Neil Humphreys: Alexander-Arnold can be great but Pool's other defenders are hopeless
Alexander-Arnold impresses with his maturity but central defence remains a liability
Trent Alexander-Arnold grew up across the road from Liverpool's training ground, dreaming of becoming their captain one day.
The teenager might as well be handed the armband now.
Against Hoffenheim yesterday morning (Singapore time), the 18-year-old displayed a natural leadership that was beyond his skittish teammates.
Juergen Klopp sent out a boy to do a man's job, probably because his other defenders were doing Mr Bean's job.
If a movie was made about Liverpool's fullbacks in the first leg of the Champions League play-off, which the Reds won 2-1, it'd be Butch Clumsy and the Sundance Kid.
Alexander-Arnold and Alberto Moreno were chalk and cheese, apples and stale oranges; polar opposites with only a shirt colour in common.
The native Scouser scored a sublime free-kick, mastered dead-ball deliveries and defied his inexperience.
Spaniard Moreno lost his runners and made a mockery of his experience.
I have to say, for an 18-year-old to have the b**** to kick a free-kick is better than the mistake.
Juergen Klopp praises Trent Alexander-Arnold despite his defensive mistake in Mark Uth’s late striker for Hoffenheim
Moreno is 25. Dejan Lovren is 28. Even Joel Matip is 26, yet none of them came close to emulating Alexander-Arnold's maturity in possession or his ability on the ball.
The kid's copybook was slightly blotted with an ill-judged attempt to play offside, which allowed Mark Uth to reduce the deficit and ensure a jittery second-leg next week.
But it was the hapless Lovren who had played Uth onside, the Croat jogging back like a Dad trailing his toddler around a playground.
Defensively, the Reds remain a mixed bag of uncertainty and unforced errors, with Alexander-Arnold looking like a rare pearl washed up in a stormy sea.
The interminable Philippe Coutinho saga is not only debilitating, it's also overshadowing more pressing issues.
Liverpool fans are loathe to admit it, but the Reds would survive without the irrepressible Brazilian.
Sadio Mane's intelligent work against Hoffenheim hinted at the standout season that his talent deserves.
Roberto Firmino continues to improve, Mohamed Salah will soon settle down and, by the time Adam Lallana returns, Coutinho may already be a fading memory.
Liverpool will get by up front. It's the brittle-boned back four that puts the team's spine at risk.
Moreno's pace earned him the left-back spot ahead of James Milner, but his troubles confirmed the maxim about the first couple of yards being in the brain.
Raw speed has less immediate value for a fullback when his marker finds himself in a different postcode.
When Milner came on a second-half substitute, he laboured like a 31-year-old midfielder pulling a tractor up the Bavarian Alps.
But he still found space on the left to create Liverpool's decisive second goal and offered a left-sided stability that had been lacking.
At centre back, Lovren continues to give the impression that, for him, a belief in man-marking is like a belief in the Tooth Fairy. It's something for kids to indulge in, rather than grown men.
Fortunately, Liverpool's new kid on the block did just that.
Alexander-Arnold defended set-pieces, but it was his role in offensive set-pieces that dropped jaws among the Liverpool faithful.
His corners and crosses were practically bent like Beckham and warranted better finishes.
So he finished one off himself.
His whipped free-kick in the 35th minute summarised the youngster's game: adventurous, aggressive and decisive.
A feisty colt among carthorses, Alexander-Arnold raced along the right flank as if running on a conveyor belt.
He had hinted at his potential when he handled Anthony Martial in his first Premier League start at Old Trafford in January. His first Champions League start feels like a rubber-stamp of authority.
Only 14 appearances into his career, Alexander-Arnold's pace and set-piece reliability alone deserve a sustained run in the side, regardless of Nathaniel Clyne's fitness.
Klopp will privately acknowledge that his most accomplished defensive performance came from his most inexperienced defender, a paradox that needs to be addressed.
The beginning of Alexander-Arnold's career must coincide with the beginning of the end of those around him.
Until new signing Andrew Robertson shows his worth, Milner should manfully hold the fort. Moreno has become more of a hindrance than a help.
Lovren's latest snooze ahead of an opponent's goal is the latest wake-up call for Klopp. His central defence remains a liability.
Hoffenheim's glittering debut in the Champions League left their forwards a little starry-eyed around the penalty box. Liverpool won't be so fortunate next time.
At the very least, the Reds' narrow win has simplified Klopp's to-do list.
Sell Coutinho. Sign a defence.
Alexander-Arnold offfered a glimpse of the future. The rest belong in the past.
OTHER FIRST-LEG RESULTS
- Qarabag 1 FC Copenhagen 0
- Sporting Lisbon 0 Steaua Bucharest 0
- Young Boys 0 CSKA Moscow 1
- APOEL Nicosia 2 Slavia Prague 0