Gareth Southgate vowed to keep doing things his way regardless of the external noise and pressures as the England manager mulls over his World Cup squad selection and plots success in Qatar.
This was always going to be a unique year given the tournament’s winter scheduling but the last few months have also been unlike anything encountered during the 57-cap former defender’s reign.
England reached the World Cup semi-finals four years ago and just 14 months ago finished as Euros runners-up, but optimism and hope has been replaced by intense scrutiny following a drop in results.
Relegated from the Nations League top tier following Friday’s 1-0 loss in Italy, it looked like Germany would compound matters on Monday as they silenced Wembley when taking a two-goal lead in the second half.
But England roared into the lead and eventually drew 3-3 on a night that boosted morale and helped Southgate help hone his ideas, with the manager determined to stick with the seemingly unpopular five-man backline.
“I don’t think the system was responsible for any of the goals,” he said. “I think that’s clear.
“We were a bit naive on the counter attack for the second. The first and the third are individual errors. In the end, what pleased me was the threat we looked playing in that system.
“Look, people are going to have an opinion but I think it’s the best way for us.
“I’ve got to accept there’s going to be a huge amount of noise. There has been around individual selections, team selections.
“But if I’m going to be wishy-washy, change my mind, not stick to what I think is right and gives us the best chance of winning, then it’s pointless me doing it.
“The players are committed to it. They know the more we play it, the more comfortable it will be and the different tactical problems that opponents pose you start to get more familiar with.
— UEFA Nations League (@EURO2024) September 26, 2022
“I think there were some positive signs across the two games with it.”
Southgate was bullish about the performance and has been unafraid to make bold selection calls ever since taking over in 2016, including dropping Trent Alexander-Arnold from Monday’s matchday squad.
There is sure to be widespread discussion about the composition of his 26-man squad, with the Football Association submitting its long list to FIFA on October 21 before announcing the squad on November 9 or 10.
Southgate has repeatedly expressed the need to be versatile and flexible as injuries will happen before the tournament, saying the likes of Manchester United duo Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho are in his thinking.
“We would be foolish not to keep an open mind to especially players that have worked with us before, who we know, that know us and can slot in pretty comfortably,” he said when the absent pair were put to him.
“The way Eric Dier has played across the two games is a really good example of that. He didn’t need a big adaptation (despite last playing for England in November 2020). He fits in with the group immediately.
“Those guys in particular we’re monitoring closely but also we’ve got to keep an open mind on others because in certain positions we don’t have a lot of depth and we’ve still got to be analysing ‘is there somebody that can come in and improve the squad that we’ve got?’”
The door is also open to Brentford sharpshooter Ivan Toney, who was called up for the first time this month but did not make his debut.
— Brentford FC (@BrentfordFC) September 26, 2022
Asked if he could still play his way into the World Cup squad, Southgate said: “Yeah, definitely.
“There are some positions where I’ve spoken to the players this week, there were some really tight calls in certain positions and so how they do with their club gives them an opportunity to influence that thinking.
“We wanted to pick a bigger squad to engage people, to talk through certain things so that they were in team tactical meetings and training sessions.
“We always knew that we weren’t going to hand loads of caps out. You know, we felt these were important matches to hone down how we want to play and to have a very good idea of where we’re heading with the team.
“So, that’s also important to see how people are going to react in those moments as well because the group dynamic has been a huge part of why we’ve done well in the last two tournaments.”