Trent's dead-ball special

Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold (not seen) opening his account for his hometown team on his European debut with a blistering free kick to remember.
Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold (not seen) opening his account for his hometown team on his European debut with a blistering free kick to remember.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Just 18, only Scouser in squad makes a name for himself with goal as Reds draw first blood

SINSHEIM (Germany) • The ball was positioned 30 metres out, central to the Hoffenheim goal and the opportunity to conjure something out of nothing was too good to turn down.

For once, Philippe Coutinho's absence was to prove a blessing in disguise for Liverpool.

While the Brazil midfielder nursed a back injury at home, at the same time holding out for a move to Barcelona, it was left to Trent Alexander-Arnold, an 18-year-old right-back, to step into the spotlight on Tuesday and create the sort of jaw-dropping moment that could define his career.

A swish of his right boot and his effort arced goalwards, finding a gap in the wall before nestling in the corner, with Hoffenheim goalkeeper Oliver Baumann rooted to his spot.

A path into the Champions League group stage had suddenly opened up for the English Premier League side, who won the first leg of the Champions League play-off 2-1.

If it spoke volumes that the homegrown teenager was prepared to take responsibility by stepping forward in his first European game, then the reality that he was designated for dead-ball duties by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp ahead of more senior team-mates Emre Can and Alberto Moreno serves to illustrate the size of his talent.

Klopp admitted that Coutinho would have been on set-piece duties had he started. And, while he said that Alexander-Arnold was guilty of trying to play offside for Hoffenheim's goal towards the end, he praised the player's willingness to accept the responsibility of taking the free kick.

"I have to say for an 18-year-old to... kick a free kick like that is more interesting and exciting for me than a little mistake he made," he said. "He has still some things to learn. He thought it was offside but it was not unfortunately."

Steven Gerrard, the former captain who coached Alexander-Arnold at the age of 16, said the youngster is destined to be a star.

"To have the character to step up and take that before the likes of (Jordan) Henderson, (Sadio) Mane, it says a lot," Gerrard said. "He's going to be a top, top player and I think (right-back) Nathaniel Clyne has to be very careful this season because he's already breathing down his neck. He's letting Klopp know he's ready for the big time."

Alexander-Arnold, who grew up close to Liverpool's training ground in West Derby and joined the club's academy at age six, reflected: "It is a thing of dreams to make your European debut for your boyhood club, and to make it with a goal was very special for me.

"I got egged on to take the free kick, to be honest. I never put my hand up first, but I had the confidence to take it and it paid off."

The result leaves Liverpool in pole position ahead of the return leg at Anfield next Wednesday.

Midfielder James Milner made sure of victory as his shot deflected off Havard Nordtveit for an own goal in the 74th minute.

However, Hoffenheim pulled a goal back in the 87th minute when substitute Mark Uth managed to beat the offside trap.

"The goal they scored before the end isn't so favourable for us," said Klopp. "We need Anfield in the return leg. This thing isn't over yet."

Hoffenheim's coach Julian Nagelsmann insisted his side are not daunted by the prospect of needing a win at Anfield to progress. He said: "I don't make a difference between home or away matches, so I don't care."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE. THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'Trent's dead-ball special'. Print Edition | Subscribe