Trent Alexander-Arnold question is key to Liverpool's season

Jurgen Klopp has a decision to make over Trent Alexander-Arnold

The Liverpool-born right-back started the campaign playing as an inverted full-back but over the past month, he’s been utilised as a midfielder. The shift in role has come at a time when the Reds are struggling with performances but, with the help of their No. 66, they have managed to grind out results to keep them in the title race.

Alexander-Arnold equalised against Manchester City and then fired home the winner against Fulham to complete a turnaround in the 4-3 victory. He assisted the opener in the 2-0 win over Sheffield United and was then deployed in midfield at half-time in the comeback away to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

With Liverpool searching for a goal against Manchester United at Anfield last weekend, Klopp pushed his No. 66 into the middle third. He almost scored the winner when his curled effort from the edge of the area clipped the outside of the post.

The 25-year-old may not have been able to conjure up a match-winning moment for Liverpool, but he was the one most likely to make something happen. Both WhoScored and FotMob gave the 23-cap England international an 8.8 rating for his showing against Erik ten Hag’s side. This rating was no doubt influenced massively by the six chances he created in the match and no player could better his Expected Assists total of 0.42.

When he’s moved into midfield, things happen.

But how long can Alexander-Arnold be viewed almost as a get-out-of-jail-free card by Klopp?

Right now, the German tactician seems to head into games with the mindset that the No. 66 will save the day if things don’t initially go to plan. And while having a difference-maker and a match-winner at your disposal does give you the ability to roll out a Plan B whenever there’s a need for it, the need for the right-back to make something happen is becoming far too regular now, isn’t it?

Sooner or later, Klopp is going to have to commit to an idea. He needs to for the sake of the player, the team and the club.

The player needs to know what his long-term role is, the team need to familiarise themselves with whatever role Alexander-Arnold settles on and the club need to plan what to do next in the transfer market.  The longer he’s in positional purgatory, the trickier it becomes for the Reds to put long-term plans in place.

Furthermore, this isn’t simply a case of deciding whether or not he’s a right-back or a defensive midfielder either.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 25, 2023: Manchester City's Erling Haaland (L) and Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He can, and has, played multiple roles in midfield and this is what further complicates the situation. At times he sits and anchors the midfield with Klopp looking to make the most of Alexander-Arnold’s ability on the ball. Other times, he’s been given the freedom to play as more of a box-to-box midfielder and this allows him to showcase his ball-carrying ability as well as his goal threat from open play.

Klopp has a number of questions to answer over the next couple of weeks.

Do Liverpool delve into the transfer market to bring in a Joel Matip replacement? How does he get the best out of a struggling attack? Is a defensive midfielder needed in January to free up Alexis Mac Allister?

All of these have the ability to impact the rest of the season. Yet arguably the biggest question the boss needs to answer is what to do with Alexander-Arnold. Because the answer to that actually plays a part in all of the other questions.

If he’s viewed as a right-back, it allows Joe Gomez to fall back into the centre-back rotation. If he’s not, then the No. 2 is going to be part of the first-team as a full-back and defensive cover may be needed. If Alexander-Arnold is pushed into midfield on a permanent basis, the attack might start firing again due to the reliable supply line. And if he’s viewed as a No. 8 rather than a No. 6, it means Mac Allister can focus on his new deep-lying playmaker role.

It may sound extreme but figuring out what to do with Alexander-Arnold could define Liverpool’s season.

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