England manager Gareth Southgate announced his 26-man squad for Euro 2020 on Tuesday, bringing to an end several weeks of chatter and speculation who would make the final cut.
The crux of the matter was the surfeit of quality right-backs available to Southgate. Alexander-Arnold was jostling for position alongside Champions League winner Reece James of Chelsea, La Liga winner Kieran Trippier of Atletico Madrid and Premier League winner Kyle Walker of Manchester City.
As Tuesday’s deadline for confirming squads with UEFA loomed, it increasingly looked for all the world like Alexander-Arnold would be forced to watch the tournament at home.
However, Southgate had other ideas and instead chose to circumnavigate any potential heart-break by simply naming all four right-backs in his Euro 2020 squad.
OFFICIAL: England’s 26-man squad for Euro 2020 🦁 pic.twitter.com/ufCkN6PyIE
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 1, 2021
While explaining his decision the Three Lions’ boss even joked that, were he able to pick even more players for that specialist position, he probably would have done.
🗣”If I could have picked a 5th or a 6th right-back I probably would have done.”
England manager Gareth Southgate explained his reasoning behind selecting 4 right-backs in his final Euro squad pic.twitter.com/p8vEnFdAzw
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) June 2, 2021
Of course, social media had its fun as Gary Neville — a prominent former England right-back himself — heralded a brave new dawn for a position previously deemed unglamorous.
What a time to be a right back!!
” No-one wants to grow up to be Gary Neville ” will go down with ” you can’t win anything with kids ” in Punditry folklore @carra
4 Right backs in the Squad! https://t.co/ArXO4XK5pI
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) June 1, 2021
There were quips from all quarters about Southgate’s decision to overstock, while the classic “four naan breads?” meme beloved of “Peep Show” also received a fair bit of exposure.
— Jay Taylor (@JayTaylorMedia1) June 1, 2021
Southgate packing right-backs for the Euros like I pack t-shirts for holiday… “will I wear 12? Well I am going for a week…”
— Peter Staunton (@petermstaunton) June 1, 2021
And four more than Argentina took to the 2010 World Cup.
— Jonathan Wilson (@jonawils) June 1, 2021
There was even tongue-in-cheek speculation that Southgate, not content with naming four right-backs in his squad, might go the whole hog and name the full quartet in his starting XI.
That’ll do, Gareth pic.twitter.com/Zh5Zf8UU53
— Hunter Godson (@HunterGodson) June 1, 2021
But that does beg the question: of the four designated right-backs included in England’s Euro 2020 squad, who is most likely to be first-choice come kick-off in their first game against Croatia at Wembley on June 13? With a look at their Premier League statistics for the 2020-21 season, here’s the case for each player.
So who starts at right back for England at Euro 2020 🤷♂️ pic.twitter.com/wSo4mQ7Qyd
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 1, 2021
The only England right-back to have finished the season without a major honour. Nevertheless, Alexander-Arnold began to recapture his best form toward the end of the campaign as Liverpool did likewise to make a late run and qualify for the Champions League. One look at his league stats for 2020-21 demonstrate Alexander-Arnold’s strengths, having provided far more crosses (199), assists (7) and creating more chances (77) than James, Trippier, and Walker by some distance. Alexander-Arnold has redefined what is possible for a right-back, but he has thrived in a unique evolution of his position within Liverpool’s system that would be difficult for him to replicate with Southgate’s England.
After impressing with Chelsea all season, James is a Champions League winner who spent the entire final with Raheem Sterling tucked neatly away in his pocket. The 21-year-old is a versatile defender who can play comfortably at right-back, right centre-back and at right wing-back. He also has good attacking credentials and visibly enjoys a foray forward, slinging 108 crosses into the box (which, it should be said, often contained no strikers) over the 2020-21 league season, pitching in with 2 assists.
Trippier proved to be an integral part of the Atletico Madrid team that wrapped up the Spanish title this season, with Diego Simeone deploying the England international at right wing-back. The 30-year-old provided 6 assists from the right flank despite succumbing to a groin injury that saw him miss 9 matches between January and February. Having provided 66 crosses, that gives Trippier a cross-to-assist ratio of 1 in 11 for the 2020-21 La Liga campaign, which is by far the best of any of the right-backs at Gareth Southgate’s disposal. At the other end, he also made more tackles (61) than any of his positional rivals.
The veteran of the quartet, the 31-year-old Man City defender is now a three-time Premier League champion — though it must be noted he played fewer league games (24) than any of the other players on this list. Walker is the most capped (55) of the four right-backs included in the latest England squad (Trippier is second on 53 caps), though his involvement at international level has dwindled since the two played in the same team at the 2018 World Cup, having made only 11 appearances for his country since. Walker is a right-back by trade but was deployed as one of three centre-backs during England’s run to the semifinals in Russia. He’s also filled in as an auxiliary goalkeeper in the not-too-distant past, a boast that his right-back rivals can’t make.