If you were to ask many Football fans who is the best right-back to ever play the game, Cafu is a name you would expect to here often.
Naturally, the great Brazilian right-back, has had many comparisons drawn between him, and right-backs of the modern game.
Here’s what Cafu had to say about one of the comparisons:
““I think [he] is one of the best in the world, no doubt about it. I would say he has the same characteristics as I did. I think he has what it takes to become a Ballon D’Or winner”
Who was that about? Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Despite being just 22 years old, Trent’s name has been mentioned in the conversation about the best right-backs in the world for going on three years now. His excellent displays in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side, recording 49 assists thus far in his Liverpool career, all from right-back.
However, following England’s 4-0 victory over Andorra on Sunday, in which he started alongside Jordan Henderson and Jude Bellingham in midfield, Trent has also been to focus of another debate.
Is he a right-back, or a centre–midfielder? What’s his best position?
So, what is his best position?
The case for right-back
Starting with the obvious argument.
Focusing on his club career with Liverpool, Trent is perfectly suited to Jurgen Klopp’s idea of how to full-back should play.
Confident on the ball, excellent range of passing, a skilful crosser of the ball, excellent stamina to allow for attacking and defending and – as required in any Jurgen Klopp team, passionate.
These skills are also the reason Trent gets brought into debates about a move into midfield.
In Liverpool’s team, Trent is given the freedom that many full-backs aren’t. Often one of Liverpool’s midfielders, usually Fabinho or Jordan Henderson, will drop back into the defence when Liverpool attack, forming a three at the back, thus allowing Trent and left-back Andy Robertson to attack.
This sort of freedom is one of the factors in both Trent and Robertson having such high assist numbers.
So, under Jurgen Klopp and his 4-3-3 system at Liverpool, there is really no need for Trent to make the transition into the middle of the park as he can dictate the game more from right-back as pointed about by Liverpool legend, Jamie Carragher: “Full-backs get more of the ball than anyone and a bit more time on it to pick out their passes.
“The way Klopp sets up he’s virtually a midfielder in possession anyway. The amount of assists he gets means it would be mad to change his position.”
Additionally, on average last season, Trent averaged 101 touches per 90 minutes, more than Liverpool midfielders Thiago, Naby Kieta and Gini Wijnaldum, showing playing in the middle of the park doesn’t necessarily guarantee an uptake in time on the ball.
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The case for centre-midfield
So, why could you argue for Trent transitioning to a full-time midfield role.
Trent as a midfielder is really a question that can be answered differently depending on the tactical situation of the team he is playing in.
Alexander-Arnold is that talented of a player that it imperative that he features in a position in which he can have a lot of time on the ball, meaning if he is featuring in a system that take priority away from the full-backs, then the case for Trent in midfield becomes more compelling.
As mentioned previously, Trent possesses all the key skills needed to play in a midfield role, so that part of the argument really doesn’t need explaining – so what else points towards a future in midfield for TAA?
One major argument for moving Trent into midfield is that it would take him away from a defensive position, a skill of his that has been criticised.
When arguing against Trent, many will point to the fact that he isn’t as defensively sound as fellow right-backs such as Aaron Wan-Bissaka or Reece James.
Therefore, a move into midfield, theoretically, would allow him to focus less on defending and focus more on influencing the game with his undeniable talent – with Gary Linker commenting on twitter: “Said it many times, but the best passer in English football is @TrentAA [Trent].
“He should be playing, like he did as a kid, in midfield. Lahm switched, Kimmich too. The best players should be in a position where they can more frequently use their brilliance.”
It should be noted, Trent Alexander-Arnold is absolutely capable of being a world class midfielder, and this debate is absolutely justified, however, his best position still remains as right-back.
In modern football, full-backs are able to influence the game just as much as a midfield, and in some systems even more so – and these are the system’s Trent currently operates in.
As we saw against Andorra – the game that restarted this debate – we saw Trent struggle to affect the game as much as he could’ve from right-back – with him being returned to the full-back role for the second half and having a much more effective performance.
Jamie Carragher sums up Trent perfectly: “What makes him special is it’s like having De Bruyne at right back. Think of the best in his position, think of Cafu or Dani Alves, they were world-class, bombing down line, getting crosses in, but he is running the game for his team.”
Trent Alexander-Arnold is one of the best right-backs in the world, and there’s no reason to change that – for now, at least.