Southgate’s desire for ‘versatility’ boosts Alexander-Arnold’s Euro 2020 hopes

Gareth Southgate has opened the door to including Trent Alexander-Arnold as one of four right-backs in England’s final squad for Euro 2020 and has insisted he still has a good relationship with the Liverpool defender.

Alexander-Arnold, controversially dropped for the World Cup qualifiers in March, has a chance of making it to this summer’s finals after he was included in a provisional 33-man squad Southgate, who has picked a large squad because of injury concerns and the involvement of key players in the Champions League and Europa League finals this week, did not rule out picking the 22-year-old, suggesting that his place in the squad does not necessarily depend on one of Kyle Walker, Reece James and Kieran Trippier dropping out.

The England manager, who has until next Tuesday to whittle down his squad to 26, instead raised the prospect of picking all four right-backs because of their versatility. The noises around Alexander-Arnold were positive and Southgate, who dismissed concerns that Harry Kane will be distracted by the uncertainty over his future at Tottenham, denied that the Liverpool player will definitely miss out if James and Walker come through Saturday’s Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester City unscathed.

“It’s not that straightforward,” Southgate said. “Everyone sees these as four right-backs but there’s a lot more to all of those players. We need versatility, we need competition for places and we are still unclear on certain injuries. Trent is very much in contention.

“People think I don’t think Trent is a good footballer. That just isn’t the case. He has indirectly come in for some criticism and I felt the need to communicate more with him than anyone else over the past couple of months but I think his performances have been very good. I’m a little bit surprised by some of the things that have been written because people just don’t know those communications that have gone on. But that is credit to Trent that he has kept that to himself.”

Southgate, who suggested that Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson is in good physical shape after recovering from a long-term groin injury, denied that he created problems by criticising Alexander-Arnold’s form after dropping him in March.

“What I could do is go into intense coaching detail,” Southgate said. “I did that once before with my reasons for leaving Chris Smalling out because I praised John Stones and Harry Maguire for certain attributes they had and indirectly that ended with Chris getting a shellacking. I’m never going to do that to a player. Perhaps people didn’t like my rationale but I was trying to protect the player.”

Southgate, who has called up Brighton’s Ben White and Everton’s Ben Godfrey for the first time, has worries over key players before his side’s opening game against Croatia at Wembley on 13 June. Maguire is a doubt for Manchester United’s Europa League final against Villarreal because of damaged ankle ligaments, forcing Southgate to check other centre-back options. White and Godfrey have come in, leaving Eric Dier, Fikayo Tomori, Ezri Konsa and James Tarkowski disappointed.

The England manager hinted at frustration over the lack of communication coming out of United regarding Maguire.

“At this moment in time, Harry might play tomorrow night or he might be out for two months. I just don’t know. I understand that from Man United’s point of view,” Southgate said.

England, who play warm-up games against Austria on 2 June and Romania on 6 June at the Riverside Stadium, are also sweating on Kalvin Phillips after the Leeds midfielder suffered a shoulder injury against West Brom last Sunday. Southgate, who has lost the Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope to a knee problem, hinted at White, James and Alexander-Arnold as midfield options.

Preparations have not been ideal. England will be without their United contingent against Austria and players from City and Chelsea are unlikely to face Romania. Yet Southgate’s task now is to cut seven players. Sheffield United’s Aaron Ramsdale is fighting with West Brom’s Sam Johnstone over the third goalkeeping spot. White and Godfrey remain likely to miss out.

With Jesse Lingard listed as a midfielder and potentially reliant on Henderson or Phillips failing to prove their fitness, it is likely Mason Greenwood, Ollie Watkins and Bukayo Saka are fighting over one place in attack.

Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho are expected to make the final cut.

A player named in the final squad can be replaced, subject to Uefa approval, before a team’s first game on the grounds of injury or illness. However Southgate, who omitted Danny Ings, Tammy Abraham and James Maddison, raised a doubt over Grealish after saying that the Villa playmaker’s workload will need to be managed carefully following his return from injury.

The Newcastle assistant Graeme Jones will replace Allan Russell, the striker coach, on Southgate’s backroom staff.