Liverpool: Overlooked for Team of the Year, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson will be crucial next season
The Reds’ full-backs have been in superb form in recent weeks, and their performances will be vital if Liverpool are to kick on next season
To the surprise of nobody involved with football, the newly announced PFA Team of the Year has provoked some passionate debate on social media.
With champions Manchester City dominating the eleven, there has been some surprise that Mohamed Salah is the only Liverpool representative in the team.
Player by player, the decision makes sense simply due to the excellence of others. Some fans have pointed to the recent impact made by Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, and justifiably so. Both have been superb, but their lack of real impact before Christmas has seen them miss out.
Liverpool’s defence before the start of 2018 is the main reason they haven’t been able to put together a title challenge this season, and neither Robertson nor Alexander-Arnold were regular parts of it.
Virgil van Dijk has solidified the Liverpool backline
Since the turn of the year and the uncoincidental arrival of Virgil van Dijk, though, Liverpool have been a different animal.
From entertaining also-rans, Jürgen Klopp now has his side on the brink of European glory and looking ready to go toe-to-toe with City in the league next season. Robertson and Alexander-Arnold could be key on both fronts.
The Scotsman Robertson first really drew attention with his superb shackling of Raheem Sterling in the 4-3 victory over a hitherto unbeaten City side in January, and he has made the left-back spot indisputably his own since then.
Meanwhile, teenager Alexander-Arnold’s performances in recent weeks have seen him make a late charge for England’s World Cup squad – though occasionally found lacking in defence, he was superb in Liverpool’s Champions League wins over City and his deep cross for Salah’s goal against Bournemouth was evidence of the attacking threat he consistently provides.
Defensive strength has given the full backs licence to get forward
With Loris Karius improving and van Dijk exerting a calming influence on Dejan Lovren, the full-backs have been given greater licence to exercise their natural attacking instincts.
With Salah and Sadio Mané always keen to come inside from wide, their overlapping runs help to give the attackers the sliver of extra space they need to isolate a back-tracking centre-half, and their own crossing ability – both are adept at delivering dangerous balls from deep or from the byline – adds an important layer of unpredictability to the Liverpool attack.
Nobody who had seen Robertson’s performances at Hull City would have been surprised by his emergence, but this has seemed like a coming-of-age season for him and a season of discovery for Alexander-Arnold.
Their challenge now is to stay on the upward trajectory on which they have angled their careers. Trying to reign in a Manchester City side likely to strengthen over summer is a task which won’t allow for weak links, and there will be real pressure for Klopp to deliver silverware if they don’t go all the way in Europe this year.
If they maintain and improve their current form, there is no reason why next year’s Team of the Season can’t feature at least one Liverpool shirt in a fullback position.
Can Liverpool contend for the title next season? Let us know in the comments section below.