Liverpool might have conceded three goals against West Ham but Virgil van Dijk was their best player - he stood out like a beacon. Their defensive problems are on the right where Trent Alexander-Arnold doesn’t want to defend. He is quite happy trying to make goals, playing in midfield and coming inside. But if you want to be categorised as a full-back you have to be able to defend, and to defend one against one you have to get your position right with the centre-half next to you.
If I was Joel Matip I would be going mad. He has to go so close to the touchline because Alexander-Arnold does not get in line and does not stop anything in between them. West Ham’s strength in the second half was Aaron Cresswell and Said Benrahma getting down the outside and round the back down the left. They seemed to give up trying to go down the right where Van Dijk was. The other side there didn’t seem to be any communication and Alexander-Arnold doesn’t seem to want to defend. He seems to think making goals is key, but that should be a bonus as a full-back. When you have someone like Mohamed Salah in front of you, you don't always have to go looking so far up the pitch and can focus on what you are doing defensively.
Assists are good but they paper over the cracks sometimes, especially if you are a full-back conceding three goals in a game. You should take pride in trying to make sure that nobody gets round you, behind you or between you and the centre-half. It’s great putting all the crosses in but teams attack where you are vulnerable and for Liverpool it’s down that side. I think Jurgen Klopp knows it.
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What’s the solution? To work at defending and see if he can attack and defend as well as Reece James and Kyle Walker, his rivals for a starting spot with England. Walker doesn’t put a loads of crosses into the box because that’s not the way Manchester City play, but he does put some dangerous balls in. James is the same for Chelsea.
Walker and James are two good defenders and they are also good going forward. People who say that Alexander-Arnold should start for England don’t watch the big games. You can’t play in that fashion in the big games, first and foremost you have to be clever defensively. If you are playing in a club side that says you don’t have to defend, and then go and play international football, then you are going to be found wanting. The best sides know how to find space and get round people who don’t want to defend. That’s maybe why James and Walker are in front of Alexander-Arnold when it comes to the England side.
As a full-back you are taught to defend as your priority, the people in front of you are supposed to be scoring the goals as their priority. Anything you can do offensively as a full-back is a bonus, but if you are only focused on that then I don’t think you are going to be too popular with the other defenders in the team.
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I think if Alexander-Arnold was playing for a lesser team he would be called out for not being strong and stubborn enough with his defensive duties. It’s all well and good playing in the Liverpool team when you have players like Van Dijk around you to help out, but look back at the West Ham game and you see how many times Benrahma got in on the left byline and was putting balls into the box in the second half.
Walker and James are more tenacious in defence. When someone tries to get in behind against Manchester City you see how quickly Walker gets back. He takes pride in stopping people getting down his side, his recovery runs are incredible. Alexander-Arnold ambles back at times and doesn’t look as fazed at players attacking his territory. He should be there to protect his area and make sure the defence is alright.
Maybe it comes from the fact that Alexander-Arnold was played as a midfielder when he was younger and has trained to become a defender. When you are a defender you learn to sense danger and he doesn’t seem to do that like Walker. There used to be lots of talk about Walker’s pace and his attacking, but he has become a better defender now. You don’t see him making many defensive errors. And James has an incredible future in front of him. They are two powerful defenders who are comfortable on the ball and can cross when needed to.
You have to give credit to West Ham for their performance as well. Pablo Fornals, Kurt Zouma, Craig Dawson, Declan Rice, Jarred Bowen, they all deserve a mention for their displays. It’s alright to look at Liverpool and how they lost, but you have to look at how West Ham won too. They didn’t sit back, they took the game to Liverpool and tried to score goals. West Ham deserved all three points, it was one of the best atmospheres at a game that I have been at for a while and it made a difference for the players. It looks like any problems over the ground and the move from Upton Park have been put to bed.
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