The street from academy potential to first-team routine is one that just a select few complete. The clubs particularly are not ready to be patient and wait to earn the grade. The requirements are great, the options in a transfer market tantalizing. When one does make a breakthrough it feels to take notice and when he’s currently curling in free-kicks on his Champions League debut. Playing to European contest — a leg, albeit for his club in their return — the 18-year-old scored a goal that he is going to relive into his dotage. After Ermin Bicakcic on 35 minutes had fouled outside the playground of Hoffenheim Sadio Mané, position over the ball 30 yards out and at a place, the right-back of Liverpool curled his shot and into the bottom corner of the net. The ball went out-to-in, left Oliver Baumann, the goalkeeper of the home side, shaking his head with the man and grief.
OK, that might be pushing it but what became evident on a night where Liverpool took a long stride towards qualifying for the group stages of the Champions League for the first time in 3 years is that the club has a bona fide could-be-the-next-big-thing in their hands. For Alexander-Arnold not just shone with the goal that gave the lead in a match to the people in the Rhein-Neckar-Arena they went on to win 2-1 but also with his functionality. Besides the moment he let Mark Uth the room to pull one back for Julian Nagelsmann’s side three minutes from fulltime the adolescent was defensively sound while, going forward, he always threatened with his athletic runs and smart deliveries. Seeing in his role his praise was not held back by Steven Gerrard. That was close to 2 years ago and ever since there’s been the yearning, for another alike, from fans and employees to make the grade. Many have tried but all have failed — until today, it appears, from West Derby in the form of the scouser.
It would be unfair and unwise to pile too much stress on Alexander-Arnold but equally, there’s no denying his potential. Having joined the Liverpool academy at age six, he represented the team at different age levels before bursting into the first team last season, making 12 appearances under Jürgen Klopp and impressing the director to such an extent that he persuaded the player to miss England’s ultimately victorious European Under-19 Championship last month so as to embark on a complete pre-season at senior level. The decision proved a wise one following an inviting showing with last night’s standout at the draw at Watford screen up. Nathaniel Clyne no longer appears likely to return to the side after he recovers from his hamstring and back issues and, should Alexander-Arnold keep his progression, it is going to provide Liverpool with a supply of much-needed positivity in a time when the future of Philippe Coutinho remains uncertain and the club’s efforts to bolster a squad brief of depth and quality before the end of the transfer window seem to have come to a standstill.
“This child’s obsessed with improving and getting better on a daily basis,” added Gerrard, now back at Liverpool in his job as a Under-18s trainer, and on the evidence of last night something Alexander-Arnold might need to work on is staying awake for the whole 90 minutes. He had been badly out of position as Uth gathered a long diagonal pass and drove a shot past Simon Mignolet to shoot some of the sheens off Liverpool’s win ahead of the return at Anfield next Wednesday and after they had gone 2-0 up via an own goal by Havard Nordtveit. Alexander-Arnold was also booked for dissent but those were finally minor negatives on an overwhelmingly favorable night in south-west Germany for the participant, one where he had more touches than some of his team-mates (72) and scored his first senior goal in the most stunning and distinctive way possible. It is up to him to demonstrate that he has to go with that promise.