There was something bizarre about Sky’s coverage of Liverpool’s win at Villa Park on Tuesday night.
It sometimes seemed like there were more close-ups to Trent Alexander-Arnold’s face than focusing on the actual game.
That was certainly the case when he prepared to take free-kicks.
The cameras zoomed in, capturing every twitch, blink and breath.
Then the Liverpool right-back would kick the ball out of the target.
How many free-kick goals has Alexander-Arnold scored in the last two Premier League seasons?
Think about it for a moment. He plays in an offensive team that has a lot of opportunities.
He plays in a team with players like Mohamed Salah, Thiago Alcantara and Sadio Mane – wonderful ball attackers.
So, considering he takes the vast majority of their free-kicks, one would expect him to have scored quite a few of them.
The reality is very different. Alexander-Arnold has scored just one free-kick goal in the past two seasons.
He still takes them with that kind of record, but much of what is happening around the right-back is baffling.
The Alexander-Arnold forces are well known. Its crossing and overtaking can come out of the top drawer. Some of the balls he delivered that led to Liverpool goals came out of the top drawer.
But he’s a right-back. Last time I checked, a right-back is a defender – and Alexander-Arnold is a terrible defender.
Years ago there is an old story about a Scottish player getting dizzy when attempting a tackle. The manager asks the physio how he is and gets the answer, ”he doesn’t know who he is”. ”Tell him he’s Pelé” was the manager’s response.
I sometimes wonder if someone pissed off Alexander-Arnold by telling him he’s Pelé.
Watch the video clip of Tottenham’s goal at Anfield last weekend. Alexander-Arnold walks around the place, in a world of his own, perhaps dreaming that he is in the Maracanã.
It’s not hard to see why Gareth Southgate isn’t convinced by him. Not giving in to the Alexander-Arnold hype might just be one of the England manager’s best calls.
I expect Liverpool to win the FA Cup final on Saturday with Chelsea, and the right-back could well deliver a game-changing assist.
But, if Chelsea do end up winning, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if it was because of Alexander-Arnold’s sloppy defending.
Worse teams than Chelsea have exposed him as a weak link but, overall, I think Liverpool have more going for them.
Liverpool have had an extra day to prepare, and that could make a significant difference.
They have also been in better shape. Chelsea have had their ups and downs. It’s hard not to think that the commotion behind the scenes had a significant impact.
This will be the fourth meeting between these two teams this season – and the others were very close.
Two draws in the Premier League, a win on penalties for the Reds in the Carabao Cup final.
But there is an upside to Liverpool’s hunger this season. After such a dismal defense of their Premier League crown in 2020/21, they are hungry for silverware.
And they have so many different ways of hurting you. Sadio Mane is in the form of his life, Luis Diaz has been breathtaking since joining in January, and Liverpool are often deadly around the corners too.
Diogo Jota and Salah have been in a dip in form but, if they click, we all know what they can do.
The rotation might not suit Jota. His form suffered when Diaz’s arrival meant he wasn’t starting as regularly.
Salah’s plunge could simply be down to weariness – both mental and physical. No player from Europe’s top five leagues has played more minutes in the last five seasons.
And the record of his involvement with Egypt since Christmas has also been enormous. There was a lot of disappointment to deal with.
Ultimately, though, like many games, it’s likely to be won and lost in midfield.
Fabinho will be a big miss for Liverpool in this sector because he is so good at sniffing out danger before anyone else notices.
But I think the Reds will always be strong here. Jordan Henderson is relatively fresh, Thiago is in great form and I wouldn’t go with the Naby Keita inconsistency.
Instead, Klopp should trust James Milner. He may be 36, but he’s still in fantastic shape and has the focus and discipline to slot into Fabinho’s position.
Chelsea have their own injury problems and it’s unclear if we’ll see N’Golo Kante and Jorginho.
Thomas Tuchel also has a decision to make on Romelu Lukaku.
His signing didn’t work out but, when the Belgian is on it, he’s very hard to stop.
And I didn’t like what I saw of Virgil van Dijk against Aston Villa. He was sloppy in the way he did his business and was too fond of yelling at others and pointing fingers rather than doing his job.
That bit of arrogance is often under the surface with the Dutchman. He must be at his best for the Cup final.
The signing of Erling Haaland weighs on this game and the rest of Liverpool’s games.
Liverpool and Chelsea have been closest to Manchester City in recent years, but Haaland is changing the script.
City have always been hard to catch, now they have the most exciting player of his generation.
I have no doubt that Haaland will be the dominant striker of the next decade.
For me, he is already ahead of Kylian Mbappe. He will love the Premier League, his game is made for it.
Liverpool and Chelsea fans should therefore savor this Cup final. Once Haaland arrives, it will be much more difficult to win trophies.
As for this game, it will be a battle but Liverpool seem a bit more convincing. Liverpool victory.