Liverpool looked a much more confident team against Leeds United, and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s new role could be the key to unlocking that…
A BIG gap has existed this season between what is a difficult game on paper and how it transpires in reality.
The tone was set for that on the opening day, when a Liverpool team we expected to be going for the title once more couldn’t break a stalemate with Fulham.
It has continued on a similar path for the entirety of the year, with the highest of highs and at times the lowest of lows. A 9-0 win against Bournemouth closely followed by a heavy defeat to Napoli, and later a run of five games without a win directly after a 7-0 thumping of Manchester United.
Fans have been left feeling justifiably confused and frustrated, aware that on their day Liverpool can still be the best and beat the best, but with a constant reminder that they are so far off it.
Eighth in the table becomes a fair reflection of the trajectory the season has taken, and with away form a weakness, Leeds United away mid-April began to hang over us as it edged closer.
Then they put in a performance like that. With eight games left in the season, I’ve learned my lesson and won’t be proclaiming that this is finally a turning point and the push for top four is on. As mentioned, what transpires in reality has often let me down.
However, the game did feel like a more significant shift in fortunes. Whereas before the same system has clicked over the course of 90 minutes or certain players performed to the level they did at their peak, the performance against Leeds was different.
It was the first sign of trying something different and it actually working — and not just working, but benefitting every player on the pitch.
Shall we start with the obvious? A Trent Alexander-Arnold masterclass. He had 91 per cent pass accuracy over 136 passes, won possession back 11 times, completed two through balls, 17 long passes and had two assists.
Often the statistics don’t do justice to the level of performance, but recording his most successful passes ever in one game for Liverpool sounds about right.
124 successful passes from Trent Alexander-Arnold tonight – his most in one game ever for Liverpool. #LFC #LEELIV pic.twitter.com/ftpqNJKyj0— Michael Reid (@michael_reid11) April 17, 2023
With his average position drifting into a more central role tucked just behind the halfway line over the course of the 90 minutes, you could see how this tactical switch reaped the rewards.
Whether it goes down as a variation of the full-back role, a double pivot with Fabinho or even at times a number 10 tucked behind the forwards, doesn’t really matter.
The key point is that he had the freedom to roam, to have time on the ball, to be able to look up from the heart of the pitch and pick out a pass. His two assists perfectly reflect the fluidity of the role, with the first a cross from a more natural right-back position and the second a perfect ball to Darwin Nunez from the centre of the pitch.
Whether this is an experiment or a long-term solution remains to be seen, but he certainly looked like he was enjoying playing his football again.
The whole team did, to be honest. The manager said his favourite moment of the game was in the 92nd minute when, at 6-1, four players swarmed the ball to win back possession. It is an intensity that has so often been missing this season.
Confidence breeds confidence, and Trent wasn’t the only player helped by the changes. Omitted from the squad and open to criticism at times this season, Curtis Jones showed a glimpse of what he can and should be able to offer this team moving forward.
Occupying the left-hand side and drifting between the midfield and forward lines, his progressive passing and tendency to drive forward helped to put Liverpool on the front foot and find a breakthrough.
And when the goals came, they didn’t stop. Diogo Jota waits a year and then scores two, Mo Salah is inevitable, and then both Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez get on the scoresheet. The flexibility provided for them by the system allows them to exploit the space, drift from side to side and get closer to the goal.
A win for the team, and an even bigger win for the manager as his changes were vindicated.
Your guess is as good as mine as to what will happen between now and the end of May, or even in the next game — so is the unpredictability of this season.
There was, though, a look on Jürgen Klopp’s face that screamed I still believe in this, in us and in what we’re building together.
Changes need to be made come summer, but a return to success is surely not a million miles away.
Download The Anfield Wrap’s free app for Liverpool FC podcasts, video and writing all in one place…
“I thought with the ball, it always felt like there was an option and that was Trent.”— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) April 17, 2023
“It was a brilliant performance. He deserves so much credit because they haven’t had a huge amount of time to work on it.”
🗣 Post Match Podcast pic.twitter.com/bo9oM9hQAI
Trent & Robo / Kostas should of moved into midfield much earlier in the season .