With Trent Alexander-Arnold out, Gareth Southgate has a conundrum to fix

Problems are aplenty for England with Maguire, Henderson, and Grealish still recovering from injuries, which begs the question as to why Southgate went with four right-backs?

Trent Alexander Arnold in a file photo; Credit: Twitter@TrentAA
By Karthik Raman | Jun 4, 2021 | 4 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

England team was dealt with a major blow when Trent Alexander-Arnold was ruled out of Euro 2020 with a thigh injury. But is it really a blow or a blessing in disguise? Half of the head coach Gareth Southgate’s final squad is filled with defensive players – 13 of the 26 players selected are either defenders (centre-backs and full-backs) or goalkeepers. That was not the main concern! A staggering four right-backs were picked in the squad with Alexander-Arnold’s inclusion – in particular – raising a few eyebrows.

After enduring a roller-coaster first half of the season, the Liverpool full-back’s place was no longer guaranteed in the national set-up. Alexander-Arnold was dropped from Southgate’s last squad in March. It led to massive speculations about the full-back’s participation in the European Championship. Amidst the uncertainty, the head coach surprisingly included him in the 33-man provisional squad.

The squad had four right-backs – Manchester City’s Kyle Walker, Atletico Madrid’s Keiran Trippier, Chelsea’s Reece James and Alexander-Arnold. The real debate was – which right-back will be dropped from the final squad? The answer was no one! The coach shocked the country, selecting them all in the final 26-man squad. It left many baffled, but the 50-year-old took a firm stand and justified the thinking behind his decision.

Southgate said, “We have four players that play sometimes at right-back for their clubs. Basically, they are in the best 26 footballers and that is why they are in the squad. If I could have picked five or six right-backs I would have done.” Thankfully, he did not pick more than four and as a happy accident, the coach now has a chance to correct his mistake.

Defensive cover

When the squad was further trimmed down from 33 to 26, Jesse Lingard, Ben White, Ben Godfrey, James Ward-Prowse, Aaron Ramsdale, and Ollie Watkins were left out. Earlier, Mason Greenwood had pulled out of the squad due to an “underlying injury”. Southgate will not name his replacement until after this Sunday’s game against Romania, which gives him enough time to analyse the pros and cons of his squad.

The manager has sufficient back-up in the right-back position. Hence, the replacement might be added somewhere else in the team. Starting with the defence, questions were asked about Harry Maguire’s inclusion. The Manchester United skipper had missed the end of the season for the club with ankle ligament damage. The centre-back also missed the Europa League final defeat against Villarreal.

The manager confessed that Maguire might not be fit in time for their first group game against Croatia at Wembley on June 13. Hence, an additional centre-back might come in handy for the team. Ben White of Brighton and Ben Godfrey (Everton) could be in the reckoning for a surprise inclusion. Godfrey – in particular – might stand a better chance of making the final cut.

The Everton defender has predominantly played as a centre-back, but also has experience of playing as a full-back on both right and left flanks. At the Euros, Southgate might very well play with a back three. In the current team, there are only four centre-halfs – Conor Coady (Wolves), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), John Stones (Manchester City) and Maguire.

Maguire is already an injury doubtful. Walker, however, has the experience of playing as a right-sided centre-back in a back three. But in all honesty, England might be short in the backline if Maguire fails to recover in time.

Midfield alternative

England have only four pure central midfielders in the final squad – Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United), Declan Rice (West Ham United). Bellingham is only 17 and the youngest player in the squad. It will be too much to expect a teenager to control the midfield in a major tournament.

Meanwhile, Henderson has not played since February after undergoing groin surgery. With the Liverpool midfielder still recovering from his injury, it is not clear what part he will play in the tournament. It means the main burden will fall on Phillips and Rice’s shoulders to anchor the midfield.

Southgate might include Ward-Prowse to provide sufficient cover in that department. The 26-year-old might not be a deep-lying defensive midfielder like Rice, but has the ability to control the tempo in the middle of the park. He is one of the best passers in the country.

Ward-Prowse has the ability to regularly come up with defence-splitting passes to help initiate attacks from midfield. With Henderson out of action for so long and lacking match sharpness, the 26-year-old Saints midfielder might be the answer for the team in the middle of the park.

Other options

The attacking side of the squad looks to have a greater depth than other positions. Hence it is highly doubtful that the coach might add an additional player to this department. If at all he decides to have extra firepower, then Watkins might be a suitable deputy to Harry Kane and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

The final possibility might be to provide cover for Jack Grealish, who continues his return to full fitness after suffering from a shin injury. He did play some part against Austria in the warm-up match, giving hope to the coach of being fit in time for their opener on June 13.

The 50-year-old coach has a tough task at hand and whichever position he chooses to fill, the bottom line is clear – criticism will follow Southgate’s decision. Problems are aplenty for England with Maguire, Henderson and Grealish still recovering from injuries, which begs the question as to why Southgate went with four right-backs? But, now he has an opportunity to right a wrong after Alexander-Arnold’s injury.

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