Inside story on all members of Liverpool's squad from Trent Alexander-Arnold
James Pearce's big interview with Trent on Liverpool's season, Champions League heroics against Barcelona and dressing room secrets of all Reds stars
And Trent Alexander-Arnold gave the ECHO's James Pearce an exclusive guide to the squad that has helped Liverpool return to the final for a second year running.
The West Derby-born youngster has enjoyed a wonderful season for Liverpool - and now he gives us the inside track on his team-mates:
Trent Alexander-Arnold is living the dream.
On Saturday night the Liverpool right-back will become the youngest player in history to start in successive Champions League finals when he lines up against Tottenham.
The 20-year-old from West Derby has enjoyed a campaign to savour - from breaking the record for most assists by a Premier League defender to helping inspire the Reds' remarkable passage to Madrid with his heroics against Barcelona.
The Academy graduate has been in the thick of it every step of the way. The ECHO's James Pearce sat down with Alexander-Arnold at Melwood to get the inside track on Jurgen Klopp's Champions League finalists.
The youngster provided a fascinating insight into the dynamic of the dressing room and the sense of unity which has spurred the Reds on to greater heights. He started by assessing his own development......
At the start of this season I was probably still a little bit immature and still in my shell. Throughout the course of the campaign I feel like I've matured both on and off the pitch. I've started to feel like a more valued member of the team and I've started to have more of a voice inside the dressing room. It's been an amazing experience to help this club reach another Champions League final. We've grown as a team and we've had some great nights along the way.
If I had to pick one moment then on a personal level it would have to be my corner that led to the fourth goal against Barcelona. It was such an important goal for us as it helped us get through. It's the reason why we're preparing for Saturday's final in Madrid. Was it planned? No. It was just a spur of the moment thing, seeing the opportunity to take it quickly and trying to execute it correctly.
Luckily, Divock Origi was alive in the box and was able to finish it. I think it's one of those goals that will be remembered for many years to come. That was such a special night. I was the last player off the pitch because I wanted to savour every second.
He's been massive for us. From the moment he came in, he showed everyone his quality. At the start of the season we kept so many clean sheets and it was down to his saves and his ability to command his penalty box. One of his first games was against Brighton at home when he came out and did that little chip over their attacker.
It took everyone by surprise, including his own team-mates! But it just showed how comfortable he was on the ball and we had never really seen that before. As a defender, it's brilliant to have someone with that kind of confidence playing behind you. He's happy to have the ball at his feet and he isn't scared to take risks. He has blossomed throughout the season and his save late on against Napoli is one of the big reasons why we find ourselves in this position.
It was world-class. Off the pitch, he's very chilled. Sometimes he only gets changed into his training kit two or three minutes before the session starts – he's that relaxed! He puts the work in when he needs to and then away from the pitch he's very laid-back.
He's been a great addition.
One of my best relationships within the club is with Robbo, both on and off the pitch. He's just someone who is always happy, always laughing, someone who just takes the seriousness away from things. When things are serious, you know that Robbo will be there smiling and will say something that takes all that pressure away from you.
Everyone within the club will tell you that when Robbo walks into a room he just lights it up, he lightens the mood. He's always joking around but at the same time when he goes out on to the pitch, he's a serious guy, he wants to win.
He's competitive, he's focused and he's fully committed. It's an amazing balance that he has and it works perfectly for him. Everyone is over the moon with how he's progressed since he joined the club two years ago.
It's frightening to think how he's kicked on from those early days when he was waiting patiently for a chance. He's been so consistent this season, both defensively and in terms of what he offers going forward that he has to be regarded as the best left-back in the world.
Virgil van Dijk
What can I say about Virgil? It's tough because everyone has already said everything about him this season. You run out of things to say! It's a bit like it was with Mo last season in that he's been that good that it almost leaves you speechless. Last season Mo's numbers spoke for themselves. He was breaking all kinds of records and it was there for everyone to see. With defenders, it's not quite like that. You can't judge it solely as an individual because you are part of a unit. It's unbelievable to see a centre-back get so much praise, it's rare because it's usually the attacking players who pick up all the awards.
You have to do something truly special as a defender to get that plaudits like that and that's exactly what Virgil has done this season. He has dominated every attacker I've seen him come up against. It's so rare to see someone operating at that kind of level every single week and it motivates us all as players. The other defenders in the team want to get to the stage that Virgil is at right now.
When you see him walk out on to the pitch, you know within yourself that the attacker has got no chance against him. You can see that attackers are scared to go on his side. It means that strikers tend to pull out more on to my side more than the left! But it just goes to show what a presence he is. Virgil has basically played every minute of every game and I don't think he's put in a performance of less than eight out of 10 which is frightening. Hopefully he'll keep up that form, keep picking up his individual awards and help us pick up some silverware along the way.
