Gareth Southgate has cast doubt over Trent Alexander-Arnold’s World Cup hopes by leaving the defender out of England’s Nations League fixture against Germany on Monday night.
The Liverpool right-back is one of five players who have been omitted from the fixture as the competition’s rules mean Southgate must trim his 28-man squad down to 23 names on matchday. Jarrod Bowen, Fikayo Tomori, James Ward-Prowse and the suspended Jack Grealish have also been left out. Brentford striker Ivan Toney has been included and will hope to win his first cap when England play their final game before their World Cup opener against Iran on 21 November.
However, the absence of Alexander-Arnold has raised eyebrows and could mean England look increasingly likely to fly to Qatar without a player who is seen as one of the best in the world in his position. He was an unused substitute during last Friday’s 1-0 defeat to Italy and the fact that he will not feature again on Monday suggests he is running out of time to win Southgate over.
Alexander-Arnold, who has been a shaky presence in Liverpool’s defence this season, has rarely been at his best for England and has struggled to establish himself as one of Southgate’s regulars. The England manager has plenty of options in his position, with Kyle Walker, Reece James and Kieran Trippier all pressing for inclusion, and it appears that doubts over Alexander-Arnold’s defensive qualities are working against him.
Equally there is an argument that Southgate could solve his side’s creative woes by tapping into the Liverpool player’s outstanding passing and crossing. However, that looks an increasingly unlikely prospect. Southgate is expected to stick with his 3-4-3 system against Germany and Alexander-Arnold has not looked comfortable when he has played as a right wing-back at international level.
If there is encouragement for Alexander-Arnold it is that Southgate planned to pick four right-backs at Euro 2020 only for injury to rule the 23-year-old out of that tournament. But when Southgate was asked about Alexander-Arnold at his pre-match media conference on Sunday, it was notable that he ended up speaking about the other right-backs at his disposal.
“I think he’s a fantastic footballer and he of course adds, as a lot of the other players do, different qualities to the game,” Southgate said. “He does have a fantastic range of passing. We’re blessed with different profiles of player in that position.
“If we play with wing-backs, Trippier and Reece James are also exceptional with the ball, in different ways, and we’re always having to look at the full package with everything and assess the players on all of their attributes.
“They’ve all been to Champions League finals, some of them have been to the latter stages of major tournaments with us. Trent’s won the league, Trippier’s won the Spanish league, Walker’s won the English league. There are so many good attributes about them, it’s a really difficult position to make decisions on, but we have to go with the ones we believe, and ultimately I’ll be judged on the outcome.”
Southgate dropped Alexander-Arnold in March 2020, citing concerns over his club form, but recalled him two months later. It has not been an easy fit. Southgate was also asked if Alexander-Arnold is too much of a defensive risk. “I don’t see risks,” he insisted. “At Liverpool, they find a way of playing that brings the best out of his attributes and that’s what we’re all trying to do with every team. You’re trying to build a team that accentuates the positives, and within the group protects yourselves against how the opponents might come from you.”
Southgate added that he was “lambasted” for trying to use Alexander-Arnold’s passing by experimenting him with a midfielder during England’s victory over Andorra at Wembley in 2021.
The manager is under huge pressure before England host Germany. The Euro 2020 finalists are winless in five matches and Southgate, who has admitted his job will be at risk if the World Cup is a failure, is seeing many of his selection decisions called into doubt.
There has also been a backlash about the omission of Tomori. The defender is playing at a high level for Milan every week and won the Serie A title last season, but he was also an unused substitute against Italy.