Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold was extremely humble after being touted as a future Ballon d’Or winner from fellow full-back and World Cup-winning captain Cafu but insisted he is only focussed on team honours and not individual accolades as the Reds begin their Champions League defence on Tuesday.
Waiting in the wings for Alexander-Arnold and the European champions are La Liga giants Atletico Madrid ahead of Liverpool’s highly anticipated return to the Spanish capital.
Liverpool’s young scouser has been the subject of much individual praise after becoming the youngest ever player to start in back-to-back Champions League finals following the Reds’ sixth triumph in the competition last June.
The 21-year-old is currently favourite to claim his inaugural PFA Young Player of the Year award following another outstanding season that culminated in the FIFA Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup and the imminent prospect of ending the club’s 30 year-wat for a league title.
However, despite Cafu’s glowing praise for the England international, Alexander-Arnold admits he is more concerned with bolstering the Reds’ honours list than claiming any personal accolades.
“Obviously massive praise from a legend of the game, which is something that I’m really thankful for and I have to give thanks to him for those words,” said Alexander-Arnold to the ECHO following Cafu’s comments.
“I try and be the best player I can be. It’s a team game so it’s about the players I have around me in training, the manager, the support I have around me that enables me to be as good as I can be.
“That’s the focus for me, taking it a game at a time, accolades may or may not come in the future. It doesn’t really faze me as much as maybe it does other players, for me it’s about winning the team trophies.”
Liverpool are overwhelming favourites ahead of the last-16 bout with Atletico struggling in La Liga with Diego Simeone’s team 13 points off the league leaders and bitter rivals Real and struggling on the goal front having netted just 25 goals in 24 league matches.
However, they remain one of the most defensively secure teams on the continent having conceded just 17 goals all season second only to leaders Real, with the Reds’ irreplaceable attacking trident up against arguably their toughest test this season.
“We’ve adapted as a team over the last two years especially,” said Alexander-Arnold.
“Different teams we’re coming up against, different tactics, we’re able to counter it and adapt during the game and at half-time.
“We came against a similar formation that we’re going to face tomorrow on Saturday in Norwich and we understand what we’re going to face, it’ll be very difficult.
“But we’re going into it with a gameplan, we know what we need to do and hopefully we’ll come away with a result that puts us in a good position going back to Anfield.”
Alexander-Arnold added: “We’re learning as a team from our experiences and that’s the sign of a good side. To be making the mistakes we make and learn from them and motivate us to get better.
“The best players in the world want to get to these stages, they want to be getting to finals, winning trophies, and so do the best teams.
“So if we want to be known as one of the best teams in the world, we have to be getting to those latter stages.
“The experiences we’ve got from the last two seasons, especially in the Champions League, have educated us on how to get far in these competitions. We know we have to be at 100% all the time.”
What RTK has to say
Liverpool return to the Wanda Metropolitano for the first time since winning their sixth European Cup at the same venue following their 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur.
Jurgen Klopp will come up against Tuesday’s managerial counterpart Simeone for the first time in his professional career with the German manager still unbeaten in all of his 10 two-legged European knockout ties since his Anfield arrival.
The Reds are aiming for a third consecutive UCL final in Istanbul come May as the Premier League champions-elect look have their sights set on a domestic and European treble.