By Aaron Cutler (@aaron_cutler)
The following is a guest article by the author named above and does not represent the views of everyone at Cop Empire…
Pre-season is for the brave.
Friendlies played in high temperatures and behind double sessions rarely produce good performances.
The appearance of a new signature (in a new lane) breaks the monotony, but in reality these games are to be endured rather than enjoyed. You suspect it’s a sentiment felt by players and fans alike.
But often Liverpool will test the coaching staff.
Last summer we saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain deployed as a false 9; A test that never happened after July.
In 2017, Sadio Mane switched to a split test on the left wing with better results.
The pace set by Manchester City allows no margin for error or window for experience during the season.
Jurgen Klopp may tinker more with systems and personnel over the next few weeks when the pressure is off.
The expectation is that any changes will revolve around the signing of Darwin Nunez and a possible switch to a 4-2-3-1.
However, a manager may choose to revisit an old idea to solve a new problem.
“Problem” may be a bit of an exaggeration, although your view of Liverpool’s midfield options will be shaped by who you follow on Twitter.
Level-headed fans – capable of truly enjoying the off-season – will assure you that all is well.
We have eight, maybe nine players to choose from in the middle of the park, from experienced heads to promising youngsters.
Doomsayers will protest loudly – our preferred trio are all injury-prone, we still haven’t replaced Gini Wijnaldum and what were the club thinking about offloading Ben Woodburn?
As always, the truth probably lies in the middle; Liverpool are well equipped but do not boast the strength in depth of some of our opponents.
It is generally accepted that we acted for Aurelian Tchouameni and proceeded to court Jude Bellingham. Both links suggest that we want to enhance, but not compromise on quality. It’s a position that has served us well in recent years.
Still, the waiting game may require a plan B heading into the new campaign. So, from the current topic to a seemingly older discussion – can Trent Alexander Arnold play quarterback? More, should it?
The short answer is no. Feel free to stop reading at this point.
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“The Scouser in our team” has reinvented the full-back position. Generational talent; he is firmly established as the lead playmaker.
The speech and the numbers are frankly frightening and just as validating.
61 assists and tallies, 32 in the Premier League since 2018/19… second only to Liverpool fan Kevin De Bruyne.
We are talking about a 23-year-old who won the lottery and doubled his medal count.
But why did he move the world’s best right-back from his own position?
You wouldn’t. Unless circumstances force your hand.
There has always been a group in the academy of “Red-Blacks” who rose as midfielders and believed that our team number 66 would be returned to its “natural” state over time.
In fact, there is little evidence to support this theory.
Indeed, Alexander-Arnold only started in senior midfield twice in five years. Ironically, both appearances were against Stoke – neither of which went well.
In April 2017, he started as part of a five-man midfield on a day when Klopp announced his changes.
An inexperienced and unbalanced team struggled. Trent, who is indeed more right-wing than right-of-center, and Woodburn, also an academy graduate, won the occasion. The pair were replaced at halftime with their teams trailing.
A year later, a more established Alexander Arnold failed to make an impact from the engine room as Liverpool struggled to break down a solid Potters side. That race is deadlocked.
His only midfield start since then has come for the national team, in one of many examples of Gareth Southgate’s failure to capitalize on talent.
With booted horns against mighty Andorra, Trent and England, he struggled until he returned to a regular starting berth. If not for the country, but for the club.
As such, the prospect of Alexander-Arnold being pushed forward seems remote. However, this preseason may be the time to test him.
Why now? Because the injury record of some may require the option of breaking glass.
If incoming Calvin Ramsey agrees, the manager may be more inclined to call that comeback if things get tough and the treatment room gets crowded.
Of course, he will only do so if he passes pre-season testing.
Moving our first-choice right-back will be a balancing act of sorts. This is true for the short and long term wherever you see his future.
The idea that he will suddenly become more involved is simply not true. Only three players in the entire league had more possessions last season. He is currently averaging 60.57 passes per game.
For context, that’s more than the main architects of their sides, De Bruyne (52.15), Bruno Fernandes (55.06) and Mason Mount (38.65), all of whom will challenge for the title.
Midfielders are by their very nature congestive and Trent is likely to see less of the ball fighting for space.
What he can come up with is more in the way of key assists per game. This is still controversial.
His average of two is bettered by De Bruyne (2.9) but the Belgian is above all else.
Bruno Fernandes only posts (2.1), while Mount has less forwards (1.8).
Elsewhere, our man passes more regularly.
His career average is 1.8 per game, compared to De Bruyne’s 1.7, Fernandes’ 1.1 and Mount’s 1.2. This owes much to the ample space provided. In the thick of things comes the harder gap.
Focusing only on last season, Trent created 18 big chances. That’s more than De Bruyne (16), Fernandes (15) and Mount (10). In fact, only Harry Kane (19) has posted more.
What does all this tell us? He has quite an impact from the right wing. In case you hadn’t noticed.
From Liverpool’s perspective, the closest midfielder to Trent when it comes to big chances created is Henderson – managing 12 fewer.
The defender also recorded the most forward passes in the team with 899 compared to Henderson’s 619, Fabinho’s 418, Thiago’s 398 and Keita’s 207.
The possible benefits of moving him forward would be to increase his average turnovers per game – which is currently 0.1. Given his vision and technique, there’s every chance this one will go up the middle of the park.
There is also the possibility of increasing their shots per game from 1.1.
He clearly strikes the ball better than our current midfield options, but is rarely in a position to score outside of a dead ball situation.
But this trade-off is hardly worth it.
In case of emergency
These stats serve to highlight Trent’s natural ability as well as his importance to the system itself.
Given time, he would become one of the best midfielders in the country. He is already the best right-back in Europe.
And so Klopp will resist the urge to change his long-term position.
Still, testing now can stand us in good stead for a long, tough season.
From the moment we start at Fulham, every game will be defined by danger. The ruthlessness of the city means that no points can be dropped… which leaves no room for experimentation.
Trent’s familiarity with the midfield position could help if an aging midfield suddenly weakens and you don’t rely on alternatives like Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tyler Morton.
The hope is that we never get to that point, but this is a regime that leaves nothing to chance.
So don’t be surprised if we see Alexander-Arnold run out in midfield at least once between now and August. In any case.
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