Five Southgate ‘experiments’ that make more sense for England vs Slovenia than Alexander-Arnold

Will Ford
England star Trent Alexander-Arnold
Trent Alexander-Arnold claps the supporters after the match.

Gareth Southgate’s Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield ‘experiment’ hasn’t worked. There won’t be many England fans disappointed to see Liverpool’s world class right-back sat on the bench against Slovenia. Though many would also quite like to see the world class right-back play at right-back. Weirdos.

Anyway, having handed in his resignation letter through his explanation of the TAA fiasco, we wondered what further ‘experiments’ Southgate might carry out in England’s last group game against Slovenia to ensure he departs with a bang. They’re all bonkers by the way, but no more bonkers than picking someone in midfield who’s played two of their 310 club games in that position.


Anthony Gordon and Bukayo Saka as wing-backs
The clamour for Anthony Gordon is reaching its peak and reasonably so after there was no penetration down the left flank against Serbia, and somehow even less against Denmark. Alan Shearer is predictably shouting the loudest to get Gordon on the left wing, but that would mean either dropping Phil Foden or doing the ‘obvious’ thing of playing Jude Bellingham deeper alongside Declan Rice, which would curb both their natural instincts to affect the attack.

That pair would still form the double pivot if Southgate switched to his beloved back five, but with three centre-backs to cover Bellingham or Rice could get forward if the mood strikes, and with Gordon and Saka as wing-backs England would have width, opening up space for Phil Foden and the Premier League’s leading goal contributor to buzz around in the space created by that width behind Harry Kane. A significant added bonus would be the end of Kieran Trippier at left-back.


Declan Rice in a back three
Not all that long ago Chelsea wanted to re-sign Rice and play him at centre-back. Footballing soothsayer Graeme Souness said “he may end up in defence” as recently as last year as Rice marauded through opposition midfields for West Ham towards a £105m move to Arsenal, for whom he got seven Premier League goals and nine assists in his debut season to put such thoughts to bed. Until now.

He was essentially playing as a centre-back against Denmark anyway, such was the extent he and his teammates were pushed back by their inferior opponents. This way England can have someone bringing the ball out of defence, offering an alternative method of beating the press that’s proven too much for them through passing triangles, while granting an opportunity to Kobbie Mainoo or Adam Wharton in midfield.


John Stones in midfield
In getting Stones to play as a typical England centre-back, i.e. one that stays within the width of the 18-yard box and doesn’t break past the halfway line, Southgate is denying the Three Lions the Manchester City star’s greatest attributes. All of his best work for Pep Guardiola’s side – most evident in his outstanding displays in their treble-winning season – sees Stones on the front foot, taking the ball in tight spaces and creating overloads in midfield.

He’s done that from centre-back for City, but some of his most memorable performances – in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid last season, for example – came with him starting as a defensive midfielder.

It wasn’t suggested ahead of the tournament owing to England’s centre-back worries. But with the foremost concern now very much central midfield, thanks mainly to the failed Alexander-Arnold experiment, but also the relative ease with which Marc Guehi has taken to major tournament football, Stones shielding Guehi and Jarrad Branthwaite feels almost logical, with Rice set free to push on.

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Jude Bellingham as the false nine
Any thought of playing Bellingham anywhere other than at No.10 was met with derision and mirth ahead of the tournament. ‘Why would you play the Ballon d’Or-chasing wonder anywhere other than his best position?’ was the question from multiple pundits who had watched Bellingham win the Champions League and be named the best player in La Liga while not playing as Real Madrid’s No.10.

‘False nine, No.10, what’s the difference?’ they crowed before seeing two England games to illustrate the distinction. Bellingham and Kane both want to play in the same spaces just in front of the opposition defence. If Kane doesn’t drop deep he doesn’t touch the ball, which isn’t necessarily an issue, but his lack of pressing is.

To be clear, in this ‘experiment’ we are advocating for Kane, the ‘lethargic’ 64-goal fraud, to be dropped.


Harry Kane and Ollie Watkins
Or, it could be Kane doing the drop deep and spray passes thing while Watkins gets the defence turned, as he did to limited but notable effect in his cameo against Denmark.

England could press, as Watkins does expertly for Aston Villa, and still have the benefit of Kane’s fox-in-the-box instincts. Might be a bit light in midfield if it’s a throwback 4-4-2, but Saka and Gordon could provide width in midfield, or even from full-back if we’re going full pie in the sky with Foden inside-left and Palmer inside-right. Best of luck to the centre-backs in that case.