Joyful and, indeed, triumphant. The King Power Stadium was a boisterous place with Liverpool’s world champions in town. New-build stadiums can often be deathly places. Not this one, with its operatic pre-match fanfare, its sense of high-end underdog glamour and with a Leicester team unbeaten at home in the league this season.
At which point, enter the red machine and, in particular, another extraordinary, incisive and deeply unusual performance from Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Every week the Premier League team-sheets seem to make the same category-mistake with Liverpool’s defense. Liverpool’s No. 66 plays (it says here) at right-back. In reality Alexander-Arnold is something else, a 21-year-old footballer whose talent has redefined his role, creating in the process something new and excitingly disruptive.
Alexander-Arnold made two goals, scored Liverpool’s last one in a 4-0 win and looked irresistible at times. He is an extraordinary player in so many ways, a full-back who operates at a constant level of creative urgency.
Some will point to the occasional holes in the defensive part of his game, flaws that were apparent here at times early in the match. But this is to miss the point to a world-class degree.
There is a basic sense of optimism about Liverpool’s running game, a feeling the team can shift like a single mass to cover its weaknesses with strengths. Liverpool do not have a goalscoring center-forward (he scored twice here). Liverpool did not have their best defensive midfielder (they did not need him). And, of course, Liverpool don’t have a world-class playmaker. Except they do and he’s currently bombing forward from right-back.
It helps when you play in a team like this. At times Leicester seemed almost craven in the face of Liverpool’s passing, movement and – yes – that alpha dog energy this team carries with it now.
“We’re champions of the world,” the away section sang throughout the night. Not that a Fifa junket was needed to settle that question. From the Gulf to the East Midlands this is a team operating at a thrillingly high pitch, the kind of run where every game feels like a rollover from the last, and where the plan remains always the same. Don’t stop. Don’t look back. Carry on being a bit more like themselves every time.
There was something stately about Liverpool’s dominance in that first half. Even the half-scuffed clearances fell to a red shirt. Even Alexander-Arnold’s shaky delivery on the first few set pieces felt like a high-grade machine settling into its rhythms And in a game that always felt like a kind of homecoming, it was fitting that Liverpool’s locally sourced right-back should create the breakthrough with half an hour gone.
The goal came from a cross from the left hit with a furious dipping power. Alexander-Arnold is sui generis in this too. Nobody else kicks the ball in quite the same way, with the same inventive precision, the same flat skimming trajectory. His crosses are like shots. His shots are like passes. His corners are like free-kicks.
The cross landed on the head of Roberto Firmino, who nodded it down into the corner. Liverpool had scored with their sixth effort on goal, to Leicester’s zero. The second half brought more of the same. Alexander-Arnold’s corner drew a handball from Caglar Soyuncu. James Milner tucked away the penalty. Shortly afterwards Firmino made it 3-0 from another hard, flat cross from the right.
That assist made it eight for Alexander-Arnold so far in the Premier League. Only Kevin De Bruyne has more. Look further back and Alexander-Arnold has 20 assists in the league since the start of last season, out on his own ahead of everyone. No doubt English football has produced deep right-sided creative players who can match Alexander-Arnold’s extraordinary productivity in the modern age. But none spring to mind right now.
Leicester were not helped by their own cautious start. In the first half Jamie Vardy was often the lone forward point of a distended 4-5-1 formation. The plan was obvious: sit deep, let Liverpool pass, break with precision.
The only problem was, it never showed any sign of working. Liverpool know teams will play like this. They counter-press so aggressively the chances to break are hugely reduced. Before you know it 40 minutes have passed without a shot on goal and the game is being played at an exhausting level of intensity around your own goal.
Liverpool absorbed some pressure as the game wore on but always looked like scoring more. Alexander-Arnold’s goal arrived on 78 minutes, a low hard drive into the far corner, and the gloss on a performance of real drive and verve. Liverpool ended the day 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League, still a little jet-lagged from their desert break, still cranking the throttle. So much for the world. Next stop, England.
The Guardian Sport