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Alexander-Arnold 'That is what a lot of players are paying the price for' - Trent Alexander-Arnold on the new challenges this season

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Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold and injured team-mate Jordan Henderson

Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold and injured team-mate Jordan Henderson

Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold and injured team-mate Jordan Henderson

Even before his untimely injury, Trent Alexander-Arnold felt he was recuperating more than training in this abnormal, sardine tin of a season.

He compromised his game when Jurgen Klopp instructed him to make fewer sprints to prevent burn-out, and spent the first weeks taking extra precautions to protect health and fitness.

That made the calf-muscle problem, which keeps him out for another week or so, more infuriating than surprising. Elite players are currently resigned to a physical setback being in the post.

“It is difficult,” explains Alexander-Arnold. “Not having much of a pre-season was hard. Then it was straight into the deep end with the most intense league in the world and getting thrown in there playing three games in a week, and Champions League. The body is not ready, and that is what a lot of players are paying the price for.

“We knew there would be a big difference in pre-season and the amount of time we had off in the off-season. There is more emphasis on recovery. Trying to manage workloads more.”

No pre-season, crunched schedules and mental strain of Covid are putting players at risk.

“Since the end of last season I have been looking at what I can do with health and recovery. Anything more I can do to stay fit and keep at the highest level I can, especially with the schedule we have. You are always thinking of eating the right things, and we do a lot of research into that.”

In the absence of club owners and football administrators bending an inch on scheduling, Klopp’s response goes beyond tirades against broadcasters and squad rotation.

“He wanted me to adjust and adapt. That had to happen,” says Alexander-Arnold, speaking at the announcement of him becoming the global brand ambassador for sports nutrition brand, Kinetica.

“It feels less natural than other seasons. I was able to just fly into games. You got into a rhythm. This feels different. Obviously the world feels different with things we can and can’t do. But it does not feel the same kind of season.”

The torment for long-term absentees Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez is obviously worse.

“Although they would not want to be in the situation that they are, if they could choose someone to help get them through it, I am sure they would have chosen each other because they have such a strong bond and will push each other in rehab,” says the full-back.

Not all the tweaks on and off the pitch were schedule-induced. Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are learning to play with a target on their backs, the theory being that stopping them cuts off the supply to the strikers.

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Liverpool'sdefender Trent Alexander-Arnold vies with Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Liverpool'sdefender Trent Alexander-Arnold vies with Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Liverpool'sdefender Trent Alexander-Arnold vies with Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

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The Liverpudlian sees that as a compliment. “I do not really think anyone has ever… hmm… I don’t want to sound big-headed, but I have never seen a right-back play it as I have been playing it,” he says, hesitantly.

“Does that make sense? I used to enjoy watching the Barcelona team with Dani Alves. He made a lot more runs in behind than I do, but he had that creativity and ability to use the half-space, where he could just dink balls over the top and find someone’s run. I would say if I modelled my game on anyone, it is him.

“But if you want to say me and Robbo have changed it, then yeah, I think full-backs now are judged on their numbers more than in the past. That is what teams and scouting departments are going to look at now.

“Full-backs need to score and assist. There is more emphasis on assisting. That is how the game has gone and how modern managers play, where you have your two centre-halves and your full-backs are told ‘go’.”

That is factual more than conceited. It also means the duo must keep ahead of the competition.

“Judging last year with me and Robbo, and how things went, not many teams were going to allow us as much space and time on the ball,” says Alexander-Arnold.

“This time we had to adapt the way we play to make sure we were as effective for the team – not being man-marked out of the game so we could not do much. That is something we were working on and will keep working on.

“If we were still doing the same things, we would not be able to win so many games because people know what you are doing. You have to stay unpredictable. Look at the Manchester City game. Were City preparing for us to go 4-4-2? I would say no. It is about putting that doubt in people’s mind, being creative.

“I need to drop into positions you would not usually see a full-back. City do that quite well. (Kyle) Walker is not always out wide. He can come in narrow, or even play as a centre-back.

“This season I have played a little deeper and not gone as up and down so much to the bye-line. That may look a bit more reserved, but I can still get a lot of the ball to make things tick. There are rotations with the midfield.”

Such adjustments may also help England, where Alexander-Arnold finds the wing-back role challenging.

“It is a lot different in terms of where you are on the pitch,” he says. “Most of the time you are kind of receiving the ball with your back to the goal, kind of like a winger, which is something I am not used to. It was quite foreign for me to play there. It is a role that I need to learn. I can’t be too selfish. It is something that I can do and I need to look to do it.”

After lockdown, he plans to assist in creating more sports facilities in Liverpool’s most deprived areas – determined to stay true to his roots.

“It is a lot easier when you have a family like mine – when your mum is telling you to put the bins out most nights. She doesn’t cut me any slack really,” he says.

Even his Champions League and title-winner’s medals are hidden.

“Maybe putting them away makes you feel like you need to achieve more. The feeling of not having something and aiming for it will always outweigh the feeling of trying to defend something. If we could win it again this season, then it is a big statement. A very big statement.”

Brighton v Liverpool,

Live, BT Sport 1, 12.30

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