Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jurgen Klopp & being Liverpool's scapegoat

Will Ford
Trent Alexander-Arnold has been crucial to Liverpool's success under Jurgen Klopp
Trent Alexander-Arnold has been crucial to Liverpool's success under Jurgen Klopp / Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

Any time Liverpool concede a goal, the camera seemingly pans to Trent Alexander-Arnold.

He's become the obsession in recent weeks for both England and Liverpool, with his national team omission combining with his defensive woes under Jurgen Klopp to create the perfect storm for reporters, pundits and the media outlets they work for.

Alexander-Arnold is the first player looked for in a replay of a goal against Liverpool. 'What did he do wrong this time?' is the burning question. Too frequently he has made a blunder, typically a failure to track a runner, but sometimes a lack of presence at the backpost or a poor body position when defending one on one. He's not been good.

But he's become a scapegoat for far wider issues at Liverpool. Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Jordan Henderson and in fact any of Alexander-Arnold's fellow star players under Jurgen Klopp have been way short of their best.

Even so, you would half expect the cameras to pick out Alexander-Arnold in Waitrose doing his weekly shop if he was dropped by Klopp, rather than the lens being aimed at any of his teammates, who are arguably as culpable for their poor performances this season.

As is the case for any extraordinarily talented Englishman playing for a top Premier League side, the only thing we like more than bigging them up, is battering them back down to earth, and Alexander-Arnold has a long way to fall.

But Klopp won't drop Alexander-Arnold. He's been the most important creative influence on Liverpool in their time together. So much of the team's success has come down their right side from his right boot. He's a phenomenally gifted footballer, who in tandem with Salah has created arguably the most lethal full-back/winger partnership in world football.

Klopp dropping Alexander-Arnold would be to break from his Liverpool ideals. The manager has changed his formation in recent weeks, operating with two central midfielders rather than his customary three. But putting Alexander-Arnold on the bench would be tantamount to surrender. If any one player is the embodiment of Liverpool's 'heavy metal football' under the German boss, it's Alexander-Arnold.

The media would love it and it's not difficult to imagine Klopp's irritation when 90 per cent of press conferences focus on the 24-year-old's absence. Questions about the full-back are already a sore spot for Klopp, who is likely aware of the inextricable link between Alexander-Arnold's poor displays and the seeming demise of a team that was challenging on all fronts under five months ago.

But Alexander-Arnold needs Klopp arguably more than Klopp needs him. Unlike the rest of his teammates, this style of football is all he knows. He would likely now be a very different footballer if it weren't for Klopp, who has coached him into a role perfectly suited to his skillset.

As we have seen in his few appearances for England, a different brief had led to less than impressive performances as his attacking influence is stunted with his first port of call defending as a full-back under Gareth Southgate.

Alexander-Arnold may well get lucky when Klopp leaves Liverpool, who are likely to try and replace him with a manager with a similar philosophy for high-intensity attacking football. But no matter who that person is, they won't be Klopp, and Alexander-Arnold won't be exempt from the adaptation required with the tactical shifts that will come.

And while the Klopp succession isn't all that important to Van Dijk, Salah, Henderson and Thiago, who are all over the age of 30, at just 24, Alexander-Arnold's career – despite him having achieved so much already – is in its relative infancy.

If he thinks he can get by without improving his defending he's in for a rude awakening, as when Klopp's time at Anfield does come to an end his replacement is unlikely to be as accommodating as the man whose football has highlighted Alexander-Arnold's qualities while hiding his limitations.