UEFA announced back in March the rescheduling of the next Euros competition, which is now re-branded Euro 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This leaves players with an extra year to perform with their club teams and in international friendlies to impress their national team recruiters. On the other hand, coaches will also benefit from the extra time to form the perfect squad, with hopes of reaching the final at Wembley.
For England coach Gareth Southgate, the 2020/21 season will have him debate on his call-ups for one position in particular: the right-back role. Whilst having many good players in a position is a good problem, only so many can be brought to the tournament, and making the right choice is essential.
England’s Right Back Dilemma: Who to Bring to Euro 2021
A Turn to Youth
For the 2018 World Cup, Gareth Southgate picked three right-backs in his 23-man squad. This was in part because a 3-5-2 formation was being used, and England’s coach wanted Kyle Walker to play in the three-man backline. Because of his inexperience at the time, Trent Alexander-Arnold didn’t see much game time, and Kieran Trippier was the first choice wing back on the right flank.
Many things have changed for the English right-backs in the last two years. At 30 and 29 respectively, Walker and Trippier are past their prime, and no longer are the best in their country. Both only contributed four assists to their clubs this season, and defensively, their stats are below par compared to the young fullbacks Southgate can choose from.
Offensively, England’s best option is Liverpool‘s Trent Alexander-Arnold. In 38 appearances for the Premier League champions, the 21-year-old has launched 382 crosses into the box. Furthermore, he has contributed 13 assists and created 18 big chances in England’s top flight. Alexander-Arnold is also great on set-piece duty, and his ability to pick out players like Harry Maguire on corners could be crucial to the Three Lions chances at Euro 2021.
In terms of defence, 22-year-old Aaron Wan-Bissaka is undoubtedly England’s best option. Manchester United‘s right-back appeared 35 times for the club this season, making 129 tackles and 179 recoveries in this time on the pitch. Known for his precise tackles, Wan-Bissaka is one of the best one on one defenders in the Premier League, and his offensive ability is growing.
Fullbacks or Wingbacks?
Like previously mentioned, Southgate prioritized a 3-5-2 at the 2018 World Cup. Nevertheless, he has employed four-defender formations in recent international matches. His choice of formation will shape his squad for the Euros, and be a deciding factor in who is picked at right-back.
In a three-man defence, Aaron Wan-Bissaka could replicate Walker’s role at centre-back. At 183 cm tall, he is five centimetres taller than the Manchester City defender. Moreover, he possesses the athleticism and awareness to play the position. His one-on-one ability and spectacular tackles could bring some confidence in England’s defence, which has been shaky at times.
As a wing-back in this setup, Alexander-Arnold is the best option. His precise crosses and diagonals make him a great threat down the right. Like he’s shown at Liverpool, he can change games with his ability to find players with his deliveries. Whilst he is known for his offensive abilities, he is also talented defensively. With a 62% tackle success rate in the Premier League this season, the 21-year-old is crucial at both ends of the pitch. His versatility also makes him the number one option if a four-man defence is used.
As a third right back, Southgate also has options. Whilst he could choose veterans to add experience to the squad, other young players are fighting for a chance. Chelsea‘s Reece James is developing quickly under Frank Lampard, and another season of trust from his manager will do wonders for his confidence. His versatility is also useful. The 20-year-old can play many positions and could be a great back-up player to have. Others like Max Aarons, Tariq Lamptey, and Kyle Walker-Peters might not be chosen, but the future looks bright for England.
A Tough Decision
In the modern game, fullbacks play an integral part in any team’s success. Their ability to stop skilful wingers in one-on-one situations, as well as their pace and precise deliveries into the box can dictate the result of a game. The perfect right-back is hard to find, but the Three Lions are lucky in that they have many candidates for the position. Whether in a 3-5-2 or a 4-3-3, their skill will be crucial to England’s cup run.
Gareth Southgate has an intricate decision to make. Fortunately, he will benefit from another season to watch his right-backs play. Younger players will have to prove their worth, whilst their older counterparts will need to show that they are still the best for the job. This choice will greatly impact England’s chances of bringing it home at Euro 2021.