has become that playmaker. He’ll spread play, start counter-attacks from deep, deliver crosses, and dictate the tempo.
There have been calls for years for Alexander-Arnold to move into midfield as a playmaker. Instead, he’s managed to bring the role to him, redefining his position in the process. It’s proven so effective that it won’t be long before other teams are trying to follow suit.