England will play a trio of international friendlies in the coming weeks as preparation for their Euro 2020 campaign. A few familiar faces have missed out, while others can rejoice at their first cap. The most surprising name missing from the squad is Champions’ League and Premier League winner, Trent Alexander-Arnold.
It’s a decision that’s raised a few eyebrows, and not just around Merseyside. The full-back is considered by many to be England’s brightest prospect – it’s easy to forget he’s only 22-years-old.
So why has Southgate elected to leave him out of the squad a few months before the European Championships? There are two key factors to this: Alexander-Arnold’s performances for Liverpool this season and England’s system. Let’s take a look at how England are likely to set themselves up first.
Trent Alexander-Arnold Omitted From Gareth Southgate’s England Squad
Like in 2018, Southgate’s England are probably going to adopt a 5-3-2 formation. It’s how they lined up in their most recent set of fixtures and Southgate has an affinity for this shape.
England will no doubt experiment with an array of approaches before Euro 2020 commences, but when the chips are down, 5-3-2 is the likely way they line up.
This formation doesn’t suit Alexander-Arnold very well. He’s used to bombarding forward, creating chances high up the pitch and pinging crosses into the box. He won’t be able to do this to his preferred level of regularity without pulling England’s shape apart.
Without a winger of Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane’s quality in front of him, he may find himself isolated, which will probably lead to him losing the ball.
This will leave England very exposed down the right flank, as Southgate also likes to push his midfielders further forward.
It begs the question why Southgate hasn’t given the nod to a more defensive-oriented right back, such as Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Keiran Trippier looks to be the choice, with six assists from 25 games for Atletico Madrid this season.
Diego Simeone is famous for his high-intensity drills. While Trippier is no Cafu, a hyperactive work rate down the right-hand side is exactly what Southgate needs for his England team to function properly. Reece James offers a similar style of play and appears to be Southgate’s choice as a backup.
However, if the England coach can find a way to get Alexander-Arnold in his side without making too many compromises, he should. Without him, England will sorely miss his world-class set-piece delivery.
Alexander-Arnold Form at Liverpool
Both Liverpool and Alexander-Arnold have struggled frequently this season. The defender’s class is often apparent but goes unimplemented. He’s been far from abysmal, yet is also a far cry away from his title-winning form last season.
He has started in most of Liverpool’s Premier League fixtures, only missing out entirely twice early in the campaign.
In this time, he has accumulated fewer assists than Trippier over a larger amount of games. The Bury man has missed out on a few games this season due to his lengthy suspension, but Atletico have generally been better with his presence than without.
Moreover, Atletico are top of La Liga while Liverpool are meandering around in seventh. Off this evidence, Trippier seems to be the better option.
Yet, most audiences would probably name Alexander-Arnold as Trippier’s superior and their preferred choice at right-back for England.
The Liverpudlian generally offers more than Trippier, given his astonishing range of passing. But, would you risk the integrity of a proven system for the sake of one player?
Despite this, it still doesn’t explain why Alexander-Arnold has been excluded entirely. Surely it would make more sense to take him and allow him to become more accustomed to how Southgate likes England to play?
Will Alexander-Arnold Feature in the European Championships?
To leave a player of Alexander-Arnold’s quality out of the squad for a major international tournament would certainly be an audacious decision.
It’s true, he doesn’t fit the system perfectly, but he’s also only had 12 caps for England. Surely it’s worth persisting with him, especially in games like England’s next run of fixtures?
Some may call it admirable for not bowing to Alexander-Arnold’s stature in the game despite his relatively poor form, others may brand it a foolish decision and declare his club performances irrelevant.
You could always make subtle changes to England’s game plan to accommodate for the Liverpool man, without completely altering the blueprint. For example, having one of the strikers drifting wide would help create the sort of space that he thrives in.
You could do this with Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Raheem Sterling fairly fluidly, as both have experience of playing on the wing.
Ultimately, it’s for Southgate to decide. He’ll probably twist before the summer and throw Alexander-Arnold in over Reece James, though this would be a real shame for the Chelsea man as he’s been great this season.
If he has a stronger end to the season, Alexander-Arnold’s inclusion will be much less doubtful. Likewise, if Southgate decides to adopt a different approach, it’ll most likely involve him in some fashion. As of now, he appears to be in international limbo, but much could change in the next few months.