Trent Alexander-Arnold is the player that Gareth Southgate has had most difficulty with during his time as England manager. There is no doubt that the right-back is world class, but he has never been given the platform to display that talent on the international stage. There have been a pool of talented right-backs from which Southgate can select from, therefore it hasn’t been an issue that has negatively impacted the team. However, the time has come for the Liverpool player to be integrated ahead of Euro 2024.
Liverpool played poorly for most of the season, which is why they missed out on the top four. However, they did end the campaign strongly and a change in formation was central to that. Alexander-Arnold stayed at right-back, but his role was encompassing as he moved into a central midfield position when the Reds had the ball. There were fears that this would limit his creativity. In this role, he continued to get assists.
During the last two months, Alexander-Arnold contributed a goal and seven assists. It was an extraordinary period of form that showed that the right-back could thrive in his new role. He helped the Reds control matches and his creativity was beneficial in more advanced positions. There was a fluidity that allowed him to get into wide positions and his tactical understanding of the demands on him was very encouraging.
Southgate will be experimenting with formations ahead of Euro 2024, as he tries to find the best way to win a tournament. In the past, he has used Alexander-Arnold as a central midfielder. This new role could create a route to the England starting eleven, as it is clear that Southgate does like him in central areas.
The criticism of Alexander-Arnold in the past has been focused on his defensive work. In his new role, he helped Liverpool keep three clean sheets in a row during May. It could be a way to protect the right-back at international level.
Southgate could choose to line-up with a 4-2-3-1, which is similar to formations he has used before. In possession, that could transition to a 3-2-4-1 with Alexander-Arnold moving into a central position. It is this interchanging fluid formations that are the future of football.
There are doubts about whether Southgate has the ability to coach such a system, but Alexander-Arnold’s success for Liverpool means that it is a possibility. Kyle Walker could be moved into centre-back alongside John Stones and Luke Shaw would be the most sensible option at left-back. This type of formation change would allow Southgate to drop Harry Maguire, which is needed sooner rather than later, due to his lack of domestic football.
As the formation would be three at the back without the ball, Walker would be suited to the right centre-back role. He could cover the wide areas and give the protection that Alexander-Arnold needs. Stones and Shaw are both comfortable in possession, which suits the system.
Alexander-Arnold is still only 24. He has plenty of years left at the highest level. England need to get him in the starting eleven to ensure that he can build his confidence at international level.