InterviewTrent on Elliott's return, Diaz's start, Jota link-up and more
Harvey Elliott’s first goal for Liverpool was just reward for the teenager’s tenacity throughout his rehabilitation programme, Trent Alexander-Arnold believes.
The No.67 marked his return from a serious ankle injury in style as he came off the bench to fire home the Reds’ third in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Cardiff City in the Emirates FA Cup.
Alexander-Arnold witnessed first-hand Elliott’s determination during his recovery and delighted in the 18-year-old’s unforgettable moment in front of the Kop.
Inside Anfield: Liverpool 3-1 Cardiff
“Very good [to see him back]. I sit next to him in the changing room downstairs so I've seen his journey, on his good days and on his bad days, pushing through, always putting in the work,” the right-back told Liverpoolfc.com at the AXA Training Centre.
“At the start not really even being able to walk and then developing to seeing him back on the pitch and things like that, it has been good to see. As a young lad to be able to bounce back as quickly as he did is outstanding for him.
“Hats off to his mentality throughout the whole thing, he has conducted himself amazingly and the least he deserved was that goal.
“It feels like he has been around for a really long time considering he's only really been playing this season. It’s quite crazy to think about.
“He is someone who is embedded into the team, into the squad. He is someone who is important for us at such a young age and it’s good for him to be able to get them experiences under his belt and good for him to get his first goal, which obviously I know he's been waiting for. Like I said, it was the least he deserved.”
We caught up with Alexander-Arnold ahead of Liverpool’s meeting with Leicester City on Thursday – and we also asked him about topics including his sharpness, Luis Diaz and his understanding with Diogo Jota…
Trent, it feels like a while since you played in the Premier League so how important is it to keep the momentum you built up before the break going against Leicester?
Yeah, before the little break that we've had we got some good results on the board, what we needed, and we just need to make sure we just keep winning games. It's not really in our hands at the minute [the title race] but we just need to keep winning [and] you never know what can happen between now and May. We have to just focus on ourselves, no matter what league position we're in that's always the main thing: just focusing on ourselves and winning games and at the end of the season where we end up is where we end up.
Your last game against Leicester was only six weeks ago and it was a difficult night at King Power Stadium. What kind of lessons have you learned from that game that you can take into this one?
Take our chances really. It was a game where we had a lot of chances first half, a couple second, but we just couldn't quite capitalise on them [and] then we got punished in the end. Yeah, it wasn't our best game, so we need to make sure we are on it at all times, no complacency can creep in. We know it's a tough game, we have played them many times now, so it's important for us to go and win the game. It would be a big three points.
You got 90 minutes under your belt against Cardiff. How important was that for you to get your match fitness and sharpness back after the break?
Yeah, massively important. I have always felt better when I am in a rhythm, game after game and they're coming thick and fast really. I've always enjoyed it when there are a lot of fixtures because once you get a bit of momentum going it's hard to stop. It was [good to] start that up against Cardiff and get the win [and] obviously 90 minutes really helped to build up fitness.
As well as Elliott, Thiago came off the bench as well on Sunday. Luis Diaz has arrived and Divock Origi is back in training too, so how good is it to have a nearly fully fit squad with so many games coming up?
Yeah, it's rare to have very few injuries at this point in the year, but for us to have a fully fit squad is something we need and it's looking good - as is training [and] we're feeling good. After the break against Cardiff, we've started this run off now on the front foot, there is going to be rotations, there is going to be people coming back in.
Mo [Salah] back as well now, Sadio [Mane] will be coming back soon, it's important we get these players in and push out from the front.
Just on Mo and Sadio, did you watch the Africa Cup of Nations final?
Yeah, of course, I had to watch it. It was a crazy experience because it's very rare you have two teammates on the opposite end of the pitch. Obviously first of all you've got to feel for Mo, the journey that him and Egypt took to the final was a really tough one. They fought and fought but just at the very last hurdle they fell, but it's a credit to him and his nation. They will be proud of how far they got but obviously disappointed with not winning it.
And then as for Sadio and Senegal, you've just got to smile at it. The whole story of the final, with Sadio missing a pen then at the end being the hero, it was the perfect story, it's nothing less than what he deserves. I can't say enough good words about Sadio. He is an outstanding player but first and foremost he is an amazing human, always smiling and the connection he has with the fans, with his country and all the celebrations, it was so befitting. [He is] so humble in his success and so determined every day to get better. His drive every day to become a better player and person is amazing to see first-hand. We were all proud of whoever won it, but someone had to lose at the end of the day.
Inside Training: Diaz and Salah involved pre-Leicester
And on Diaz: his cameo against Cardiff certainly excited the fans, what was your impression?
It was exciting, it is always exciting when we get a new player in to see how he will fit in, how he plays, how he is in training, what he is about, but he's fit in straight away. His English isn't amazing but we've got the Brazilians and the Spanish lads who can speak to him and translate for him, so there's a lot of them that will do that and help him until the end of the season. It was an amazing half an hour he got, I think him and Diogo had a little argument about whose assist it was today… I’m not quite sure, I didn't want to get involved and I stayed impartial to that! It was an amazing start. It summed up how we want to play: winning the ball back and creating straight away, getting the ball forward and he has hit the ground running so the fans have every reason to be excited about this.
Your assist against Cardiff was your 15th of the season, and five of those have been for Diogo. Is that something you two have worked on or is it just a natural understanding?
I would say just natural, to be honest. He is a top-class player, top-class striker, he finds himself in those positions and I think most of them have been headers as well so he's really strong in the air. I'm blessed to be able to play with these forwards and play on the pitch with them to give them the ball to go and score. I just try to give them as good service as I can and hopefully they put the ball in the back of the net for me. It's good for us to have that in the locker to be able to put it in the box for them to go and win the headers.
Yourself and Andy Robertson recently passed 100 assists between you for Liverpool. How proud are you to reach that milestone?
Yeah, it's crazy to think that two full-backs can do that in the short amount of time that we have been able to do it. That's good for us and that's what we want to do; we pride ourselves on that, helping the team go forward. It's built on us going forward and being allowed to create and people to fill in for us. Hopefully it will continue for many years to come.
You’ve set up three goals for him but he hasn't returned the favour yet… he’s told us you’re not getting in the box enough! What is your response to that?!
He loves to say that! There is a little bit of truth behind it I would say - I don't get in the box as much as he does - but I deserve one I would say, considering how many he misses three is a high tally for one person to give to Robbo! He's only scored about five goals for the club so for me to have three [assists] I have got to be doing something right! That's always special, though, to be able to link up with him and get at least one in a season where we can celebrate together.