Trent Alexander-Arnold felt at ease watching Liverpool’s arch-rivals end a six-year trophy drought at Wembley last weekend.
Until full time. Then more famous stirred emotions around Manchester United.
“I watched the game, but as soon as they were getting ready to lift the trophy, I switched off. I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m watching that,'” says Alexander-Arnold.
“Knowing that they lifted that trophy? Worse. Oh yeah. It definitely burns.”
It was just the League Cup, Is it? Don’t believe it. Ask United fans and they will say that with the club’s 67th title they have overtaken Liverpool as the most successful club in England. The Kop will argue that the Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup don’t really count, making Liverpool 45 twice as good as United.
Alexander-Arnold’s anxiety is fueled more by recent history. A year ago, Liverpool players were dancing at Wembley and coyly deflecting questions about the quadruple.
Now United head to Anfield aiming for four trophies, leaving Alexander-Arnold an odd mix of frustrated and relieved.
“It shows you how football changes very quickly,” he explains.
“Look at Arsenal. At the end of last season, everyone was talking about failure because of failure in the top four. They are suddenly leading the fight for the title. In football terms, these changes really do happen overnight. It’s the same with Manchester United when you look at the difference now compared to last year. Even the start of this season when they lost to Brentford. How many people said ‘here we go again?’ Now they fly. Occurs. That’s why I won’t allow myself to be obsessed with what happened to us right now because I know that in a few months, or maybe even weeks, things will change. I’m determined to keep my composure and balance about what happened.”
Adjusting to Liverpool being so far behind has taken time though.
While the outside world wrote off Anfield’s title hopes before Christmas, the 24-year-old was in denial until last month.
“I realized we had to change the targets before the Everton game (February 13), after we lost 3-0 to Wolves,” he says.
“The gaffer has given us two days off to think. Before that there was a sense of trying to figure out what happened and where we left off. You find yourself in a kind of limbo. There was a moment in the season when we asked ourselves: ‘Are we still going to the league?’ Then we had to think about what our real goal was. As a team we had to solve it. Once you get used to the title races, that’s it. That’s what excites you. You can’t imagine anything else at this time of the season.
“At the start of this season if you asked us what we expected in March, it would be getting closer to the top 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 games thinking if they lose or drop out two points we will attack them.
“It will be difficult to win the trophy this season. It seems impossible. We’re going to need a miracle, really. So there is a different type of motivation and it is difficult to adapt.
“We have drawn the line and we know that the top four is everything now.
“I can’t imagine not being in the Champions League. Since I’ve been in the senior team, it’s been a constant. This is what motivates us all. As a club, we have to play in the Champions League. That’s what we expect. We didn’t make it easy for ourselves, but the level we’re at and the quality we have as players means we expect that.”
What will it take for Liverpool to return to last year’s standards?
“A mixture of things. We have new players who are settling in and finding their way. There is potential for the arrival of new players,” he says.
“And then it’s about getting our consistency back and making everything work the way it is. The manager and the staff will prepare us for it. I don’t think the drop is so big that it rules out the possibility of achieving something special next season. I really don’t. We have an established infrastructure. Everything is here to ensure that, with just a few changes, we will compete for titles and trophies.
“I feel my own performances as well as the team’s. They reflected – sometimes good, sometimes bad. Recently I have felt myself finding more consistency. There were more clean sheets and more victories.”
Klopp says his players can be inspired by United’s quick turnaround, not just Marcus Rashfordwhose tussles with Alexander-Arnold were crucial at times.
“We’re not overly close, to be honest, especially outside of England,” says Alexander-Arnold.
“Everything is cool in English camps. We will talk. We will have a good joke like any player. Nothing special. It is in very good shape. But he is one of those players who is always a threat and always has been. Players are rated based on their stats. For strikers, it’s all about whether you score or assist. But even last year you knew when he was a huge threat against him. Everything was there. Maybe it’s something that those watching don’t really see, but as a player out there you feel it. It wouldn’t matter if I was against him and he scored ten games in a row, or if he only scored ten in two seasons, you feel that threat and you know you have to be on top of your game to deal with it. He’s one of those players who has that.”
There is a sense that there is more respect between players and clubs than there used to be, a by-product of Manchester City being their mutual ‘enemy’.
But Alexander-Arnold insists United against 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 worse. Whenever Liverpool and United play each other, you always expect a competitive game. Even if the clubs aren’t where you’d expect them to be in the league – no matter what trophies they’re going for – you’d never say they’re not good teams, or it’s going to be anything but a tough game. I’m sure they would say the same thing if the game felt harder and bigger because it was us. There is always a great motive on both sides. Regardless, Liverpool v Manchester United is like a Merseyside derby. Circumstances are pretty irrelevant. It’s one of those games in the season that every fan wants to win. The rivalry is just as great. They feel the same. Three points mean more in these games. It gives you new life for the next few games.”
So when they meet next season, will a trophy be finally on the line for both clubs?
“It would be nice if at some point there could be a title race between us,” says Alexander-Arnold. “I think it would take the rivalry to another level.”