England boss Gareth Southgate is planning widespread changes against Andorra and has challenged his players to seize their opportunity with just five camps to go until the World Cup.
The wounds from July’s Euro 2020 final loss to Italy remain raw but there is no time to wallow in self-pity given it is just 14 months until the winter tournament in Qatar gets under way.
England have yet to qualify for the 2022 World Cup but Thursday’s victory amid disgraceful scenes in Hungary means they have a five-point gap over their nearest Group I rivals ahead of facing minnows Andorra.
Southgate plans to make wholesale alterations given Wednesday’s trip to Poland looms large, but that does not mean the Three Lions boss expects a drop in quality from those coming in.
“I think every time we train, every time we work together, there’s a level of performance that’s expected amongst us as a group of staff and players, really,” he said as England prepare to line-up at Wembley for the first time since the Euro 2020 final.
“We’ve seen that since we got together again on Monday.
“You’ve got to set the standards and there’s got to be a level of focus and humility. I mentioned before the game in Hungary that they’re important qualities because it means then that the talent we have comes to the fore.
“So if we’re working as hard as we should be, if we’re mentally in the right place, then our talent can come to the fore and I think we’ve shown that over a consistent period of time.
“We’re 14 or 15 matches without defeat and it means that as a group you gain confidence from various situations we’ve had to face in terms of being behind in games or being ahead in games, tight games that you have to win late.
“Everybody that comes in knows their job, everybody knows the way that we play and that’s what we want every time we select a team and they take the pitch.
“We’ve got great trust in all of the squad so whenever we make changes to the team we always still get a good level of performance and really good level of focus.”
Southgate says the changes are important to keep his squad “as engaged as possible in what we’re doing”, while also providing his players with the chance to impress on the field as much as they do off it.
Conor Coady who did not appear at Euro 2020, will start against Andorra and Jadon Sancho would have surely joined him in the line-up had he not withdrawn through injury.
“It’s disappointing for Jadon, first and foremost, because these opportunities for England are obviously important and cherished,” Southgate said.
“We’ve only got another five camps before a World Cup, so, yeah, for him not to play is a disappointment.
“But you know we’ve got a strong squad and we’ve got other players who are in good form and playing well, so in terms of the depth we’re in a good place, really.”
Sunday will be a particularly big day for Patrick Bamford as the Leeds striker prepares to make his debut in front of more than 65,000 people at Wembley.
“Of course it’s a special moment for him and for his family,” Southgate added.
“You always think about people that have helped you on that journey when you get these opportunities but we want him to do what he does every week with his club.
“He’s settled in really well with the group. He hasn’t had a huge amount of time to be able to train with us yet, but I think he’s got a really clear picture of how we like to play.
“It’s good that he was able to watch the team play the other night at close quarters and get a feel of the expectations.
“We just want him to go and enjoy his football. The phrase you used was opportunity and that’s exactly what it is.
“It should put any more pressure on himself than that. We know what he’s capable of and we’re looking forward to seeing him play.”
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