There are a couple of shocking things about Trent Alexander-Arnold this season. The first is that England barely used him in their World Cup campaign in Qatar. The other is that he has no Premier League assists more than a third of the way through the season.
The whole assist thing is not completely trustworthy. Opposition managers have to account for Alexander-Arnold and that opens up space for others. Even so, the 24-year-old’s crossing has been so productive in recent years that it’s jarring to see that he hasn’t provided a killer ball in the 14 league games so far. Andy Robertson has four assists and Kostas Tsimikas three.
There’s been no significant dropoff in form for TAA. He gets more attention from opponents. It was instructive to watch how Real Madrid set up in Paris in May. Carlo Ancelotti isn’t the most tactical of managers but he knows his stuff. Real flooded the Liverpool right to stop Mohamed Salah and Alexander-Arnold. They were happy to let Robertson and Luis Diaz have the ball. It paid off for them.
The team have been out in Dubai this month and there has been lots of soul-searching among players and staff about what went wrong in the first part of the season. In an interview with the Echo, Robertson talked about improving the pressing game. The issues are much wider than that.
The thing that kickstarted the renaissance under Jurgen Klopp (aside from the expensive acquisition of Vigil van Dijk and Alisson) was the emergence of TAA. Him and Robertson complement each other perfectly. Despite what Gareth Southgate thinks, Alexander-Arnold is top class. But someone has to pick up the slack when other teams have a plan to limit his impact.
The onus falls on the midfield. Which at the moment is not equipped to fill the void. Thiago’s passing is a joy to watch but there are times when you wish he was more direct.
The reality is that improving the pressing game will not solve all the problems. The team needs a strategic reset. The reliance on wing-backs will increasingly become a thing of the past.
There is good news, though. TAA returns from Qatar not only with splinters in his arse but a burning desire to show everyone just how good he is. Expect him to come on strong in the first half of 2023.
The obvious answer in midfield is Jude Bellingham. He’s come out of the World Cup with an enhanced reputation.
He was superb throughout but his best moment came after Harry Kane’s penalty miss. The 19-year-old went straight to his captain to console and gee him up. In one moment he showed the character and leadership which will elevate his ability.
I’m not a ‘find the money from somewhere’ man but the message to whoever owns LFC by the time the summer window opens is simple: Find the bloody money from somewhere.
Unpopular opinion. Kane is brilliant. His movement, acumen and finishing are splendid. Even if you enjoy his pain after the miss, you have to fear him when he’s up against you.
The cold weather made me think of some of the most freezing days I can remember going the match. Two grounds always stuck out for me. A couple of the worst games were at Villa Park. The 3-1 FA Cup win in January 1984 was frigid. Ian Rush scored a magnificent hat-trick but every extremity was numb. The ground was half empty and only diehards went to a match that was televised. Ugly. At least there were goals.
For the 0-0 league game in December it was almost as cold and a combination of that and a Christmas party hangover made it one of the most uncomfortable few hours of my life.
The worst was always Roker Park, though. In 1982, a 0-0 between Christmas and New Year was nightmarish. Rain slanted in from the north sea onto that open Roker End. The Special took about five hours to get back and everyone on it was still wet by the time we got off at Lime Street. Horrible.
We’d learnt our lesson three years later when we went to Sunderland in January. There was snow on the ground and plenty in the air. There was no chance we were going in the open end. Only two of us had braved the conditions and we, er, gained access to the all-ticket main stand. In other words we bunked in without paying.
When the match was abandoned at half time, we thought we should try it on at the ticket office and ask for our money back, claiming we’d bought tickets. The away end was still under lockdown so why not chance our arm? We had, of course, been drinking.
The ticket-office staff told us, reasonably, that the game would be rearranged and producing a stub would get us entry into the new fixture. Pushing it, I explained that the match would be played on a weeknight and I couldn’t get time off work.
The locals were sympathetic and started telling the staff to refund us. We started a chant of “We want our money back,” and they joined in. This went on for a couple of minutes until we got bored and left.
It seemed that things escalated afterwards because the next day the papers reported disturbances outside the ticket office as angry Sunderland fans protested. I still think me and my mate started it.
Ah, the 80s.
I don’t miss them at all.
Ibrahima Konate could become the fourth Liverpool player to win a World Cup medal. Roger Hunt was the first and the only one to start the final. Fernando Torres came on as a substitute in 2010 and Pepe Reina was on the bench.
Konate looked like something of a project when he made his debut against Crystal Palace in September last year. It’s a bit surprising that he has made so much progress. He improved with almost every game. His performance in the semi-final gives him a chance of keeping Dayot Upamecano out of the team to play Argentina.
The impressive thing about the 23-year-old is he still has huge room for development. If he plays on Sunday, he should whisper down Messi’s ear “I’m a Liverpool player, remember Anfield?”
I’d put the fear of god into the best player in the game.