Trent Alexander-Arnold was finally given a chance to show what he can do in a new midfield role on Sunday during England’s World Cup qualifier against minnows Andorra.
Gareth Southgate opted to change up his lineup and give some of his less senior stars a run-out, with Leeds striker Patrick Bamford making his international debut.
Due to the quality of the opposition, Southgate felt it was the opportune moment to also see whether the thoughts of him and his backroom team over Alexander-Arnold were correct, as the Liverpool full-back started the match as part of a three-man midfield.
“Well we know he is an outstanding footballer and we’ve wanted to look at him in midfield for a little while, we feel today is a good opportunity,” Southgate said before the game.
“He is fabulous with the ball, in particular at club level, he’s been interchanging with Harvey Elliott appearing inside the pitch, so we’ll be hoping maybe he’s a little bit more comfortable in those areas than he maybe was last year.
The FA via Getty Images)
“But he’s got to play the role his own way; we’re quite happy for him to go wide and deliver those killer passes.”
It is a role Alexander-Arnold is familiar with – having played there during his Liverpool youth days – though he is yet to really appear there for an extended period as a professional.
BBC sport presenter Gary Lineker has often called for Alexander-Arnold to play in a midfield role, though Jamie Carragher recently disagreed that was the best use of his talents.
Pundit Ian Wright said in the ITV studio before the match: “In a game like this, it’s perfect for him [Southgate] to try it out. And if Gareth thinks he can use him in this way in the latter stages of cups and competitions then yeah, you’ve got to try.”
Here Mirror Football takes a look at how he got on.
Initially Alexander-Arnold struggled to get on the ball as most of the play went on around him.
Having been used to seeing him hug the touchline so often for club and country, watching him in a more narrow, advanced position seemed almost awkward at times.
That is perhaps more to Andorra’s credit than anything Alexander-Arnold could control. The visitors did a good job of shutting down space in their own third with a diligent low-block defence.
His positioning high up the field did give Jordan Henderson plenty more room to dictate play, but it left Alexander-Arnold feeding off scraps.
When he did get on the ball, there were few other options but to play a short, sharp pass to one of his team-mates due to pressure from the opposition.
By and large, it was the all-action display of Jude Bellingham which caught the eye in midfield and overshadowed that of Alexander-Arnold.
The FA via Getty Images)
The Liverpool man was frequently bypassed throughout the first half, and to be frank, was fairly ineffectual.
It seemed an unnatural fit for the 22-year-old, whose frustration was clear when he failed to stop the ball running out of play after a darting diagonal run across the box – though his movement to get into the space deserves praise.
Indeed, his best moment of the first half came from a position you’d normally find him in when playing at right-back, as he pinged a searching ball over the top for Bellingham, who almost scored.
Some of his runs down the flank beyond Reece James were also inviting but were never found by his England colleagues.
At one point he and James switched positions briefly, and Alexander-Arnold got to the byline to deliver a cross to the far post. Those areas are where he is most dangerous.
At half-time, Roy Keane said: “I want to see more from him there and have an impact on the game. I don’t think he’s done enough yet.”
Wright added: “It’s an interesting position for him, sometimes he comes outside in the 10 or he goes out wide in midfield or drop in to right-back.
“He’s creating space for Reece James and Jesse [Lingard] to come in, there’s a lot going on and interesting how they do it.”
It was no real surprise that Alexander-Arnold was reverted to his usual role at right-back for the second half.
He switched with James, who took up a deeper-lying midfield role and almost made an immediate impact as his long-range shot clattered off the crossbar.
Meanwhile, Alexander-Arnold looked immediately more comfortable, which is understandable, but he managed to create almost a hybrid role by drifting inside to join in more with attacks, which is an interesting progression.
He almost got on the scoresheet but couldn’t keep his shot down, and also occupied more of the half spaces we’re used to seeing him in for Liverpool.
His quickly taken short-corner helped set up England’s fourth goal, and his overall performance suggested he is growing a little more confident inside the England camp.
By his own admission, Alexander-Arnold concedes he has not managed to replicate the same form on the international stage as he has for his club side, so getting him up to that level should really be priority.
But that’s not to say he can’t add more skills to his armoury, though.
Competition for places at right-back is rife, which does give Southgate that luxury of bringing him in-field and trying it out a few more times over the course of the qualifying campaign if he wishes.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp doesn’t appear too concerned with testing his player out in that role moving forward, though, which suggests his only real chance of developing there is when joining up with the national team.
The FA via Getty Images)
For a manager who values versatile players that can play in more than one area, trying to unlock another side of Alexander-Arnold’s game could prove useful.
As Roy Keane said before the match: “It’s no problem for him to experiment. What we’ve seen with Trent over the years is there are question marks over his defending, but when he’s got time on the ball he’s like a midfielder in there.
“His quality on the ball, his passing, and I think as a professional footballer you’ve got to be able to adapt to one or two different positions.”
Wright added: ‘I think that’s really healthy for England. If Trent with all his ability cannot get into that position [right-back] with the calibre of players [ahead of him], maybe we can put him somewhere else and he will thrive and I think that would be brilliant for the squad.”
Certainly in matches of this nature there is no harm in trying new things, and it was refreshing to see Southgate again go with something a little different.
But while he deserves credit for his efforts – as does Southgate for giving it a go – it’s difficult to see a time when Alexander-Arnold might be starting a knockout round of a major tournament in midfield.
When you consider the options at Southgate’s disposal – Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice, Mason Mount, Phil Foden, to name a few – it becomes even more so.
it’s early days for Alexander-Arnold’s midfield career and there’s no doubt room for improvement, but there’s a reason the Liverpool man is regarded as one of the best right-backs in world football.
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