Gareth Southgate prepared for criticism as he sacrifices Nations League to prepare for World Cup

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Gareth Southgate (right) handed England debuts to starters James Justin and Jarred Bowen (Getty Images)
Gareth Southgate (right) handed England debuts to starters James Justin and Jarred Bowen (Getty Images)

Gareth Southgate has said he is willing to risk “inevitable” criticism and sacrifice England’s Nations League campaign as the lack of friendlies means there is no other chance to experiment or “look at the bigger picture”.

His team lost their opening game of the group with a 1-0 away defeat to Hungary, but the manager was not that concerned, due to the changes made to the team. Southgate asserted after the game that he knows what his strongest side is and what they can do, so the aim is to offer other options.

“I think more than anything we are trying to find a balance of changes to find out about people because we have only had two matches in the last six months anyway and you know that across the four games we have to balance minutes,” the manager said. “We have got a lot of players, particularly at the back, who are coming back from injuries with only one League game at the end of the season. And some players we need to know more about and [Hungary] was a good game, we felt, to have a look at that. I knew going into this block of four games that you run the risk of some results that might hurt. But I have got to look at the bigger picture and ignore the inevitable that comes with the defeats and take what I will learn from it going into Qatar. We have not got friendlies to try it so we have to do it in these types of games.

“Of course, the ideal is to develop players, play well and win games. You have to accept if you are to try to do the first part, then there is a risk on some of the other bits and yes, that is a difficult balance.

“We do not have a 38-game league where you are working with the players all of the time so if I don’t try some of the players in these sorts of games we either flog the team which has been more consistent and we know all about, and they fade at the end of these four games anyway or we try to balance it by putting some players in with some players with experience around them which hopefully gives them the best chance to succeed.”

Kalvin Phillips put the Hungary defeat down to the fact the team has barely played together in the last six months.

The Leeds midfielder said: “The changing room was very disappointed with the result but we haven’t played together for three months and we were always going to have a game like that where we weren’t quite at it.”

England face a highly charged game against Germany in Munich on Tuesday, with Hansi Flick’s side having come up a level since the new manager replaced Jogi Loew. They will also want to make a point after getting eliminated by Southgate’s team in the Euro 2020 last 16, but that isn’t going to cause Southgate to deviate from approach.

“We had a pretty good plan of how we wanted to manage these two games in terms of player minutes and try to balance that we have played a couple more a bit longer than we had hoped and in quite extreme heat so that is not perfect. But that is the balance of trying to manage these four games.”

Phillips expects a more open game against Germany, but said Hungary served as a wake-up call.

“I think even the performance tonight, it kind of opens our eyes. We know that it's not going to be a breeze whenever we go to the World Cup or the next few games. We know we’re going to come up against difficult teams, who are going to defend well against us.

“I think Germany are the total opposite. They’re going to attack us and try and get in behind us and create a lot of chances. As long as we defend well I don’t think we’ve got a problem.”