Alexander-Arnold’s new hybrid role creates chaos in attack – and in defence | Will Unwin

The right-back gives Liverpool an extra dimension in midfield but Tottenham showed how rivals can exploit hole at the back

Within 15 minutes Trent Alexander-Arnold had helped to create two goals in what looked set to be a thrashing of Tottenham. But then Liverpool stopped, and a madness of their own making ensued.

Alexander-Arnold’s new hybrid role showed once more the benefits it could provide to Liverpool as he secured his 53rd Premier League assist, but Jürgen Klopp’s side need to learn how to compensate when the defender drifts from right-back into midfield.

Tottenham’s nominal defenders were unable to cope with the Liverpool attackers’ movement. A key reason for this was Alexander‑Arnold, who has licence to roam into positions where he is more likely to receive the ball and can create. This gives the defender a different angle for his dangerous distribution but also allows Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott to push further forward when Liverpool had possession to overwhelm not only the floundering Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Oliver Skipp but also the erratic centre-backs behind them.

The Spurs defence is currently afraid of its own shadow but it was not helped by what they came up against in the early stages. After two minutes Luis Díaz, making his first start since October, had distracted Pedro Porro like a shiny piece of foil, forcing him to forget about Jones waiting at the back post to slot home a pinpoint Alexander-Arnold delivery. Soon afterwards, the Colombian was scoring a goal of his own when he volleyed in a Cody Gakpo cross, allowed to come in because no one tracked the Dutchman’s run. It was the first time Díaz and Gakpo had started together, to give hope of a long-lasting dynamic relationship.

Whenever a cross came into the Tottenham box there would consistently be four or five red shirts preparing to attack it. Panic was the visitors’ main tactic for keeping Liverpool at bay, but that caused Cristian Romero to carry out one of his traditional rash challenges to give away the penalty for the third by taking down Gakpo facing away from goal, the Dutchman having received a pass from Alexander-Arnold in his midfield role. Liverpool were creating organised chaos but it descended into a disorganised version at the other end.

Liverpool’s worries came at the back, especially when Alexander‑Arnold moved into midfield and Tottenham countered at speed. It left Liverpool short in defence and Spurs showed how they could be exploited. Their first came from a pass to Ivan Perisic down Liverpool’s right without a defender in sight, allowing him to chip a cross for Harry Kane to pummel home unmarked.

An unmarked Harry Kane has the time and space to volley in Tottenham’s first goal
An unmarked Harry Kane has the time and space to volley in Tottenham’s first goal. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

Ibrahima Konaté was booked for pulling back Son Heung‑min to stop a Tottenham counterattack in the 70th minute because he knew that, if the South Korean had got beyond him, Virgil van Dijk would be left outnumbered by him and Kane. Liverpool lived on the edge when they lost the ball, and on another day could have been punished more than they were. To make the most of Alexander‑Arnold’s distribution and intelligence in midfield, Liverpool will be reliant on Konaté, Van Dijk and the defensive midfielder, on this occasion Fabinho, and they will need to have a better understanding of where to position themselves to prevent suffering on the break.

A simple ball over the top allowed Son to reduce the deficit to one because Konaté was caught out of position and Andrew Robertson kept the Tottenham forward onside. A poorly defended set piece brought Richarlison’s equaliser. Liverpool were taking inspiration from Spurs’ work at the back in the opening quarter-hour. The positives outweigh the negatives because Liverpool earned the three points thanks to a mistake from Lucas Moura and a calm Diogo Jota finish. But they cannot always rely on help from others. Liverpool have won four games in a row and with two home fixtures to follow, they will be confident of adding to that tally.

Klopp has already made clear that a rebuild needs to take place at Liverpool, and the adjustment of Alexander-Arnold’s position will be integral to that, but there is plenty of work to be done. In the end, Tottenham could have come away from the match with a win, let alone a draw, because the Liverpool defence was too frequently found wanting, which can be attributed to a level of disorganisation. Liverpool are in transition and Klopp knows it will take time for his current players – and those that arrive in the summer – to learn their roles in this more complicated system and the best place to do it is in the heat of battle.

Klopp’s side are a work in progress but it is the finer details that will determine if they get back to challenging for honours. They have an architect’s design for success but desperately need to work on the foundations.


Will Unwin at Anfield

The GuardianTramp

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