Trent Alexander-Arnold or Reece James?Which one should Gareth Southgate choose for England?

Both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James are under the age of 24, but both may feel aggrieved that they have not been granted more England caps. 

Such is the intensity of England’s right-back battle that both defenders have picked up just 22 caps in total between them, even though they have been part of the Three Lions set-up for numerous years now. 

But after watching Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier be the main right-sided defensive men at Euro 2020, Alexander-Arnold and James have stepped into their own since the summer. 

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James (right) are England’s two main rivals at right-back

England boss Gareth Southgate (left) has a dilemma as to which right-back he should select

England boss Gareth Southgate (left) has a dilemma as to which right-back he should select

Chelsea’s James has been one of the Premier League’s standout players this season, let alone right-backs, scoring four goals and registering three assists since the start of the campaign and is an unlikely Golden Boot contender at this rate. 

Alexander-Arnold, meanwhile, has overcome the pressure following his surprise omission from England duty in March by registering four assists so far this term and is now firmly back in Southgate’s plans. 

After being the two England back-up options at right-back, Alexander-Arnold and James’s Premier League form has put them at the forefront at the queue. 

Their form has pushed Trippier out of Southgate’s squad, while 31-year-old Walker is being out-performed by the two youngsters in the domestic game and is surely sweating over his England spot. 

All that remains is one question: who out of Alexander-Arnold and James should start for England ahead of their World Cup qualifying matches with Albania and San Marino this month? Here, Sportsmail tries to find out…

Sportsmail looks at the stats that separate Alexander-Arnold (left) and James's (right) form....

Sportsmail looks at the stats that separate Alexander-Arnold (left) and James’s (right) form….

ATTACKING 

There is no doubt as to which defender is better in front of goal. Reece James has been in incredible form for Chelsea and has four Premier League goals this term – the same tally as Bruno Fernandes, Cristiano Ronaldo and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. 

Both defenders average around two shots per game, though James has four goals in eight games compared to Alexander-Arnold who has one in nine, meaning the Chelsea man is both more accurate and clinical than his rival. 

In terms of chance creation, both players have similar numbers in terms of 90-minute averages but with one key difference – half of Alexander-Arnold’s chances per 90 come from set pieces, while the vast majority of the opportunities James creates are from open play. 

Chelsea's James has been in superb goalscoring form with four goals as well as three assists

Chelsea’s James has been in superb goalscoring form with four goals as well as three assists

That provides a dilemma for Southgate, who could lose potency from set pieces if James plays at right-back, but would then lack the fluency that Chelsea are showing this season in breaking teams down when Alexander-Arnold appears on the right. 

On the other hand, Southgate has the luxury of choosing whichever right-back suits the upcoming game. For example, if England are likely to be dominating the ball then James is the appropriate option due to his excellence from open play.

Meanwhile, if the Three Lions are set to be without the ball and their quality from set pieces is crucial, then Alexander-Arnold may be the better pick – but England do have other excellent options from dead-ball situations, notably Phil Foden, Luke Shaw, Mason Mount and now Emile Smith Rowe.

Either way, neither Alexander-Arnold or James can really be separated with regards to attacking play – as they both have different qualities.  

Alexander-Arnold's attacking influence mostly comes from set piece and its deliveries

Alexander-Arnold’s attacking influence mostly comes from set piece and its deliveries

REECE JAMES VS TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD ATTACKING STATS 
STAT  Reece James  Trent Alexander-Arnold 
Goals  4 1
Shots per 90  2.2  2.0 
Shot conversion rate  36%  6% 
Assists  3
Chances created per 90 ( + from open Play)  3.0 (2.8)  3.4 (1.7) 
Stats from Opta     

DEFENSIVE

Such is the focus on the duo’s attacking play, that their defensive game sometimes get overlooked. 

England boss Southgate has a tendency to be more reserved in terms of his team selection, which could suggest why the likes of Walker or Trippier, who are more defensively astute, have played more international games than other right-backs.   

