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liverpool, england – trent alexander-arnold.
It is enough to mention the name of the Liverpool defender to unleash an avalanche of opinions about the strengths and weaknesses -and the best position- of the best right back in the world, or the most overrated, depending on how you look at it. and liverpool’s 3-2 win against ac milan in their first match of the champions league group stage was the night they gave both sides all the evidence they needed to back up their case.
alexander-arnold had some great moments, including a deflected shot from fikayo tomori for liverpool’s first goal, and he had some bad ones, when he flicked off to allow milan to score twice in quick succession before half-time. One minute he was tearing down the right, wreaking havoc on the Milan defenders, but the next he was racing back into position as the Italians repeatedly found space to their left with Alexander-Arnold chasing shadows behind them.
In many ways, it was fun to watch. alexander-arnold is such a supreme athlete that he was usually able to get back to where he needed to be, just in time. But at some point, he has to iron out the flaws that continue to give his many detractors ammunition with which to criticize and denounce his flaws.
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If we take Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi out of the equation, and the endless debate between the two soccer superstars’ ultra-loyal fanbases, it’s a challenge to find any player who divides opinion as fiercely as the 22 – a one-year-old who is, without a doubt, an absolutely crucial piece in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team. alexander-arnold is less important to england manager gareth southgate, who dropped his team’s champions league winner earlier this year and then placed him in midfield during the recent cup qualifier of the world against Andorra.
but the diametrically opposed positions of klopp and southgate perfectly sum up the alexander-arnold debate. On the one hand, he’s a marauding full-back whose right-footed kick is among the most powerful in the world game, but on the other, he’s a defender who swerves too often for a player whose primary role is, well, defending.
There were at least six key moments in this vibrant Group B encounter that showcased the good and the bad of alexander-arnold.
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On the positive side of the ledger, there was his ninth-minute outburst at the Milan penalty and low shot, which beat goalkeeper Mike Maignan for the opening goal. then there was the alexander-arnold copyright cross from which joel matip headed straight into maignan’s hands.
in the second half, he delivered a corner near the post, poorly headed by ismael bennacer, which led to jordan henderson’s winning goal for liverpool. Alexander-Arnold also saved a 20-yard volley, starting the play from which Mohamed Salah, who was saved from a penalty in the first half, made it 2-2 early in the second half.
but, on the other hand, the two milan goals came from the alexander-arnold area. With the first, he lost to Rebic, giving the Croatian striker the space to equalize against the course of the game. Two minutes later, Alexander-Arnold was caught on the halfway line, leaving Rebic and scorer Brahim Diaz to combine for Milan’s second. And just a minute after helping to score Henderson’s goal, Alexander-Arnold lost Rebic again, only being saved from embarrassment when goalkeeper Alisson ran off his line to prevent the Milan striker.
It was crazy at times. Huge ups and downs seconds apart. But for Liverpool at least, Alexander-Arnold’s strengths far outweigh his weaknesses.
liverpool’s champions league triumph in 2019 and the premier league title a year later are largely due to his attacking qualities. on his day, he really is unstoppable.
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but arguably alexander-arnold is now a player without a defined position. against milan, and every time he plays for liverpool, he played so far up the right flank that it would be a mistake to call him a right-back, especially since he also moves towards midfield. liverpool seemed to be playing with a back three most of the time because their right back, if that is what he is, was in the role of right winger.
We have strikers who cross the attacking third. maybe alexander-arnold is a new breed of fullback that moves up and down, in and out, and you have to take the rough with the soft.
while retaining the incredible energy levels that allow him to cover both ground forward and backward, alexander-arnold will remain a player who is often the heartbeat of liverpool. when he sings they play in a frenzy of attacking waves making them one of the favorites to win the champions league.
but when he loses focus and is 30 or 40 yards away from his position, liverpool becomes weaker and more vulnerable and prone to conceding too often against a fellow champions league contender, which is why the Alexander-Arnold debate will continue long after. this victory against milan.
But one thing is for sure: Klopp and Liverpool love him just the way he is. As for those on the other side of the argument? Well, don’t expect them to change anytime soon, either.