Jürgen Klopp has issued a staunch defence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and claimed criticism of the “world-class” right-back betrays a misunderstanding of how Liverpool play.
The Liverpool manager refused to be drawn into a public row over Gareth Southgate’s decision to drop Alexander-Arnold from the England squad that faced Germany, or his insistence that Kieran Trippier’s “all-round game” is ahead of the 23-year-old’s. Klopp admitted his right-back’s defending must improve – along with that of the rest of the Liverpool team – but believes Alexander-Arnold is being unfairly judged on that one aspect of his game when his overall contribution is unique. The Liverpool manager is bewildered by the criticism.
“When we do a high press Trent is often the highest of all those at the back. That is the way we play football,” Klopp said at his press conference for Saturday’s home game against Brighton. “Now, you can say: ‘You should defend better,’ but you cannot have everything because if you want to play high press you need players in specific positions. If the next ball goes long on that [right] side then Joël [Matip], Ibou [Konaté] or Joe [Gomez] has to cover him. It is the risk we take. It is not a crazy risk and we win the ball nine out of 10 times, but in the one moment we don’t win it people ask: ‘Where is Trent?’ That is a question I don’t understand from people who watch football so often. People say that is his main job but I told him he has to be there [higher up the pitch].
“Yes, there are other situations where he was not aware or there was a challenge he should have won. Every player has these challenges. But with him? Every time it is picked up and analysed, all the experts saying this is a weakness. Honestly, I just don’t get it. A world-class talent gets judged by the one thing he is not as world class at as the other things? If he was not a good defender, he would not play.”
Klopp believes Alexander-Arnold has suffered due to an overall drop in Liverpool’s defensive level but maintains there is not a right-back in world football who compares with the club’s homegrown talent. He said: “First part of the season we as a team didn’t defend well. Analysing was easy. It was like: ‘Oh my God, what is that?’ As a defender, Trent is a part of that but with all the other three as well, or in our case the other six as well. Defending is an art, if you want, because everything has to work together. Offensively one skill or one guy makes the difference. Goal. Defensively, it is not possible that one guy defends the whole pitch. You need everybody involved and we were not good at that. That is the truth and my responsibility.
“Trent did not do well in these moments as well. In other moments he defends exceptionally well but nobody mentions it. If you judge a player you think about his overall package. The skill set he has for being influential in possession is mad. I don’t know if I ever saw a right-back like this – passing here, passing there, switching sides, taking free-kicks, corners, smart decisions, quick decisions. He is an outstanding football player in a situation where three other right-backs in this country are doing really well. We should not forget that. Gareth Southgate cannot line up all four. So one or two will be disappointed.”