I don't think Joel has got anywhere near the credit he deserves for the contribution he's made in the second half of the season. Virgil tends to get the praise for all the clean sheets and keeping the attackers quiet, but Joel has performed outstandingly well. At the start of the season I think people maybe dismissed him and didn't think he would be playing that much. The really solid back four with me, Virgil, Joe (Gomez) and Robbo was working so well in the first half of the season that Dejan (Lovren) and Joel didn't really get a sniff.
They were kind of dismissed outside the club but behind the scenes they were still putting all the work in and fighting to prove to the manager they were able to step up. When Joe got injured, it opened the door for Joel and he showed that he was ready to be called upon.
At a time when we had a few injuries at centre-back, Joel really stepped up and delivered for the team. He's very laid-back off the pitch, he's quite shy and reserved. He tends to do his own thing. He never causes a manager a headache and none of the players ever get into arguments with him. He comes in, does his work and he does it to a very high level – exactly what you want.
It took him a bit of time to get used to the demands of English football. Coming from the French League, it was difficult initially and there was a period of adjustment for him. The game is quicker here that he was used to and in general the intensity of the opposition you face is greater.
I don't think he was quite prepared for how much of a change it would be. He maybe got caught out a few times at the start and he needed to build up his fitness levels in those early months. But the manager worked with him on the training pitch on certain areas and then you could see him start to get to grips with everything. Before Christmas when he was needed he came in and did a stable job and then I'd say from January onwards he's been absolutely immense.
You could really see him grow in confidence. He's got all the tools to boss games in that holding role. He's so good at winning battles, breaking things up and using the ball intelligently. It's like when Hendo was in that position, it almost goes unnoticed the work they do. They have to sit and control things while me, Robbo and the other midfielders are bombing on! They have to stay put and be disciplined to ensure we have that balance. Fab is so disciplined in that role and he's still young. He's got a big future ahead of him I'm sure.
Jordan is the perfect role model. He still has his jokes and his banter with the lads. He doesn't take it all too seriously, but you know that when you step on to that pitch, if you're not on it then he's going to bollock you for it and you don't want that. He's someone who is incredibly passionate about the game, about this club and about the fans. He always want to ensure that we play the right way and get the right results.
You can see how much being captain of this football club means to him. Anyone who isn't pulling the weight gets a bollocking off him. That's part and parcel of being the captain of the team. He's a role model for all the lads, especially the younger ones who are coming through. If I was giving any of them advice and I picked one player in the squad for them to monitor more than anyone and try to become then it would be Hendo.
He's not an individual, he doesn't care whether someone like Mo or Sadio or Virgil is getting all the praise. He's not bothered about being in the spotlight, he's happy to go under the radar and just go about his job. And he does everything for the team rather than himself. He always puts the team first. That's a massive quality and one that probably isn't around as much in football these days. It's incredible to see on a daily basis.
A lot of people maybe forgot how effective Jordan can be in a more attacking midfield role because he's been in that holding role for so long. It was a sacrifice for the team that he had to make, he was really the only player for a few years who could play there. He probably knew that his best position was as a No 8 a bit further forward being box to box. For the greater good of the team, he played as a No 6 and he did that well. Now the shackles are off and he's reminding everyone how good he is when he's given a licence to get forward more.
Gini is the joker in the dressing room. He's someone who is loud but not too loud. He's always really focused on the training pitch but off it he's laid-back, relaxed and likes to joke around. He speaks with everyone in the team. Whoever walks into the changies, Gini will always be there to have banter with them and to make life easier for them. I'd say he's someone who has helped a lot of the new signings to settle in.
He sits next to Fabinho in the changing room and he helped him with a bit of English and getting integrated into the team. He's such a great team player and I think a lot of his best work goes unnoticed. He's shown his versatility over the course of this season too. Whether it's playing deep in midfield or further forward, he's always done a great job for us. He's a very selfless footballer.
He played up front in the first leg of the semi-final over in Barcelona and then found himself on the bench for the second leg at Anfield. His response after coming on at half-time was sensational. He took his two goals brilliantly with that first-time finish and then the header into the top corner. Gini said himself afterwards that he was angry and frustrated not to get picked in the startling line up initially. He changed the game with his impact that night and that's the sign of a very good player. He's done so well this season.
He's an elite, perfect, professional footballer. He's someone who is completely dedicated to his craft. He never steps out of line in any way. He's always focused, always putting his body on the line for the team and always willing to sacrifice himself for the team. Despite his age, I still think he's getting better.
It's unbelievable to see his fitness and energy levels. It's testament to how well he's looked after himself and how professional he's been throughout his career. All the sacrifices he's made over the years have paid dividends because he's a very important part of a team competing for the biggest prizes.
