This season for Liverpool Football Club has been an arduous endeavour. Several factors have culminated in the collapse of England's most excellent club. Going from quadruple challengers this time last year to being involved in a scrap for European qualification, the bare minimum for a club of Liverpool’s stature epitomises the fall from grace. Several Liverpool players have significantly declined this year, and one of the players greatly critiqued for his performances this season is Trent Alexander Arnold.
In years gone by, Trent has been heralded as a once-in-a-generation player, the scouser in our team. Trent had completed football by the time he was 23, winning all there is to win in club football. The Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup, Carabao Cup, UEFA Super Cup, and Club World Cup are all accomplishments that preside in Trent’s trophy cabinet. Enough to make the most seasoned professional’s eye water with jealousy. He has been an integral cog in Jurgen Klopp’s relentless machine since he first displaced Nathaniel Clyne all those years ago.
The tenant of Trent’s play style is the offensive output he manages each season. He is Liverpool’s focal point for creativity, breaking the mould for the fullback role. In the 2018/19 season, Trent smashed the record for assists from a defensive fullback, accruing 12 contributions. This is impressive enough, but not for Trent. The following season he led to Alexander-Arnold in dismantling his record for assists, reaching the landmark number of 13. Since then, Trent has managed at least HYPERLINK "https://www.transfermarkt.co.uk/trent-alexander-arnold/leistungsdaten/spieler/314353/plus/0?saison=ges" and assists per season, absolutely absurd for a right-back.
A critique often levelled at Trent is his defensive ability, a comment which has reared its ugly head a few times this season. Trent’s underlying numbers remain elite for a defensive fullback, holding water against Europe’s most elite fullbacks, including Newcastle United’s Kieran Trippier. Trent loses out to attacking dribbles 0.88 times per 90, superior to Trippier’s record of 1.15 per 90. However, the whole Liverpool team has declined, and as a result, it has caused a noticeable reduction in the overall output of Trent as both a defensive and offensive output.
System of Old
The footballing system and tactical layout by Jurgen Klopp during his Liverpool tenure have primarily been a 4-3-3. This system has been the footballing philosophy that gained Jurgen Klopp acclaim in Germany and landed him the ethereal role of Liverpool coach. Since then, it has contributed to Liverpool conquering the footballing world, dismantling Manchester City’s dictatorial-like grip on the Premier League. This play style involves incessant pressing from Klopp’s players, demanding energy and commitment to suffocate the opposition immediately. It employs a high defensive line, contributing to the suffocation by boxing the opponent into their half. A tenacious midfield and forward line buzz around the pitch, trying to obtain the ball as quickly as possible to turn defence into attack.
This season, however, has seen a stark drop-off from this attitude; challenging on all four major fronts last year has directly contributed to an energy crisis at Liverpool this season. The players cannot maintain the energy levels of years gone by simply due to exhaustion. This, combined with a severe lack of investment and rejuvenation from the ownership into an ageing midfield, has contributed to a significant decline this season.
System of New
Thus, Jurgen Klopp has had to resort to his own rejuvenation. Throughout this season, Klopp has attempted to reinvent his tactical approach. Steering away from his trusted 4-3-3 system, on numerous occasions, he has enacted a 4-2-4 process. This system, in theory, allowed him to circumvent the weakest area of his team, the midfield, in favour of getting more attacking players involved in the game. By playing two midfielders, it allowed for increased attacking presence in the final phase of the pitch for pressing.
The formation reverted to a traditional 4-4-2 in defence, tasking the wingers with helping the midfield duo with their defensive responsibility. The rollout of this system was initially successful, contributing to the 7-nil demolition of Rangers in the Champions League and enabling a sidestep from the stagnant 4-3-3. Unfortunately, the issues from the 4-3-3 appeared in this new system; the midfield did not have the legs to accommodate the extra workload. It led to massive space afforded to the opposition and forced Klopp to revert to his 4-3-3.
Recent weeks have proved more fruitious. A new formation has been tested with much success. Klopp has achieved this by restructuring the role of his most creative asset, Trent Alexander-Arnold. The new system can be classified as a 3-5-2, but upon further analysis, it is more of a 3-2-5. It must be said Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola and Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta deserve much acclaim for pioneering this system this season. Both have utilised a system in which the three forwards are assisted by two midfielders when in the attack, creating an almost box-like midfield.
So, in theory, it sees both the left central midfielder and the right central midfielder push forward to become almost two number 10s, sitting almost in line with the attackers. To fill the gap left by the roaming midfielders, Pep asks his right-back to shift into midfield to sit alongside the anchor midfielder, creating a two-person midfield with the defence becoming a 3-man entourage with the left-back forming a 3rd partner for the two centre-backs, allowing all three to spread across the pitch and fill gaps left by the two fullbacks.
Klopp has made this system his own in recent weeks, employing the same tactics but with one key difference, Trent Alexander-Arnold. While still starting the game at right back and in defensive transition, he finds himself rotating back to the fullback role; he is indubitably now a deep-lying playmaker in this system; moving into midfield has allowed Klopp to ascertain greater creative output from Trent while simultaneously giving the team a more controlled and measured approach to play. The change has resulted in Trent providing three assists in the last two games.
It is a system that will require much tinkering and additions from the transfer market to see the full benefits. The signs, however, are positive at this early stage and allow for the flourishing of our greatest asset, Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Edited by Whitney Edna Ibe
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