Jurgen Klopps joke and the freak have helped Liverpool destroy Premier League perceptions – Liverpool Echo

February 2016, and Trent Alexander-Arnold couldn’t quite come to terms with what was happening.

Time and again, the Liverpool right-back was left trailing by opposing winger Brandon Barker as Manchester City romped to a 3-0 victory at Anfield.

Alexander-Arnold, then just 17, was making his first appearance for what was then the under-21 side after making the step up from the U18s. It was a chastening experience.

“It was one of the first times I’d played right-back,” said the defender, later reflecting on the afternoon. “I hadn’t played there too often.

“That’s probably one of the hardest games I’ve had. It brings back bad memories for me, but it’s those type of games that help you learn. It’s not the good ones, it’s the bad ones.”

The previous day, a 21-year-old Andy Robertson was dealing with his own disappointment having been part of a Hull City side that, while top of the Championship, were downed 1-0 at Burnley.

Fast forward 18 months, and the pair were stepping out together for the first time for Liverpool in the Premier League.

Alexander-Arnold, having proven a fast learner, made his full league debut at Old Trafford in January 2017 while Robertson had impressed sufficiently at Hull to earn an £8million move to Anfield in the summer.

But their outing against Burnley in September was one of only four Premier League appearances in the same starting line-up during the first half of the season – and one of those, at Brighton and Hove Albion, saw the duo employed as wing-backs.

While Robertson’s lengthy adaptation period is well known, easily forgotten is that Alexander-Arnold was challenging with Joe Gomez for the right-back slot.

It wasn’t until February he started three successive league games, by which time Robertson had, thanks initially to an injury for Alberto Moreno, become ensconced as the regular left-back.

They haven’t looked back since, perhaps the best attacking full-back pairing in world football.

In the 27 Premier League games in which they featured together last season, they claimed 22 assists. This term, it is 20 from 29 games.

Alexander-Arnold, still only 21, has become not only an integral part of the team, but also an outstanding ambassador for the club, a role model for Academy prospects and supporters as a whole.

Plus, of course, he is the Scouser in the Liverpool team who have dominated Europe, the world and are now, finally, English champions.

He has also redefined the role of the right-back, essentially becoming the Reds’ playmaker from the position.

The pinnacle came in his display in the 4-0 win at Leicester City on Boxing Day, when he claimed two assists before sealing the win with a Carlos Albertoesque arrowed finish into the bottom corner.

Players past and present, normally quite good at spotting a talent, couldn’t help but fail to be impressed.

“Alexander-Arnold” tweeted former Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano, while Gary Lineker declared: “He’s just a joke. Fantastic footballer.”

Liverpool duo Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold with the European Cup last year

Liverpool duo Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold with the European Cup last year
(Image: PA)

Anyone who had been paying even cursory notice to Liverpool’s Academy in the years before Alexander-Arnold’s breakthrough wouldn’t have been completely taken aback by his impact.

And in retrospect, it should have been blindingly obvious Robertson would also become a roaring success at the club.

With the infectious enthusiasm of Joey Jones and the progressive play of Steve Nicol and Alan Kennedy, Robertson is an amalgam of popular title-winning left-backs with the Reds.

Oh, and he happens to be Scottish.

Influence from North of the Border has been prevalent in every successful Liverpool championship bid, so much so that in the late 70s and early 80s photographers routinely asked for “Jock Pictures” in which Alan Hansen, Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness paraded the latest hard-earned silverware. Steve Nicol, Gary Gillespie and John Wark would also later become involved.

Gary McAllister was at the heart of the cup treble in 2001 and Charlie Adam could claim a League Cup in 2012, but otherwise Scottish representation has been thin on the ground since the 1990 title triumph.

Now Robertson has restored the balance. “He’s been the best left-back in England and, maybe, Europe for the past two years,” said Danny Rose, who was part of the Tottenham Hotspur team beaten by Liverpool in the Champions League final last year.

“He is the one I’m looking to catch, without a doubt. He is the best. Andy Robertson looks like a freak of nature. He is just brilliant.”

Must-read Liverpool FC news

The final word, though, must go to Jurgen Klopp, whose approach to the game, faith in youth and eye for a player have allowed the duo to prosper so magnificently.

“Not many young boys want to say they want to be a full-back but they are now much more important,” said the Reds boss.

“The game has changed now and you have to be really strong defensively but now teams clear the wings for the full-backs you have to have the football quality to put crosses in at the other end too.”

Alexander-Arnold and Robertson haven’t just changed Liverpool. They’ve altered perceptions about the role of the model full-back, standard-bearers for a new era.

And, of course, they’re Premier League champions.