By Toby Davis
(Reuters) – Few things have fazed Liverpool’s defensive tyro Trent Alexander-Arnold this season so it is no surprise that he is taking the prospect of keeping Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo under wraps in the Champions League final firmly in his stride.
The 19-year-old has been one of the most compelling stories of Liverpool’s thrilling run to the final, having greeted every challenge with a nerveless calm since marking his Champions League debut with a goal in their qualifying round tie against Hoffenheim in August.
Whether it was his man-of-the-match performance in their 3-0 victory over Manchester City in the quarter-final, first leg at Anfield or his unflappable demeanour as they ousted AS Roma in the semis, Alexander-Arnold has risen to every occasion.
Should he start against Madrid on Saturday he would become the youngest player in the club’s history to appear in a European final.
It is not a stat that is likely to instil fear in Liverpool’s young right back and nor is the prospect of facing five-times Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo.
The Portugal captain had won four Champions League titles with two clubs before Alexander-Arnold even made his debut in the competition this season, but the youngster believes even the greatest players have chinks in their armour.
“He’s one of the best players ever. He’s done unbelievable things in the game, but he’s got weaknesses as well, as every player has,” Liverpool’s academy graduate told reporters.
“On Saturday we’ll try to exploit them and stop him from doing what he does best.”
The defender said he would be watching videos of Ronaldo ahead of the final to learn more about where those weaknesses lie, but he would not be looking to copy other players who had kept the competition’s top scorer quiet.
“I’m different to everyone else,” he said. “Everyone is different as a player, the only person I need to look at is him (Ronaldo). To be able to know what he does and when he does it. To be able to know what he’s going to do is the difficult thing.”
It is a typically assured outlook from a player whose confidence in his own ability has helped him cement his place in a Liverpool rearguard that has been much improved since the signing of Virgil van Dijk for a record 75 million pounds in January.
The Dutch centre back has brought stability to a Liverpool defence that frequently wobbled under pressure before his arrival.
Twenty-eight goals were leaked in the 23 Premier League games before the Dutchman’s arrival, while only 10 were conceded in the 15 since.
“He’s a leader, he takes control,” Alexander-Arnold said. “He’s really got authority. He always wants us to do better. He’s a hard worker in the gym and on the training pitch and he tries to get better every day like the rest of us.
“On Saturday hopefully he does what he has done since he came in and has a really good game.”
Whatever happens on Saturday, Alexander-Arnold will be jetting off to the World Cup next month after England manager Gareth Southgate named the uncapped defender in his 23-man squad for the tournament.
“It’s exciting times. It’s down to my team mates and everyone who has helped me get better, the manager, everyone in the background that’s helped me,” the defender said.
“We’ve all pushed forward as a group and got better over the course of the season.”
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(Reporting by Toby Davis, editing by Pritha Sarkar)