Trent Alexander-Arnold in line to start England’s Euro 2024 opener in midfield

Trent Alexander-Arnold in action for England
Trent Alexander-Arnold has been handed the No 8 shirt for Euro 2024 - Getty Images/Ryan Pierse

Trent Alexander-Arnold is in pole position to start the European Championship as Declan Rice’s central midfield partner for England.

Alexander-Arnold has been handed the No 8 shirt for the tournament and Telegraph Sport understands the 25-year-old is at the front of the queue to start alongside Rice.

England manager Gareth Southgate also has Conor Gallagher, Kobbie Mainoo and Adam Wharton competing for the spot next to Rice, but a source said: “A lot can change, obviously, but Trent was given the No 8 shirt for a reason.”

Alexander-Arnold only played for just over half-an-hour as a substitute against Wales in the Qatar World Cup in 2022 and missed England’s March friendlies against Brazil and Belgium through injury, when Southgate had hoped to look at him in midfield.

But the Liverpool man played and scored in the warm-up win over Bosnia, starting in the centre of midfield, and also made an appearance as a substitute in the defeat by Iceland.

Southgate’s team have almost a week of training in Germany before they kick off their Euros campaign against Serbia on Sunday night, during which England’s 26-man squad will press their claims to start.

Gareth Southgate and his England team prepare to leave Birmingham Airport for the Euros
Gareth Southgate and his England team leave Birmingham Airport for the Euros - Getty Images/Eddie Keogh

There are fitness issues hanging over a number of players, including John Stones, Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham and Luke Shaw, which Southgate will need to take into account.

Shaw hopes to return to full training this week and is thought to be close to declaring himself ready to play, but it is expected the Serbia game will come too soon.

Southgate is ready to change his plans if needed and is also expected to manage his squad through the group stages, with Gallagher, Cole Palmer, Eberechi Eze and Wharton showing they are ready to step in during England’s warm-up games against Bosnia and Iceland.

Assuming Shaw will not be fit to start the first game and Stones can shake off the ankle scare he suffered against Iceland, Southgate is expected to pick a defence of Stones, Marc Guehi, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier. Shaw will come into England’s defence at left-back once he has proved his fitness.

With Alexander-Arnold in pole position to play next to Rice, Saka will start in the front three, behind Harry Kane, along with Bellingham and Foden. But Bellingham did not play in any of England’s two warm-up games after winning the Champions League with Real Madrid and must be careful after dislocating his shoulder in November.

Jude Bellingham and Trent Alexander-Arnold board the England plane to Germany
Jude Bellingham and Trent Alexander-Arnold board the England plane to Germany - Getty Images/Eddie Keogh

Foden and Saka also started the week short of full fitness. Saka hurt his groin practising his shooting for Arsenal during the final week of the Premier League season and is believed to have not fully shaken off the issue.

Saka did not start either of England’s warm-up games, although he did make a substitutes’ appearance in the defeat against Iceland, playing the final 25 minutes of the game at Wembley.

Southgate will be keen to have a fully-fit Saka at his disposal. The Arsenal star scored three goals for England at the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 and is the second-highest scorer, behind Kane, in the 26-man squad that has travelled to the Euros.

Saka has scored 11 times for England, with Foden netting four times and Bellingham, Rice and Alexander-Arnold all heading into the tournament with three international goals.