Trent Alexander-Arnold: The Premier League's Best Playmaking Defender

TAA set the record for most Premier League assists by a defender.

Liverpool v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Second Leg
Liverpool v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Second Leg / Visionhaus/GettyImages
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Around the half-hour mark of Liverpool’s recent 3-1 win over Burnley, the game was still scoreless. The Reds were pushing to change that, however, and had won a corner kick. Right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold stood over the ball, and lined up a beautiful cross into the box. It was met by the head of striker Diogo Jota, who buried it in the net to put Liverpool up 1-0. 

The assist for Alexander-Arnold, the 58th of his career, broke a tie with teammate Andy Robertson, making the homegrown Liverpool fullback the sole record-holder for most Premier League assists for a defender.

Of course, the fact that the second player on the list is Robertson is a testament to the system instituted by Jürgen Klopp, and it also means that this record could switch back and forth more than once as the two continue to play together, but it’s still an absolutely remarkable accomplishment for a player who turned 25 years old just a few months ago. 

Alexander-Arnold has been with Liverpool for his entire professional career, but his journey with England’s most successful club begins well before that.

The Beginning

He got his start with the Reds at the age of just six years old, when his name was drawn from a hat to attend a camp run by Liverpool. Ian Barrigan, the club’s academy coach at the time, saw something in the youngster, and pulled him into the academy.

From that point on, his rise was meteoric, eventually captaining the U16 and U18 Liverpool teams while showing his versatility across several positions. 

It was during these academy years that Trent made the full-time switch from a midfield role to right back, a move that gave him the best opportunity to make it to the first team as fast as possible, given the club’s needs at the time.

Then-captain and team legend Steven Gerrard even spotted Alexander-Arnold during his academy years, projecting a big future with the Reds for the lad from West Derby. 

The Debut

A true prodigy, Alexander-Arnold made his unofficial first-team debut just before the 2015-16 season in a preseason friendly, at the age of 16. It took another year for him to make his true debut, in an EFL Cup win the following October, just days after his 18th birthday.

He was booked and later subbed off, but was still honored as a member of the official “team of the round,” a great accomplishment for a debutant. 

The next round of the EFL Cup saw Alexander-Arnold named Man of the Match, as he recorded his first-ever assist in the win- the first of many.

That same season saw Alexander-Arnold’s Premier League debut, although he didn’t accomplish much in league play that season. He had a great campaign in the developmental league, however, and was considered for that competition’s Player of the Year award. 

The Breakthrough

The 2017-18 season is the one where the breakthrough truly began. Starting right back Nathaniel Clyne picked up a very early injury, giving Alexander-Arnold the opportunity to be a full-time player, more or less.

He made his European debut, and even scored a free kick in the game against Hoffenheim. He continued to have a solid run through the UCL Group Stage, and in December, knocked in his first Premier League goal. 

Trent then suffered a challenging spell as a defender domestically, but continued to produce in a major way in Europe.

He became the youngest Englishman to ever start a UCL Quarterfinal, and was even named Man of the Match in a thumping of heavy favorites Manchester City. Later, he became the youngest Liverpool player to start a UCL Final, and did an admirable job limiting the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo to a quiet match, even though Liverpool lost.

Alexander-Arnold was nominated for the Golden Boy trophy, honoring the best youngster in World football, and was eventually named the runner-up for the honor.


Taking the next step

The next season was a huge one for Alexander-Arnold, as he really announced himself as a true star. After recording just one Prem assist the year before, he racked up 12 in the 2018-19 campaign, a then-record for a defender, as Liverpool went wire-to-wire in a duel with Manchester City but came up just short.

Trent was still named to the PFA Team of the Year for the first time, and was the runner-up for the league’s Young Player of the Year award. 

It was another strong European year, but this time, Liverpool got the job done. Their triumph was due in no small part to a masterful Alexander-Arnold performance in a that legendary, dramatic comeback win against Barcelona, featuring his unforgettable “corner taken quickly” assist.

This helped him earn a spot in the UEFA Team of the Year, and even a Ballon D’Or nomination.

Winning all the silverware

In 2020, after Liverpool finally won the Premier League for the first time, the accolades kept pouring in for Trent, who won the Young Player of the Year award for the Premier League, and was once again in the PFA team of the year.

In terms of statistical production, it was his best domestic season yet, as he chipped in four goals and a remarkable 13 assists, capping off a crazy two-year window with 25 assists and 30 total goal contributions in league play. That’s a good run for anyone- for a defender, it’s completely outrageous. 

Since then, Liverpool haven’t won the Champions League or Premier League, and as such, the awards have slowed down a bit for Trent. He’s been maligned at times for struggling defensively and focusing too much on the attacking portion of his role, but that narrative is beginning to flip this year. 

Ironically enough, as his defensive prowess continues to rise, Liverpool finally might have a viable replacement at right back; the next bright young star, Conor Bradley.

We haven’t seen the two together on the pitch yet, but Bradley’s emergence could allow Trent to move up the pitch and reassume the midfield position he held as a youngster. We saw flashes of this last year, as Klopp tinkered with Trent’s positioning, and the results were often spectacular. 

A move to the midfield would likely see Trent’s assist numbers rise even further, and his public perception could improve as well. What’s considered below-average defensive prowess for a fullback could be viewed as a real positive as a midfielder, especially the fact that his role would have less of a defensive responsibility.

It could allow Alexander-Arnold to truly flourish, but of course, he’d stop moving up the defender assists list. 

Even so, for now, what he’s accomplished from his position is remarkable, and an accurate reflection of how his role in Klopp’s system has revolutionized the sport.

Wherever Alexander-Arnold lines up for years to come, two things are just about certain; he’ll be pinging balls across the pitch and stacking assists, and he’ll be doing it in Liverpool red.

Currently the team’s vice-captain, and the most experienced Scouser on the roster, he’ll likely assume the armband if Virgil van Dijk does leave with Klopp this summer, so the player we once saw as the promising youngster could very well end up being at the heart of Liverpool’s next era.

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