Gareth Southgate said his players should not be disheartened by their 1-0 defeat against Germany, arguing they had been the better side for the majority of the match. He also became the latest in a long line of England managers to face questions about the behaviour of the team’s travelling supporters.
While Southgate was encouraged by the performance of his team in a new 3-4-3 system, saying he could take a lot of confidence into Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania at Wembley, he had to answer questions about why England fans had loudly jeered the German anthem and spent large parts of the night singing derogatory songs about the second world war.
“It is never nice to lose and I am not someone who is overly pleased in defeat but I have to be really pleased with the way my players have played individually and in terms of the tactical system,” Southgate said. “The way that worked and their ability to adapt quickly was excellent and, until the goal, I thought we were the better side.
“I am very pleased with what we learned, the manner of the performance and the only bit we missed was the finish. We should have had the game won but I am very pleased with what we did.”
Southgate picked out Michael Keane for special acclaim on a night when the Burnley defender played as one of three centre-halves. “Michael had an excellent debut. He has played for the under-21s at full-back and centre-back so the system was going to suit him, no problem.
“We had to be creative because we couldn’t train on the field too many times but we were able to walk through certain things. We had meetings and worked through things on tactics boards. It wasn’t an alien system for several of the players and I felt it suited others that aren’t so used to it.”
Of the fans’ chanting and the disruption of the German anthem, Southgate added his voice to the list of England managers who have tried and failed to influence better behaviour.
“It has been pointed out to me. The travelling support, in terms of numbers and the way they back the team, is brilliant, and we would encourage them do that in the right way at all times,” Southgate said.
His decision to try a new formation was made six weeks ago, he said, partly because he felt it would suit Dele Alli and Adam Lallana. “Dele and Adam, and also Jesse Lingard, are fantastic at finding space between the opposition’s midfield and defence. In the past, maybe creative players didn’t always have the work ethic those two have. They cover a phenomenal distance, which allows you to get pressure on the opposition. I think it is very exciting for what we can do moving forward.”