A four-way battle is set to ensue for a regular spot in the Three Lions’ line-up
That is all the more important since the manager admitted that both Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson are struggling for the opening game against Croatia on Sunday week. Southgate also revealed that he spoke to Marcus Rashford after Manchester United’s Europa League final defeat to Villareal, to ensure the forward is in a comfortable frame of mind ahead of the summer.
It was the selection of Alexander-Arnold that prompted the greatest debate around the England squad announcement, as it ensured four right-backs have been selected. While there has been talk that Alexander-Arnold may be brought as a midfielder, Southgate said that isn’t the case. He even acknowledged the Liverpool player may not be used there at all.
“Well, I think it’s unlikely,” the England manager said. “I think it’s possible in that he’s a good footballer who played there as a young player. We might have a bit of a look at him so that it’s an option we’ve assessed in one of the friendlies, perhaps, for a period. But we’ll have to see how those friendlies go. We want to see him at full-back first and give him the best chance of doing well. But we know within a tournament you might face any sort of injury crisis or need to make changes and to have adaptable players is really important.”
Southgate already faces fitness problems with two of his leadership group. Henderson hasn’t played since February and is unlikely to be ready for Croatia, potentially joining Maguire on the sidelines. Southgate insisted that part of the logic behind the selection was giving England options in such cases.
“Both of the players are not where you would want them to be in terms of being available for the game against Croatia,” the England manager admitted. “We are realistic about that, but when you are talking about Maguire, who hardly ever misses a game and Hendo, who has made a living out of making the impossible seem possible, then maybe they can get there.
“With Jordan and Harry, we have selected a squad that, if they don’t get there, we are not in a situation where we are short of numbers and we haven’t got cover. Even though you would have a timescale for their recoveries, you only need one small setback and you are in the next game or the next phase of the tournament.
“But if we can get them to the point where they can contribute to the team, that would be fantastic for us because we know what outstanding players they are and outstanding characters.
“We have just got to keep assessing him and updating where he is. It is different for them than maybe it would be for different personalities.”
Southgate also made a point of speaking to Rashford after he saw his reaction to the Europa League defeat, where the forward revealed he had again been racially abused on social media.
“Obviously, I read his interviews after the game in the Europa League and what I don’t want is a situation where he’s giving a similar interview after our games. So he assured me he’s happy with where he’s at, he’s felt the last few days have been a help and we go from there.”