At first he's really intimidating when you walk into the changing room. But eventually you see that deep down he's got a softer side! You just need to break through that hard outer shell!
Whether he's in the starting line up or not, he's always loud in the changing room. He's always giving out little pieces of advice and words of encouragement to people, whether it's before the game or at half-time. When he speaks, you listen. There have been times during games this season when he's been warming up on the touchline next to me and he's there shouting, talking to me about whether I've got a man on me and giving me bits of advice. He's got communication skills in abundance. Like Hendo, he's a natural leader and they are both massive personalities in the changing room.
He's one of the best players in the world. He has come back to the Premier League and taken it by storm over the past two years. I think he's been unfairly judged this season because of the standards he set himself last season. For a winger to win two Golden Boots in a row, that's almost unheard of. It shows the will and the desire he has within himself to keep pushing himself further and further to keep getting better.
He's someone who you can always really rely on in games. If you give him the ball, you know that he's going to keep being positive. Even if he's not at his absolute best in a game, he never shies away. He always wants the ball, he's always trying to make something happen. Any defender knows he's got his hands full when he comes up against Mo. He wants to prove himself on the biggest stages. It was so unfair what happened to him in Kiev last year. It was horrible to see him forced off in tears like that. It was cruel when you consider the role he played to help us reach the final. There were times when he almost single-handedly won us games with world class goals. He deserved better but he has bounced back so strongly this season.
He's a very humble guy. For how good he is and how much he's built up, it would be very easy for him to get caught up in that and put himself on a pedestal and think he's bigger than the team. Last season he was the standout player in the whole league, doing incredible things, but he was still humble. I like to see how people socialise with non-footballers around the club. It's a sign of someone who's really grounded. He treats everyone with respect whether it's the groundsman or the manager. It's important to show respect for everyone and Mo does that. It shows the person he is. He's down to earth and grounded. He's just someone who wants to play football and be happy. Mo is genuinely world class. I'm delighted for him that he's got the chance to walk out in another Champions League final. Hopefully this time he plays the full 90 and gets his hands on that trophy.
Sadio has really stepped up this season when we've needed him. His form has been outstanding and he's been so consistent. It was great to see him share the Golden Boot with Mo and he deserved that recognition. He's a big reason why we collected so many points in the Premier League and were able to sustain a run right through to the final in Europe. It's been the most prolific season of his career with 26 in all competitions and he's scored some crucial ones along the way, not least the two in the win away to Bayern Munich. His first that night really showcased his development with the perfect first touch from Virgil's pass, the spin away from the keeper and the top-class finish.
Sadio is probably the one player in our team that I would fear playing against more than anyone else. Why? Because of how sharp and electric he is. He's relentless, he just keeps going and going. He really is a nightmare for full-backs, he doesn't give you a chance! It's great for us come matchdays to have him flying down that wing, but when I'm up against him in training it's very difficult for me.
He's a great character as well. He's another real joker within the team. He always looks out for the young lads and helps them with whatever he can. His English isn't amazing but he tries his best and that's all you can ask. He's always smiling and happy. Like Mo, he's always chatting to people who work around the club. He's so grounded and humble. He comes in, does what we has to do and then goes home to chill.
He's the complete centre-forward. He someone who never moans on the pitch if he doesn't get the ball exactly where he wanted it. He never throws his arms around or spits his dummy out of the pram if he isn't getting the right service. He someone who sacrifices himself as much as anyone out on that pitch. It's something that you don't really see that often with strikers at this level.
For Roberto, it's not all about goals and how many records he can break. He isn't fussed about all that. Of course he wants to contribute as much as possible but he's a striker who always puts the team first. The defensive work he does off the ball is so important for us. It's his willingness to chase lost causes and force the opposition to cough up possession, it's his willingness to drop deep at times to help link play. His work rate is always phenomenal and his movement into space is so intelligent.
It's easy to take that for granted. When Roberto is out of the team, that's when you really appreciate the role he does and you realise how much we miss him. He puts in the dirty work. He's the glue that holds the front three together. You know that you can play any type of ball into him and his touch will be spot on and you'll be able to work off that. He's relentless and never stops running, whether it's counter-pressing high or tracking back for the team. If Roberto is fit enough to play then he's a match-winner. He can change a game and get us a goal.
Div has come to the rescue for us so many times this season. I think about the late winners he got against Everton and Newcastle, and the two goals against Barcelona. He worked hard all season long for those moments, he kept his head and was able to put them away.
Some players who haven't played much would be rusty in those situations and couldn't play to the intensity levels of the regulars but Div can. He showed he can score us goals and win us games and that's all you can ask. Now Div has got more respect than ever with the fans and I'm really happy for him.
