Southgate: England have got to find another edge
Gareth Southgate knows England need to keep raising the bar if they are to have a shot at Euro 2020 glory, which is why the Three Lions boss is changing the mindset of a group that could soon welcome new faces.
A year on from reaching the World Cup semi-finals in Russia, the side’s extra-time loss to Holland saw them fall short in the final four of the Nations League as their trophyless run continued.
Sunday’s penalty shoot-out victory against Switzerland secured bronze medals, but the disappointment of missing out on the final against eventual winners Portugal hurt the group and underlined the mentality shift overseen by Southgate.
“Well, I think we created an environment that took a bit of pressure off the players and we want them to relax, to express themselves,” he said after the match. “We’ve talked a lot about them.
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“But there now comes a point where, actually, we’ve got to demand more and we’ve got to find another edge.
“If people can’t cope with it then they’re not going to be able to cope with it under pressure and so, from my own point of view, I’ve reflected a lot over the last 48 hours because I’ve probably been awake for 47 of them!
“I’ve got to make sure that I’m constantly raising the bar with this group and we don’t accept any kind of sloppiness to creep in.
“I think the players want drive and they are starting to own a bit of that themselves which is really important.”
Southgate believes all 23 players in Portugal have the potential to remain part of the group moving forwards, but they have to keep driving forward as expectation grows.
The quest to improve could well mean more fresh faces brought into the group for September’s Euro 2020 qualifiers, with the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and James Maddison pushing to be called up after the Under-21 European Championship.
“For me, it’s important for the individuals and their development,” Southgate said, having confirmed he will be in Italy to see England Under-21s up close.
“Obviously for Aidy (Boothroyd) it’s important because he wants to win. But I’ve got a broader view on that because I’ve got half his team playing here, including the likes of Dele (Alli), Trent (Alexander-Arnold) and Joe Gomez.
“So, you know, it’s not an easy hand that I’ve left Aidy over the next couple of weeks but there’s still some super, promising players and I’m looking forward to having a few days with them and see them play under the bit of pressure that being in a tournament creates.
“They know me because I’m always watching their training, and they come to train with us and that’s the club environment we’ve got and I want to help them succeed and that’s the way I think it should be.
“I want it to be across all of the teams, I see it as part of my job.”
Alexander-Arnold is among those still eligible for Boothroyd’s Under-21s, but his development at Liverpool means he is now an established member of the England side.
The 20-year-old helped Liverpool win the Champions League before joining up with the Three Lions and has come on leaps and bounds since Southgate first got to know him on an Under-17s trip to the United States for the Nike Cup.
Sent off in that tournament, Alexander-Arnold has matured markedly since and was arguably England’s biggest threat in third-place play-off against Switzerland thanks to exceptional crossing likened to that of David Beckham.
“Well, he was very good in terms of his use of the ball,” Southgate said. “His technique for his crossing is fantastic.
“There’s still a bit to do defensively on positioning and awareness but he’s had some fantastic experiences already in a very short career. He’s heading in a really good trajectory.”