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Will Trent Alexander-Arnold be left out of England’s World Cup squad?

After he was omitted from England’s squad to face Germany, it looks increasingly likely that Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold won’t be on the plane to Qatar.

Update:
After he was omitted from England’s squad to face Germany, it looks increasingly likely that Liverpool right-back Alexander-Arnold won’t be on the plane to Qatar.
Charlotte Wilson/OffsideGetty

Trent Alexander-Arnold’s omission from England’s 3-3 Nations League draw with Germany has cast further doubt on the Liverpool right-back’s prospects of being included in the Three Lions’ travelling party for the 2022 World Cup.

An unused substitute in the 1-0 defeat in Italy on Friday - a result that confirmed England’s relegation from the top tier of the Nations League - Alexander-Arnold was left out altogether at Wembley on Monday, joining James Ward-Prowse, Fikayo Tomori and Jarrod Bowen in being excluded from manager Gareth Southgate’s 23-man matchday squad. A mainstay in a Liverpool team that has enjoyed huge success under Jürgen Klopp in recent years, the 23-year-old struggles to get a look-in for the national side.

It’s sad, it’s a waste, and it’s England’s loss,” The Times’ Henry Winter tweeted in the wake of Alexander-Arnold’s omission against Germany. Speaking on his FIVE podcast, former England captain Rio Ferdinand also expressed his bafflement at Southgate’s reluctance to pick the Liverpudlian: “How is Trent not in the squad? What’s going on here? I can’t have it. I don’t know how he has not taken him.”

Alexander-Arnold behind Walker, James and Trippier in pecking order

Capped 17 times since his 2018 debut, Alexander-Arnold has featured for England just once in 2022, in a 1-0 Nations League defeat in Hungary in June. Since the start of 2021, he has managed five appearances. Of the team’s three other notable options at right-back, Kyle Walker has played 17 times in the same period; Kieran Tripper, 12; Reece James, 11. That Alexander-Arnold is competing with Walker, Trippier and James is a reflection of the strength in depth England currently boast on the right side of defence - a state of affairs that Southgate pointed to on Monday as he explained Alexander-Arnold’s absence against Germany.

We have four-right backs with exceptional quality,” Southgate told UK broadcaster Channel 4. “Kieran Trippier is playing exceptionally well and Reece James has been one of the outstanding players in the [Premier] League. We know Trent is a very, very good footballer and that’s why we picked him in the [initial 28-man] squad.” The England boss also insisted that Alexander-Arnold’s omission wasn’t a reflection of his chances of being on the plane to Qatar, insisting it has “nothing to do with the World Cup”.

Speaking to Sky Sports, however, former England right-back Danny Mills indicated that he expects Alexander-Arnold to be left out of the World Cup squad, citing the player’s early-season struggles in a generally off-colour Liverpool team. “You have to be honest at the moment,” Mills said. “He’s not in particularly great form. I know there are maybe one or two other players that aren’t in great form [and have been picked for England], but in those other positions there’s a necessity to take players and possibly try players. At right-back, we have an abundance of talent.”

Mills went on to note that the versatility that Walker, James and Trippier all provide is also likely to influence Southgate’s squad selection for Qatar 2022. “How many other positions can Trent play? Not many is the answer, whereas Trippier, we’ve seen him play at left-back, and he can possibly play as a third centre-half,” he said. “The same as Kyle Walker. Reece James, as well, can do those [right-back and centre-back] roles.” Alexander-Arnold’s passing ability does offer the potential of using him in midfield, but Southgate has only been persuaded to try the player out once in the England engine room, for the first half of a 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Andorra in September 2021.

See also:

“England’s most creative footballer sat on the bench”

While aspersions have routinely been cast on Alexander-Arnold’s defensive abilities - earlier in September, he was pilloried for his part in Liverpool’s 4-1 Champions League mauling by Napoli - prominent pundits have suggested that a player who racked up 19 assists in all competitions for his club last term could help cure England of their recent goal-shyness. Before Monday’s entertaining draw with Germany, indeed, Southgate’s men had failed to score in four out of five games, and hadn’t found the net from open play since March. “England’s most creative footballer, Trent Alexander-Arnold, sat on the bench getting splinters in his arse”, former Three Lions skipper Gary Lineker tweeted after last week’s defeat to Italy.

England “can’t get the best out of Alexander-Arnold”

However, although Alexander-Arnold has established himself as a hugely potent element of Liverpool’s attack, other observers see an insurmountable conflict between England’s tactics and his marauding forward forays. While the Reds’ aggressive off-the-ball pressing allows them to exploit his attacking prowess without getting caught out defensively, football writer Jonathan Wilson says, Southgate’s more conservative approach to winning back possession doesn’t offer the same cover.

The way he plays for Liverpool, you need a very high press, because he will leave space behind him - and that’s not a criticism,” Wilson told the Off the Ball podcast in June. “He should leave space behind him, because he’s so good going forward, he’s so good at linking with [Liverpool team-mate] Mohamed Salah. Was it 12 assists in the Premier League last season? His crossing is exceptional. So you want him to be using those parts of his game. But for him to do that, there will be space behind him […]. England just don’t press as high, they don’t press as hard, and what that means is opposing midfielders have time to measure a pass into that space.”

And even if Southgate tried to adapt England’s style to accommodate Alexander-Arnold, Wilson adds, the nature of the international game would make this an onerous endeavour, given the only intermittent opportunities that a country’s coach gets to work with their players on the training ground. “In international football, you don’t have the time to generate that sophistication of press that you have at Liverpool,” he told Off the Ball. “So England can’t really play like that. England, almost by definition as an international team, can’t get the best out of Alexander-Arnold.

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