In the moments when Liverpool were in the opposition half at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, Trent Alexander-Arnold found himself in central midfield trying to pick passes around an impenetrable wall of white.
There is still the potential for one of England’s finest talents to end up further advanced, like his hero Steven Gerrard. At 22, he has the ability to set the pace of games. His crossing is as good as any winger in the Premier League, with his delivery at the Emirates Stadium last weekend a case in point.
It is his defending that saw him dropped from the England squad and why Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Reece James are now ahead of him in Gareth Southgate’s pecking order. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is an out-and-out defender, while Max Aarons will add to the competition next season.
Real Madrid’s first-half goals exposed Alexander-Arnold’s lack of confidence at the moment. Toni Kroos in particular seemed to sense a weakness on the right side of Liverpool’s defence. His pass for the opening goal split Alexander-Arnold and Nat Phillips and allowed Vinícius Júnior to race on and score.
For the second goal, Kroos targeted the same pocket of space. Alexander-Arnold could have aimed his clearance in any direction but decided to go back to goal and played Marco Asensio through.
The two sides of Alexander-Arnold’s game were perfectly illustrated in the two halves on Real’s training ground. As poor as his defending was, his attacking in the second half was sublime.
It was no surprise that he started the move that saw Mohamed Salah score a vital away goal to take back to Anfield next week. He then hit a volley to set up a chance for Diogo Jota, executed with perfect pace and flight. It was difficult to see another full-back in Europe pulling off such a pass.
Perhaps he needs to be in midfield, dictating the play rather than having one eye on the opposition forwards. Philipp Lahm did it later in his career when Pep Guardiola realised the football brain his left-back possessed. Most have seen by now that Alexander-Arnold can play in a more advanced position. Jurgen Klopp could have the next Gareth Bale, circa 2012, on his hands.
He was helped by Thiago Alcantara being brought on towards the end of the first half. Klopp had admitted defeat with his decision to play Naby Keita in his first Champions League game since December, when Liverpool faced Midtjylland.
“I couldn’t avoid him anymore,” Klopp said in the build-up to the match. “Naby brings special things.” The Liverpool manager wanted Keita in for his dribbling but the Guinea midfielder could not get on the ball and the game passed him by.
He was on Alexander-Arnold’s side of the pitch but there was no constructive partnership. Instead, there were reminders of when he played against Barcelona in 2019 and was subbed after 24 minutes. Liverpool lost that first leg 3-0 but found a way back, and Klopp will be hoping for a similarly miraculous comeback next week.
When Alexander-Arnold’s confidence was back up in the second half, he produced a goal-saving interception to deny Asensio on the counter. He had little help with the defensive side of the game, though.
That tidy piece of work came just before Real made it 3-1, with Vinícius trotting between Alexander-Arnold and Phillips again, the right-back’s frustration showing when he faced off with the Brazilian on the touchline.
The Barca comeback was one of Alexander-Arnold’s finest evenings and there is still time for him to turn his season around.