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England warmed up for the tournament with unconvincing 1-0 wins over Austria and Romania without seven players from Champions League finalists Chelsea and Manchester City.
Manchester United’s quartet only reported in time to feature against Romania on Sunday after the Europa League Final, while Southgate lost Trent Alexander-Arnold to injury and is continuing to sweat on the fitness of Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire.
England played three Nations League qualifiers during pre-season in September, but Southgate says nothing compares to the disruption since he named his squad.
“These two games have been incredibly complicated to prepare for because of the players we have needed to manage through the minutes to avoid further injury,” he said. “That has been extremely complex. Who needs to start? Who needs to come on? How best do we use six subs? The whole season internationally has been complicated.
“Those three games scheduled in the autumn were complicated, but these have been more complex than anything we have previously had. No doubt about that. Our whole season has been one where we have had to adapt and show resilience,” he added.
“Even on Saturday night there were potential issues for Sunday that me and the staff had to work through quickly. It’s a constantly changing environment.
“Everyone in the world is dealing with that. We knew ours was more complicated than most, but some of the teams are having to change base, so everyone has their issues. We are not unique in that. We have just got to make the best decisions and adapt and show that resilience.”
England begin the group stage against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday in a rematch of the 2018 World Cup semi-final, and Southgate warned his players they will be “punished” if they do not improve defensively.
Sunday’s win over Romania was particularly open, with the visitors having 14 shots and England indebted to debutant Sam Johnstone for a fine late save. City’s John Stones is expected to return to the heart of defence, but Southgate wants to see a defensive improvement from the whole team.
“Yes, absolutely [we need to improve],” he said. “I didn’t like us without the ball in the first half against Romania, but that was the whole team — that started from the front. We weren’t disciplined in the way we defended. Our recovery runs were not good enough. It meant that the midfield was stretched, the back players had too many decisions to make. Without doubt we can improve on that.
“I have also got to allow the team that played the reality that we had made a lot of changes and had to preserve some players and give others minutes they needed. There is a lot of work to be done, as without a doubt we cannot give up the number of chances we did on Sunday and not expect to be punished.
“To win tournaments we have to get every aspect of the game right. We can improve on all the small details on the two performances we have had. We were able to pick up a lot from the first game and feed them in to [the Romania match] — some of the things on discipline and details on defending set-plays. On Sunday there were other things that weren’t good enough that need to be put right before next week’s game.”
Arsenal teenager Bukayo Saka is expected to return to training on Tuesday or Wednesday after missing the Romania match with a hip complaint.