Liverpool's pressing game means Alexander-Arnold has better defensive stats than James

Liverpool’s pressing game means Alexander-Arnold has better defensive stats than James

James is on a similar level to the Liverpool man for tackling statistics this season, however

James is on a similar level to the Liverpool man for tackling statistics this season, however

JAMES VS TRENT DEFENSIVE STATS 

Tackles per 90 (2020/21)

Trent Alexander-Arnold: 1.4

Reece James: 1.6

Interceptions per 90

Trent Alexander-Arnold: 2.0

Reece James: 0.4

Possession Won per 90

Trent Alexander-Arnold: 7.4

Reece James: 3.9

Stats from Opta 

It is worth remembering that James and Alexander-Arnold play for very different teams in terms of style. The former plays for a team that does not press that often due to the personnel is has up front, while Alexander-Arnold is used in a relentless Jurgen Klopp side that harasses opposition defenders down at every opportunity.  

That is why the Liverpool man has more than twice as many reclaims and interceptions per game this season than Chelsea’s James, even though both of them have similar tackling stats. 

Chelsea and Liverpool’s possession stats are also strikingly similar, with both of the teams averaging around 60 per cent of the ball this season, meaning one right-back is not doing more defending than the other.   

Again, this provides an interesting tactical question for Southgate regarding his team selection. Should England want to go and press teams well, then Alexander-Arnold has an excellent history in hounding down opponents. 

But James could act as the option when England have to sit deep and spend some time without the ball, given James’ superior tackling stats per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season.

PASSING

One of Alexander-Arnold’s biggest strengths is his passing game, with the Liverpool man receiving many plaudits from within the sport about the way he finds team-mates.

But a closer look at James’s game shows that the Chelsea man has better passing stats than his England right-back rival, in both the long and short game. 

However, it is worth noting that Alexander-Arnold attempts more passes and long balls per game than James, which means he is more likely to make errors. 

Alexander-Arnold tries more long passes per 90, which explains why his accuracy rate is low

Alexander-Arnold tries more long passes per 90, which explains why his accuracy rate is low

James is less risky with his passing which suggests why his accuracy rate is always very high

James is less risky with his passing which suggests why his accuracy rate is always very high

The Liverpool man also makes five times as many long balls per game than James, meaning Alexander-Arnold is more adventurous in his game, with the Chelsea defender playing more simple passes. 

But ultimately, both players have similar amounts of assists and chances created, so the effectiveness of those different passing styles are similar in terms of goalscoring actions. 

REECE JAMES VS TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD PASSING STATS 
STATS  Reece James  Trent Alexander-Arnold 
Passes per 90 55.4  72.8
Passing Accuracy  87%  81% 
Long passes per 90   2.8 11.4 
Long passes accuracy  64%  55% 

SHAPE 

England boss Southgate has often switched his teams between a back four and a back three, which does raise the question as to how his right-backs fit in this structure. 

Both players have experience of turning out at both right wing-back and right-back for the Three Lions, even though they play very different roles for their teams. Alexander-Arnold is the mainstay in a Liverpool back four, while James is Chelsea’s main man in a back five. 

And the England pair often turn up in different areas of the pitch for their clubs. Alexander-Arnold finds himself towards the middle of the pitch at times to help the midfield, to the point where he rarely finds himself on the touchline at all. 

Alexander-Arnold likes to appear in the middle of the park and rarely adopts wide areas

Alexander-Arnold likes to appear in the middle of the park and rarely adopts wide areas

Meanwhile, Chelsea’s James is told by Blues boss Thomas Tuchel to be a regular at the back post from wide areas – so much so that all four of his Premier League goals this season came from roughly the same part of the penalty area – to the right at a tight angle. 

But the 21-year-old does have experience in coming into the pitch and playing a similar role to what Alexander-Arnold plays at Liverpool. 

When Southgate started Alexander-Arnold as a midfielder for a World Cup qualifier with Andorra in September, the England boss changed his mind at half-time and swapped him with James in the right-back role.

All of James's goals this season have come from the same part of the penalty area - out wide

All of James’s goals this season have come from the same part of the penalty area – out wide

The Three Lions were far more secure in the middle of the park with James there, which shows the Chelsea man can be central if needed.

Ultimately, whichever right-back is picked for England will depend on what system and tactics Southgate wants to utilise. 

England’s two main right-back options offer very different tactical elements on the pitch and this squad depth is another example why the Three Lions have one of the best squads in international football.

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