The Three Lions' first games in 10 months offered little excitement or hope as Southgate's side failed to score from open play across games against Iceland and Denmark, coupled with plenty of off-the-field drama.
With nine months to go until the delayed Euros - with the final and semi-finals at Wembley Stadium - Southgate has plenty to address and his experiment with a 3-4-3 system on Tuesday left a lot to be desired. The fact that, given the break was during pre-season, many of the squad were playing their first minutes since last term must be considered, but there was little encouragement.
Factor in the crammed, hectic domestic schedule due to the truncated 2020-21 season, and Southgate knows things aren't going to be easy.
"No it won’t be," said the England manager. "March, in particular, will be very complicated regarding the World Cup qualifiers. Given clubs will be at that stage of the season when we are heading towards silverware so I think the whole world is having to accept that getting back to work, living with the virus is complicated in every industry and ours is no different.
"I just think for the players this was a really difficult month to get them anywhere near the level they would want to be. There was a high level of injury risk which we feel we have got through ok.
"So that is as pleasing as anything is that we are sending players back to the clubs without having picked up any injuries and that is credit to the training and our medical team and the way they have operated."
The three at the back system, with two holding midfielders ahead of them, left England's fearsome front three isolated against Denmark on Tuesday, and Southgate admitted that the fallout from Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood's expulsion from the squad did have an influence on his selection.
"The system was something I wanted to try, we had two days working at it," he said. "There are nuances in it where we can be more productive and adventurous with it, but tonight when we were putting new players in, and on the back of everything on the last couple of days, we needed to be secure and solid.
"If we’d been lightweight and wide open and looked a mess, we could have left here with a completely different sort of outcome, and everybody pointing at yesterday as the cause of it, and we just needed a solid base to work from tonight. We tried to then accelerate the game, but weren’t quite able to convert that into the win at the end."