Jurgen Klopp tasted victory at Old Trafford for the first time as Liverpool breathed new life into their top four with a thrilling 4-2 victory in the revamped game against Manchester United.
But while Klopp was in his element on the sidelines, Gareth Southgate watched from above, pondering the performance of a Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Gareth Southgate hasn’t always seen what so many others see in Trent Alexander-Arnold, but the England boss had a display of all the 22-year-old’s best qualities in Liverpool’s outright victory.
There was still evidence of the defensive vulnerability that drove Southgate to omit Alexander-Arnold from their last England team in March, but the overall display from the Liverpool right-back was surely enough to force the manager of the l national team to reconsider its position.
Much of Liverpool’s best game has gone through Alexander-Arnold. United tried to oust him by putting Paul Pogba on the 22-year-old to help Luke Shaw. There was, however, no way to stop the irrepressible right-back who played a key role in two of his team’s four goals.
No Liverpool player has made more crosses than Alexander-Arnold (five) – his season average is 1.6 per game. No one has made more key passes than the 22-year-old either (five), highlighting how Jurgen Klopp relied on his right back to be Liverpool’s chief creator. Alexander-Arnold also managed three balls while no other Liverpool player has managed one.
One of the biggest ripple effects of Virgil van Dijk’s injury this season has been how the Dutchman’s absence deprived Liverpool of a distribution channel. Van Dijk’s long-range passes gave the Reds another way to pass the ball to their attackers, but here it was Alexander-Arnold who took the role, playing eight long passes. For the context, his average for the season is 4.5.
There was one Alexander-Arnold bullet in particular, which freed Sadio Mane behind, which surely left Southgate wondering how he could use such a weapon with Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling as runners. No other English right-back could have played this pass.
As Rashford’s threat behind tested Alexander-Arnold and the space left between him and Nat Phillips, he was at the heart of how Liverpool pushed high on the pitch and forced Manchester United to make mistakes. This was evident in the way Alexander-Arnold won the ball for the movement that led to the third base, forcing the rebound off Dean Henderson for Roberto Firmino to finish.
Of course, Alexander-Arnold wasn’t the only Englishman returning to Old Trafford. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has yet to make his national team debut, but it’s another good option for Southgate, proving how he has improved in an offensive sense by producing an overlapping run that led to the first goal.
Wan-Bissaka is, however, still a defense-minded full back (no United player has made more blocks – three) and that makes him a very different type of player from Alexander-Arnold. His inclusion, however, would complete England’s Euro 2020 squad. Southgate doesn’t necessarily need his top 26 players, but the 26 players who still help him build a winning squad.
Consider the scenario – England face France and Kylian Mbappe in a Euro knockout game this summer. Who better than Wan-Bissaka to do “special operations” work on the Paris Saint-German striker? There is no better one-on-one defender in the Premier League right now than United’s right-back.
Southgate was also presented with an illustration of the quality of Harry Maguire, even in his absence. The Manchester United captain has been sidelined with injury with his Euro 2020 availability apparently in jeopardy, but the nervousness of the home side at the back speaks volumes about his importance. If she’s in good shape, Maguire is expected to be a mainstay on Southgate’s English side this summer.
It was Alexander-Arnold, however, who mostly bolstered his Euro 2020 record. While Southgate has every right to look for certain qualities in his defenders, Liverpool’s omission to return his side this summer would be the biggest hijacking of his defenders. ‘an English player since Paul Scholes. Its inclusion was worth it. In fact, Southgate would take a greater risk in not choosing Alexander-Arnold.
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