Gareth Southgate wants his players to keep pushing for more as England prepare for Wednesday’s tough World Cup qualifier against Poland and this summer’s rearranged Euros.
Four months on from completing a hectic autumn schedule, the injury-hit Three Lions returned to action with a 5-0 cakewalk against minnows San Marino and a 2-0 victory in Albania on Sunday.
Southgate has been pleased by the winning start to World Cup qualification, which continues when Poland arrive at Wembley for a key Group I encounter without star turn Robert Lewandowski.
Wednesday’s match is their toughest test of this March triple-header and the final game before the England manager settles on the squad he believes gives them the best chance of winning the European Championship.
“I think there was a lot of good things but we have to keep pushing this group of players,” Southgate said after Harry Kane and Mason Mount scored in Tirana.
“There’s a lot of talk about us, a lot of talk about what we potentially might be.
“But if we want to deliver then we’ve got to have really high standards and I think we can get better.
“I’m pleased with the win. They should enjoy the win, you’ve always got to enjoy your wins, but I think we can improve.
“I think the players we selected are in good form and have been doing well with their clubs.
“I think there’s competition for places, so the difference between certain players is not big and we’ve got to balance freshness for Wednesday.
“But I was very pleased with the performance. We’ve had two good performances this week.
“I’m pushing for a bit more because I think that’s the standard we’ve got to set if we want to be a really top team, but a lot of good things.
“Not an easy pitch to move the ball quickly on and that meant to open up the spaces wasn’t quite as straightforward as when the ball is running quickly.
“But positionally the players did the right things and they attempted to do the right things throughout the game.”
Having attempted to balance the load of players with the need to get the road to Qatar off to a winning start, Southgate intends to name his strongest side against Poland as England are “trying to win and qualify for a World Cup”.
England’s tactical set-up will be interesting on Wednesday, having reverted back to a four-man backline against San Marino and Albania after using a three-man defence flanked by wing-backs in the previous seven games.
Asked to explain the circumstance in which he settles upon which system to use, Southgate said: “Well, there’s decisions around individuals, there’s decisions around what’s best for the game.
“But most of that thinking we’ll keep to ourselves, really. We don’t need to help opponents and we would keep a lot of that decision making in-house.
“But I was really pleased, I thought Declan (Rice) and Kalvin (Phillips) did a very good job of not only protecting and mopping things up but they used the ball well.
“Kalvin ended up a little bit more advanced than he would normally be with this club but I thought he adapted really well to that position.”
Whatever defensive set-up England go with, Luke Shaw’s versatility will surely hold him in good stead given he can play at full-back, wing-back and the left of a back three.
The rejuvenated Manchester United left-back made a promising return to the international scene on Sunday, winning his first cap since September 2018.
“I think in the early part of the game we asked him to receive a bit higher and it was taking him into direct pressure from their wing-back,” Southgate said.
“So we changed that a little bit after half an hour and I think he was able to come onto the ball a little bit more, which suits him.
“He played some lovely passes. You know, he’s got beautiful weight of pass and of course the cross for the goal as well was really good.
“I thought he got better as the game went on and defensively pretty solid today as well.”