Jamie Carragher believes Liverpool have six world-class players.
When speaking about the quality of the current Liverpool squad on Sky’s Monday Night Football, Carragher identified Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané as five of those six. No one would argue with those calls, as they are all established players who are either 27 or 28 and at the peak of their powers.
But the sixth world-class player? 21-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Could a 21-year-old right-back really be world-class? At first glance, that is an enormously bold claim for Carragher to make, and you’d be inclined to say that he was showing a degree of bias towards his old team.
But, is he? Let’s have a look at some top-level numbers.
Since the start of 2018/19, only three players have registered more assists than Trent Alexander-Arnold across Europe’s top five leagues as well as the Champions League. Those three are Jadon Sancho, Angel Di Maria and Leo Messi, all attackers operating in the final third of the pitch. Sancho is playing in the notoriously open Bundesliga, ditto Di Maria for a dominant PSG side against inferior Ligue 1 sides, and Messi is the best player on the planet.
They all have 31 assists, with Alexander-Arnold just three behind on 28. For reference, he has played more minutes than all of them, but again: he’s a right-back. After Trent, the next defender on the list is Andrew Robertson back with 20 assists, then Achraf Hakimi with 17 (Joshua Kimmich has 19 assists but also converted to midfield in the summer).
In terms of chances created – that is to say, passes that precede shots – Trent’s total of 153 ranks 11th across all players. Again, no defender (save Kimmich, sort of) is particularly near him. The closest is Lucas Digne with 129.
It gets even more impressive when you look at what Opta define ‘big chances’ created, the kind of passes that really open up opponents and put attacking teammates in positions where they are reasonably expected to score. Here Messi leads the way with 69. And while Trent’s 35 may seem a way off that figure, the truth is the Englishman ranks sixth among all players, ahead of any of his teammates and behind only supreme creative forces Messi, Di Maria, Thomas Muller, Kevin De Bruyne and Atalanta’s Papu Gomez, all of whom are attackers and experienced players. No one would bat an eyelid if any of them were labelled world-class, even late bloomer Gomez, and that’s why Carragher’s Alexander-Arnold shout should elicit the same response.
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“Think of the best in his position, think of Cafu or Dani Alves, they were world-class, bombing down line, getting crosses in, but [Alexander-Arnold] is running the game for his team,” Carragher said. While this statement suggests a misunderstanding of how Dani Alves played football, bringing up the Brazilian to discuss Alexander-Arnold is apt.
The two of them (as well as Joshua Kimmich and Sergi Roberto) play right-back in a similar manner, acting more as auxiliary midfielders than orthodox full-backs like, say, Cafu; or Dani Carvajal, to use a modern example. This enables their clubs to more readily dominate the ball as they know their right-back gives them an extra midfielder to outnumber opponents.
Of course, in Trent’s case (as well as Kimmich and Roberto) that’s because he is a midfielder, converted to full-back. But whatever the reason, it has given Liverpool an attacking dimension that teams find hard to counter. The kind of edge that Alves used to give Barcelona (among others). And unlike Kimmich, who is now back to being a midfielder, or Roberto, who is a massive defensive liability, there’s no sense Trent will abandon his post. He is a right-back now, the heir to Dani Alves’ throne.
But we should be clear that Trent is not Dani Alves. He is his own (young) man. They play the same role (a game-dominating right-back) with similar weapons (passing), but they wield them differently. The Brazilian played with more consideration and thrust in the literal middle of the pitch, controlling the tempo of games, especially for Sevilla, whereas Alexander-Arnold is a chance creation machine from out wide.
In essence, Trent Alexander-Arnold is like having an athletic David Beckham at right-back, another footballing icon Carragher evoked in Monday night’s analysis. He is all thunderous crosses (his two assists against West Ham were so different, showing the range of his crossing skill, first via a booming curler and secondly with a deft little lift). Where he is energy and end product, Alves was like an athletic Paul Scholes at right-back. A pure creator, as likely to control the tempo of games with short passes as he is to whip a dangerous cross in or hammer a shot at goal.
Stylistic differences aside, what is clear is that Alexander-Arnold is the most influential right-back that Europe’s top five leagues have seen since Alves was in his prime, which is about a big a compliment as you can ever pay a right-back.
Twenty-eight assists across a season-and-a-half is utterly ridiculous production for anyone, let alone a right-back, let alone a 21-year-old right-back. What Trent is doing shouldn’t be possible, but then the youngster is rewriting the rules on what is and isn’t possible. Prince Alexander-Arnold is ready to assume the crown and sit upon Dani Alves’ throne. He is assuredly, unquestionably, and emphatically world-class.