As far as auditions go, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s against Fulham was a pretty good one.
For quite some time now, a lot of people have been saying the No. 66 should be moved to midfield on a permanent basis. Jurgen Klopp’s decision to use the right-back in an inverted role seemed to suggest the German tactician had given it some thought too, but he was seemingly reluctant to commit to it.
Alexander-Arnold has largely spent the 2023/24 season in this hybrid full-back role. In possession, he shifts into midfield to form a double pivot but on the teamsheet, he’s still a right-back.
In the second half against Fulham, Klopp made the call to use his vice-captain in midfield.
Liverpool had Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones on the bench but after replacing Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai, the Reds had a midfield three made up of Alexander-Arnold, Ryan Gravenberch and Cody Gakpo.
It was a bold decision by the Liverpool boss. As the hosts look to build out from the back against Fulham, Joe Gomez, the right-back, was stepping in to partner Alexander-Arnold in midfield. Essentially, the Reds had two full-backs orchestrating play from the centre of the pitch.
During this period of the game, Fulham went ahead. Kostas Tsimikas was caught flat-footed at the back post and Bobby De Cordova Reid nodded the ball past Caoimhin Kelleher to give the away side the lead in the 80th minute.
Not long after that, Klopp made the call to bring on Wataru Endo to anchor the midfield. This allowed Alexander-Arnold the freedom he so desperately wanted to influence things in the final third and he ended up scoring the winner just moments after the Japan captain had equalised.
Alexander-Arnold has all the technique in the world and had he been able to get into better shooting positions over the years, there’s no reason he couldn’t chip in with 10 goals. His career best in the Premier League is four.
We’ve seen how effective he can be over recent weeks with goals against Manchester City and now versus Fulham. Both were well-struck and arrowed into the bottom corner. Fans now want him closer to goal. They want him in midfield. And whereas previously people had ideas on how it might work with the right-back in midfield, there are now examples to support their opinions. The case is stronger than ever before.
However, where would his best role actually be?
Does he have the defensive instincts to play as a single pivot as the anchor in midfield with two aggressive midfielders on either side of him?
Granted, the Reds needed a winner yesterday so he was trying to make something happen, he was vacating the middle third regularly (you can see it above) and leaving Liverpool exposed. Alexander-Arnold wasn’t wanting to sit behind play to support what was going on, he wanted to be involved.
It was around this period that Fulham started to have some chances. Antonee Robinson tested Kelleher not long before taking the lead. In both situations, Alexander-Arnold was caught ahead of the ball and he was then a little slow to get back into position.
He gets dispossessed in the final third just moments prior to the above image. He then takes his time to get going and this allows Fulham the opportunity to escape the half-hearted Liverpool press.
Both Harrison Reed and Tom Cairney attack the space Alexander-Arnold should be in as the deepest midfielder.
The No. 66 is then just jogging behind the play as Fulham move through the thirds. He’s obviously tired at this point but with a burst of speed here, he could get back at Cairney and perhaps bring this attack to a halt.
If you watch this attack progress, Cairney runs off of Alexander-Arnold to cross the ball in for De Cordova Reid. Now, the vice-captain shouldn’t be expected to track the Fulham No. 10 but he needs to react to Ibrahima Konate being dragged out wide.
He isn’t in a position to react to anything that might happen after the header. If Kelleher pushes the ball out, Raul Jimenez is free inside the box.
This isn’t to do with effort. It is everything to do with lack of experience in this role. It is why I think using Alexander-Arnold as the number six would be a risk and if you really want him to be part of the middle third, he needs to be a right-sided or left-sided midfielder.
Otherwise, the Reds might be a bit too top-heavy and teams will be able to exploit the gaps, just as Fulham did.