Alexander-Arnold v Bradley: Liverpool's agonising conundrum revealed amid Real Madrid interest

This will be a crucial summer for Liverpool for many reasons, among which is deciding the future of arguably their most talented player - Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Amid talks of a positional switch to midfield, Trent’s contract is set to expire at the end of next season, sparking speculation linking Real Madrid with a potential free transfer move.

Renewing his contract by keeping him happy will be critical in what will be one of the first tests for new FSG CEO of Football Michael Edwards and incoming Liverpool sporting director Richard Hughes.

So let's examine if he can fit in the Liverpool midfield, and if this might be the right time to do the unthinkable and cash in?

Can Trent switch to a permanent midfield role?

Trent has been inverting into midfield for a while under Jurgen Klopp with great success, but there isn’t much available data when he was directly deployed in midfield for the Reds.

For England though, the 25-year-old has been experimented as a midfielder under Gareth Southgate.

Earlier this month, Trent lined up in the middle of the park against Bosnia and Herzegovina and put on a man of the match display. He scored a goal, albeit when he moved to right back, had the most accurate passes, chances created and was not dribbled past a single time.

The Three Lions lack someone who can link play from deeper areas, so there is a real possibility of him lining up alongside Declan Rice as a starter.

Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold for England.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - JUNE 3: Trent Alexander-Arnold of England celebrates after scoring goal 2-0 during the International Friendly, Länderspiel, Nationalmannschaft match between England and Bosnia & Herzegovina at St James Park on June 3, 2024 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Photo by Will Palmer/SPP Will Palmer/SPP PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxBRAxMEX Copyright: xWillxPalmer/SPPx spp-en-WiPa-RC4_WPA_ENGxBOS_03jun2024_SP-9095

However, the defensive side of the Liverpool academy graduates game has been a big point of contention. Trent got dribbled past 2.5 per 90 this past season when playing as a right back.

He will also need to fully develop the positional awareness to play in the new role. So this would be an issue if he was to line up as a single pivot player in midfield.

For England though, he will have Declan Rice to offer world class protection to cover for some of those short-comings.

When he inverts into possession for Liverpool, he also forms a double pivot with either Alexis Mac Allister or Wataru Endo - who play as the No.6.

So there is no reason why he can’t make a permanent switch to midfield, but it likely won't be as the No.6, but rather playing alongside them.

Conor Bradley Trent Alexander-Arnold

Conor Bradley Trent Alexander-Arnold

Trent will keep getting better defensively with more experience, and the success of the switch will ultimately come down to his net positive effect on the team.

Bradley vs Trent: Who is the better right back? 

Defensive ability

While Bradley’s numbers are based on less than 800 minutes of playing time, he has been nothing short of a revelation.

Compared to Trent, he wins more tackles (2.98 vs 1.09), challenges more dribblers (4.52 vs 3.64) and blocks more passes (1.9 vs 0.84) per 90. 

More impressively he ranks in the top 1% of Premier League full backs in each of those categories.

In terms of aerial ability, Bradley is dominant again with more aerial duels won (1.31 vs 0.33 per 90) at a higher win rate than Trent (68.8% vs 57.1%).

International Friendly, Länderspiel, Nationalmannschaft Estadio Nueva Condomina, Murcia, Spain 11/6/2024 Andorra vs Northern Ireland Northern Irelands Conor Bradley celebrates scoring a goal Conor Bradley celebrates scoring a goal 11/6/2024 PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUKxIRLxFRAxNZL Copyright: x INPHO/Presseye/WilliamxCherryx pe_00957221

The defensive comparison between the two is not a complete washout though, as Trent ranks higher than Bradley when it comes to recovering loose balls (7.36 vs 5.95 per 90).

Attacking threat 

While Trent might not stand out defensively, he possesses one of the most unique and impressive passing skill sets in world football.

The Englishman does not just dominate relative to players in his position, but also when comparing his figures to players from more offensive positions.

When weighing up his contribution with the wealth of attacking talent in the Liverpool squad, he still ranks first for accurate long balls and second for big chances created and Expected Assists (xA) per 90.

Expected Assisted Goals(xAG) looks at a player's ability to set up scoring chances for their team mates. Trent’s figure of 0.28 per 90 is almost double that of Bradley and ranks in the top 1% of full backs not just in the Premier League but also the top five European Leagues.

A similar dominance is seen when looking at key passes, through balls, switches, passes into the final third and into the penalty area. Trent again ranks in the top one or two percent of Premier League full backs in each category. 

Conor Bradley Liverpool

Conor Bradley Liverpool

While Bradley does well here, he does not come close to his teammate. Though his coming of age certainly makes the case for Trent moving to midfield a lot stronger.

Bradley the better flying full-back

One factor that might determine Trent’s positional shift is how Arne Slot wants his full backs to operate.

At Feyenoord he often used them to provide width so they could overlap and get to the byline to offer an attacking threat. If the Dutchman were to implement a similar system at Anfield, Bradley’s engine and ball carrying might be a better fit.

The Northern Ireland international’s 1.55 successful take-ons, 3.47 carries into the final third and 1.43 carries into the penalty area are all amongst the best figures for a full back in the English top flight.

Trent fares well here, but does not have the athleticism to fulfil this role to the same degree.

Liverpool have assembled an impressive scouting team that should be trusted to make the best long term decision for the club. The ultimate decision about the future of their No.66 will be made by them alongside the new manager.

Cashing in on a generational talent that came through your academy is never a nice option, so whether it be at right-back or in midfield, Trent should remain a critical part of the system in the post-Klopp era.

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