15 January 2017 was the date it all came together for Trent Alexander-Arnold.
In the four years since, he’s shattered the glass ceiling at Anfield. He’s broken records, he’s been a world champion, a European champion, a Premier League champion. He’s been directly involved in just short of 50 goals, he’s raced into double figures for England caps, and emerged as one of the best right-backs on the planet.
Exactly four years since he was thrown in at the deep end at Old Trafford for his first Premier League start, he has already accomplished more than most can dream of over the course of entire careers.
Yet as he prepares to face off with United for the fifth time this weekend, it still feels as though he has something left to prove.
He may have done it all and won it all so far, but he will take to the pitch at Anfield on Sunday off the back of one of his poorest performances in a Liverpool shirt.
He surrendered possession 38 times in the 1-0 defeat at Southampton, by far the most of any player in a single match this season, and those recurring questions about his defensive abilities had good reason to resurface after he switched off and lost Danny Ings for the only goal of the match.
While his formidable attacking output can normally compensate for his lapses, even that has waned this season. He’s managed two assists in 15 Premier League appearances, and none in his last three, as Liverpool have dropped points against West Brom, Newcastle and the Saints. Ahead of the Reds’ biggest match of the season so far, their talismanic right-back couldn’t be in a worse run of form.
The thing is…have we considered that it’s just that? Form?
Trent, and Liverpool, have set the bar so high for themselves over the past few seasons, that any deviation from their freakish standards is viewed as catastrophic. Their success has shifted the goalposts on what is and isn’t acceptable, to the point that they’ve gone three league games without a win for the first time in three years, and there is already talk that one more defeat could write the season off.
As the Premier League crashes back into the normality of a genuinely open title race, with four points separating the top five teams, it’s becoming apparent that it was unrealistic to expect Liverpool to keep brushing 100 points season after season. Just as it was unrealistic to expect Mohamed Salah to keep up the Lionel Messi-level goalscoring he exhibited in his first season.
Just as it’s unrealistic to expect Trent Alexander-Arnold, a 22-year-old who has already racked up more than 150 senior appearances, to keep up his ridiculous form for an entire career without ever having a dip.
The last few years have desensitised us from normality on all fronts, but what we’re seeing now is normal. It’s human. A young player, burned out after the festive schedule, going through a rough patch of form. No more than that.
There can be no denying he is low on confidence. As he trudged off the pitch with ten minutes to go against Southampton, his head was down; something we’ve rarely seen since he first entered the fray at Old Trafford in 2017. But it’s something he’ll snap out of sooner rather than later.
He just needs a turning point. A big game in which he can pick himself up, dust himself down, and remind everyone he is the same player who picked Leicester apart by himself just over a year ago.
If only there was a potentially defining derby match on the immediate horizon…