Southgate wary of 'losing continuity' by making England changes

Gareth Southgate has warned against “throwing everything out the window” by making sweeping changes to his England line-up despite their poor Euro 2024 performances.

There had been suggestion Southgate may be tempted to bring in one or both of Anthony Gordon and Cole Palmer for Sunday’s last-16 clash with Slovakia after the pair’s bright impact from the bench against Slovenia – despite playing for a combined total of 30 minutes in that match.

Kobbie Mainoo is increasingly likely to start on Sunday, Sky Sports News understands, but the England manager is expected to resist the urge to make wholesale changes. Southgate has made only one alteration to his starting XI across the tournament so far despite England’s toils in Germany.

Southgate said: “A team is never quite as poor as people might think, and never quite as good as people might think.

Phil Foden was subbed off for Anthony Gordon during England's draw with Slovenia
Anthony Gordon made his first appearance of the tournament as an 89th-minute substitute against Slovenia

“You’re probably about five per cent off where you’d like to be. Therefore you’ve got to be very careful not to throw everything out the window, lose things you’re doing well and lose continuity and the confidence that comes from players playing together and the understanding that comes with that.

“You have to ignore external advice and be assured in what you’re doing. Equally, we’ve had some players who have come in and had a big impact from the bench.

“Our substitutions in all of the matches have had a big impact, and we’re mindful people are pushing for places, there’s competition, we need that strength in depth.

“The squad are very together. they’re training well, that’s pushing the starting team that’s been in place. The other players have to be ready; you might need five or six changes tomorrow, that’s over half the team now.

“It’s important that when players come on, they perform as the guys did the other night.”

Southgate doubled down on that mindset by calling the Slovenia performance a “step in the right direction” despite his side failing to find the net, and managing only four shots on target against a side ranked 57th in the world.

He told reporters he had seen an increase in intensity on the training pitch ahead of the knock-out stages, and said morale was growing in the camp – including through celebrations for Jude Bellingham and Eberechi Eze’s birthdays on Saturday.

England stuttered to a boring 0-0 draw with Slovenia in final Group C game
England stuttered to a boring 0-0 draw with Slovenia in final Group C game

“Confidence is growing, the players know a lot of the performance against Slovenia was a step in the right direction,” he said.

“We have to find more incisiveness in the final third and creativity, but we have the players to do that.

“The understanding of playing together, sticking to the plan and making sure we show the right level of composure to sustain attacks in that area of the pitch, all of those things will add to the performance.

“Of course, goals have a huge impact on individuals and teams. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be one moment, you keep having to show evidence of what you’re doing well and building on what you’re doing.

Fitness has proven a nagging issue for England both ahead of and during the tournament.

Southgate mentioned fatigue issues following their last warm-up game with Iceland at Wembley, before the Three Lions looked leggy in their opening game with Serbia and struggled to cope with Denmark’s intensity in their second.

Jude Bellingham said he was “dead” after an underwhelming personal performance against Slovenia, having struggled in the final months of the campaign with club side Real Madrid during a gruelling first season at the Bernabeu.

Jude Bellingham's stats vs Slovenia

When asked about the 21-year-old’s fitness, Southgate said: “When you’ve walked off the pitch giving everything you’re going to feel physically in a certain way and perhaps emotionally too.

“He missed a period towards the end of the season with an ankle injury, and didn’t play every game because they were preparing for a Champions League final.

“He will have benefitted from the matches we’ve had and the recovery period in between, as have a number of players.

“But we always have to be mindful of the quality we have to be able to come into the game, the freshness and how that might make a difference in the latter stages of matches.

“That might make a difference, but I’m not concerned about where he’s at in terms of his condition. He’s obviously smiling a lot today, it’s a big day for him, and a reminder of his age and how well he deals with the expectation around him at a remarkably young age.

“I can think of few players who have had to live in that world. I can think that his world is different to most 21 year olds that I know. He’s dealing with that exceptionally well.”

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