Liverpool are set for a heated showdown at Anfield against Champions League group leaders Napoli tonight, in a game that will decide who manages to qualify in the coveted top spot.
The Reds will be distinctly aware of the advantage that can sometimes follow after finishing top of the group, but it will be no easy feat, with Jurgen Klopp’s men having to beat the Serie A leaders by a four-goal deficit.
The team from Naples have been electric this season, having cultivated a five-point gap at the top of the Serie A, while also scoring 30 and conceding just nine. Their efforts have been spearheaded by 23-year-old sensation Victor Osimhen, who’s scored eight goals in ten matches this season.
Meanwhile, Liverpool are languishing in ninth in the Premier League, and have been unable to find any real consistency so far. Most of the issues have stemmed from the defence, with Virgil van Dijk not living up to his previously high standards, while Joe Gomez has made a plethora of errors.
However, despite these issues in the heart of the defence, it’s home-grown talent Trent Alexander-Arnold who’s been particularly poor defensively.
On the Chalkboard
The 24-year-old has played in 17 games for the club this season, evidence of the faith that Jurgen Klopp places in the full-back, however, it’s not been the season that the defender will have wanted.
The Liverpool-born and raised mainstay has come under a lot of criticism this season and was even omitted from Gareth Southgate’s England squad after a string of defensive errors.
But it was former Chelsea defender William Gallas who perhaps summed up the Englishman’s troubles best:
“The problem with Liverpool is that almost every goal is coming from Alexander-Arnold’s side of the pitch. He is playing far too high.”
An unfortunate truth for Klopp, but a lot of the goals conceded by the Anfield outfit have been coming down the right-hand side, the full-back often being caught out after committing offensively.
In spite of this, it’s understandable that somebody with the amount of talent Arnold possesses would want to get on the ball and into the attacking third.
These attacking qualities are better illustrated by FBref, and it shows that the defender ranks in the top 2% for both total shots and assists, in relation to his oppositional peers. In contrast, he sits in the bottom 16% for tackles, blocks, clearances and aerials won.
This sharp contrast has to be alarming for Liverpool fans, and if the team wants to stop leaking goals they must find an alternative in the right-back slot. One solution could be to play experienced and versatile all-rounder James Milner.
The veteran played the full 90 in Liverpool’s tight 1-0 victory against Manchester City earlier this season, proving that the defence can be tighter even against the toughest of opponents, but only when defensively minded players are included.
A team like Napoli could once again have a field day tonight if they line up against Arnold and he commits too high, as they simply just have too much quality not to punish teams that don’t defend properly against them.
Ultimately, Liverpool will lose a big chunk of creative talent by placing their once prodigy onto the bench, but overall the balance of the team will likely be better which should lead to positive results – which will always be the most important thing to any team.