If there’s a time to experiment it’s at house to Andorra when clear on the prime of a World Cup qualifying group. However Gareth Southgate’s determination to play Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield lasted solely 45 minutes earlier than he was returned to his right-back position.
There was a unfastened contact the place he misplaced possession and a run into the field the place he did not hold the ball in play, but it surely was not that Alexander-Arnold performed poorly. The difficulty was the supposed advantages of shifting him into midfield simply weren’t obvious.
Southgate had spoken beforehand of his hope that Alexander-Arnold could be “somewhat bit extra comfy in these areas than he was final yr” having been drifting inside recurrently for Liverpool within the early components of this season. However it didn’t go fairly as deliberate.
“We all know he has received excellent high quality with the ball and naturally finds himself in these positions with Liverpool,” he mentioned afterwards. “However within the first half there wasn’t lots of area and discovering your self in these positions is totally different to coming onto the ball.”
The calls have all the time been there ever for the reason that Liverpool teen made his breakthrough, so spectacular has he been going forwards. Alexander-Arnold’s creativity is such that solely Kevin De Bruyne has delivered extra Premier League assists prior to now 4 seasons.
The logic is easy. If there are issues over his defensive play – and Southgate was nervous sufficient to drop Alexander-Arnold from his squad within the spring – then why not launch him from these obligations and unleash his true offensive capabilities?
“He must be enjoying, like he did as a child, in midfield,” argued former England striker Gary Lineker simply final month. “(Philipp) Lahm switched, (Joshua) Kimmich too. One of the best gamers must be ready the place they’ll extra incessantly use their brilliance.”
Maybe the primary drawback is that that is primarily based on a false premise. The complete-back position has developed a lot it’s not a provided that the nominal transfer to midfield will robotically permit a artistic participant to ‘use their brilliance’ extra incessantly.
Liverpool are the proper instance of that. A lot of the attacking play from Jurgen Klopp’s workforce comes from these vast positions with the position of the gamers in midfield to recycle possession somewhat than orchestrate the assaults. It’s mirrored within the statistics.
Alexander-Arnold averaged over 100 touches per 90 minutes for Liverpool final season. That was way over Liverpool midfielders Naby Keita and Georginio Wijnaldum, who noticed a lot much less of the ball. It was much more than famed midfield playmaker Thiago Alcantara.
Towards Andorra, in a recreation that England fully dominated all through, Alexander-Arnold had a style of why that’s the case. Taking part in in midfield requires totally different actions to seek out area and with our bodies throughout him, he struggled to free himself.
In actual fact, there was a 10-minute interval within the early phases of the primary half through which he had solely two touches of the ball – and a type of was a throw-in. In complete, he had 33 touches in that opening 45 minutes. However Reece James, at right-back, had 52 of them.
If the thought was to make sure Alexander-Arnold was on the ball extra, right here was clear proof it didn’t work. However it’s not simply the amount of touches that Southgate had in thoughts when shifting him into midfield – it’s the high quality of these touches.
Taking part in him in what the England supervisor described as “a extra superior position” might need meant Alexander-Arnold choosing up the ball in additional harmful areas extra usually. Right here too, that didn’t actually show to be the case. His touches got here in very comparable zones.
Southgate had acknowledged beforehand that “he has received to play the position his personal means” by choosing up these acquainted positions. “We’re fairly completely happy for him to float vast and play these killer passes that he does,” he defined. Unable to seek out area, that’s what he did.
Conscious the state of affairs was not splendid and in an try to “get extra from Trent” in addition to others, Southgate tweaked the system at half-time with James shifting into midfield. “I assumed Reece performed that pivot position very properly, hitting the bar.”
Nearly instantly, Alexander-Arnold appeared more practical too and might need been rewarded with an help late on after beating his marker and laying the ball into the trail of Jesse Lingard just for him to be denied his hat-trick by a wise block.
Southgate defended his determination afterwards however acknowledged the apparent. “It’s inevitable he regarded extra comfy at right-back given how a lot he has performed at right-back however we wished to see one thing and we felt this was a superb recreation to have a look at it,” he mentioned.
“Within the second half, he was in positions the place he felt extra comfy, coming onto issues and regarded happier in that place. His play with the ball exhibited that happiness.”
Is that the tip of the experiment, then? Maybe not. As alluded to by Southgate, the interaction with Harvey Elliott at Liverpool would possibly but result in a refined evolution of Alexander-Arnold’s position at Anfield anyway. With work in coaching, he has the capabilities to regulate.
However this newest foray into midfield would possibly simply problem the view that the advantages of the change are clear. As Sky Sports activities’ Jamie Carragher identified when replying to Lineker with regards to that potential new position, there’s extra nuance to it than that.
“Full-backs get extra of the ball than anybody and a bit extra time on it to pick their passes. The best way Klopp units up he’s nearly a midfielder in possession anyway. The quantity of assists he will get means it might be mad to vary his place.”
Occasions at Wembley on Sunday are unlikely to change that view.