We see in training every day how good a finisher he is. A few years ago he was in fine form before the injury against Everton which knocked him out of his stride. Now he's got that same kind of confidence again. He's still young and whatever happens, he'll go on to become a really top player.
Shaq has probably been used more from the bench as an impact sub rather than starting games. But I think he understood what his role was likely to be when he signed. He fitted straight in.
You could see his quality straight away. He always puts the effort in during training. When he was chosen to start against Barca, he repaid the manager's faith with that assist for Gini's header. He was ready and took his chance when it came. He's a great option for the manager to have.
Like Shaq, he probably understood that he was likely to get more opportunities coming off the bench than starting matches this season, but Studge has played his part.
He opened the scoring in our first group game against PSG at Anfield and there was that stunning late equaliser at Chelsea. He's a top finisher. He's always likely to get you a goal.
It shouldn't be overlooked how good Joe was in the first half of the season. Him and Virgil were No 1 and No 2 in terms of centre-backs in the Premier League.
They were such a strong partnership – nobody wanted to come up against them with the speed, strength and physicality they had. Joe missed a lot of football after breaking his leg in December and it was really unfortunate for him. It's been good to see him get back fit now. There's no doubt that he's got all the tools to be a world-class centre-back.
It's similar to the situation with Ox last season. Naby took a bit of time to get into the swing of things but then he really kicked on in the second half of the season and became a real fans' favourite. He scored a very important goal for us against Porto in the first leg of the quarter-final at Anfield and was performing to a high level.
He was really putting a marker down with his dynamic displays for the team. It's sad to see injury rule him out of the final after he was hurt in the Nou Camp but he will be out there in spirit. He's shown why the club spent so much money to buy him and will be here for many years.
Dejan hasn't played as much as he would have liked this season but when the chances have come along he's made an impact. Against Porto at home he came into the side and did a very solid job to help us keep a clean sheet. He has supported everyone in the squad throughout the season.
He's always encouraging. Someone in his position, could lose their head about not playing regularly and start being negative around the camp. But he's been great for morale. It shows the squad depth we've got now that in that he was probably our best player on the night in Kiev and now he's not playing too much.
Ad is another one who is always smiling and happy. He's had some injury problems which have held him back and he hasn't played anywhere near as much as he would have liked this season but he's still a quality player.
When he has played, he has always made an impact. He's great to have around for team morale. Whatever happens with Ad, he will come back strong and prove again that he's a really good player.
When we do 11 v 11 in training, I'm often up against Alberto. It's been difficult for him because he's hardly played at all this season. He started so well last season and got himself into the Spain squad but then he got injured and in his absence Robbo did brilliantly.
That's how football works out sometimes. Alberto never really got a look in again but his attitude around the place has always remained spot on.
The Ox is someone that nobody has forgotten about over the course of the season. It just underlines the quality he showed last season. When a player is out for that long they start to get a bit forgotten about but Ox always stayed in the minds of everyone. He's there for all of us every step of the way.
He's showed amazing mental strength to get back playing again after a year on the sidelines. It gave everyone a boost to see him make his comeback against Huddersfield and the reception he got showed what he means to the supporters. He's really pushed us on throughout the season.
We wanted to get far in this competition to give him the opportunity to play in a Champions League final. He deserves it after cruelly missing out last year.
Si is another model professional. Every day he's out there on the training pitch giving everything and pushing Ali on. You need quality back up in all departments as it helps keep standards high.
At the vast majority of top clubs Si would be the No 1 because he's a top keeper. He's a great example of someone putting their own personal disappointment to one side and doing whatever he can to help the team.
And the next generation coming through....
The young Academy lads who have come up to Melwood like Rhian Brewster, Ben Woodburn, Curtis Jones, Rafa Camacho, Caoimhin Kelleher and Ki-Jana Hoever have been massive for us. It's always tough for the young lads when you don't really get a run going in one of the domestic cups as it means there aren't many opportunities to play. But I've seen them grow as players from working with this squad on the training field and it's been great to watch. I'm close with all of them and we're always in the gym together.
They are always there for me and we support each other. You kind of take it for granted throughout the season but without them there it would be tougher for me and I might not feel as comfortable in the dressing room. I feel like I'm a bit of a big brother to them and someone they can come and talk to. I'm around the same age as them but with quite a bit more experience in terms of what they're going through now. There are some brilliant young players coming through at this club and they just need to be patient.
It's a privilege to be part of this squad and to represent my boyhood club. There's a special bond between this group of players. Now it's all about delivering when we face Tottenham in Madrid on Saturday night. What would victory mean to me? It would be everything I’ve ever dreamed of, everything I’ve ever worked for.
Come Saturday, I’ll give everything for myself, for my family and for my city to bring that trophy home.
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