DOMINIC KING: Trent Alexander-Arnold hasn’t been good enough… and he will be hurt by being named as Liverpool’s weakest link. He should be left out of the England squad today for his own benefit
- Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold was inconsolable after their European exit
- The right back, 24, has endured a tricky season of disappointing personal form
- England manager Gareth Southgate may drop him from the Three Lions squad
Trent Alexander-Arnold stood alone, grappling with the situation. Hands on his hips and head bowed, he was clearly inconsolable as the pain of it all took hold.
Elimination from the Champions League stings but there seemed more to this scene than just the frustration of another lost football match and the aching realisation this campaign will close without Liverpool collecting any silverware.
Alexander-Arnold had said last February Liverpool had reached a level where one pot a season was the minimum requirement, so for everything to be off the table with two months to play brought a crashing sense of failure. The squad knew this moment was coming but, still, it hurt.
There was, however, something else at play. Alexander-Arnold had endured a challenging night, one in which he had made mistakes and seen Vinicius Junior dribble past him six times; footballers don’t need it spelling out when standards are not met and he knew his evening hadn’t been good enough.
This, of course, meant one thing. Liverpool’s number 66 has been the subject constant debate over the last seven months but it reached a new height when Jamie Carragher gave a powerful critique on CBS Sports.
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold was inconsolable after their Champions League exit
The Reds were knocked out of Europe 6-2 on aggregate by Real Madrid on Wednesday
Right-back Alexander-Arnold, 24, has endured a season of struggle amid disappointing form
It would not be a surprise if England boss Gareth Southgate (centre) dropped him in Thursday’s announcement of his latest Three Lions squad
During the course of a four-minute monologue, Carragher made some legitimate arguments. Alexander-Arnold’s displays have been a cause for concern for a considerable period and not even his biggest fan would attempt to suggest otherwise.
Too often he has not chased after opponents with the right intensity. Aggression is a quality Jurgen Klopp demands from his players and it has jarred to see the 23-year-old either not making challenges or looking on helplessly as Liverpool’s goal has been threatened.
He is not at the right level of form and it would not be the worst thing in the world if Gareth Southgate left him out of England’s squad for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine; Alexander-Arnold wouldn’t be starting and he doesn’t need to be in that environment at this time.
The England experience has been disheartening and there is little point Southgate selecting him to make up the numbers. Yes, it would initially cause a stir but he would be better served going on holiday for a week, to rest his legs and clear his mind.
It was a big deal before the World Cup about whether he would make the 26-man party but, really, that was counterproductive. The emotional and physical effort that was expended over four weeks has lingered and being away from that environment now would be beneficial. England can wait.
What cannot wait, though, is addressing the perception that Alexander-Arnold is the weakest link in Liverpool’s team and, as Carragher suggested, there is a possibility he may have reached the ceiling of his ability. It is true that players peak at different times but, nonetheless, this view feels premature.
Alexander-Arnold will be hurt by it. When the time comes for him to speak about the travails of this season, it will be fascinating to hear. From the time he did his first interview with the national media as an 18-year-old in May 2017, he has never spoken in cliches or ducked questions.
He’s honest and ambitious and won’t attempt to sugarcoat the situation. He’s always know improvement is required as a Liverpool player and there would be something seriously wrong if he wasn’t considering what he needs to do to get out of this rut.
Klopp has devised a system that should enable Alexander-Arnold to wreak havoc but it has fallen down this season for a number of reasons, through his own form and the form of those around him. Klopp is not blind and it is worth remembering what he said last September when he was omitted from England’s squad to face Germany.
Pundit and Reds icon Jamie Carragher fiercely critiqued Alexander-Arnold on Wednesday
‘There are stories out there all the time that talk about him and say he’s not a good defender, but that’s not true,’ Klopp explained.
‘He is a good defender, he doesn’t always defend good, that is true as well, but that is what we’re working on, he is a young player, he is 23.
‘There is space for improvement, definitely, but we only discuss it on the level we discuss it because his offensive impact is so extreme for us, it could be for each team in the world.
‘My point of view, it’s an easy pick. Whichever team I would coach in the moment, I would sign him because he is exceptional. Is he always exceptional? No. We are fine here because it’s completely different. I see him differently.’
One thing for certain is that Alexander-Arnold has the complete trust of his manager. It is difficult now but things can change. Provide he learns and listens, it might prove to be the most important part of his career. His best, even, may still be yet to come.
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