Given the volume of gleeful social media posts about Jeremy Doku vs. Trent Alexander-Arnold before Man City-Liverpool kicked off, it was probably inevitable that the ‘skinned’, ‘destroyed’ and ‘cooked’ posts would follow the game – regardless of the result.
More disheartening was the mainstream media following suit.
According to BBC Sport, “Alexander-Arnold had a tough game defensively trying to contain the lively Jeremy Doku,” while the Mirror claimed that the right-back had “such a torrid time” that he “must have felt he was locked inside a washing machine.”
It left me wondering: did I accidentally watch a different game? So I went back and re-examined the footage…
After conceding four against Chelsea, City adjusted their buildup structure.
Not only did Nathan Ake replace the more front-footed Josko Gvardiol, but City’s back three stayed narrower in possession – denying Liverpool’s wingers the space that Chelsea‘s exploited.
Ederson was also more involved in the buildup, forcing Darwin Nunez to abandon his marker and press him.
As a result, Liverpool were at a four-vs-three disadvantage in midfield, and City repeatedly beat the press to find the free player.
Usually this was Bernardo Silva. Despite playing on the left side, he played the Kevin De Bruyne role; receiving the ball between the lines and playing forwards.
Joel Matip was forced to drop off Silva, lest he leave space in behind for either Doku or Erling Haaland to run into.
Silva therefore had the freedom to link with Doku out wide in a two-on-one against Alexander-Arnold.
This contextualises the battle between Alexander-Arnold and Doku on that side.
Liverpool were defending five-vs-four once their press was beaten, meaning Alexander-Arnold’s only real option was to delay Doku until a team-mate could track back and support.
So what about those dribbles past?
Here’s a moment in the first half. City get Doku on the ball, facing up Alexander-Arnold.
The full-back is much better at defending forwards than defending backwards, but here he sticks to his task and delays Doku.
By the time City’s attackers are ready to receive the ball, Mo Salah is back to help and the defence is in place. Doku is forced to turn inside and recycle possession.
Statistically, this is Doku ‘dribbling past’ Alexander-Arnold. But our eyes can tell us that once the one-on-one battle was underway, City’s attack broke down.
This happened several times during the game.
Doku also created four ‘big chances’ in the game, more than any player on either side.
Two of these came against Matip, who was rightly praised for an overall good game. Here’s one of the two Doku created against Alexander-Arnold.
Again, they go one-on-one out wide, but this time Doku bursts past the defender and to the byline…
…but when he cuts his cross back, it’s dealt with by the defence.
On this occasion, Alexander-Arnold is beaten; but the delay is long enough for Liverpool’s back line to get into position and neutralise the threat.
The fourth chance, Doku successfully beat Alexander-Arnold, leading to a shot from Haaland that was well saved.
Twenty seconds later, Alexander-Arnold drilled in Liverpool’s equalising goal.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 26, 2023
Occasionally, the two were genuinely competing one-on-one. Whether it was competing for a throw in…
…counter-attacking after a corner…
…or targeting the byline for a cross…
…there was only ever one result.
Let them cook?
Given how the game played out, it’s curious to see the post-match discourse. Naturally, as human beings, we make stories out of events to help us understand them.
But there are stories in football that persist – Mo Salah being selfish, Curtis Jones not being good enough, Alexander-Arnold being ‘cooked’ by every dribbly winger he faces – despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
In fact, for those wishing to criticise Alexander-Arnold, his defending of Ake for City’s goal would hold far more weight than his dealings with Doku.
Yet it’s the story set before the game that continues to be told.
Where these stories come from and why they are told is up for debate. But we don’t have to accept them as fact just because we’re told to.
That includes the piece you’ve just read. What do you think?