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Why Gareth Southgate has limited Trent Alexander-Arnold to 308 minutes of international football since the World Cup

It’s rather unfortunate for Trent Alexander-Arnold that one of the very few people in the world who aren’t overly impressed with his footballing ability happens to be England’s head coach.

Gareth Southgate has never openly criticised the Liverpool right-back but it’s clear from his squad and team selections that he has his reservations.

As of a few moments ago, the 22-year-old was included in the Three Lions’ provisional list of 33 players for Euro 2020 but rumours suggest he won’t make the cut when the squad is cut to 26 on June 1st.

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Southgate has prolonged a difficult decision by naming four right-backs in his 33-man provisional squad

Southgate has prolonged a difficult decision by naming four right-backs in his 33-man provisional squad

To deny the 22-year-old’s threat going forward would be ignorant in the extreme.

In 2018/19 he provided 12 assists in the Premier League and in 2019/20 he went one better with 13 assists – a tally only bettered by Kevin De Bruyne.

This season he has provided seven assists in the league which has led to some accusations of a below par campaign.

While it’s true that Alexander-Arnold was not as effective in the first half of the season, seven assists is still an exceptional haul by normal standards for a right-back – it’s just that Anfield’s homegrown hero is no normal right-back.

Only De Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes have created more ‘big chances’ during this Premier League season in which Alexander-Arnold has supposedly underperformed.

The statistics back up what observers note when watching him play, his crossing from the right flank causes huge problems for opposition defences.

So why has Southgate limited him to 308 minutes of competitive international football since the 2018 World Cup?

Once a defender always a defender

Once a defender always a defender

For all his threat going forward, Alexander-Arnold is not the most accomplished defender.

He made his name in Liverpool’s academy as a central midfielder and only adopted the right-back role in the first team after filling in so successfully.

Opposition teams have repeatedly targeted Liverpool’s right-hand side as the best avenue for attack.

From Jack Harrison’s goal in the season’s opening game to Vinicius Junior’s performance in the Champions League quarter-final first leg, Alexander-Arnold’s relatively weak one-on-one defending has been exploited by quick-footed wingers frequently this season.

In fact, it’s been a common tactic of Liverpool’s opponents for nearly two years now to try exploit the space left in behind Alexander-Arnold – who is not as good at recovering the ball as Andy Robertson on the opposite side.

A midfielder in defender’s clothing

A midfielder in defender’s clothing

As a competent defender himself, Southgate would have noticed Alexander-Arnold’s inaccuracies when it comes to body positioning and cross prevention.

Where the Three Lions gaffer differs from Jurgen Klopp and a significant portion of the English public, is that he doesn’t believe the right-back’s unmatched creative threat is enough to compensate for his defensive shortcomings.

With Kyle Walker, Reece James and newly-crowned La Liga champion Kieran Trippier also available, right-back is one of England’s strongest positions heading into Euro 2020.

The former’s recovery speed and superior record at preventing players dribbling past him makes him the best option in Southgate’s eyes – he has been terrific for Man City this season.

Perhaps the fact England have enough creators in the final third (Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, Jadon Sancho) has led Southgate to deem Alexander-Arnold surplus to requirements.

After all, England’s area of vulnerability is in defence so doesn’t it makes sense to pick the best defenders possible?

Although that logic falls down with the omission of Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Still, Southgate’s logic is semi-understandable but it’s hard for many to accept if it means a player of Alexander-Arnold’s calibre – a key contributor to a Champions League triumph and Premier League victory already at 22 – is left twiddling his thumbs this summer.

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This is reflected in his Dream Team Euros ownership.

Alexander-Arnold is currently just outside the top ten most-popular defenders, featuring in 9.8% of teams.

At the time of writing, he is more popular among Dream Team Euros bosses than Walker – who is the frontrunner to start England’s first game at Euro 2020 against Croatia.

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