Liverpool: How Klopp can adapt without key creator Trent Alexander-Arnold

  • Ben Webb
Trent Alexander-Arnold replacements

Liverpool face yet another injury-induced crisis, following news that Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez and captain Jordan Henderson are all sidelined through injury.

Trent in particular is a hammer blow for the Reds, considering his overall influence and laser-focused passing, and begs the question: How will Liverpool adapt to losing one of their key creative outlets?

Thankfully, Trent spent some of his rehabilitation during the international break, and will therefore miss less games for his boyhood club. But he could still be absent for some big Premier League and European matches — Leicester City, Atlanta, Ajax and Wolves — so the onus is on manager Jürgen Klopp to find a speedy solution.

First, though, a quick ode to Trent. The sensational amount of assists he racks up is the most obvious talking point, but it’s his general passing that isn’t held in nearly high enough regard. Having the vision, the accuracy, and the audacity to frequently ping off 30-40-yard passes directly onto the toes of an attacker leaves fans in awe.

Trent Alexander-Arnold pass map

Not only does Trent possess a remarkable ability to transition defence into attack with a singular pass, but with Liverpool having such dangerous full-backs in Trent and Andrew Robertson, they command the utmost strategic attention from every opposing team. Whoever steps into Trent’s void clearly has big boots to fill — or, to be more literal, big attributes that need compensating for.

How will Liverpool set up without Alexander-Arnold?

Jurgen Klopp Liverpool

Now to assess Klopp’s options. He could go for the obvious solution and replace Trent with a like-for-like back-up, such as James Milner, Neco Williams, Fabinho, or even Konstantinos Tsimikas — leaving a central defence partnership of Joël Matip and Nathaniel Phillips.

However, the timely return of midfield maestro Thiago Alacantra has fans wondering whether the manager may look to play with a flatter, less front-footed back-four, and instead lean on the passing range of Thiago to compensate for the loss of Trent’s creativity.

It’s easy to argue that having a stringent defensive base to build attacks from could be the tactical change that enables a two-man midfield pivot, opening up the option of playing a front-four again, like the Reds did last time out against Manchester City.

Of course, the Reds will also be without talisman Mohamed Salah, after the Egyptian tested positive for coronavirus while on international duty. That means, if Klopp does opt for four attackers, we’re likely to see one of Xherdan Shaqiri or Takumi Minamino come in to combine with the existing trio of Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota, and Sadio Mané.

There’s also potential for Naby Keïta and Curtis Jones in Henderson’s absence, too, with each adding a different stylistic option going forward. It’s widely regarded among Liverpool fans that Keïta hasn’t hit the heights expected of him yet, mainly due to bad luck. Analysing Keïta’s performances following the first lockdown, he looked spectacular, so now would be the perfect time to silence his critics.

Who should replace Alexander-Arnold?

Trent Alexander-Arnold injury

Everything sounds better on paper, of course, but looking at the teams Liverpool face in Trent’s absence, they all play on the front-foot, so Klopp’s choice to deploy all four attackers against City perhaps hints at a similar line-up in the upcoming fixtures.

That said, youngster Neco Williams could provide an attacking outlet and doesn’t need asking twice to overlap. Although he doesn’t possess the same level of passing range, he’ll certainly replicate the same lines of movement going forward.

The same could be argued for Fabinho. He’s a lot quicker than many give him credit for, and while he may not match the same runs and overlaps as Trent per 90, he does have an underrated passing ability and offers a different dynamic to nearly every other option.

There’s been a missing element since the loss of Virgil van Dijk, and that’s his long range passing, which both sets off attacks and relieves pressure without losing possession — something Trent and, at times, Alisson Becker do to great effect.

Fabinho has the same long range pass in his artillery, so given the time and opportunity, he could sufficiently cover Trent’s spot in the coming weeks.

And then there’s good old James Milner. Reliable, industrious, tough as old boots, tea swilling, fitter than the Duracell battery, James Milner. If Liverpool need experience and a shift putting in, Milner may well get the nod from Klopp. And with the relentless fixtures mounting up, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Milner get the odd start.

However Liverpool ultimately decide to counteract their mounting injury list, the loss of Trent’s expansive style and ability to spray balls around with ease arguably gives Klopp his biggest headache. Time for the champions to do what they do best — find a way to win.

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