Move over, Marcelo & Carvajal: Robertson & Alexander-Arnold are now world’s best full-back duo
The Reds pair have provided a constant supply line – and countless assists – for Jurgen Klopp’s side over the past two seasons
The dream, says Pep Lijnders, is simple.
“We want like four or five players in the box,” the Liverpool assistant manager told Goal back in February.
“We always said that our dream is one full-back crosses, and the other full-back scores. That would be perfect.”
The dream wasn’t quite realised this season – there’s still one game to go, in fairness – but in terms of attacking full-back play, the Reds have taken things to the next level.
In Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, they surely have the best pair in the world right now. Forget Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, or Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba, Joao Cancelo and Alex Sandro, it is the pair from West Derby and Glasgow who are changing the game.
Between them, they have been responsible for 27 per cent of Liverpool’s goals this season. The Reds have netted 113 times in all competitions, and 31 of those have been scored or assisted by their right or left-back.
It was Gianluca Vialli who once opined that the right-back in any football team is usually its weakest player, the one who wasn’t quick enough for the wing, tall enough to play centre-back or skilful enough to play in midfield or attack.
The Italian’s point seemed a fairly logical one when it was made, 13 years ago, but one imagines he has revised his viewpoint since.
Alexander-Arnold, of course, makes a mockery of it. Technically immaculate and athletic with it, the 20-year-old is the perfect embodiment of the all-action, modern-day full-back. And the scary thing is, he’s only likely to improve in the coming years too.
“If he doesn’t go on to become the best right-back in the world, he should be disappointed,” says Jamie Carragher. Plenty believe Alexander-Arnold is already there.
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He is already well on the way to 100 senior appearances for Liverpool, and on Saturday he will start his second Champions League final – the youngest player to achieve such a feat. He’s played – and scored – for England, featured at a World Cup and been named in the PFA Team of the Year. He doesn’t turn 21 until October.
It was the youngster’s quick thinking which brought Liverpool to their second European Cup final in a row, his corner swept home by Divock Origi while Barcelona’s experienced stars stood with their backs to the play. “A genius moment,” Klopp called it. It was one of 16 assists the Scouser has racked up across the campaign.
On the other flank, Robertson has been equally productive. For the first time in Premier League history, two defenders from the same team provided 10 or more assists in a single season. Meanwhile, they were part of the league’s meanest defence too. Liverpool conceded just 22 goals in 38 Premier League games.
“How many runs Robbo and Trent make, I don’t know,” says Joel Matip. “It has a big impact on our defending, because the wingers of the other team get tired.”
Even Jose Mourinho is a fan. “I am still tired just looking at Robertson,” he said after what turned out to be his final game as Manchester United manager, a 3-1 defeat at Anfield back in December. “He makes 100 metre sprints per minute, absolutely incredible.”
Incredible, too, is the fact that between them, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson cost just £8 million (€9m/$10m). You could add a zero onto that figure now and still wouldn’t come close to buying them. Both are on long contracts, both will be at Liverpool for many years to come.
“He has exceeded expectations,” Klopp said of Robertson in January.
“He might be from Glasgow originally, but everything about him screams Liverpool. His progression is an example to any player joining us.”
The manager is right. Robertson had to wait for his chance at Liverpool, but Alberto Moreno’s misfortune – an injury suffered in a Champions League tie against Spartak Moscow – was the 25-year-old’s gain. Like Alexander-Arnold, he seized his opportunity and never looked back.
When Klopp arrived at Anfield in October 2015, his first-choice full-backs were Nathaniel Clyne and Moreno. Both will be allowed to leave the club this summer.
Reasonable players, both of them, but Liverpool have evolved past ‘reasonable players’. They need exceptional ones.
And in Alexander-Arnold and Robertson, they now have arguably the world’s best full-back duo.