Nations League too soon: Southgate

Nations League too soon: Southgate

COPENHAGEN • England manager Gareth Southgate said Nations League matches should not have gone ahead during pre-season for most major European leagues after a 0-0 draw in Denmark on Tuesday.

The Three Lions were hit by injuries and off-field problems after Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood were sent home for breaching coronavirus protocols following Saturday’s 1-0 victory in Iceland. The pair invited girls to the team hotel in Reykjavik and Southgate said the duo would need to earn back his trust before he would select them again.

Southgate, already without centre-back Harry Maguire who was involved in a fracas on holiday in Greece, experimented with a 3-4-3 formation. With three at the back and two defensive pivots, England struggled to get the best out of attackers Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho while Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips had an uneventful England debut.

England improved after the break after Mason Mount, then Jack Grealish, were introduced to balance the midfield, but clear chances were few and far between.

Kane almost notched a stoppage-time winner after rounding Kasper Schmeichel, only for Mathias Jorgensen to make a goal-line clearance.

Former England forward Chris Waddle hit out at Southgate’s straitjacket approach.

“These were two good games to have a look at Jack Grealish,” he told BBC 5 Live. “You can’t give him 15 minutes and say ‘see what happens’ – he might never get another game.”

Former defender Southgate defended his selection, saying it was an opportunity to look at a different system, with an emphasis to control the game. He also pointed to a lack of match fitness – with the Premier League not starting until this weekend – as the reason for such a sharp contrast between England’s performances over the past week and their free-scoring form in qualifying for Euro 2020 before the coronavirus-enforced shutdown.

“The physical conditioning of the players was a huge factor,” he said. “We shouldn’t have been playing. It doesn’t work for the clubs and it doesn’t work for international football.”