Now he looks to have solved Liverpool’s midfield riddle, is an England reinvention next for Trent Alexander-Arnold?
Gareth Southgate must be watching the evolution of Anfield's ‘hybrid’ full-back/midfielder role with particular interest and, if he is so inclined, a hint of smugness.
"Been there, tried that," he might suggest.
Southgate first experimented with the Liverpool player in a more central zone in an international against Andorra in September 2021, with Alexander-Arnold used in a midfield three alongside Jordan Henderson and Jude Bellingham.
It did not work, lasting 45 awkward minutes before he was returned to his more familiar position.
“We wanted to have a look at playing him in a slightly more advanced role,” the England manager explained at the time.
“We know he’s just got outstanding quality with the ball, and of course, he finds himself in those positions with Liverpool.”
In line with a complex relationship with Southgate during regular club-versus-country discussions [usually concerning Alexander-Arnold], Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was unimpressed, quipping "why would you play the best right-back in the world in midfield?"
Two years on, those studying the subtleties will point out that Southgate’s use of Alexander-Arnold was not the same. Using him as a No8 in a congested central zone differs from Klopp instructing the full-back to drift infield to play as an additional No6.
On that difficult Wembley night against Andorra, Alexander-Arnold kept receiving the ball with his back to goal and was smothered by midfield opponents. At Liverpool, he is increasingly operating in the ‘quarter-back’ area where he has the time and space to exhibit his full passing repertoire. The results are increasingly spectacular.
Following their latest victory over Brentford on Saturday, Liverpool have won six of their seven games since Alexander-Arnold was ‘reimagined’. The data shows how pivotal his contribution is to Klopp’s re-emerging team, which - while still a work in progress - is ending this season on an upward trajectory.
Since April 9, Alexander-Arnold has been number one in the Premier League with regards goal assists, chances created, passes into the penalty area and through balls.
Trent forces a save from Raya! 🧤💥 pic.twitter.com/YMOPh4JS2y
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 6, 2023
In his first 27 league games this season, Alexander-Arnold made three assists. He has six in his past seven fixtures.
Just as pertinent, no one in the country has regained possession more than him since his positional tweak, which is why Liverpool have become more structurally sound.
This trend must be compelling for Southgate with Malta on the horizon in the next European Championship qualifier.
Altering the structure of the England team to use Alexander-Arnold the same way as Liverpool is unlikely, especially given the alternatives as a more traditional right-back. But Southgate must be tempted to see how the 24-year-old fares when paired with Declan Rice as a No6.
There is an obvious vacancy in a midfield three alongside Rice and Bellingham. That exciting trio could serve England for the next three major tournaments.
If so, Klopp and Southgate may finally find some common ground where Alexander-Arnold is concerned.
Those who have dealt with Klopp and Southgate will attest it is particularly unfortunate they have been so out of sync until now, given they are highly intelligent and studious coaches dealing with contrasting problems in demanding and high-pressured jobs.
Klopp is naturally sensitive to the criticism his young superstar has received when sent for national duty, while Southgate has sensed hostility when he has the audacity to pick the players he wishes in whatever positions he chooses.
There is nothing new about elite club and international coaches finding their needs incompatible with each others’. It is ever thus.
Alexander-Arnold has often found himself caught in the middle. Ironically, this now looks to be the best place for him in his bid to make himself as indispensable for his country as he is for his club.