“If it’s long term, we’ll see. It just depends on the new players we bring in.”
Trent Alexander-Arnold has been a revelation for Liverpool in recent weeks as an inverted full-back, with such a positional tweak seeing him take on a central midfield role when the Reds are on the ball, coinciding with Jurgen Klopp’s squad rises late for an unlikely top four finish.
It has also come into play since Liverpool pulled out of the race this summer to sign long-time partner Jude Bellingham. issues they’ve faced in transition this season. Perhaps the solution to their midfield problems has been right under their noses all along in their repositioned right-back.
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Given the disappointing form of the England international and Liverpool for most of the season, such a move has inevitably led to further questions about Alexander-Arnold’s long-term positional future. Will Klopp return to his traditional full-back setup in a 4-3-3 formation next year after the Reds’ planned midfield revamp, will the inverted full-back stay here, or could the 24-year-old even make a permanent switch to the midfield? midfield?
Admitting the new role suits his right-back well, Klopp admitted last week, following Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Brentford, that summer transfers will help guide the call.
“If it’s in the long run, we’ll see it just depends on the new players we bring in,” the German told Sky Sports after the game. “It suits him extremely well and I think the opportunity he created for Darwin (Nunez) was special and he was strong defensively and he has yet to adapt to his role in this formation.
“We were a bit passive in the last game, but apart from that, Trent has played almost every minute over the past six games in an intense period with games every three days, so he’s excellent at what he’s doing.”
Liverpool are expected to sign two if not three new midfielders this summer, with Chelsea’s Mason Mount and Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister their main targets. Meanwhile, Klopp has confirmed that Northern Ireland right-back Conor Bradley will be eyeing pre-season after a successful campaign on loan at Bolton Wanderers, while Calvin Ramsay will try to establish himself at Anfield after an injury-plagued first campaign.
In other words, the Reds have options and are therefore flexible about their future use of Alexander-Arnold. But it still begs the question of whether they should also be looking at a taller right-back, to allow the England international to play in a natural midfield role if they wanted to. While a few months ago was a great transfer solution, the 24-year-old’s current form at center doesn’t make it impossible.
One of those players will actually come on the market this summer: Man City’s Joao Cancelo.
The original Premier League ‘inverted full-back’, the Portuguese was a standout star for Pep Guardiola’s men as they won the Premier League on the final day of the season. With one goal and seven assists from 36 league appearances, Cancelo’s performance saw him named in the PFA Premier League team of the year.
Only Chelsea’s Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson and Reece James would score more goals for their teammates. Meanwhile, with 10 assists in all competitions, he has already matched such a tally this year, despite a somewhat more challenging season.
Due to an argument with Guardiola, he was loaned to Bayern Munich in January. While the Bundesliga side have an option to permanently sign the Portuguese for £61 million, they reportedly have no intention of activating such a clause and would instead prefer to extend his temporary move.
At least according to Spanish outlet Sport, Cancelo himself does not want to stay at Bayern Munich as he was not a guaranteed starter during his time at the club. Meanwhile, they also claim he has no plans to return to Man City, with his agent, Jorge Mendes, said to be working instead on a possible move to Barcelona, although the report admits he is not Xavi’s first choice .
In the meantime, 90min reports that Arsenal and Real Madrid are also possible destinations, with Mikel Arteta keen to reconnect with the Portuguese at the Emirates. However, as Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko have helped the Gunners push Man City to the title this season, it remains to be seen whether Guardiola would be willing to approve such a move this time around.
In any case, the fact that he is available and could even be loaned out again certainly presents an opportunity to sign a quality player this summer. Meanwhile, if City are unwilling to sign for another loan deal, they may even have no choice but to lower their asking price.
And while there is currently no suggestion that Liverpool enter the race to sign Cancelo, it would still be an intriguing prospect if they boasted an alternative of such quality to Alexander-Arnold. His passing and skill on the ball would certainly see him fit into The Reds’ new set-up.
For starters, his presence would free Scouser to play purely in midfield if Klopp wanted to, with Cancelo an equally attacking threat on an outside cross or when used in a central role and playing through midfield. Alternatively, as the Portuguese can play on either flank, he could also offer Liverpool a reverse option himself, either instead of Alexander-Arnold on the right or shifting such a role to the left, with Andy Robertson or Joe Gomez helping to the improvised three returned depending on the flank.
Given that he is already suited to the Reds’ new set-up and could unlock even more of Alexander-Arnold, he would be the perfect recruit in a way. Imagine the possibility of Cancelo stepping forward to partner Liverpool’s number 66 in midfield? But that doesn’t make it likely.
While there would be logic in such a transfer for the Reds, as the Portuguese turns 29 later this month, his age counts against him. Meanwhile, they decide to spread their transfer kitty over a number of targets rather than just Bellingham, for example, and the question is whether Liverpool would find a transfer to Cancelo financially viable.
And then there’s the debate over whether City would even negotiate with the Reds. Klopp’s men may not be title contenders this year, but Guardiola might be reluctant to help them improve next season.
Klopp even hinted that such transfers are impossible when speaking of Gabriel Jesus’ departure from Man City in October last year ahead of his side’s meeting with Arsenal.
“I don’t know him personally, but I’ve always liked him as a player,” the German admitted. “I know City would not have sold him to any club, but with Arsenal the distance was geographical enough.”
Cancelo was one of the very best full-backs in Europe last year, along with Alexander-Arnold. While neither player has lived up to such a label this year, the Liverpool man has at least taken a mighty step in the right direction.
His future is still uncertain, in terms of position next season, but he remains central to Klopp’s next Reds side. In contrast, Cancelo’s future is uncertain for many reasons.
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