Liverpool’s refusal to sign an experienced right-back to provide cover for Trent Alexander-Arnold may be about to come back to bite Jurgen Klopp. It was back in 2017 when Liverpool’s troubles on the right side of defence appeared to be answered by the emergence of Alexander-Arnold.
He helped the club reach the 2018 Champions League final before making the position his own the very next season. While the England star’s ability on the ball stands out above nothing else, it’s also been his near-impeccable fitness record that has also stood out.
He’s missed just a handful of Premier League matches since 2018 with either James Milner, Neco Williams or Joe Gomez standing in when required. Both Milner and Williams are no longer at the club while Calvin Ramsay, who was originally signed as a right-back who could potentially step in for Alexander-Arnold, was sent out on loan to Preston this season.
The issue for Liverpool – much like they had before signing Kostas Tsimikas on the left side of defence – has been finding a player capable and willing to play back-up to Alexander-Arnold. Gomez has been hit-and-miss when pushed out to take up the right-back position. While defensively more adept than his compatriot, Gomez doesn’t have the same attacking guile that Alexander-Arnold possesses.
But Klopp may well have to rely on the 26-year-old with Alexander-Arnold set for a longer spell out on the sidelines with his hamstring injury. The Liverpool boss has confirmed that Alexander-Arnold is yet to return to team training and it will need more time to recover.
It likely means the full-back will not feature in Liverpool’s Europa League group stage opener against LASK next week with the Reds facing West Ham, Leicester (Carabao Cup), Tottenham, Union Saint-Gilloise (Europa League) and Brighton before the next international break. Realistically, Klopp may well need to call upon Gomez for most of those matches if Alexander-Arnold is still some way away from making his return.
But the versatile defender has had fitness issues of his own in recent years and an injury setback for him could leave Klopp in a tricky situation. Summer signing Wataru Endo occasionally played at right-back during his time playing back in Japan.
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However, the Japan international won’t be seen as the answer to Liverpool’s problems. The Reds have been punished in the past for ignoring glaring holes in their squad.
Klopp was forced to play Rhys Williams and Nathaniel Phillips in the 2020/21 season due to a shortage of centre-back options that season while Liverpool’s midfield was awfully depleted last year. Both areas have since been fixed – although another centre-back will be needed soon with Joel Matip entering the final year of his contract.
But Klopp is now paying the price for Liverpool rolling the dice on Alexander-Arnold’s fitness record.
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