Gareth Southgate has praised Ben Chilwell and Jadon Sancho for responding positively to being left out of England’s squad against Croatia, saying their professionalism played a part in the team making a winning start to Euro 2020.
England’s manager experienced the downside of squads being increased to 26 when he had to tell two outfield players they would not be involved against Croatia. Uefa regulations state teams must name two goalkeepers on the bench in their 23-man matchday squads and that left Southgate with some awkward decisions to make before his side’s opening game in Group D.
The strength of England’s attacking options led to Sancho missing out and Luke Shaw was preferred on the bench to Chilwell following the surprising decision to start Kieran Trippier at left-back. However Southgate, who will have to omit three outfield players when Harry Maguire returns to fitness, believes the atmosphere in the camp remains strong and he does not feel that the potential problems of naming a larger squad have emerged.
“They haven’t because of how professionally they took those discussions and how much respect they’ve shown for the whole group,” he said. “As have lots of substitutes who are good players who haven’t been able to get on the pitch [against Croatia]. We know that to be a successful team this is one of the areas that’s got to be right.
“We don’t win today’s game without the way players prepared for the friendlies. Without the way the players who didn’t make the final squad of 26 contributed through that preparation period. All of those factors come into a team getting the sort of result it did today. That’s a team – that’s what it’s about. We’ve got to continue that right the way through this tournament.”
Southgate, who wants England to remain focused when they face Scotland on Friday, did not relish having to explain his thinking to Chilwell and Sancho. “This was the downside of a squad of 26 – to have to have conversations with boys that don’t deserve to be left out,” he said. “But we’ve got to cover certain positions and for this game we went a certain route with Tripps at left-back.
“Everybody knows the competition for places in those attacking areas. So through no fault of their own we have to make a decision somewhere along the line and whoever we did that with is going to be a very good player who didn’t deserve it.”
Southgate said he did not mind his team hitting long passes against Croatia at times. “We didn’t want to do that every time,” he said. “But there are moments to go longer, we’ve got a centre-forward who wins more of his share of the ball. And we shouldn’t be football snobs. It’s great to play out from the back and get to the halfway line in control of the ball, but it’s just as effective to go to the centre forward and be in control of the ball and be able to play from there. The variety is important against top opposition.”
The manager added that Maguire, who hopes to make the bench when England face the Czech Republic next Tuesday, stepped up his recovery from damaged ankle ligaments in training on Monday.
England are not underestimating Scotland. “The game on Friday will probably go down in our careers as one of the most memorable games you will ever play,” Declan Rice said. “We know the history with Scotland. We know the type of game it will be.”