‘I don’t get it’: Jurgen Klopp backs ‘outstanding’ Trent Alexander-Arnold over defending criticism

‘I don’t get it’: Jurgen Klopp backs ‘outstanding’ Trent Alexander-Arnold over defending criticism

Jurgen Klopp believes Trent Alexander-Arnold has been unfairly criticised because Liverpool have defended badly as a team this season and said he would drop the right-back if he could not defend.

The Liverpool manager described Alexander-Arnold as a world-class talent and a player with a skill-set he had never seen in a right-back before.

But he objected to verdicts on the 23-year-old’s defensive work which ignore the elements he has done well and said that, when the Merseysider sometimes seems to be caught out of position, it is because he is actually following instructions to be in advanced roles in Liverpool’s high-pressing game.

“In the first part of the season we as a team didn’t defend well, we know it,” Klopp said. “That is the truth. Analysing was easy. It was like: ‘Oh my God, what is that?’ As a defender, Trent is a part of that but with all the other three as well, or in our case all the other six [including the midfield] as well. We as a unit didn’t defend well. That is why sometimes you look at situations that we are there [making tackles] too late.

“That is why defending is an art, if you want, because everything has to work together. Offensively one skill or one guy makes the difference: goal. Defensively, it is not possible that one guy defends the whole pitch. You need everybody involved and we were not good at that.

Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold is facing a battle to make England’s World Cup squad (PA)
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold is facing a battle to make England’s World Cup squad (PA)

“That is the truth and my responsibility. Trent did not do well in these moments as well. In other moments he defends exceptionally well but for him - in his situation - nobody mentions it. It is like you have a list of bad defending and good defending. Where it is bad defending it is massive. Where it is good defending it is like you do not even see.

“I am not dumb. I would talk to him all day about it and work all day to be the best, but now you come to a point where a player at 23 has to improve at all parts, even offensively. But if you judge a player you think about his overall package. The skill-set he has for being influential in possession is mad. For a right back. I don’t know if I ever saw a right-back like this - passing here, passing there, switching sides, taking free-kicks, corners, smart decisions, quick decisions.

“He is an outstanding football player in a situation where three other right-backs in this country are doing really well. We should not forget that. Gareth Southgate cannot line up all four. So one or two will be disappointed. That is the situation. So the view on that is how influential can Trent be? That is number one. What is he good at? That is how you judge a player.

“Then we have the way we play. For example, if you are not a football specialist, the situation is we do high press and Trent is often the highest of all those at the back. In a high press situation he is the one who goes to the right. That is the way we play football. Now, you can say ‘you should defend better’ but you cannot have everything because if you want to play high press, you need players in specific positions. If the next ball goes long on that [right] side then Joel [Matip], Ibou [Konate] or Joey [Gomez] has to cover him and that is fine.

“It is the risk we take. It is not a crazy risk and we win the ball nine out of ten times, but in the one moment we don’t win it, people ask: ‘Where is Trent?’ That is a question that I don’t understand from people who watch football so often. People say that is his main job but I told him he has to be there [higher up the pitch].

“We press extremely brave when we are good and defend bad when we do not press brave because we are waiting. When we are brave in these situations we win balls with it. Now, if we don’t win the ball, that is the nature of pressing.

Klopp has launched a strong defence of Alexander-Arnold (Getty Images)
Klopp has launched a strong defence of Alexander-Arnold (Getty Images)

“You bring more players than you need to press to make it more likely you will win the ball and that gives it the chance that you will be slightly exposed. It is football. The pitch is too big to be everywhere all the time with five players. So if the ball is in behind, with Trent it is: ‘What is going on?’ Yes, there are other situations where he was not aware [enough] or there was a challenge he should have won. True.

“But every player in the league has these challenges. But with him? Every time it is picked up and analysed, all the experts saying this is a weakness. Honestly, I just don’t get it. I just don’t get that part of it. A world-class talent gets judged by the one thing he is not as world class at as the other things. If he was not a good defender, he would not play.”