Interview'I love a challenge' - Trent Alexander-Arnold analyses his new hybrid role
Trent Alexander-Arnold is thriving on the challenge of learning a new role that excited him from the get-go.
Liverpool’s No.66 has been a driving force behind his team’s recent upturn in form, which has seen them reel off six consecutive Premier League wins to force their way into contention for a top-four finish.
A superb April featured six Alexander-Arnold assists as he was successfully deployed in a hybrid role that enables him to drift inside from right-back and become a fulcrum in central midfield when Jürgen Klopp’s side are in possession.
The 24-year-old was duly voted Standard Chartered Men’s Player of the Month by supporters and, ahead of Monday’s trip to Leicester City, he sat down with Liverpoolfc.com to provide an in-depth analysis of how he and his teammates have adapted to this strategic shift.
Read our interview with Alexander-Arnold below.
As a team you have proven very hard to stop once you get into a rhythm in recent years. Does it feel like you are in that rhythm again now?
Yeah, it feels like we’re getting there. We’ve had glimpses of it over the course of the season but haven’t been able to back it up, we’ve had big results and then not been able to follow it up and then disappointing results have followed that. Whereas right now we’re able to back them up and we’ve just got that belief – we are just enjoying our football again.
So, what position do you as an individual play now?
To be honest, I don’t know what you’d call it – people have different terms and different interpretations of it. I think I just play it the way the manager tells me to and the way I feel it needs to be played. But yeah, it’s getting on the ball more centrally, being able to impact the game in a central area and just having that freedom within there to express myself and help the team win games. I think it’s been a big effort from a lot of the lads who have been asked to do different things, it’s not just me, and I think everyone’s adapted to it really well.
What were the initial conversation and first training session like when the coaches told you they wanted to change things?
It didn’t need to be that long because I think the staff knew I would understand the role and what I need to bring to it. It was kind of just telling me where I needed to be and within that me having the quality and the intelligence to be able to work with it. It was literally the day before the Arsenal game, to be honest, just sprung on us, ‘This is what we are going to do when we have the ball, build with two sixes and a back three and kind of mirror Arsenal’s shape and give them that problem.’ You saw [in the] first half it was difficult because it was brand new and we hadn’t worked on it, to be honest, but then second half we took control of the game and I think in a system and a formation like that having control of the game is vital. Once we were able to do that, and have been able to do it since, we’ve been able to show all of our qualities.
What was your reaction when they told you the plan?
Excited, to be honest. I love a challenge, I love trying and learning new things and I think that’s something that I’ve really enjoyed this last month or so since being given that new role in the team: asking questions, learning, wanting to understand what to bring to it, how I can learn, how I can get better, how I can help the team, and just understanding a different role. Playing in a different way, learning the different rules that a midfielder or someone in the middle of the pitch has to bring compared to someone out wide – dragging players away, creating space for others, being an option, angles, checking shoulders, there’s so much more to it. That was all new at the start but it’s kind of just felt natural if I’m honest, and I think that’s something that is evident – that it just looks and feels natural.
You get a lot of the ball now – how enjoyable is that?
I love having the ball! It’s something I’ll never shy away from as well. I think that’s a quality I’ve always possessed: when things are going well and when things are going bad, I always want to get on the ball and I‘m not scared to make mistakes. I think I’m lucky to have that ability and that mentality around that but I think getting on the ball, just being influential, lending the ball, getting it back, making the team tick, helping create attacks and build out from the back is something that I love to do. Having that responsibility and feeling that responsibility is something that I thrive off and I love feeling that. Knowing that the team needs me and I need the team to work hand in hand is something that I love.
You mentioned responsibility there – this role does have more responsibilities in terms of dictating the game, doesn’t it?
Yeah, it’s trying to just control the game, play the game and dictate the tempo and the speed of what we do. I think there’s so much detail in the small things, the fine details, that people don’t really see but it’s just dictating the pace of the game depending on who you pass to, the speed at which you pass – that all gives messages as to what to do. You play a slow ball and it’s, ‘Keep the ball’, whereas if you rap it into someone on the back foot it’s, ‘Turn, we’re good, go forward.’ I think it’s just those little messages that someone in the middle of the pitch has to know and understand and learn and, as I said, I’m loving learning what to do and how to do it and how to dictate a game.
It sounds like you are really embracing and getting to grips with those fine details…
Yeah. On the surface of it, it is football and it’s playing a slightly different role and that, but really there is a lot more that goes into it. But it’s something that I think stimulates me and helps me because, like I said, I love a challenge, I love having to think on the pitch, I love having to really think about what I’m doing, where I’m moving, who and what is round me at all times, and just needing that awareness and not being able to switch off is something that I think I thrive off. Like I said, that new responsibility that I feel within the team is something that helps me perform.
You mentioned before that your teammates have had to adjust to the changes too, such as Ibrahima Konate…
I think it’s one of those things, we all appreciate each other, we all appreciate our qualities. I think the system suits profiles: Ibou is an athletic centre-back who can move, he can run, he is strong, fast, he can cover big spaces and defends outstandingly well in those big spaces, so I think maybe that gap I’m leaving when I am coming into the middle of the pitch is filled by a player who can handle that and do that. We’ve got other profiles of centre-halves who can do that as well, you see big Joel who stepped in at West Ham away, and he did that outstandingly well as well. I think there are a lot of different things, Robbo is sacrificing himself as well, playing as more of a left-sided centre-half, and Mo has to come deeper a little bit to get the ball and be an option for Ibou because there is no right-back there now. So there’s a lot of moving parts to it and I think we all appreciate what we bring to those roles and we all try to play to those strengths as much as possible.
The team has hit a strong run of form with six wins in a row – is this side at its best when you are being written off in some quarters?
Definitely, definitely. I think as players you like to be underestimated, you like to be the underdog and having that mentality and just want to prove people wrong. People say things about us all the time, as a team, as individuals, and it’s on us to go out there and prove them wrong and to prove how good we are as a team and individuals, and I think the last month has been a great way to do that for us.
Leicester are in the bottom three as it stands but do you disregard that because of the quality of players they have?
Yeah, we know the context of the game, we know the situation we are in and we know the situation they are in. It’s probably the biggest game of the season for them, it’s now or never, it’s a must-win if we are honest, and we understand that. But it’s not, ‘They’re in the bottom three so they’re not good and fighting for their life,’ it’s, ‘They’ve got real quality and they show that, it’s just the league position they are in.’ Anyone can beat anyone in this league, so it’s something we are aware of and we know what to expect really.