Gareth Southgate focused on World Cup preparations rather than silencing critics

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Gareth Southgate is focused on England’s World Cup preparations rather than quietening critics, meaning promising performances from his experimental side were as important as the result against Italy.

It is just over five months until the Three Lions kick off their quest to be crowned world champions in Qatar, where they will face Iran, the United States and neighbours Wales in the group stage.

England now only have three more matches until the tournament gets under way, which is why manager Southgate has tried different systems and personnel during June’s Nations League fixtures.

The Three Lions lost 1-0 in Hungary and drew 1-1 in Germany before Saturday’s drab 0-0 draw with inexperienced Italy – a match that saw the manager attempt to hone and fine-tune at this “incredibly complicated” time.

“We’re trying to set out the best possible way to get through these games, learn as much as we can, of course with a desire to win, but there is a bigger objective for us at the end of the year as well,” Southgate said.

“What I didn’t want to do was keep rolling out the same team because a win might relieve a bit of tension on my shoulders when the more important thing is the team and how we progress ahead of the World Cup.

“So, for me, it was really important to see those players come in and play as well as they did, and that was as important today as the result.

“With the players that came into the team, very pleased with Aaron Ramsdale. I thought he made important saves, was very calm in possession of the ball, so that was exactly what we were hoping he would bring.

“With Fikayo (Tomori), I thought in the main he defended very well, was calm with the ball. His speed is a great asset for us at the back, so I thought he played with confidence.

“I thought Prowsey (James Ward-Prowse) did a very good job, used the ball well, organised the game. His switches of play were good, so I thought it was a really positive night for him.

“And Tammy (Abraham) we were happy with. We took him off because we wanted to refresh the forwards at that stage of the game to try to win the game.

“He’ll obviously be disappointed not to take the chance right at the start but I thought his hold up play was good and he worked well for the team.”

AC Milan defender Fikayo Tomori made his full England debut against Italy
AC Milan defender Fikayo Tomori made his full England debut against Italy (Nick Potts/PA)

Southgate made six changes against Italy as Ramsdale came in for his second cap and Tomori made his full debut, while Ward-Prowse and Abraham were given chances to shine against top level opponents.

More alterations are in store as England round off their run of four matches in 11 days against Hungary on Tuesday at a sold-out Molineux, which had to host the Italy match behind closed doors.

“Well, to win the group, we need to win on Tuesday,” said Southgate, whose side are bottom of Group A3 at the halfway point. “I think having a full house here will be a huge lift for the players.

“You’re at a stage of the season where it’s been incredibly difficult for them – two very tough away games and (then) to come here and play in front of no fans.

England's match against Italy was played behind closed doors as part of UEFA's punishment for the fan disorder at the Euro 2020 final
England’s match against Italy was played behind closed doors as part of UEFA’s punishment for the fan disorder at the Euro 2020 final (Nick Potts/PA)

“When you’re having those moments where you’re pressing for the goal and you’re dominating the game, but there’s nothing coming from the terraces, and then the opponent don’t have the pressure of the fans behind them.

“So, a really tough schedule for them – two tough away games and a home game that isn’t an advantage, other than the people who’ve looked after us brilliantly here.

“We can’t wait to come here on Tuesday when the place will be bouncing and it will just add that extra percentage or two that at this point we could do with that help.

“Without a doubt we’d like to win the game and send the supporters who are going to be here (home) happy and finish on a positive note that would probably leave the group wide open.”

England trained at Wolves’ Sir Jack Hayward Training Ground on Sunday, when Phil Foden continued his push to prove his fitness.

The Manchester City man missed the away double-header after testing positive for Covid-19 and sat out the Italy game despite training on the eve of the match.

“I think it’s going to be really difficult given the volume of training he’s had to this point,” Southgate said of Foden’s chances of facing Hungary.

Phil Foden looks unlikely to add to his 15 cap this month
Phil Foden looks unlikely to add to his 15 caps this month (Adam Davy/PA)

“It’s frustrating because we’ve only had him available for six matches this season. I think we’ve started him in five of those and brought him on in the other, so it’s no secret that we like the player.

“But I just think the reaction to training that he’s had, or the inability to train at a real intensity to this point… we’re only two days away from that decision.

“He’s desperate to give it a go, he wants to be with us, we’ll have a look at him again (on Sunday) but I’ve got to be realistic about it.”

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