Gareth Southgate salutes his comeback kings but England boss left with more questions than answers

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 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

This was not the emphatic 5-1 victory England enjoyed the last time they were in Munich, but Gareth Southgate will still have left Germany this morning with a smile on his face.

Until Harry Kane’s late penalty snatched a draw, England were on course for back-to-back defeats, which they have not experienced under Southgate since 2018, and another blank in front of goal following Saturday’s 1-0 defeat in Hungary.

But, after Jonas Hofmann had deservedly put Germany ahead in the 50th minute, England rallied and dug themselves out of a hole. Jack Grealish and Jarrod Bowen, both late substitutes, played pivotal roles in helping the England attack loosen the shackles and express themselves.

The England camp has been bullish this week about how last year’s Euro 2020 victory over Germany has changed the mentality of the squad. Players have described it as a watershed moment. It was the first time England had beaten their great rivals in a knockout game at major tournament for 55 years and the players had spoken about now having the belief they could compete with the best.

In the past, there has almost been a mental block when facing bigger footballing nations such as Germany, but last night demonstrated how Southgate’s squad have changed their mindset.

Actions speak louder than words, and England backed up their talking off the pitch with a gutsy late showing on it.

“As a team we believe we can beat anybody,” said Kieran Trippier. “Coming here was positive. “After the result against Hungary, we had to show great character in this game, we had to step it up and we knew it was going to be a difficult place to come to.”

England are now at the midway point of their run of four Nations League games this month and Southgate continues to be left with plenty to ponder with the World Cup on the horizon.

Kane’s goal against Germany, his 50th for England, was a reminder of the side’s reliance on him. Who plays either side of the Tottenham striker now feels like a real debate after a night when the attack did not click.

Mason Mount struggled at No10, Raheem Sterling had an off-night and Bukayo Saka, despite flashes of brilliance, looked like a player in need of a rest. Bowen and Grealish provided energy and creativity off the bench and both should start against Italy at Molineux on Saturday.

Before this game, Southgate described Germany as “the benchmark”, and watching them attack last night you could see why. They were fluid and slick, with Jamal Musiala at the heart of everything, and in the space of a year Hansi Flick has turned them into World Cup contenders.

As is often the way against top sides, England struggled for possession in midfield, as Joshua Kimmich ran the show for Germany.

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

Declan Rice worked tirelessly to stop him, underlining his importance, and Jude Bellingham is emerging as his preferred partner. Kalvin Phillips lasted only 14 minutes, limping off with an injury, and Bellingham held his own enough on a big stage to suggest he could be ready to start alongside Rice in Qatar.

Germany’s attack will cause plenty of problems at the World Cup and, while England restricted their opponents to just one goal last night, Southgate will know his defence needs work. He switched to a back-four last night after playing a three in Hungary, but once again they looked shaky.

Harry Maguire is still rebuilding his confidence after a difficult season, while a lack of fit left-backs has not helped either, but over the next two games England need to show some of the defensive steel that was so prominent during their run to the final of Euro 2020. History has shown it is teams with the best defences who often succeed at major tournaments.

Despite their problems last night, England still found a way to get a result and that will please Southgate, not least because it means his side are not completely adrift at the bottom of their Nations League group and in danger of relegation.

“We played well, we’ve come to one of the most difficult places to come in world football and more than held our own,” said Southgate. “A top team doesn’t lose two on the bounce.”

England did not look like a top team last night, but they have the ammunition in their squad to be one.

There is still time on this road to Qatar, with four games to go before England kick off their World Cup against Iran on November 21.

That journey truly began with this run of four Nations League fixtures and so far it has not been plain sailing. Southgate will hope games against Italy and Hungary are a smoother ride.

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