Did you know that Trent Alexander-Arnold gave the ball away 38 times against Southampton? Of course you knew, that stat has been plastered over social media ever since the final whistle. Did you know that he also misplaced 28 passes against the Saints? That particular tweet swept across Football Twitter like wildfire.
While at first glance it may appear to be a lot, when you take everything into account, it really isn’t. Liverpool mixed things up against Ralph Hasenhüttl, opting to use a similar system to the one they deployed against Atletico Madrid, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain operating almost as a right-winger when the Reds attacked. On paper, it was a 4-3-3 but in practice, it was very much a 4-2-2-2, almost identical to the one used by the hosts.
Southampton press high and commit bodies forward. They rank third for passes per defensive action behind Leeds United and Liverpool. They’re one of the few teams in the Premier League who will entertain a basketball match against the Premier League champions. Jurgen Klopp’s side are usually at their best when there’s space to attack and they’re allowed to break. It was clear that the plan was to get the ball forward as quickly as possible, especially with the Reds committing that extra man forward in Oxlade-Chamberlain. They had runners and were, in theory, in a good position to counter-press.
Andrew Robertson is always the ball carrier while Alexander-Arnold is the ball progressor. That’s the dynamic. Due to the tweak in the system, Liverpool were even more reliant on their right-back and this resulted in him attempting more long passes.
In fact, he attempted more long passes against Southampton (27) than he did against Newcastle United, West Brom and Crystal Palace combined (26). Throughout his Liverpool career, his long pass accuracy has been around 51%. Against the Saints, it was 52%. In terms of accuracy, he was on par. It just appeared worse because of the sheer volume. For added context, his average for the Reds since his debut is 10 long passes per 90. He almost trebled that at St Mary’s.
The thing about his style is, it isn’t as though his numbers, specifically those tied to pass accuracy or use of the ball, will improve if he attempts more. That isn’t how it works.
Alexander-Arnold’s game is built on risk. He’s Liverpool’s chief creator. The Reds kind of bank on him executing that one pass to perfection. With these players, it’s all about playing the odds. Every team has that one individual. The one allowed to be loose in possession because his job is to create, not to retain.
Man City have Kevin de Bruyne and Manchester United have Bruno Fernandes. The latter has a 51% success rate with long passes and a 23% success rate with crosses. Since moving to Old Trafford, he’s finished with a pass success rate between 60-70% on nine occasions in the Premier League. Doesn’t mean he’s bad on the ball, it’s just part and parcel of his role as a creator.
De Bruyne finds a team-mate with 58% of his long passes and 30% of his crosses. In City’s 1-1 draw with West Brom, he completed just 22% of his crosses and his total (9) was more than double what his average is (4.2).
You might think Alexander-Arnold has been poor recently, but that stat being pushed is deceptive and doesn’t tell the whole story.