A lot has been made of the fact that Joe Gomez has been out injured for Liverpool this season – and the impact that that has on Liverpool’s defence. But comparatively, not as much has been made of the impact of losing Trent Alexander-Arnold for a period of time – with Trent missing six of Liverpool’s last eleven games through two injuries and making his return as a sub against Bournemouth.
So how much impact does Trent have on the team – both in attack and in defence? In this article I want to explore how Liverpool have performed with and without Trent this year, as well as how well Trent has personally performed, to try and get to the bottom of that.
Starting with the results in general, and I want to focus on the Premier League as that’s where I can most accurately compare xG numbers using Understat . Liverpool have won 14 of their 17 Premier League games where Trent has featured predominantly (for clarity, I’m including the Burnley game where Trent came inside 25 minutes but not the Bournemouth game), drawing with Chelsea and Arsenal as well as their defeat to Man City. Conversely, they’ve won six of nine without Trent, drawing to City, West Ham and Leicester.
That’s a win percentage of 67% and 2.33 points per game without him, compared to an 82% win ratio and 2.59 points per game with him. Nine games isn’t a huge sample size, but 17 is almost half a season and that’s a 98 point season with Trent in the side (and an 89 point season without him).
In terms of defending, what actually sparked part of this article was this tweet (thread) by Simon Brundish – in which he points out Liverpool’s defensive record with and without Trent in the PL.But what’s interesting is that despite those numbers themselves indicating that Trent has made a big difference to the defence, the sample sizing again makes a huge difference to the numbers, as does whether you count Spurs’ late goal against Liverpool – a game in which Trent played 90 mins but Spurs scored as soon as he went off.
If you factor that goal as being in Trent’s tally, LFC have conceded nine in 17 games with him or 0.53 goals per game, and 0.67 without him (six in nine). If you take it out since he wasn’t on the pitch – which you should – then it’s 0.47 with him and 0.78 without per game.
This is not to invalidate Brundish’s point, merely to demonstrate that fine margins make huge differences when you’re dealing with sample sizes. Neverthless, again you have a relatively big sample size with Trent on the field – over 1500 minutes, and conceding just eight goals in what is now 1519 minutes on the field (190 minutes per goal) is terrific (as mentioned – essentially 0.47 goals against per 90).
However, if you look at the underlying numbers, that’s where things get a bit more complicated. Liverpool have conceded 0.72 xGA on average in those 17 games where Trent has played, compared with 0.82 when he has played. So despite conceding considerably less goals, Liverpool tend to ship a slightly higher xGA.
So I looked at big chances against, to see if that made a difference related to their league position. The Reds have shipped five big chances without Trent on the field, at a rate of 0.55 per game. When he has been on the field, they’ve shipped 20 in 17, or 1.18. So defensively, despite conceding more xGA and more big chances, Liverpool have shipped considerably less goals. Again, sample sizes, but that’s interesting.
The bigger difference is actually, considerably so, in Liverpool’s attack. With Trent in the side, Liverpool manage 2.37 xG, without him that dips to 1.63. The Reds have created 14 big chances at 1.54 per game without him, compared to a staggering 57 with him – that’s 3.35 per game.
That difference doesn’t necessarily translate entirely to goals – Liverpool have scored 40 goals at 2.35 with him and 19 at 2.11 without him, but nevertheless, that level of creativity in attack is massive. With Trent, that’s a 90 xG, 89 goal season with 127 big chances, compared to 62 xG, 80 goals (that seems an unsustainable ratio) 59 big chance season. That’s a genuinely colossal difference and again, whilst the sample sizes play a factor, there’s no doubt that that’s noticeable.
Trent himself has made a sizeable contribution to the attack too – as you might expect. Whilst he’s only on one goal and three assists, he’s been a somewhat solid creative force for the team. In terms of xA/90, he’s fifth in the squad on 0.16 behind Salah (0.34), Milner (0.32), Robbo (0.21) and Bobby (0.20)and higher than Mané (0.14), Shaqiri (0.12) and comfortably higher than any of our CMs not named Milner. To fit that, he’s also fifth on assists for LFC with three – Milner and Bobby on four, Robbo on six and Salah seven.
And on top of that, in terms of xG Build/90, he’s also fifth of Liverpool’s regular starters (those who have played at least three full sets of ninety minutes) on 0.42 – this time behind Milner (0.52),Hendo (0.47),Naby (0.46) and Robbo (0.43).
What these numbers show is that whilst Trent isn’t necessarily a pivotal player in the attack, he’s one of the most important cogs outside of the front three. Both of Liverpool’s full-backs are hugely important to the way that they play football, as these numbers demonstrate with Robbo consistently up there too, and it really shows that when Trent is missing, Liverpool don’t have the same threat.
When you think of Liverpool’s most important players, you think of Van Dijk, Salah and Mané. But Alexander-Arnold isn’t necessarily a player that people would include on that list. Nevertheless, it’s clear that he’s a player with not only a huge future for the club, but already a player that Klopp can find himself relying on.
It would be easy to see Trent as simply one for the future, and even announcements such as this one from ESPN about his new contract indicate that his renewal isn’t as important as say the renewals of Salah or Firmino, but it’s fair to say that he’s not just a player with a bright future, but a player that is already of critical importance to the way that Liverpool play.
Again to make the comparisons with Gomez. Liverpool have largely been able to cope with Gomez’s injury defensively, with Lovren and Matip filling in admirably, but they haven’t been quite able to cope with Trent’s loss in quite the same way, especially not when both have been out at the same time.
If Liverpool are to win the league, which right now you’d say they are still favourites to do, then Trent’s fitness could prove a key feature. Right now, if I were a betting man, and certainly I think that this title race will end up proving an interesting one to bet on, then I’d say that the odds of Liverpool winning the title will improve now that Trent is fit, and Klopp will be hoping that he stays fit.
As for the future? If Trent is already one of Liverpool’s most important players, then who knows how good he can be when he hits his prime. Liverpool are really lucky to have him, and that has been demonstrated this season.