Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James are two of the best right-backs in the world.
The two young Englishmen share a position and for all their excellence seem destined to be in conflict with each other their whole careers. This weekend sees their first face-off in a final — well, depending on whether Tuchel makes a “crazy” decision after some last-minute Reece James injury news — as their clubs Liverpool and Chelsea play for the 2021 League Cup.
Their battles will be long and hard over the year, and not just in terms of Liverpool vs Chelsea. Both will be fighting to start at right-back for England.
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Asked to choose which he thought was the better player, former Chelsea and Liverpool right-back Glen Johnson sat down with Squawka and gave a measured answer: “You could argue a case for either. I think they’re both slightly different.”
“I’d probably say overall Trent is better going forward, but for me Reece is a better defender,” Johnson added, not unreasonably. Alexander-Arnold is infamous for some poor defensive moments but his offensive output tends to dwarf any concerns in that area.
A chart showing players’ stats compared to a position group (full-backs), where the outer and most inner boundaries represent the top and bottom 5% figures of the wider footballing population.
“Trent’s set pieces and delivery is second to none, but Reece isn’t bad either. [James] is a better footballer in the sense of his positioning, how he gets into midfield and can play there as well,” Johnson added, making note of the Chelsea man’s versatility to play in midfield, or even central defender in a back three, both of which he has done to acclaim.
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Alexander-Arnold shifts position about the field in a fluid and free role, but when Gareth Southgate started him in midfield, Jurgen Klopp posed the question: “why would you make the best right-back in the world a midfielder?” It’s also highly unlikely he’d thrive at centre-back.
“I like the way [James] reads the game – he’s mentally calm. While he won’t get the accolades of a Ziyech or whatever but, you don’t realise how good players are until they’re missing,” Johnson continued.
Trent Alexander-Arnold or Reece James? 🤔
🗣 "His delivery is second to none"
🗣 "Overall, for me, he's a better footballer"
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 25, 2022
And Chelsea have certainly felt James’ absence from the team. Not for nothing has Romelu Lukaku often cut a frustrated figure since the Englishman went down, while the Blues’ title challenge also evaporated in a run of middling form.
When pushed for an answer as to which of England’s two right-back prodigies he preferred, Johnson did have a definitive response: “So overall I would say Reece, but it’s a tight race.”
However Johnson was mostly keen to emphasise the importance of full-backs in the modern game. “People will always say ‘ah you’re a right back, you’re a left back’ they think they’re the least important positions on the pitch but it’s not. It’s really not.”