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Liverpool’s Not So Secret Weapon: Trent Alexander-Arnold

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Liverpool’s right back has made it into the record books for his assists, but the stats show he should be compared with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne as a playmaker too

Liverpool FC v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Let’s try something. Close your eyes. Really, go ahead and close your eyes. Now what is the first think that pops into your mind when you think of the term “playmaker”? Is it an attacking Lionel Messi type player with quick feet and x-ray vision breaking lines on the dribble? Maybe a midfield maestro Christian Erikson Kevin de Bruyne type pinging perfectly weighted balls all over the field? How about a [checks notes] right back?

If you pictured the young Scouser Trent Alexander-Arnold, you’d be right. While you might expect the magic of Roberto Firmino or the scintillating feet and vision of Sadio Mane, it’s young Trent who leads the way for his creative outputs for Liverpool. Still not buying it? Let’s take a look at the stats.

As far as key passes go, Alexander-Arnold leads the team with 3.7 key passes a game according to Whoscored.com. That’s 0.7 more per game than Firmino and 1 more per game than Mane, the next two players on the team. In fact, only Kevin De Bruyne has more key passes per game (4) than Trent in the Premier League.

Taking a deeper dive, Alexander-Arnold has an almost 50-50 split between long and short key passes, which is extremely unusual. We all know he is well known for his pinpoint whipped deliveries from the right flank, but through tactical tweaks to the system, Trent has shown an increasing propensity to come further infield as seen in the heatmap below.

The tactical wrinkle that pushes him inside allows him to combine with, and play slide-rule passes into, the likes of Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino.

Those key passes translate into goal scoring opportunities. When looking at Expected Assists (xA) from Understat.com, Trent Alexander-Arnold is again second only to Kevin De Bruyne in the league. De Bruyne leads the way with just under 6 xA, with Trent providing just over 4 xA for the season.

Another unusual element of Liverpool’s game is the way they change the angle of attack. It’s not uncommon at all to see Alexander-Arnold pick his head up around midfield and deliver a long diagonal ball to the left-sided Andrew Robertson further into the attacking half. This ability to quickly change the angle of the attack with one pass has become integral to the Liverpool attack, and is something you would expect from a deep lying playmaker like Xabi Alonso or Pirlo.

So, when Jamie Carragher says about Trent Alexander-Arnold “it’s like having Kevin de Bruyne at right-back,” it really isn’t hyperbole. If Liverpool’s finishing heats up, Alexander-Arnold could rival his record-breaking 12 assists from last season.