Is there a more technically gifted player in European football at the moment than Trent Alexander-Arnold?
That may sound like a hyperbolic claim, but it’s hard to think of anyone superior.
There’s Lionel Messi, of course – will anyone ever better his level of technical prowess? – but he has now disappeared across the Atlantic, while a selection of others, including Kevin De Bruyne can lay claim to being as good on the ball as Liverpool’s majestic 25-year-old. But nobody feels superior.
Alexander-Arnold’s brilliance came to the fore in the biggest game of the season so far on Saturday, with his gloriously-struck 20-yarder salvaging a well-earned point for the Reds away to Manchester City.
The speed of thought from the Englishman, who took a touch and then lashed an effort past Ederson, was like watching Steven Gerrard in his prime, and it wasn’t his only eye-catching contribution on the ball.
Some of the passes that Alexander-Arnold produced at the Etihad were sensational – balls that many could hope to play a few times a season, let alone away to the best team in the world – but we have become so used to such world-class vision that we almost take it for granted now.
For all of the attacking magic on show from Liverpool’s vice-captain, on a day when the positives easily outweighed the negatives, there again had to be so much needless focus on his defensive work.
In this dreadful era of tribalism that exists, social media was awash with criticism of Alexander-Arnold’s performance up against the relentless Jeremy Doku, who was a constant threat and clearly gave his opponent problems at times.
A statistic going around pointing out that that Belgian dribbled past Alexander-Arnold seven times suggests that he was all over the place in a defensive sense, but it is a misleading stat and the eye test shows that he rarely actually got the better of him.
"TAA was dribbled past 7 times by Doku, defensively he was cooked"
This is the barometer for what being "dribbled past" is on these stat sites.
— Hennes (@Hennes_4) November 25, 2023
Sure, there were some iffy moments from Alexander-Arnold, not least a timid attempted tackle on Nathan Ake in the lead-up to Erling Haaland’s opener, but the overreaction to this one moment epitomised the strange obsession around him that now exists.
The bottom line is that Liverpool’s No.66 is treated differently to every other right-back in the game. Week after week, he is called out as an error-prone defender, who is hapless in one-on-one situations, while his peers avoid such intense scrutiny.
Only later on Saturday afternoon did Reece James receive a red card in Chelsea’s 4-1 defeat at Newcastle, receiving his second booking for a sloppy foul on Anthony Gordon.
In the Blues’ thrilling 4-4 draw with City before the international break, Kyle Walker was given a torrid time by Raheem Sterling, and switched off at the back post to allow the former Liverpool man to score.
Kieran Trippier has been an excellent signing for Newcastle, but he has also been found napping plenty of times in a defensive sense, including at home to the Reds last season, allowing Darwin Nuñez to fire home after leaving him unmarked in the middle.
These are just the current fellow English right-backs as examples, and while they are all good players in their own right, they are far-from-perfect individuals who are let off so easily in comparison to Alexander-Arnold.
On top of that, none possess even close to the individual genius that he does with the ball at his feet, and it is a travesty that so many seem keen to point out his shortcomings instead of his many plus points.
It’s not just rivals fans who are guilty of this, with pundits also often desperate to point out an Alexander-Arnold mistake, before blissfully acting unaware if the same thing happens to someone else.
The truth is, you simply cannot be a bad defender and be such a mainstay of this special Liverpool side under Jurgen Klopp for five or six years. It's impossible.
There have been games when he has been outstanding defensively, not least up against Leroy Sane in a Champions League quarter-final clash with City back in 2018, at which point he was still a teenager.
Perhaps the biggest concern surrounding Alexander-Arnold at the moment is whether he has simply outgrown his right-back position, and would be better suited to becoming a full-time midfielder.
It is true that in his hybrid role he has, on occasion, lacked intensity in heading back towards his own goal.
That was certainly the case for Haaland’s goal, with far more needed in the tackle on Ake, so the main criticism of him would be that he could do with looking more interested in his defensive duties.
There is a strong argument to say that it could be time to just use Alexander-Arnold as a midfielder, as Gareth Southgate is doing with England, but how do you fit him into Klopp’s team in that area?
He wouldn't be a enforcer style No.6 – again lacking the truly elite defensive brain to excel there like a Fabinho or a Rodri – while the Reds have just invested £60m in Dominik Szoboszlai, another special player, in what would be Alexander-Arnold’s preferred right-sided No.8 slot.
Alexis Mac Allister, Curtis Jones, Ryan Gravenberch and Harvey Elliott all represent great midfield options too, at Klopp's disposal. So for now, the boyhood Red will have to settle for his hybrid role.
The draw with City once again highlighted what a special and unique footballer Alexander-Arnold is – Gary Neville called him the 'equal of' De Bruyne after the game and potentially the best right back of all time – but it also showed how pathetic this constant attempt to lambast his defensive work has become.
He is never going to be a truly great defender, we all know that, but he is playing in an extremely attacking system that would leave any right-back exposed at times, and he remains as influential in his position as any player in the world.
Alexander-Arnold is arguably flawed, but aren’t all geniuses?