Trent Alexander-Arnold vying to start in midfield again as England face North Macedonia in Euro 2024 Qualifier

Trent Alexander-Arnold starred in midfield in the win over Malta but a tougher test awaits England against North Macedonia; follow England vs North Macedonia live on Sky Sports’ digital platforms form 6.30pm on Monday; kick-off 7.45pm

Southgate was certainly encouraged by what he saw. “I’ve got no questions in my head; he can do it,” the England boss said after the game. “He showed exactly what we think he could be capable of.”

The question now is whether he sees Alexander-Arnold as the future of his midfield or just another option in the position. Southgate insists much will depend, in the longer term, on whether he continues to step into the role with Liverpool. But Monday’s meeting with North Macedonia will offer another clue.

Should Alexander-Arnold continue there at Old Trafford, against a far better side than Malta, we will know for sure that Southgate is serious about this “project”, as he termed it on Friday night.

Should Southgate revert to a natural midfielder, however, with Kalvin Phillips and Conor Gallagher among those who could step into the side, the temptation will be to conclude otherwise.

Southgate was certainly eager to talk up the threat posed by the North Macedonians on Sunday. “It isn’t just a case of rolling on from Friday,” he said. “It’s a step up, in intensity and quality, and we’ve got to be right on our game to win the match.”

England have not won either of their previous two home games against North Macedonia, drawing 2-2 in 2002 and playing out a goalless draw in another European Qualifier in 2006. Under head coach Blagoja Milevski, they have shown pedigree more recently too.

Southgate felt they “should have won” their Group C fixture against Ukraine on Friday, when they squandered a two-goal lead to lose 3-2, while last year they famously overcame European champions Italy in a World Cup play-off tie in Palermo.

Southgate went on to highlight their “individual quality” on Sunday and it should be noted, from Alexander-Arnold’s perspective, that much of that quality is found in central midfield.

Indeed, while the midfield he came up against in Malta on Friday featured two players who play in the Maltese league and one who plays in Belgium, North Macedonia’s is likely to include Eljif Elmas, a Serie A title-winner with Napoli, and Trabzonspor’s Enis Bardhi.

Elmas and Bardhi scored North Macedonia’s goals against Ukraine on Friday and, together with some of their team-mates, they pose a level of attacking threat far beyond that of Group C minnows Malta.

That means England’s midfield is likely to be tested defensively in a way it was not against Malta – “they bring the game to you a bit more than we had the other night,” said Southgate – and that is sure to be in the manager’s thinking with Alexander-Arnold.

The England boss is in no doubt about the vision and creativity he can offer in the position – “we know the outstanding qualities that he has,” he said on Sunday – but his perceived shortcomings defensively are the reason others are preferred at right-back.

Southgate therefore faces a choice: thrust Alexander-Arnold back into the role and see how he handles the other side of it against a stronger team, or play it safe, and revert to a more natural option in the position as England aim to make it four wins from four.

His decision might hint at his true intentions for Alexander-Arnold.