Liverpool's trust in Alexander-Arnold repaid in full vs. Man City
LIVERPOOL -- Trent Alexander-Arnold has been playing with a target on his back for the past few weeks. Manchester United, Crystal Palace and Manchester City have all identified the 19-year-old full-back as the area to exploit when facing Liverpool.
With City arriving at Anfield on Wednesday night in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal, many fans feared the worst for the youngster, who would be required to nullify the threat posed by the dangerous Leroy Sane. As it happened, Sane tried and tried at Anfield, but Alexander-Arnold simply swatted those pre-match doubts aside and more by putting in a man-of-the-performance against the Premier League champions-elect.
"[Trent] has a real steely determination about him," Liverpool Under-23s boss Neil Critchley told reporters ahead of their game with Arsenal on Friday night. "He has something inside him that says: 'OK, I will prove you wrong.' You could see that in him against City.
"He had to be so disciplined. His mentality and concentration had to be so good. Sane got a lot of the ball. But for the majority of the game, he was really quiet, and that was testament to Trent and the team as well. I thought it was a really top performance from him. He's had a bit of criticism recently, and I thought he answered his critics in emphatic fashion.
"It was a different type of performance from him. You associate Trent with flying forward and getting crosses in. [But] because of the game, he did very little of that. He was questioned with what he's been questioned about -- his defending. He had to do a lot of it, and I thought he did it extremely well. I was delighted for him."
In the midst of his struggles, Alexander-Arnold made the decision to return to Liverpool's Kirkby academy to speak with academy director Alex Inglethorpe, with whom he enjoys a close relationship. It was on the Kirkby complex that the coaching staff, led by Inglethorpe, made the conscious choice to turn the Liverpool-born youngster from an attack-minded midfielder into a right-sided defender during his first year as an apprentice.
The switch was ultimately taken, as it would give Alexander-Arnold the best chance of forcing a first-team breakthrough.
"He still sees himself as one of us," added Critchley. "He came through the academy, so he still sees himself as part of this sort of family here. I don't think he sees himself as an established first team player ... yet. And I think that is one of the best qualities he has. He doesn't think he has made it.
"He played midfield as a U-16, but before that, he'd played as a defender, sometimes in the middle, sometimes as full-back. I think that's the beauty of development of young players, playing different positions so they get an appreciation of the whole game and are more all-round footballers. That maybe gives them a better chance of getting in the first team, because they can play different positions.
"[Trent] could still play midfield, that could still be an option, but we thought that with the qualities that he has -- his ability to run forward and to see the pictures in front of him -- we thought he would be suited to [right-back]."
Born within a stone's throw of Melwood, Liverpool's first-team training base, Alexander-Arnold is already adored by those in the stands at Anfield -- and not just because of his status as a local player. His biggest fan, however, may be his manager.
In the aftermath of Liverpool's defeat at Old Trafford last month, where Alexander-Arnold came under fire from TV pundits for his role in Marcus Rashford's opening goal, the Reds boss immediately sprang to the defence of the teenager. They were not hollow words, either.
"You have to give such credit to our manager as well," said Critchley. "The easy thing after Trent's last few performances was to leave him out, and he could have left him out. He didn't, and Trent paid him back last night; he repaid him.
"I wish there were a lot more managers in the Premier League who showed faith in young English players like that because there are more players like Trent who just don't get that time, that faith, that trust. I was delighted."
Glenn is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.