Analysis

Trent Alexander-Arnold loses the ball a lot - but does it matter?

The Liverpool full-back made a record number of concessions in Monday's defeat to Southampton, but creative players usually do

 
6:10pm on Wednesday 6th January 2021
By
Paul Macdonald

Trent Alexander Arnold received the ball in his customary right-back position.

He looked up, and proceeded to smash the ball straight out of play. There were nine seconds on the clock at St Mary's.

Much has been made of TAA's performance against Southampton on Monday. He has just 61% pass completion on 72 passes. He 'lost the ball' 15 times, the most of any match in which he's played this season (losing the ball in this case referring to a direct attempted pass to a team-mate that failed to reach its target, rather than a more generic long ball or cross).

And it's raised the issue of losing possession and what it really means. Losing possession in of itself is not a bad thing. Some of the most creative players in the game lose the ball a lot because they are attempting to create opportunities and try things other team-mates don't.

The above graph shows lost balls versus expected assists for the 2019/20 season. You can see Kevin De Bruyne riding high at the top here, scoring a huge expected assists score, but while regularly giving the ball away. De Bruyne whips the ball in from difficult positions and regularly tries to thread the needle with his passes.

And you can see Trent here, losing the ball as much as De Bruyne but still recording a very healthy 0.44xA P90.

When we look at 20/21, there's a few more interesting names on the list, too:

Jack Grealish, James Rodriguez, Bruno Fernandes. Players we love to watch, being allowed to do what they do in terms of making things happen. And despite the stressing over Trent's performances this season he is still positioned above average in the Premier League. Not as good as last season, but not at all bad either.

But there's no doubt that Trent's performances have suffered drop-off this season compared to his own high standard and it seemed like the Southampton game was the crystallisation of that. Everything he did was wrong, and of his 15 lost balls five were inside his own half, therefore giving the opponent a high turnover.

Jurgen Klopp clearly lost patience with him in the moment and took him off after 77 minutes. He wasn't happy, but neither was Klopp. And the way those numbers have fallen doesn't make for good reading. Assists P90 down to 0.13 from 0.43 and chance creation dropping off a cliff when compared to last year.

Those who have watched Liverpool can relate not only to the injuries that have disrupted pretty much all of their patterns of play, but also that the default of knocking it to TAA for a cross isn't happening to the same degree. Indeed, his 10.7 crosses P90 from last season is now 7.3, quite a drop-off. They are changing things up a bit more and so Trent's direct contributions are likely to be less.

But the Southampton game will be no doubt a concern. His puzzled expression and Klopp's resigned face show there is some work to be done to get the defender - undoubtedly one of the best offensive full-backs in the world - back to where he needs to be.

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