Gareth Southgate will rotate his players as England bid to seal World Cup spot
Gareth Southgate will rotate his squad in San Marino as England look to seal World Cup qualification and end a memorable year on a high.
The Three Lions, who started 2021 with a 5-0 victory behind closed doors against San Marino, head to the microstate for the return fixture in what will be their 19th and final fixture of the year.
England were a penalty shoot-out away from sealing a historic European Championship triumph during that time and, barring the unthinkable, will get another shot at silverware in Qatar next winter.
Friday’s 5-0 Wembley win against Albania means they only need to avoid defeat to the world’s lowest ranked side on Monday to reach the World Cup, as Southgate prepares to alter his selection.
“We will make changes, definitely,” he said, effectively ruling Mason Mount and Luke Shaw out of the San Marino trip. “Tonight with the team we felt the balance was important.
We will make changes, definitely
“We felt that to match up tactically with the way that they played meant that we could be aggressive in our pressure and basically your man-for-man – and we should have better players and come through with the win.
“But that still needed the players to really perform well and I thought they really took that edge into the game.
“Yes, we will make quite a few changes but what we’ve done well in the past is sustain good performances, even with those changes.
“Although it was one of the more experienced teams we’ve fielded, we still had a lot of exciting young talent out there tonight.”
The starting line-up against Albania was the most experienced of Southgate’s reign, with the 451 caps also the most of any England side since taking on Ukraine in September 2013.
A more inexperienced side will line-up in San Marino, but Southgate is wary of maintaining balance in his selection having successfully deployed a 3-4-3 system after seeing a 4-3-3 struggling against Hungary.
He continued: “I think systems can be very attacking and the wing-back system can be very attacking if you’ve got the right profile of players.
“Balance is hugely important in any team because when you’re playing against packed defences it’s not just the ability to open them up with the ball.
“To win the ball high up the pitch and put them under pressure and force errors is very often the route to break the deadlock, or set plays are often the route to break the deadlock.
“We didn’t do that against Hungary. We were too easy to play through, we weren’t positionally right, we weren’t aggressive enough in our pressure.
“So, that opportunity to break them down had gone. So we were then relying on carving our way through a solid block of 10 defenders.
“Against Albania we were able to do both things. We knew they would be more aggressive with their back players, so they didn’t just have a line of five and we talked about exploiting the spaces that they might leave – and the players did that really well.”
Harry Kane hit a perfect hat-trick and Jordan Henderson netted a fine goal on a night when England opened the scoring from a set piece through Harry Maguire’s powerful header.
Southgate has kept faith with the under-fire Manchester United captain, who has endured difficult moments with his club and celebrated his goal by cupping his ears and then putting his fingers in them,
“I don’t know, is he a Hulk Hogan fan? I don’t know what the celebration was for,” the England boss said when asked about recent criticism of Maguire.
“He’s a fabulous player, two months ago he was in the European Championship team of the tournament.
“He’s rushed back because he’s the sort of player that has a huge conscience to help his club and I said during the week you get lots of players that hide in the treatment room when the pressure’s on.
“He hasn’t done that and I’ve got massive respect for doing that.
“But, you know, as a player, sometimes you can go into matches not 100 per cent fit or short of the training that ideally you’d like.
“And, of course, you’re always judged as if you’re a fully fit player in those moments – as soon as you cross the white line, that’s professional football.
“He understands that but I’ve had a really good chat with him earlier this week, reminded him of how important he is for us.
“He’s been able to switch his focus, have a few more days on the training pitch, which has probably helped him as well, and his performance tonight was very, very good.”
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