To say that Trent Alexander-Arnold has never experienced a period like it is no understatement.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is 22 years old.
He may have come across as an older head because he’s already played 170 times for Liverpool and 12 times for England. He’s won the Champions League and the Premier League. For club and country he’s into double figures for senior goals.
Yet this is only really his fourth season as a senior professional footballer.
He’d made a handful of appearances the previous campaign, but it wasn’t until Nathaniel Clyne got what would prove to be a fairly terminal injury for his Liverpool career before the 2017/18 season started that Alexander-Arnold was suddenly thrust into the fray, often alternating right-back duties with Joe Gomez at first.
By the mid point of that season he was first choice, and so began the journey. Champions League final, Champions League win, Premier League win.
2020/21. Grinding halt.
That isn’t just for him of course, but for Liverpool.
A fairly miserable season has seen what once looked to be unstoppable momentum come crashing down, and suddenly it is the full-back who is bearing the brunt of the dissatisfaction. At least from the outside, that is.
Part of the reason for the fairly hysterical reaction to Alexander-Arnold being left out of Gareth Southgate’s last England squad was that he had actually been playing quite well for a month or so.
There was a goal and an assist at Tottenham, a raking crossfield pass before Mo Salah scored at West Ham and a fairly miraculous effort to keep the ball in and cross before Curtis Jones netted at Sheffield United.
But then that’s just it, all of these were attacking moves.
Attacking is what Jurgen Klopp has asked Alexander-Arnold to do ever since he broke into the team and the style of the side gradually changed over his first full season, placing more emphasis on him as the right-back and Andy Robertson on the left to be the creators.
There’s an irony in that Philippe Coutinho’s final goal for Liverpool came in a game where Alexander-Arnold scored his first at Anfield, a spearing drive into the top corner at the Kop end, just like he’d dreamed it, against Swansea City on Boxing Day 2017.
Liverpool’s capacity for creation had moved on from the Brazilian and onto the Scouser and the Scot on the flanks, and they’d defend when they had to but that wasn’t going to be anyone’s main concern.
Until now, that is.
The injuries the Reds have suffered at the back this season have seen a cast of characters thrust into the action at centre-back and in midfield, and a once tangible calm has long gone.
Where Alexander-Arnold once knew that he’d have the influence of Jordan Henderson and/or Fabinho immediately to his left, and Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk behind, now he’s unsure who will play there week by week.
The former Liverpool right-back Glen Johnson warned Alexander-Arnold about what was to come shortly after the Van Dijk injury, telling The Mirror : “There’s nothing better as an attacking full-back to think ‘oh actually, I don’t need to run back because I know that Van Dijk is there, or John Terry is there.’
“You just know they’re going to win the ball.
“If you look over your shoulder and it’s somebody else then you don’t get that confidence, and then you have to be in totally different positions.
“We’ve seen it over the years with Trent. Sometimes defensively he’s got into some terrible positions, but it doesn’t matter because Van Dijk will be mopping up behind and making it all look very easy.
“Both full-backs will have to change.”
Yet they’ve still steadfastly remained the same because their manager has wanted them to.
One of the criticisms you could aim at Klopp this season has been that he has tried to keep his side playing in the manner that they did when they won everything that lay before them, not taking into account the serious reduction in quality at the heart of the defence.
It still worked for a while, and the Reds were largely fine for much of this season. They were earning plaudits.
Pep Guardiola, the man who will soon wrestle the Premier League trophy back from Klopp, remains a huge fan of Alexander-Arnold and the way he plays.
After the 1-1 draw between Manchester City and Liverpool in November, a match in which Alexander-Arnold was injured, he called him “an exceptional full-back” and “the right-back from the England national team”. Even after City won 4-1 at Anfield in February he said they “could not control” Alexander-Arnold for much of the first half.
Individually he is still having the impact on games that he has always had, as evidenced by the brilliant cross for Diogo Jota’s header at Arsenal, but it is that failure to adapt to who is next to him that Johnson referenced that he is struggling with.
But then Klopp seems to want him to play like this.
If doesn’t help, of course, when the player stationed immediately in front of you plays as poorly as Naby Keita did at Real Madrid, with all semblance of a protective screen absent.
Alexander-Arnold was still poor though, with an uncharacteristic individual error creeping into his game for the Marco Asensio goal.
A sign of nerves perhaps? Frustration?
He’s not at his best but Liverpool are also nowhere near theirs.
The two are far more closely linked than many would have you believe right now.