No time for pats on the back! Gareth Southgate urges England to show resilience and prove Belgium victory was no fluke with strong performance against Denmark
- England are in good spirits after a positive win over Belgium at the weekend
- The Three Lions have won two games out of two so far in this international break
- Gareth Southgate has urged his side to continue their form against Denmark
- The England boss revealed he told his players he wants more in Monday meeting
In the aftermath of Sunday’s encouraging win over Belgium, England’s players gathered for an impromptu team meeting back at their Pennyhill Park training base.
It presented Gareth Southgate’s side with a chance to pat each other on the back. Who could begrudge them a measure of self-congratulation? England’s win over the team ranked No 1 in the world is a standout triumph of Southgate’s reign so far.
But that is not how England operate any more — Southgate has seen to that.
England are in good spirits ahead of their game against Denmark following the Belgium win
Gareth Southgate wants his Three Lions side to back up the result with a win over Denmark
‘The sign of a good team is to be able to back up a big result,’ said Southgate. ‘You’ve got to have consistency, you’ve got to have constant improvement and constant evolution.
‘It’s great we’ve shown a big result against a very good team. But we have to win again against Denmark. If you want to be top players or top teams, that’s the demand. You’ve got to be relentless in that drive.
‘We’ve made that point and the senior players backed that up in a meeting we had on Monday morning, and we felt that was the first step after Belgium.
‘It wasn’t having two days of comfort and everybody patting each other on the back. That was done within 30 minutes of the game and we were on to preparing for Denmark.’
Victory for England would strengthen their place at the top of Nations League Group A2
This attitude has put England on course to qualify for their second successive UEFA Nations League finals — victory on Wednesday would consolidate their place at the top of Group A2.
Southgate is not getting carried away, of course. There are still tweaks needed to his blueprint heading into next summer’s European Championship.
But, even if the England camp refuse to get excited by it, the win over Belgium at least provided tangible proof that they can hang tough with the world’s elite nations and are seemingly on an upward trajectory.
Yet Southgate is adamant his plans for the delayed Euro 2020 are not set in stone.
Southgate recognises his squad needs tinkering ahead of the European Championships
He said: ‘We are looking at the players we have available, who can play at the highest level, with the demands, physically and mentally, that those top games bring and a classic example is now. We had a demanding game and we’ve got to go again two days later.
‘That sort of replicates what you’d find in a tournament, so this is a good test for us.
‘There’s an element of keeping a good thing going but also is it the right thing? Do we need some freshness?
‘Those are the decisions we have to make. They’ve responded well as a group. One of the great pluses of the last couple of camps has been we have three or four players who have emerged as contenders, not only to be in the squad but to be in the team.’
Southgate could ring in the changes after a break of just three days following the Belgium win
There are still tactical issues that need addressing. Despite the victory over Belgium, England were dominated for the majority of the game.
The win was borne more out of staying in the game than anything else — the fact England’s goals came from Marcus Rashford’s penalty and Mason Mount’s deflected strike is testament to that.
Of course, the injured Raheem Sterling, a guaranteed starter, still needs to return while Harry Kane’s lack of fitness meant he started the win over Roberto Martinez’s side on the bench.
The fitness of Harry Kane (above), a substitute in the Belgium win, is a concern for Southgate
Having those two firing will go some way to ensuring England can keep competing with the elite nations.
But should there be a place for a talent such as Jack Grealish? His impressive debut against Wales last week suggests it is a conversation Southgate and his backroom team should at least entertain.
Arguably, however, the biggest issue ahead of next summer’s tournament is England’s left-hand side. Kieran Trippier’s surprise withdrawal from the squad yesterday only amplified Southgate’s predicament.
The Atletico Madrid full back started in the left wing-back role in Sunday’s win at Wembley. It’s a role he has been asked to fill before, despite the fact he is naturally right-footed.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles (left) or Bukayo Saka (right) could plug England’s left-back problem
Ainsley Maitland-Niles, another right-footer, is hoping for the nod to replace Trippier. Southgate does have left-footed options, although Ben Chilwell, who should be the first-choice left wing-back for the Euros, also misses tonight’s match.
The Chelsea star is suffering from a minor illness and withdrew from the squad yesterday.
Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka, 19, who made his first start against Wales last week, is viewed as one for the future. ‘Our left side is a three-hour discussion over a pint,’ laughed the England boss.
Southgate will surely get the beers in if England make it three wins from three tonight.
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