Gareth Southgate has challenged disappointed Trent Alexander-Arnold to fight his way back into his Euro 2020 plans after surprisingly overlooking the Liverpool right-back for England's World Cup qualifiers.
The 26-man squad for this month’s internationals included some new players and returning faces, with the manager’s most surprising decision the omission of the 22-year-old full-back.
Alexander-Arnold has long been considered a shoo-in for this summer’s rearranged European Championship, despite England’s glut of options at right-back, but this month he will be on the outside looking in.
Southgate plumped for Reece James, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier, who has recently returned from his 10-week Football Association betting ban, but hopes the Reds full-back reacts like the latter pair did when they were dropped.
"There's some areas of the pitch where we've got incredible competition for places and Trent's very unfortunate," the England manager said.
“I don’t think he’s played at the level that he found in the last couple of years, but I think he’s getting very close to that now. I think in the last few weeks he’s definitely taken steps in the right direction.
“It’s simply that we think Reece James, Kieran Trippier have had exceptional seasons really with their clubs.
"Kyle Walker is in great form with Manchester City, so we've got other players in the league who are also playing well in that position.
"(Matty) Cash at Aston Villa, (Luke) Ayling at Leeds, so it really is a position (of strength). We've got two very good right-backs in the under-21s. It's a remarkable position of strength.
“What I said to Trent earlier today, I’ve made that same call to Kyle and to Kieran in the past and their response was a good one.
“They took up the challenge and they found themselves back in the squad and Trent is of course a super talent and he’ll I’m certain play a big part in England in the future. He misses out this time, but we could quite conceivably be sitting here before the summer and he’s with us.”
Alexander-Arnold was part of the England squad that reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2018, with the Premier League-winning right-back's most recent cap coming against Belgium in October.
Asked about the 12-cap full-back's reaction to being overlooked for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland, Southgate told talkSPORT: "Well, of course disappointed.
“He’s very proud to play for England and nobody wants to receive that call to say you’re not going to be in the squad. But I felt with him in particular it’s important . . . you know, a lot of the other players that aren’t selected I’ve had discussions with them in previous camps as to how I see their game and there are some that aren’t playing with their clubs regularly. With Trent’s that’s a different situation.
“We know he’s highly-talented player, but we just have some players that, in our view, have played better so far this season and with us in the autumn.
"Reece James was exceptional with us in the autumn and last night his performance for Chelsea sort of underlined that, I think, in a top-level game.
“Trent is very unfortunate. I think his game in the last few weeks has picked up a lot, he’s looking closer to where he was.
“He’s had an unfortunate season that started with him missing a lot of training because of Covid and the club obviously had a difficult season as well, so I’ve no doubt that he’s going to play for England in the future.
“As I said earlier, we could be sitting here ahead of the Euros with him back in the squad and that’s the challenge he’s got to respond to.”
Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson, Sam Johnstone, Nick Pope Defenders: Ben Chilwell, Conor Coady, Eric Dier, Reece James, Harry Maguire, Tyrone Mings, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker Midfielders: Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Jesse Lingard, Mason Mount, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice, James Ward-Prowse Forwards: Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling, Ollie Watkins.