Jurgen Klopp had a quick fix to help Trent Alexander-Arnold with his defending. It’s one that told a story about Liverpool’s system.
Trent Alexander-Arnold earned the spotlight against Aston Villa with his wonderful winning strike in stoppage time. But then, the spotlight has been on him for weeks now.
Gareth Southgate’s decision to leave him out of the England squad was a shock, suggesting there was something about Alexander-Arnold’s game that he didn’t like.
Defending was the obvious answer, of course, as Alexander-Arnold is unquestionably an elite offensive force. But his ability going towards his own goal was in question.
Now, for what it’s worth, we think is shortcomings there are wildly overstated. But he also had a tough time in Madrid last week.
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Real Madrid targeted Alexander-Arnold. Specifically, they looked to get behind him and into the channel alongside Nat Phillips.
The first-half was a disaster for the Reds. Real scored twice from long passes into that channel, with Alexander-Arnold making a bad mistake on the second.
Things did improve after half-time, however – and we think that’s important.
Four minutes before the break, Jurgen Klopp took off Naby Keita for Thiago. The Guinean had played on the right of the midfield three – his job was to help cover Alexander-Arnold’s runs and stop counter-attacks.
But that didn’t happen. Keita had an awful half, forcing Klopp to remove him. Thiago did a much better job once he was on.
And against Villa, Alexander-Arnold again had little trouble. This time he had Gini Wijnaldum covering him as he went forward and plugging the channel.
It’s no coincidence that Alexander-Arnold struggles without a covering midfielder. He’s such an aggressive full-back that he naturally leaves space.
Joe Gomez or Joel Matip, combined with a solid midfielder, help cover him. But when none of that is there, opposition sides can exploit it.
It’s another sign that Liverpool badly miss Jordan Henderson. The captain is at his best on the right of midfield and does the bulk of his defensive work on that flank.
He won’t be there to face Real, of course. It means Klopp has to use someone else who can try and replicate the role.
Wijnaldum, Thiago and James Milner are the obvious options – though, Milner played the full 90 against Villa and surely won’t do the same on Wednesday.
It’s a quick fix but the right one. It also tells a story about Liverpool’s midfield.
The Reds require specific midfielders or the system does fall apart, leaving them exposed. It’s something to consider on Wednesday and if Wijnaldum leaves this summer.
Liverpool’s midfield is not something you can easily tinker with.