City’s tactics over the 180-minute contest were obvious. The outcome was not.
Crystal Palace clearly identified Alexander-Arnold as a weakness; diagonal balls were launched in behind to allow Wilfried Zaha a clear one-on-one against the 19-year-old in the first forty-five minutes.
Inevitably, that’s where they got their goal; a lovely weighted through ball saw Trent caught out of position, with Zaha running through before being clattered inside the area by Karius. 1-0 to Palace, and questions rightfully asked over Trent.
Guardiola’s plan was equally as obvious; isolate the Scouser with some quick interplay to free up Leroy Sane down City’s left. A starting eleven blessed with a plethora of world-class attacking talent would allow the hosts to overload the right-back, exposing his inexperience to drag themselves back into the contest.
Pity then, that Alexander-Arnold didn’t get the memo.
Time to hold my hands up, here. I, like many Liverpool supporters, questioned whether the young man would be able to handle such a monumental occasion. Clyne’s return to fitness had come at the perfect time, with his experience and defensive nous offering a much safer bet against the Premier League Champions elect.
Recovering from a previously poor performance against City earlier in the season, coupled with a sub-par display in the 2-1 defeat to Manchester United, Trent rose to the challenge on the very biggest stage to quell a world class player at the top of his form in Leroy Sane – twice – in the space of a week, surpassing all expectations in doing so.
He won four tackles and eight duels in the first-leg, making 10 clearances and marauding forward in his usual style, looking as at home as the vastly more experienced figure of James Milner. Captured fist pumping towards the home crowd in a celebration that encapsulated the unrivalled passion of the local lad, this was very much his coming of age.
“One vs one especially he was brave, on the front foot defending against a super talent in Sane, he looked so comfortable” – Rio Ferdinand
The Etihad was no different; delivering an authoritative performance, Sane was left utterly frustrated as Alexander-Arnold notched more interceptions (13) and won more tackles (7) across both legs than any other Liverpool player.
Making six interceptions and two effective clearances on the night, there were no rash challenges showing inexperience nor costly moments of indecision, merely a young man showing far more maturity than his youthful age would suggest.
Further commendation should be awarded for playing through the second-half with a yellow card to his name as Alexander-Arnold showed he’s a player capable of performing on the big occasions. It too was a prodigious mark of the faith Jurgen Klopp has in him and the unequivocally bright future that lies ahead.
Ferdinand summed it up perfectly; without any prior knowledge of who was England’s first-choice right back, you’d have bet on it being Trent instead of Kyle Walker. Assured and composed on the ball, an England call-up doesn’t seem out of the question should performances like this persist.
It’s remarkable to think that just over a year ago, Alexander-Arnold was an 18-year-old with just 10 appearances to his name. Here, he was the shining light on a night where Liverpool advanced to their first Champions League semi-final in ten years.
Gerrard was right, the kid is special.