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If there’s one thing football fans never learn from, it’s the year-to-year optimism which flourishes right ahead of a new season’s kick-off. Suddenly, regardless of disappointments or despair which came only a few months earlier, positivity and possibility reigns supreme once more.
Naturally, that can ebb and flow once the campaign actually gets started, not just with results but with those within the club talking up, or down, the prospects of success.
For Liverpool fans, while 2022/23 was a year to forget as fast as possible, the regeneration in the centre of the park and promise of still-new attackers taking another step up offers the tantalising prospect of an immediate return to fighting for honours in 23/24. For that to happen, it’s almost certain that one factor needs to play out perfectly: the qualities and availability of Trent Alexander-Arnold, the team’s greatest creator and new vice-captain, must be consistently on show in the roving, scheming role he occupied in the final months of last term.
Add that to the reduced initial midweek demands of a club in the Europa League instead of the Champions League, and there’s a real possibility of Jurgen Klopp’s team going full tilt across 38 domestic matches this time around. Good news for Kopites, bad news for defences around the country: that’s precisely what the England international expects, and demands, to happen.
“It gives a chance to focus on the Premier League a lot more. We respect the competitions we play and want to win them all but definitely going into the season, our aim is to win the Premier League,” Alexander-Arnold told The Independent from an Under Armour training camp. “[The Europa League] gives us a good chance to focus on it. It’s not about coming second or third and building on that, we’re a team full of winners. We know what it takes, we have the culture and the manager to win.
“It’s positive pressure to go and do it again because we’ve got the team to win it.”
Bold words, and ones the Anfield faithful will be desperately hoping ring true.
But even the hardest of Liverpool fans would find it tough to align what was on show at times last year with potential title-winners this time, regardless of summer dealings and an effective reset. Failing challenges, though, before overcoming them in an even more emphatic manner, is arguably what this team has been built on.
“It was a difficult season but that’s football. We’ve faced those times before and definitely will again. We’ll learn from it and move forward; as long as last season was a one-off that’s a good thing. We never want those kinds of seasons but if this one is much better then we’ve proven to ourselves we’re still a top team,” Alexander-Arnold added.
His own campaign mirrored that of the team: uneven in parts, way out of form in others – and yet he ended the season in more influential, impactful form than any other Premier League central player, with the possible exception of Ilkay Gundogan. He certainly noticed when he had an upturn in fortunes, but the Reds’ No 66 never wavered in his approach, he insists.
“Nothing changed for me throughout the whole season mentality-wise. You keep working. I just wanted to be the best player on the pitch and that never changed – but toward the end of the season I felt I had my powers back, being able to do it consistently.”
That switch came after Klopp altered the midfield dynamic, Trent drifting centrally from right-back to play-make from deep. That the alteration came around quickfire fixtures against Arsenal and Chelsea might have been a surprise; that he adapted so well definitely wasn’t.
“It wasn’t weeks of planning, it was more information-based rather than practice on pitch,” he explained. “The coaches trust me to fulfil my role when I do have a change. This was probably the biggest one so far but I asked a lot of questions and we were able to make it work – it’s just a lot of information, learning how to make it work and everybody bought into that.
“Most enjoyable is the freedom to drift, get on the ball and make things happen. That comes with challenges too, you have to be disciplined and stick to a game plan. There are pros and cons, it’s freedom but with a lot of responsibility to control the game.”
Liverpool, as a whole, struggled with the latter aspect last season and the same has perhaps been on view in pre-season, too.
Alexander-Arnold acknowledges it’s “still being worked on”, particularly with regards “to nail down the spaces and who fills them” along with “who covers around” when he has made runs from deep and the other defenders are dealing with counter-attacks.
It’s not the most simplistic of tactical roles to deal with, either for himself or the team, but Alexander-Arnold has never shied away from the unusual. Even this particular interview can be termed as such: he’s preparing to receive an AI-generated “ultimate team talk” designed as the most inspirational, motivational one possible. He’s on board with taking on “unconventional” off-pitch projects if they pique his interest; after all, this is a player who has raced a Formula E car from standstill and competed against a chess master. “I do what I’m passionate about, to be honest – I like anything that brings the best out of me. I’ve had hundreds of team talks; some hit you, some don’t. The project is exciting and something I’m looking forward to.”
Back to on-pitch matters, the Scouser hailed new teammates Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister as “two quality players” and the type that Liverpool “needs to continue to make”. It’s notable that even Klopp has acknowledged more needs to be done in that same area of the park and Alexander-Arnold makes the point that “the best teams have the best squads”, which probably – with still almost a month of the window left – doesn’t immediately point to Liverpool at this moment.
More arrivals will likely follow. And more honing of the Reds’ newest system will take place in the meantime. Uncertainty currently reigns with regard to both.
But elsewhere there’s absolute certainty: for the title or other silverware this season and for how long that summer optimism lasts, Alexander-Arnold will play the biggest and most central of roles.
:: We were speaking to Trent Alexander-Arnold from Under Armour’s Human Performance Centre in Portland where he was taking part in a pre-season training camp. Trent features in Under Armour’s new Protect This House campaign, where Under Armour has used generative AI technology to create the “Ultimate Team Talk,” a motivational speech that is scientifically proven to be the most effective of all time. See www.underarmour.co.uk for more details.