Gareth Southgate finds himself in an enviable position.
Not many international managers across the globe have the amount of depth at right-back that the England boss has.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka, considered by many to be the best right-back in the Premier League this season, and Kieran Trippier, the man who shone during the World Cup, miss out on a place in the squad yet the Three Lions are in a position to not feel such losses.
Southgate is still able to call upon Kyle Walker and, while he has had to pull out of this week’s squad due to a back injury, Trent Alexander-Arnold is expected to be a mainstay in his nation’s line-up for years to come.
Alexander-Arnold and Walker are battling for the Premier League title with Liverpool and Manchester City respectively while both have Champions League quarter-final ties to look forward to.
The versatile Walker is the obvious choice to replace Trippier, his former team-mate, at right-back. Though deployed by Southgate on the right side of a back three, the 28-year-old is better as a marauding full-back.
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He’s more experienced and knows the 3-5-2 shape used by the England boss better than Alexander-Arnold.
While Alexander-Arnold’s injury has made Southgate’s decision for him, the coach has shown since his appointment that he isn’t afraid to make big calls. Once the 20-year-old Liverpool defender returns, don’t be surprised if Southgate opts for his energy and enterprise over Walker’s experience.
In the long-term, Alexander-Arnold is a better fit for this England side. Firstly, he can match Trippier’s delivery from wide areas as well as set pieces. Those David Beckham-esque crosses into the area can cause carnage and they’re a valuable weapon to possess in international football.
But the Liverpool No.66 isn’t just adept at getting the ball into the penalty box. He’s also handy at breaking the lines with precise passes into the feet of the forwards.
The quarterback term is frowned upon in football because it’s a word associated with American football, however, the Reds play with a number of these types of players. Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Alexander-Arnold are all capable of pinging 60-yard passes. And they do so frequently in matches.
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It’s all designed to isolate Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane against opponents as well as bypassing an often packed middle third. Having that option adds another layer to the England attack.
The fact Alexander-Arnold played as a number six when he was younger means he has that eye for a pass and the ability to execute it.
When looking at player stats it’s worth taking into account that team style influences the numbers.
Walker plays more passes, as shown in the graphic above, with City dominating possession, but fewer key passes because the reigning champions have David Silva, Bernardo Silva and Kevin de Bruyne in midfield. Just because he isn’t doing it doesn’t mean he can’t.
But by the same token, assuming he isn’t doing it because he doesn’t have to is just as negligent. He’s a bit of an unknown in that sense. Alexander-Arnold is a special talent who manages to merge a number of roles into his bespoke right-back position for Liverpool.
You can never have too many playmakers on the pitch and that reason alone is enough to see him start ahead of Walker for England. He plays more passes forward, creates more big chances and has a higher expected assists per-90 average (0.17 to Walker’s 0.03) during the 2018/19 campaign.
Essentially, Alexander-Arnold can do everything Walker does and then some. He’s the best man for the job in Southgate’s new-look England team and there’s no reason he can’t be the starting full-back for his country for the next decade.
* odds subject to change
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by Tom Bodell