Liverpool’s 2022/23 league campaign breaks down pretty neatly into three blocks.
Section one was the opening 14 games which led into the World Cup, from which the Reds took 22 points. That was followed by another 14-game block which might be titled ‘what the hell was that?’.
Liverpool only took one point fewer from this portion of the season, but it contained the majority of the real low points of 2022/23; namely horrendous performances at Brentford, Brighton and Wolverhampton Wanderers. There was also the rollercoaster of following a 7-0 drubbing of Manchester United with defeats to Bournemouth and Manchester City, both of which were crushing disappointments albeit in very different ways.
And then there was the final 10 games, from which Liverpool extracted a very encouraging 24 points with seven wins and three draws. Only City had a better record in this period yet it wasn’t enough to secure Champions League qualification for the Reds. The damage had long since been done.
Looking back, it’s striking how little two key players contributed in their primary roles in the first two segments of the campaign. As 2022 rolled into 2023, Trent Alexander-Arnold didn’t have a single assist in any competition. Even at the end of section two he only had three with just two in the league; had he produced them at his career average rate he’d have had seven in the league alone.
But he had at least offered a little something of his regular output; Diogo Jota went a year without scoring. His assist contributions should not be underestimated – only Mohamed Salah set up more Liverpool goals during his drought – but he is expected to score goals and he wasn’t doing it.
Until something changed for both men.
For Jota, it may have been as simple as playing regularly after an injury-hit campaign. He started nine of the final 13 games in all competitions and was included in the first change from the bench for three of the other four.
Yet even with a little regression to the mean against his underlying numbers, few people would have anticipated how well Jota would do across the closing 10 Premier League match weeks. The Portuguese forward’s tally of seven non-penalty goals was only matched by Harry Kane in this period. Both scored when their sides clashed too, though there’s no question who will have enjoyed their goal more that day.
As for Alexander-Arnold, his upturn in form looked to be down to the tactical change deployed by Jürgen Klopp. By taking up a midfield position when Liverpool were in possession, the Reds’ right-back was able to get more opportunities to utilise his sublime passing skills.
Again, the numbers tell the tale. Trent led the league for assists over the final 10 matches, with seven. It equalled the total posted by Jack Grealish and Kieran Trippier (among others) for the entire campaign and only 15 other players topped seven in 2022/23.
Alexander-Arnold’s success was a little more justified than Jota’s. Where the latter had six players above him in the non-penalty xG chart for games 29 to 38, the former was behind only Bruno Fernandes.
Now consider the relationship of the two Liverpool men and things get really interesting. Despite their respective bursts of goals and assists, Jota and Alexander-Arnold barely linked up on the pitch at all.
In the 522 minutes of pitch time they shared across the final 10 games, the number 66 only passed to the former Wolves man 12 times. Just two of them were received in the box and only one of them led to Jota taking a shot. Granted, it was a clear-cut chance – against Nottingham Forest – but it was from a set piece, so Alexander-Arnold’s new role made no difference to its creation.
Perhaps them both thriving without needing each other is good for the Reds. You don’t want to be reliant upon two players; if they can combine well with other colleagues then it opens up more attacking possibilities.
But it’s worth remembering that Trent and Diogo have been very firm football friends in the past. With nine goals produced as a pair, only Sadio Mané (12) has benefited more times from Alexander-Arnold’s creativity than Jota has.
Their combination has delivered in massive games too, with strikes against Arsenal (three), both Manchester clubs, Atalanta and Atletico Madrid among their collection. Their six goals in league and Europe – where detailed data is available – were all hit from no more than nine yards out and from 6.5 on average. Jota is the predator supreme, and Alexander-Arnold has shown time and again that he can find him in the danger zone.
They have a very solid connection which wasn’t particularly exploited in their recent individual bursts of hot form. If Klopp can harness them together effectively next season, the damage they could wreak upon the opposition could be untold.