To complete this mini-portrait of Trent Alexander-Arnold, it’s appropriate to return to those pictures in his head again. Liverpool’s surge to the Madrid Champions League final had many tributaries. But the river reached unstoppable spate at Anfield that night in the semi-final second leg. When a 3-0 deficit was brushed aside. When odds, logic and probabilities weren’t just denied, they were shut out of the magnificent old ground until the tie was 3-3 on aggregate. And Liverpool won a corner.
Our man has been asked about Liverpool’s 4-0 goal that night many times. But now he gives the best answer I’ve yet heard. For anyone who was on the moon that night, or in orbit since, a recap. Just over ten minutes remain, extra time seems likely – but, of course, an away goal from Barça would mean Alexander-Arnold and Co needing to score twice. It’s knife-edge stuff. Liverpool’s right-back goes to line up the corner kick. Barcelona’s defenders are vaguely in the adequate penalty-box positions, but, almost imperceptibly, they are drawing breath, paying scant attention to the ball or what’s happening around it.
Our man seems to accept Xherdan Shaqiri’s petition that he, rather than Alexander-Arnold, should take responsibility for sending the ball towards Marc-André ter Stegen’s goal. The key is that Luis Suárez has walked rather than sprinted to his habitual front post defensive position. There’s not only inattention, but a big gap – which, in about ten seconds, will be filled.
Alexander-Arnold moves away from the ball, but his brain is as sharp as a cold night in November. Suddenly a picture of what might – can – happen eight or ten seconds into the future drops into Alexander-Arnold’s head. Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley … across decades of European dominance, Liverpool’s greats have always preached: “Find the dope!” It’s a legendary phrase. Seek out the opponent who dozes off, even for five or ten seconds, at a dead-ball situation or just before half-time. Then punish them.
So he does, sprinting back to the corner flag and whipping the ball in towards the unmarked Origi. It’s impish, it’s beautiful, it’s inspirational – it’s 4-0 Liverpool and they’re in the final. Which they’ll win. This guy Alexander-Arnold. He’s something else.
“As footballers, we know that when the ball goes out for a throw-in or a corner, especially against our team, players take a deep breath and think: ‘We’ve got 30 seconds here to catch our breath. We can get back into position, wait for the person to get the ball set up.’ That corner came from that knowledge.
“It was just one of those moments where you see everyone switch off and you take your chance. Obviously, it could’ve gone drastically wrong and you get screamed at because you should’ve tried to put it in for Virgil [van Dijk] or Joël [Matip] to score, but Divock was alive in the box and it was an unbelievable finish.”
While Anfield thinks of Alexander-Arnold as ‘theirs’, he thinks the five trophies Liverpool still stand to win this season (having already clinched the UEFA Super Cup) are potentially ‘theirs’ too – if the players work hard enough. If they continue to raise their intensity, if they continue to make Liverpool’s citadel potentially the most remarkable atmosphere in world football.
“I remember playing Manchester City at home. We couldn’t speak – you can’t communicate on the pitch. You’re trying to tell someone to block a space or tell them they’ve got a man on them and they can’t hear you shout. I think the atmospheres we get in Champions League games are probably the best in the competition.
“It’s a fortress at Anfield now, getting back to how it was in the old days. It’s where the club belongs: being in finals, two finals in a row, coming close in the league, challenging for trophies. With the world-class players we’ve got, we shouldn’t ever shy away from the fact that we’re good enough as individuals and as a team to be challenging for trophies, if not multiple trophies, every season.”
On all the evidence, it’s a reasonable assumption that others will have to push themselves to keep up. Nice to meet you, Trent Alexander-Arnold. You’re special.