Trent Alexander-Arnold introduced himself to Franck Ribéry last week with a challenge from behind that left the seven-times Bundesliga champion on his backside and glaring at his marker. He was met with an impassive stare but would get to know all about the 18-year-old defender as Liverpool impressed not only in attack when beating Bayern Munich 3-0 at the Allianz Arena. Arrival announced to the former France winger. He will not be the only one this season.
“I try not to pay too much respect to the players I am playing against,” says Alexander-Arnold, confirming precisely what that early exchange with Ribéry in Munich had indicated. “I think that is what can affect you. You have to go out there and focus on yourself and not who you are up against. It was obviously going to be a tough task going up against a world-class player and one of the best. You just have to see it as a chance and that is what I do every time the manager picks me. I just have to take the opportunity and show why I deserve that chance. I tried to do that against Bayern.”
Unsurprisingly, there was no feedback from Ribéry. The teenager adds: “He didn’t say anything [about the foul] and I didn’t think of asking him for his shirt as a souvenir or anything. I just went straight into the changing room because that is what I am used to doing. The whole game was tough for all of us, they are an excellent side but we stuck to our task well and finished how we wanted to. You could see from our attacking play against Bayern there are a lot of exciting things to come in the near future.”
The near future for the boyhood Liverpool fan, who grew up close to the club’s Melwood training ground in West Derby, is expected to involve the third Premier League start of his career when Jürgen Klopp’s team begin the new campaign at Watford on Saturday.
Nathaniel Clyne has missed most of pre-season with hamstring and back problems while Joe Gomez has been deployed at centre-half and full-back this summer. Alexander-Arnold is not favourite to start at right-back at Vicarage Road by default. Long thought of as first-team potential by Liverpool’s academy coaches, he underlined his promise in 12 appearances for Klopp’s side last season and has continued his development in pre-season. Clyne was destined to face a serious challenge to his starting role from Alexander-Arnold this season regardless of fitness.
“I’m not sure whether I will get that opportunity but I am hoping to take it if I do get it,” Alexander-Arnold says. “There is still time before the first game and I will be fighting for that position, as will all the other lads. There are a lot of strong players here and we could put two different teams out at the start of the season. But hopefully the chance comes. You just hope for the opportunity. If I do get told I am playing against Watford I will look to take that chance.”
A starting role on the opening day would be fitting reward for Alexander-Arnold’s efforts this summer and for the sacrifice he made. Having broken into Klopp’s squad last season it was decided he should miss the European Under-19 Championship in July despite featuring regularly for England in qualifying. The reasoning, which also applied to Tom Davies at Everton, was that Alexander-Arnold needed a rest before embarking on a full pre-season at senior level.
The decision has paid off, albeit while leaving a bittersweet taste as England lifted the trophy for the first time in their history with a 2-1 defeat of Portugal.
Alexander-Arnold explains: “I played a lot during the qualifying games and to not be there to lift the trophy with the team was a little bit … it hurt a little bit. I watched the whole tournament and I thought we deserved to win it. I was watching like a fan on the edge of my seat, hoping we would dig deep and get that win. When they did I was made up to see them lift the trophy. I spoke to the lads and wished them all the best with the celebrations. I said it was a shame not to be there but the focus during pre-season was to focus on club football and that is what I have done.”
England lies ahead. The immediate aim for Alexander-Arnold is to follow Klopp’s instructions on how to secure his place at Liverpool. “The main piece of advice is about my defending,” says the former under-18s captain, who is also comfortable in central midfield. “It is a big part of the game and first and foremost I am a defender so to try to nail that down he has been helping me throughout the pre-season. I hope I can improve some more.”