‘I switched off when Man Utd lifted the Carabao Cup – it burns’
‘I switched off when Man Utd lifted the Carabao Cup – it burns’
Trent Alexander-Arnold felt relaxed about seeing Liverpool’s biggest rivals end their six year trophy drought at Wembley last weekend.
Until full-time. Then more familiar emotions stirred about Manchester United.
“I watched the game, but as soon as they were getting ready for the trophy lift I turned off. I thought, ‘There is no way I am watching that’,” says Alexander-Arnold.
“Knowing they lifted that trophy? It burns. Oh yeah. It definitely burns.”
It was only the League Cupwasn’t it? Don’t believe it. Ask United fans and they will say the club’s 67th honour took them one ahead of Liverpool as England’s most successful club. The Kop will argue the Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup do not really count, thus making Liverpool’s 45 two superior to United.
Alexander-Arnold’s anguish is stoked more by recent history. A year ago it was Liverpool players dancing at Wembley and coyly fending off questions about a quadruple.
Now United head to Anfield targeting four trophies, leaving Alexander-Arnold a curious mix of frustrated and reassured.
“It shows you how football changes very quickly,” he explains.
“Look at Arsenal. At the end of last season everyone was talking about failure for not making the top four. All of a sudden they are leading in the title race. In football terms, these changes really do happen overnight. It’s the same with Manchester United when you look at the difference now to last year. Even the start of this season when they lost to Brentford. How many people were saying ‘here we go again?’ Now they’re flying. It happens. That is why I am not going to allow myself to get over consumed with what has happened to us right now because I know in a few months, or possibly even weeks, it will change. I am determined to keep level-headed and balanced about what has gone on.”
Adjusting to Liverpool being so far behind has taken time, though.
While the outside world wrote off Anfield title hopes before Christmas, the 24-year-old was in denial until last month.
“I realised we had to change objectives before the Everton game (February 13), after we had lost to Wolves 3-0,” he says.
“The gaffer gave us two days off to reflect. Before then there was a sense of trying to get your head around what happened, and where we stood. You get caught in a sort of limbo. There was a point in the season where we were asking ourselves, ‘Are we still going for the league?’ Then we had to think about what our actual target is. As a team we had to address it. When you get used to being in title races, that is all there is. It is what gets you excited. You’re not imagining anything else at this time of the season.
“At the start of this season if you had asked us what we expected in March it would have been to be coming towards the climax of the title race. That’s the best feeling in football, going into every game knowing you need to win and most likely watching Manchester City’s games thinking if they lose or drop two points we’re going to pounce.
“Now it is going to be difficult to win a trophy this season. It looks impossible. We will need a miracle, really. So there is a different type of motivation and it is difficult to adjust.
“We have drawn a line and know the top four is everything now.
“I can’t imagine not being in the Champions League. Since I’ve been in the senior side, it’s been a constant. That is what is motivating all of us. As a club, we need to be playing Champions League football. It is what we expect. We have not made it easy for ourselves, but the level we are and the quality we have as players, means we expect it.”
What will it take for Liverpool to get back to last year’s standards?
“A mix of things. We have new players getting settled and finding their feet. There is the potential of new players coming in,” he says.
“And then it is about getting our consistency back and making it all work as it did. The manager and the staff will be preparing us for that. I do not think the fall off is so huge that it rules out the possibility of us achieving something special next season. I really don’t. We have the infrastructure in place. Everything is there to ensure with just a couple of changes we will be competing for titles and trophies.
“I feel about my own performances as I do the team’s. They have mirrored – at times good, at times bad. More recently I have felt I was finding more consistency. There have been more clean sheets and more wins.”
Klopp says his players can be inspired by United’s swift turnaround, not least Marcus Rashfordwhose tussles with Alexander-Arnold have occasionally been match-defining.
“We’re not massively close, to be honest, especially outside of England,” says Alexander-Arnold.
“At England camps everything is cool. We’ll speak. We’ll have good banter just like every player. Nothing special. He is in very good form. But he is one of those players where he is always a threat and always has been. Players get judged on their stats. For strikers it is all about if you are scoring, or assisting. But even last year you knew when against him he was a massive threat. It was all there. Maybe that is something those watching do not really see, but as a player out there you feel it. It wouldn’t matter whether I was up against him and he has scored ten games in a row, or if he has only scored ten over two seasons, you feel that threat out there and know you have to be at the top of your game to deal with it. He is one of those players who has that.”
There is a sense there is more respect between the players and clubs than there once was, a by-product of Manchester City being their common ‘enemy’.
But Alexander-Arnold insists that United versus Liverpool will always have a special flavour.
“Growing up in the academy, United were always a good team,” he said.
“You just expected them to be up there. Whenever Liverpool and United play each other, you are always expecting a competitive game. Even if the clubs are not where you would expect them to be in the league – no matter what trophies they are going for – you would never say they were not good teams, or it will be anything but a tough game. I am sure they would say the same thing that the game feels harder and bigger because it is us. There is always a big motivation from both sides. No matter what, a Liverpool versus Manchester United is like the Merseyside derby. The circumstances are pretty irrelevant. It’s one of those games in the season that every fan wants to win. The rivalry is just as big. They feel the same. Three points in games like this mean more. It gives you a new lease of life for the next few games.”
So when they meet next season, will there finally be a trophy at stake for both clubs?
“It will be nice at some point if there could be a title race between us,” says Alexander-Arnold. “That would take the rivalry to another level, I think.”
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