Southgate defends England team amid ‘never-ending’ scrutiny
Gareth Southgate said it would be “ridiculous” for England to rotate heavily against Scotland and defended the team from the “never-ending” cycle of scrutiny which continued following their draw with Ukraine.
Scotland are hosting the friendly at Hampden Park on Tuesday night to mark the passing of the 150th anniversary of the world’s oldest international fixture which dates back to a 0-0 draw in November 1872.
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Southgate has a 24-man squad to choose from but strongly hinted he will stick with the majority of those who played out a 1-1 draw against Ukraine in Poland despite a performance which attracted fresh criticism over their attacking play.
“We’ve got to find the right balance of physical freshness,” Southgate told a news conference on Monday. “We’ve had a day less preparation [than Scotland]. Experience, finding out about some players, winning, playing well — the usual things that are expected of us with England, really.
“But I think the first thing is we can’t fiddle around with the team because we are playing a top-level side who are going to be at full tilt and giving us a real high-level challenge. You can’t overly experiment because that would be ridiculous.”
The Three Lions boss was also forced to defend the inclusions of Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire despite the former making a controversial move at club level to Saudi Arabia and the latter playing just 23 minutes this season for Manchester United.
Pushed on his view of the reaction to England’s last result — which still leaves them firmly on course to qualify for Euro 2024 as Group C winners, Southgate pointed to Italy’s 1-1 draw with North Macedonia — a team England thrashed 7-0 in June.
“The reaction for us is: we’re top of the group, I think we’re the top-scorers in Europe,” Southgate added. “The boys did a really good job in a difficult environment. We know our attacking players didn’t quite click. Some of that was the surface.
“To make those incisive quick passes at times, you just needed an extra touch or there was a little bobble so I’m very conscious I wasn’t going to be too harsh in my internal review of the players.
“Equally, that wasn’t the case with everything we did. We need to be better and we’ve got to set a high standard. We saw what happened in our group later that night. When we beat North Macedonia, people were questioning the quality they had and the standard of the opposition.
“Italy went there and couldn’t get the win. We know the cycle with England, frankly. I’ve been in the job long enough now. It’s constant, it’s never-ending. But have to focus internally on what’s important for us.”
Meanwhile, Kieran Trippier said he was not thinking about international retirement despite turning 33 later this month.
“I feel great, playing at a high level,” he said. “It has never crossed my mind when I think I’m going to finish. I know the competition I’m up against, my thought-process throughout my whole career is to give my best. That’s all I can do.
“Whenever I’m called upon, I give my all for my club and my country. If I play or don’t play, I’ve got to support the players around me. It’s never once crossed my mind if its my last major tournament or whatever it may be. I just need to keep performing, keep doing well and see what happens in the future.”
Southgate previously revealed he had twice talked Kyle Walker out of stepping down from England duty, most recently after last year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Although Walker’s ongoing presence gives Trippier another rival for the right-back spot in England’s team, the Newcastle United defender added: “Me and Walks have a great relationship. And Trent [Alexander-Arnold] and Reece [James] — there’s a lot of other young right-backs coming through.
“Me and Walks have known each other since the under-19s Euros when we went to Ukraine together. We played at Tottenham together, we played at England together but the good thing about it, we are probably the closest in the group.
“There’s never any bitterness or anything like this. We’re all supportive if I’m playing, he’s playing, we’re always helping each other, we’re always pushing each other on and this is the competition you want to better yourself. There’s never any negativity, it is always positive.”