So, brave old Gareth Southgate has actually mustered up the courage to play Trent Alexander-Arnold at a World Cup.
Granted, it was when England were cruising to victory over Wales on Tuesday night, but still, from a Liverpool perspective, it was pleasing to see one of the Reds’ most gifted players earn some minutes.
Alexander-Arnold’s cameo was as typically limited as you would expect from a full-back under Southgate, with the Reds star unable to play his usual expansive game.
It was a solid defensive showing from the 24-year-old, however, during a period in which he is being treated as some sort of walking disaster by his critics.
While many footballers like to create a facade and claim that they don’t hear negativity about them, Trent has made it perfectly clear that he does.
Speaking after the Wales game, he spoke honestly and openly about his perceived reputation as a poor defender, admitting that he is treated differently from others in his position:
“People watch me with a preconception that I can’t defend. At times it feels like it doesn’t matter how well I do and I’m held to standards other players aren’t held to.”
Trent couldn’t have nailed this short-but-eye-catching response to his detractors more, in a saga that has become beyond ludicrous at this point.
First thing’s fast: he has not shone at all in a defensive sense this season, often looking completely out of sorts, whether it be through a seeming lack of legs, a failure to read danger or general poor focus.
But footballers are human and they all go through disappointing runs of form – Steven Gerrard did, Sir Kenny Dalglish did, Mo Salah does at times currently.
Those who obsess over Trent and his defending are simply focusing solely on these past three or four months and using it as a painfully lazy narrative to paint a picture of him throughout his career.
The truth is, the Englishman has been largely good in defensive sense ever since breaking into the team, playing his part in one of the greatest periods in Liverpool’s history.
He has been an integral member of a rock-solid defence that has won the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup and other trophies, excelling in a system that often leaves full-backs exposed when possession is lost.
This is one key aspect of what makes the criticism of Trent so harsh.
He doesn’t play in a low block with endless cover around him – remember when we all thought Dejan Lovren was a great signing, but it turned out he’d just been protected in a defensive Southampton team? – so he isn’t afforded the luxury of being wrapped in footballing cotton wool.
Put any other full-back in the world in that system and you would see weaknesses from time to time.
It’s important to be honest and not be blindly biased when it comes to Trent, though, and there is nothing wrong with accepting that he isn’t the world’s most natural defender.
He does have a penchant for switching off at the back post, and doesn’t necessarily read danger like Markus Babbel or Steve Finnan once did.
But then neither do any of the players he is constantly compared to and are often rated less than.
Reece James is another excellent young player, but any claim that he is some Cafu-like defender is nonsensical, with the Chelsea man equally guilty of making Trent-esque errors of judgement.
Exactly the same applies to Kyle Walker, who at 32, continues to be a player who consistently has to bail himself out with freakish levels of pace.
Deep down, the Man City speedster is a worse natural defender than Trent – you only need to look at games against Liverpool to see that. Give them the same pace and it would be highlighted far more.
Last season, in the 2-2 draw at the Etihad, Walker switched off completely and allowed Sadio Mane to equalise, while at the same ground in 2020, he scythed down the Senegalese to concede a penalty.
These are just two examples that instantly spring to mind, but there are endless ones over the years, and any notion that he is good defensively is incorrect.
Walker’s City teammate, Joao Cancelo, is another who seems to escape criticism far easier than Trent, when in fact he has been exposed by Salah consistently.
Luckily for the Portuguese, Pep Guardiola’s side have so much possession in most games that he is barely even tested at the back, but when he has to muck in, it doesn’t often end well for him.
All of the players mentioned above are impressive in their own right, but the point is, the manner in which their shortcomings are ignored is criminal. And Trent knows it.
Quite why this is the case is up for debate, but the obvious conclusion is that the attacking side of his game is so generationally special that many want to overly focus on that other aspect of his play, overreacting to it.
The bottom line is that, at 24, Trent is still a young footballer learning his trade, but also a player who has already won all there is at club level.
No full-back on the planet is as naturally gifted and influential going forward, while defensively, his overall impact has been more than adequate.
This narrative will no doubt stick with him now, regardless of how well he performs – you’re not allowed to change your opinion anymore! – but Trent calling it out was both bold and correct, hopefully silencing those spouting such utter nonsense.