The notion that ‘you cannot win them all’ is an age-old adage that remains applicable across all walks of life, football included. But in the case of England and the nation’s top boss in Gareth Southgate, you have to actually try to go out and win matches to be able to resign yourself to ‘we gave it our best go’ should you not come out on top.
England’s 1-0 loss against Italy at Milan’s San Siro consigned the Three Lions to relegation in the UEFA Nations League as Southgate’s men are now guaranteed to finish bottom of Group A3 and are just one hour away from a dead-rubber match against rivals Germany at Wembley.
With the 2022 World Cup now less than two months away and England frustratingly out of form despite being one of the tournament’s heavyweights, the pressure is mounting on Southgate to make considerable adjustments to a tactical schematic that has seen his men bag just one goal across group play in their previous 1-1 draw against Germany back on 7 June.
And in a system that relies so heavily on its wing-backs to provide tactical width and a considerable amount of the XI’s punching power from a creative standout, Southgate continues to leave star Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold to the bemusement of many.
As mentioned by The Times chief football writer Henry Winter, “It also needs accepting that Alexander-Arnold has not been in the best of form for Liverpool, yet it should be emphasized that he is not alone among Jürgen Klopp’s struggling players, nor is he the only England player called up despite their club travails. Hello, Harry Maguire.”
“The only consistency with Southgate seems his inconsistency. At least an out-of-sorts Maguire knows he reports for duty with Southgate going to start him. Alexander-Arnold loyally turns up at St George’s Park, knowing he may not play, certainly not start. Patriotic? Yes. Committed? Yes. He’s always reported for duty, making many appearances in the youth teams, before his talent earned the teenager promotion to the seniors. He has represented England 17 times and they have lost only two of those games.”
“And now he’s deemed surplus to an underachieving nation’s World Cup mission. A player nominated for the Ballon d’Or scarcely three years ago. There’s a good player in Alexander-Arnold that Southgate fails to bring the best out of. His exclusion is not simply a story about one player not having a chance to face Germany.”
“This was a cold, brutal statement that Southgate somehow does not trust a player who’s won the Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, Super Cup, and Club World Cup. He has been named three times in the PFA team of the year and he is still only 23. He’s good enough for Klopp, but not Southgate.”
But Southgate has already seemingly consigned Alexander-Arnold to a role on the periphery when he recently shed light on his thoughts in the post-mortem of the Italy loss before his side take on Germany when he stated “You can have a style of play and a way of playing, and a balance to the team, that... at Liverpool they find a way of playing that brings the best out of his attributes and that’s what we’re all trying to do with every team.”
“You’re trying to build a team that accentuates the positives, and within the group protects yourselves against how the opponents might come from you.”
“He does have a fantastic range of passing, we’re blessed with different profiles of player in that position, if we play with wing-backs, Trippier and Reece James are also exceptional with the ball, in different ways, and we’re always having to look at the full package with everything.”
Though it remains in doubt that Southgate has done nearly enough to get the best out of any of England’s leading talents apart from Harry Kane and Harry Maguire - arguably Raheem Sterling as well to some degree - Alexander-Arnold looks set to be overlooked once again when England take on the United States, Iran, and Wales two months from now.
With Reece James once again slotted to start tonight against Germany in a match that has no other consequence for England other than the manager needing to get the balance right, the answer has already been given.