Trying To Find Similar Players (Again)

Trent Alexander-Arnold

While attacking full-backs aren’t anything new, Liverpool’s use of full-backs, particularly Trent Alexander-Arnold, has gotten a lot of attention lately. Rather than just shuttling back and forth along the line, Liverpool’s full-backs are also a huge part of Liverpool’s progression and attack. Andy Robertson is more a typical full-back but Alexander-Arnold, with his passing range and crossing ability, tends to operate slightly differently. He’s more likely to hang around the corner of the box to try and curl a ball around the defence than he is to overlap an attacker and take the ball to the byline.

With this in mind, I tried to whittle the suggestions down by looking at players who not only put up strong creative numbers from right-back but also those who tend to cross and progress the ball a lot too.

The U23 player who’s output was most similar to Alexander-Arnold was Alexis Saelemaekers who joined Milan from Anderlecht in January. He spent time at both right-wing and right-back, but put up some good crossing and progression numbers. He’s also the player I wanted Wolves to sign last summer as back-up/rotation option for Matt Doherty. I’m not going to mention him here because he’s just joined Milan, but he seems an interesting player to keep an eye on.

Joel Pereira – Spartak Trnava

He’s now joined Spartak Trnava but Pereira’s strong numbers come from his time with Doxa in Cyprus. I have absolutely no idea on the quality of the Cypriot league (or Pereira) and it’s not even on clubelo in full, so this is going to be short. Pereira has also been moved a couple of times since last season. After finishing 9th with Doxa, 5th place Omonia Nikosia signed him before he was loaned out to Spartak. In 2017/18 he also played in the Portuguese 2nd division and came through at Porto.

While the above raises quite a few question marks, his numbers were solid last season. His xA was behind Alexander-Arnolds, 0.19 vs 0.24 per 90, but his crossing figures were around the same as the England international’s.

Crosses per 905.145.02
Cross success rate31.0833.33
Deep completed crosses per 901.461.95
Passes into penalty area per 905.525.37

Crossing can be inefficient and it’s questionable just what counts as a completed cross in certain data (like if it goes over everyone in the box but lands with a wide player on the other side of the pitch) but Pereira does match Alexander-Arnold well for all of the above while playing for a much less dominant side.

Pereira does make less progressive passes per 90, but more than most other full-backs who pop up as having a similar output. This could be because not many are tasked with progressing the ball in the same way as Alexander-Arnold though. As a small consolation, Pereira does make slightly more progressive runs per 90.

Unless he’s been injured, it doesn’t seem very encouraging he’s only played two games this season after such a strong showing last season but he does seem intriguing. Looking through some of his clips you get a lot of crossing.

You even get a switch of play (albeit with plenty of time and space for both passer and receiver) which seems to have become a Liverpool signature.

And finally, this clip where he starts and finishes the move.

As I said before, I have no idea how to put these numbers into context, but he’s still only 23-years-old. He may be one worth keeping an eye on, particularly if he can put forward some impressive numbers while on loan in Slovakia.

Other Mentions

Honestly, not many players fit the profile of Alexander-Arnold too well. The hardest part is finding players who put up strong numbers for progressive passes. Not to take anything away from Alexander-Arnold, but there’s a good chance that it’s because not many full-backs are tasked with being the progression hub of their team.

Some names who pop up, like Álvaro Tejero (at Eibar now but the numbers used are from his loan spell with Albacete last year) and Pedro Porro (was with Girona last year now on loan at Real Valladolid from Man City) but they don’t fit the Alexander-Arnold mould. They seem like more orthodox attacking right-backs who cross a lot.

Interestingly, left-backs who pop up as similar who also have strong progressive pass numbers are Angeliño and Kieran Tierney, so it’ll be interesting to see how they get on at their new clubs.