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Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defending in the spotlight after lapse in Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid

Trent Alexander-Arnold knew that the spotlight was on him. He knew that this game was different and he knew that his duel with Vinicius Junior was being described as the key to the game. He will know too that it was a duel that he lost.

That verdict may seem harsh, but it is the inevitable conclusion after a Champions League final decided by one goal, one moment. When the story of Real Madrid’s victory is told, when the video plays, it will show Vinicius ghosting in beyond a static defender.

It had always looked likely that this match-up would be defining. Alexander-Arnold, even from that nominal right-back position, is Liverpool’s most potent creative force, the catalyst for those attacks. He is part of the back four, but he is a playmaker, primarily.

Even before the stunning denouement, Vinicius had enjoyed the season of his career so far, creating more chances and completing more dribbles than any player in the Champions League. Getting the ball to him would be crucial for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

There were signs that Alexander-Arnold was being targeted. Toni Kroos looked for that pass over his head on a regular basis, just as he did to good effect when Liverpool were eliminated from this competition at the quarter-final stage last season.

Karim Benzema drifted out to that flank, trying to create an overload to help fashion the opening for Vinicius. Alexander-Arnold would have been aware of it – the questions about how he would cope with the Brazilian winger came at the pre-match press conference.

“There will be battles all over the pitch,” he said.

“As for Vinicius himself, he is an outstanding player and he has shown that this season, especially, with his goals, his assists and his threat. He is an exciting player to watch but we understand that as a team we have a job to do, as individuals, as a collective.

“The individual battles will be part of that but it is a team game.”

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The contest between Vinicius Junior and Trent Alexander-Arnold was crucial

It has become popular to argue the point that Alexander-Arnold has a different role in this team and cannot be expected to take defensive responsibility when he is positioned higher up the pitch. There were occasions against Madrid when that was evidently true.

In the first half, Vinicius found the ball in space for the first time with Alexander-Arnold well ahead of him in the Madrid half. Ibrahima Konate was there to deal with it, ushering him away from danger. In one-on-one situations, Konate is just about the best there is.

But that does not explain the key moment in the game. Alexander-Arnold was back there for that and when Konate glanced right he would have been entitled to believe that his team-mate had the situation under control. A moment’s hesitation proved costly.

It was a fortunate cross-shot that arrowed into the penalty box, certainly no more precise than any number that Alexander-Arnold would direct into the opposition area before and after. But while the concentrated Dani Carvajal was there to cut those out, he was not.

The ball found its way to Vinicius and Liverpool were behind.

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp provided a straightforward analysis of the game

If Alexander-Arnold had been able to make better use of the space that he found up the field and occasionally inside, left untracked by Vinicius, the tactical trade-off would have been vindicated and the focus instead on his remarkable creative talents.

He came close to supplying the decisive cross in the first half, sending a low ball into the box that Mohamed Salah turned towards the net but not beyond Thibaut Courtois. In the second half, Diogo Jota tried and failed to divert a driven cross in for the equaliser.

This could have been different. There will be days when it is.

But this will sting.

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Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher pick their Premier League teams of the season

Andy Robertson recently revealed that he has been gently chiding his fellow full-back of late with the words “by a mile” – a reference to Gary Neville’s verdict on Robertson’s superiority. Neville feels that way because the Scot is excellent offensively and defensively.

What will be so tough for Alexander-Arnold now is that while offensive qualities can be demonstrated quickly – an early season free-kick curled into the top corner, a cross expertly finding its target – defensive reliability is a trait that takes longer to prove.

Only by repeatedly impressing in that aspect, delivering the sort of performance that he provided in the FA Cup final, will that opinion change. And even then, the memory of this Champions League final – the replays of this Champions League goal – will be there.



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