TThe fact that Alexander-Arnold is listed as a midfielder in the England squad still looks strange, no matter how often he appears in that category or is prescribed to play in the hybrid role for Liverpool. More broadly, it could be interpreted as evidence of England’s confusion over how best to utilize the rare talents of a very modern full-back. But not from Alexander-Arnold himself. As on the field, he finds clarity where others see complications.
Gareth Southgate will likely need Alexander-Arnold’s creativity in midfield again in the final Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia, especially with James Maddison out of the squad and Jude Bellingham expected to follow suit. Amid the ongoing debate over his place in the England team, and following debate over why he had no place in the first place, the 25-year-old will welcome the chance to confirm his inclusion as an international midfielder.
“From the conversations I’ve had with the manager and the staff, I’m going there as a midfielder, training there and trying to play on the pitch there, except for the last game against Australia,” says Alexander-Arnold . “In that sense, it really helps me. I don’t play in midfield week in and week out here (at Liverpool), but I get the ball in central areas and knowing how to approach and behave and play a game in midfield is very different to knowing how to approach it on the edge of the pitch.”
It was just over two years ago when Jurgen Klopp expressed his confusion at Southgate experimenting with Alexander-Arnold in midfield for 45 minutes against Andorra. The Liverpool coach said at the time: “In this game, where England are so dominant, Trent could play in midfield.” I would prefer him to be the six rather than the eight in this case. That’s possible, but why make the best right-back in the world a midfielder?”
Klopp, no stranger to adaptation and fresh ideas, began using his world-class right-back in a hybrid midfield role in the final months of last season, placing more emphasis on his creativity than his potential as a ‘six’.
The Liverpool vice-captain said: “The way I see it and the way I’m told and explained to play it, it’s almost as if I’m a midfielder when we have the ball and when we don’t have it, I’m a midfielder I’m a right-wing person. Half the time or 60% of the game I play in midfield, so naturally people are excited by the idea of me playing in the middle of the pitch.
“Defensively, I haven’t had a chance to learn how to play there yet, but it’s something I’m studying. I enjoy learning about the game, watching things, watching players, different systems, different teams, how different players play it, and there are some players who play it really well.
“It’s a completely different role, a completely different system. There are additional requirements to what I need to do, but a lot of it is the same. For me it was always about playing with freedom, getting on the ball and trying to create and implement things, to move us forward on the pitch. I think it’s the same thing, but it’s about making those passes more from the central area and from a more set-in midfield area. It gives me an opportunity to do something for the team, move things forward and essentially win us games and that’s all I’m trying to do out there.”
Alexander-Arnold’s effectiveness in midfield was underlined in Sunday’s win over Brentford when he exploited a gap in Thomas Frank’s well-drilled side to find Darwin Núñez, who in turn set up Mohamed Salah for the opener. The win lifted Liverpool into second place in the Premier League and ensured their next game after the international break, away to Manchester City, will have the significance Klopp had hoped for this season. And it is City that provides Alexander-Arnold with the best examples of how to transition from defense to midfield.
“As someone who plays the reverse, hybrid role – I don’t know what they call it these days – then it’s obviously John Stones,” he explains when asked about a favorite case study. “He’s someone I’ve admired for a long time. He’s extraordinary, that’s why I watch him often. Clips or even if I’m just watching City’s games, I’ll sit there and focus on him.
“I also admire the way Rodri plays. He plays a pivotal role on this team and is massively underrated, but as we’ve seen recently, if you take him off the team they’re never the same. That shows how important he is. I will also look at players from the past – Busquets, Alonso, Pirlo, Stevie G – the players I always enjoyed watching.”