Trent Alexander-Arnold responds in perfect fashion after rivals copy Liverpool blueprint

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There was a time where in terms of goals and assists, only one English defender was amongst the highest in Europe. That was Trent Alexander-Arnold. But now, the Liverpool full-back has a challenger to his crown of ‘assist king’ from Chelsea’s Reece James, who is thriving under another German coach in Thomas Tuchel.

Alexander-Arnold shot to prominence when Klopp brought him into the side as a 19-year-old in 2017 and he has never looked back, becoming a regular part of Liverpool’s success.

The right-back has been an unlikely creative influence from deeper areas thanks to his precise passing and excellent vision.

In his 153 Premier League appearances for the club, he has scored nine goals and registered a mammoth 37 assists.

That puts him at an average of creating a goal nearly every four games.

His success has inspired other teams to use more creative defenders in full-back positions, or convert goal-shy wingers into being able to deputise in the role.

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Trent Alexander-Arnold: Liverpool right-back has revolutionised the role

Trent Alexander-Arnold: Liverpool right-back has revolutionised the role (Image: Getty Images)

Bukayo Saka’s versatility means that while his best position would have him deployed as a winger, he can also operate as a full-back or wing-back.

Likewise, Manchester City’s full-backs only fulfil that role in theory, not in practice, as Joao Cancelo displayed with his two assists in the 2-0 win over Manchester United.

By providing another source of creativity, Alexander-Arnold has arguably reinvented the definition of what a right-back can offer. But that seems to have gone against Liverpool recently, as their rivals benefit from copying Alexander-Arnold’s role.

And over in west London, James has arguably surpassed Alexander-Arnold over the past 12 months, at least in the eyes of Gareth Southgate.

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He has taken his spot in Gareth Southgate’s England squad, having been included in the 26-man squad for Euro 2020 this summer.

While he only featured once for the Three Lions against Scotland, the selection of James — while Alexander-Arnold was expected to be dropped before his injury — showed the new standing in Southgate’s pecking order.

James has shown similar form for Chelsea this season, scoring four goals and laying on three assists for his team-mates. He also scored two stunning efforts in the 3-0 win over Newcastle, adding to his strike in the 7-0 annihilation of Norwich City.

He also played a key role in their Champions League success last season.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: The 23-year-old has 37 assists to his name in Liverpool colours

Trent Alexander-Arnold: The 23-year-old has 37 assists to his name in Liverpool colours (Image: Getty Images/Liverpool FC)

The 21-year-old looks more comfortable playing higher up the pitch as a wing-back, crossing from advanced positions and providing width for Tuchel’s men, but he still has similar defensive duties as Alexander-Arnold.

He also gets the benefit of having a right-sided centre-back to provide cover behind him. For Alexander-Arnold, there is the risk that bursting forward will leave Ibrahima Konate and Virgil van Dijk exposed.

In a sense, Alexander-Arnold has been a pioneer in shaping modern football even at the youthful age of 23.

Much like how Roberto Carlos led the way of marauding left-backs bombing it forward on the flanks, Alexander-Arnold and James represents the craftier generation of defenders emerging.

Reece James: The Chelsea defender has emerged as a friendly rival to Alexander-Arnold

Reece James: The Chelsea defender has emerged as a friendly rival to Alexander-Arnold (Image: Getty Images)

His lofted balls intot he channels for Mohamed Salah and Georginio Wijnaldum to run onto were a key aspect of how Liverpool managed to stretch teams, with Andy Robertson repeating the trick on the opposite flank.

But last season was not only difficult for Liverpool, but also the youngster on an individual level. His goal contributions dropped and he found himself at fault for several goals as he struggled to cope with the congested nature of Liverpool’s season.

He has been somewhat less adventurous this season as Liverpool seek to rediscover their steel-tight defence that helped guide them to the title in 2019-20.

That was evident against West Ham, with Alexander-Arnold pinned back by the Hammers’ front three of Michail Antonio, Said Benrahma and Jarrod Bowen on the counter-attack.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: The full-back was arguably at fault for two of West Ham's goals

Trent Alexander-Arnold: The full-back was arguably at fault for two of West Ham’s goals (Image: Getty Images)

But after falling behind to Angelo Ogbonna’s goal, he was given more licence to push forward and influenced the game accordingly.

The fascinating and friendly rivalry between himself and James looks set to continue for the next five years and perhaps beyond. But at present, it’s the Chelsea man whose name is being projected in lights.

It was not long ago that he was the man walking down the Anfield tunnel after being sent off in the team’s 1-1 draw in August.

His clumsy challenges inside the box have shown a clear path for improvement and the same must be said for Alexander-Arnold, who still looks vulnerable when defending one-on-one against an opponent.

Indeed, he was left wanting for West Ham’s two late strikes through Pablo Fornals and Kurt Zouma as Liverpool lost their unbeaten record in the Premier League.

His stunning free-kick got Liverpool back on level terms against West Ham, only to highlight his ingenuity but also how to shoulder the pressure when it’s placed upon him.

Even if it could be argued Alexander-Arnold has perhaps become a victim of his own success in helping defenders from rival clubs copy their bluepirnt, his display at the London Stadium reminded everyone that he remains one of the best right-backs in the business in the attacking department.

But there are some steps he has to take to address his defensive lapses, where he is yet to find the right formula.

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