OUTSTANDING: Trent Alexander-Arnold has ended the debate – his England future lies in midfield

Liverpool man Trent Alexander-Arnold has shown his transition from right-back can be a success on the international scene – but needs to be tested against better teams.

England gave him the No.10 shirt, they gave him the “freedom”, and he gave a master-class. It may only have been against Malta but he ran the show and, with his goal, he stole the show.

OK, Alexander-Arnold barely had to break sweat. OK, these opponents were ranked 172nd in the world – just ahead of Bermuda and Nepal – but his strike was truly classic and worthy of a grander stage.

When the ball broke to Alexander-Arnold, almost 25 yards out, there was little doubt even when his first touch was heavy. Alexander-Arnold whipped his shot right-footed, pulling it powerfully across his body, and it tore past Henry Bonello.

The goalkeeper might be 34, he might play for local club, Hamrun Spartans, but the drive would have beaten better goalkeepers than Bonello. And it followed on from a clever ‘pre-assist’ in playing in Bukayo Saka down the right, forcing England’s first goal as they made light work of Malta.

That link-up with Saka was hugely promising but there is an even more delicious prospect for England: What of a midfield three composed of Jude Bellingham (19) and the two 24-year-olds Declan Rice and Alexander-Arnold? Now that might be some combination.

“It feels natural, I will say that. It’s somewhere I can see myself playing,” Alexander-Arnold said, calling it a “good foundation to build on”.

It certainly is. And it was a far cry from the only other time the Liverpool player was asked to play in midfield for his country with Gareth Southgate coming in for fierce criticism – not least from Jurgen Klopp – for using him there in a World Cup qualifier against Andorra in September 2021.

That experiment only lasted 45 minutes before Alexander-Arnold returned to right-back. Cue the debate. Klopp remarked that he could not understand why Southgate wanted to use the “best right-back in the world” in midfield and it erupted.

In fairness the Liverpool manager explained that if Alexander-Arnold was to play there against such weak opposition he should be a “six” (deeper) rather than an “eight” (more forward thinking) and that is the way Liverpool have used him.

The ‘inverted’ right-back/midfield role allows Alexander-Arnold to nominally start in a defensive position to move forward. But Southgate sees it differently. Kieran Trippier – who actually, according to the statisticians at Opta, created more chances and played more passes into the opposition penalty area in the Premier League last season – is ahead of him for the right-back berth as is Kyle Walker and, when fit, Reece James.

“The manager has always tried to find a way to get me into the team and with the quality, of the players who play in those positions, it’s been difficult to find that,” Alexander-Arnold added.

“I think the role I’ve been playing with club football, it’s a new platform. It’s still early doors, it’s only one match. But it’s important that when I get the opportunity, I take it.”

It is his most obvious path and with his creativity he adds an extra dimension. What is the problem with that? There are aspects Alexander-Arnold is learning, such as taking the ball in tight areas with his back to goal and being defensively aware, but he is intelligent. Now he needs to be tested against better teams.

“I want him to have that freedom… I have no questions in my head he can do it,” Southgate explained and he revealed he had talked to an “excited” Alexander-Arnold about the role on the phone four weeks prior.

Alexander-Arnold continued to create. There was an impressive pass with the outside of his boot that James Maddison just failed to control and a precise one to Callum Wilson.

So this has to be the future. With the threat Alexander-Arnold provides, he no longer needs to be regarded as a right-back but as a midfielder. It will be the norm for his club and, it seems, for his country also. The argument has ended.


Igbo Kennedy

Igbo Kennedy

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