Gareth Southgate spoke to Trent Alexander-Arnold before leaving him out of England’s Nations League match against Germany and believes his “all-round game” currently lags behind right-back rival Kieran Trippier.
The 23-year-old has starred in his hometown side Liverpool’s successes in recent years but has struggled to translate that form onto the international stage.
Alexander-Arnold has won just 17 caps since making his debut in 2018 and only one of those has come this year, with the full-back an unused substitute in Italy and omitted from the squad that faced Germany.
That decision dominated the build-up to Monday’s 3-3 draw despite the squad containing top-level right-backs Kyle Walker, Reece James and Trippier, and adds fuel to the debate about Southgate’s World Cup selection.
“Firstly, I didn’t want any player to sit in the stand for two matches so I think the way we manage a group of people has been a big strength for us in the tournaments and we need to do that,” the England manager said.
“The other night, we didn’t need the left-back cover. Against Germany we did because of the way we went with the team so we needed Chilly [Ben Chilwell] on the bench and we had Kieran who, at the moment, I feel his all-round game is ahead (of Alexander-Arnold).”
Asked about the conversations with those left out, Southgate said: “I’ve had long conversations with all of them, been very clear with them about where they stand, what they need to improve upon, what they’re doing well so they’re very clear on where they sit.”
Southgate has never been afraid to make bold calls and trust his instincts during his six years in the England hotseat.
Alexander-Arnold is one hot topic regarding his decisions, so too is the loyalty shown to out-of-favour Manchester United captain Harry Maguire.
The 29-year-old gave away the penalty that allowed Germany to open the scoring on Monday and was dispossessed in the move that ended with their second, but Southgate’s belief remains intact.
“I know everybody says he’s important to me, he’s important to us,” Southgate said. “It’s us, it’s not me.
“Why do we pick him? Because he’s one of the players who gives us the best chance of winning.
“So, really we should all be wanting a Harry Maguire that’s playing regularly and playing with confidence.
“That applies to, of course, quite a few players but he’s the one that everything lands on, which must be a tough space for him, really, but he’s showing tremendous character.
“I think he has got the character to get over this because he’s a boy that’s been from Sheffield United to Hull City – his journey is not one where everything has been smooth.
“Sometimes you get lads who, in the early part of their career, haven’t had to handle adversity and when it hits them, it’s harder to cope with.
“He’s like most of us, really, in that he’s had lots of hurdles and that shapes your character.”
The Football Association has said the England squad will be announced on November 9 or 10, with the team meeting up on November 14 following the last round of Premier League fixtures.
That provides precious little preparation time for the Group B opener against Iran and leaves Southgate facing a “unique” challenge in Qatar.
“There just isn’t going to be time (to meet up before),” Southgate said. “They are going to have too many matches and we have to respect what they are doing with their clubs.
“We have got a lot of analysis of the opposition. We are able to go to the games that are being played on Tuesday night which we can’t usually do. That’s a bonus.
“Of course we need to monitor our players as well as we possibly can.
“We always look to find out absolutely everything about them and a lot of liaison with the clubs on how they are physically and what’s going on. So we are not short of stuff to be getting on with.”