No one epitomised the resurgence that drove Liverpool on to secure an unlikely Champions League berth in May more than Trent Alexander-Arnold – so can that impressive late-season run now be a springboard to success this time around?
After a morale-sapping 1-0 home defeat against soon-to-be-relegated Fulham on March 7, Liverpool’s top-four hopes appeared in tatters, only for the club to then embark on a 10-match unbeaten Premier League run to close out the season.
That title-winning form included eight wins as Jurgen Klopp’s side ended up third in the table, with the increasingly-mature Alexander-Arnold – who captained his hometown club for the first time last season – stepping up to the plate to play a key role in the Reds’ dramatic transformation.
The right-back’s last-minute strike helped beat Aston Villa at Anfield in April, while he also created winning goals in crucial games at Arsenal, Manchester United and West Brom – his role in the latter is understandably forgotten by many after goalkeeper Alisson incredibly headed home his injury-time corner at The Hawthorns.
In fact, no other Premier League player created more assists and chances, or delivered more successful crosses, in that period than the 22-year-old as he helped drag Liverpool to their target of Champions League qualification.
“Without Trent’s game, we would be in a different place,” acknowledged Klopp come the end of the campaign, and it was that eye-catching form in the second half of the season which ultimately led to an England recall – before injury cruelly struck – and a new long-term Reds contract in July.
“It is the kind of what I wanted to do, play well, perform and help the team win games whether that’s keeping clean sheets or contributing up the other end of the pitch,” Alexander-Arnold said matter-of-factly when we chatted recently .
“That is what I wanted to do and I was happy I could help the team reach top-four football for this season. That was the aim going into those last 10 games, so, as a team and individually, I was happy with how we performed.”
So can the team now carry that momentum with them into this season – starting at newly-promoted Norwich City, live on Sky Sports, on Saturday night?
“It is always nice to finish the season strongly, but that is the past,” said Alexander-Arnold.
“We accomplished what we set out to do, which was Champions League football in the end. We secured that and that is what mattered to us pushing on in those last 10 games.
It is the only club I’ve ever known really, so it would be strange being elsewhere. It is a privilege to put on the shirt every single day, every single game I play for Liverpool is a privilege, and hopefully I will have a few more years of having that privilege
“For us, we know what we are capable of as a team and as individuals, so it is thinking about that and making sure we get the most out of ourselves as a team and individually in the next season.”
If the full-back is reluctant to draw too many parallels to the end of last season, it is probably because, even in the space of just three months, a lot has changed.
Alexander-Arnold himself was forced to sit out England’s stirring display at Euro 2020 due to a thigh problem picked up in their penultimate warm-up game ahead of the tournament, although he is fit to feature at Carrow Road this weekend.
“It is all good at the minute, has been good all pre-season, the medical staff have eased me into training and monitored the load. I’ve been putting through it, so it has been really good,” he confirmed.
Meanwhile, as Liverpool’s title rivals have all splashed the cash in this summer’s transfer market, the club’s American owners have mostly kept their check book in their pockets.
Yet in many ways, Klopp will have three new centre-backs to call upon next season after the £36m arrival from RB Leipzig of Ibrahima Konate, while perhaps more significantly, the German will also have Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip all at his disposal once again after long injury lay-offs.
That means, unlike last season when Klopp was forced to use an astonishing 20 different centre-back pairings, the Liverpool boss should now be able to select a more settled back-line.
“Last season we struggled to get rhythm in terms of a settled back four, but once we did get that towards the end of last season, you could really tell that we had been working on it in training,” said Alexander-Arnold.
“The clean sheets were coming through and you could see that we all knew each other and understood how each other plays.
“But when it is getting chopped and changed every week through injuries and people picking up knocks, it is very difficult to find rhythm and understand each other as a back four, which is what we needed.
“So to have them lads back, hopefully find the rhythm, pick a settled back four, with the options to pick from that the gaffer has got at his disposal now – Ibrahima has come in now to strengthen that position, so a massive fight for places.
Most Premier League assists since 2017-18
|Premier League since 2017-18||Assists|
|Kevin De Bruyne||50|
“But to get them three lads back specifically from injury, and the hard time that they had last season, is amazing.”
It is the much-anticipated return of Van Dijk, though, that could be most integral to Liverpool’s hopes of challenging Manchester City again next season.
“He is a natural leader, speaks when he needs to speak, he is dominant, has a presence, you know when he enters a room – he is someone you listen to when he speaks, so that is exactly what you want from a leader ,” Alexander-Arnold said.
“He is someone that a lot of players look up to, he is an amazing athlete, and an amazing footballer, as well as being an amazing guy, so he is someone that fits in perfectly.
“So to have him back now will only be better for us even more.”
Saturday’s Premier League opener at Norwich may come too soon for the Dutchman to make his competitive return, though, meaning potentially another new partnership at the back of Konate and Matip, who played together regularly in the pre-season.
The new France central defender has impressed Alexander-Arnold since his arrival at Anfield in May.
“He is very athletic, which is probably more common now we are seeing with centre-backs being amazing athletes – fast, strong, he ticks all them boxes,” he said.
“He is still young, but has got a huge potential and hopefully seeing Virgil in training and playing alongside him – Virgil is one of those players you instantly pick things up from, like his positioning.
“So hopefully he will be watching him and picking up things from his game because there is no better example of a centre-back to pick things up from than Virgil.”
Victory on Saturday Night Football and making a fast start to the campaign are imperative if Liverpool harbor has any realistic hopes of getting back to their 2019-20 vintage, although the England international is not looking too far ahead.
“It is more that our target is we go into every game knowing we are capable of winning it,” he said.
“We know that on the pitch, pound for pound, as a squad we can probably beat anyone on our day, so it is making sure that every single day we are on our game.
“We know there will be tough games throughout the season, there will be games when you can’t perform perfectly, but we have to be resilient and find a way to win.
“So that is what we have been working on, trying different things to make sure we are as unpredictable as possible and trying to win in any way we can, as that is what means the most to us.
“So nothing too specific on our targets just now. But we will see, as the season goes on it becomes clear what your targets are and what you can achieve. So we need to hit the ground running, starting next Saturday.”
One game Alexander-Arnold has circled in red on the fixture list, however, is the first home match of the season against Burnley on August 21 which will see a capacity crowd at Anfield for the first time in 18 months.
Back then, the Reds were on their way to racking up a remarkable 68-game unbeaten home run in the league that was only ended in January – after almost four years – by Burnley.
It is no coincidence then that without their fervent home support behind them, Liverpool would unthinkably go on to lose their next five top-flight matches in a row.
Alexander-Arnold, though, hopes he and his team-mates will simply be able to pick up where they left off a year-and-a-half ago and make Anfield a fortress once again.
“It is a very exciting thought, something we have really been waiting for, something we missed last season massively,” he said.
“We saw that with our results at home which impacted us probably more than any other team.
“But to have them back will be a huge boost for us and hopefully we will be able to pick up where we left off back before March 2020 when we were unbeatable at home and enjoying it with the fans.”