Gareth Southgate will spend the coming weeks analysing performances, balancing options and managing players’ expectations as the England boss prepares to select his squad for the rearranged European Championship.
The Three Lions are looking to win their first major trophy since 1966 and will play their group matches at Wembley this summer – and hope to return there for the semi-finals and final.
Expectations have increased after reaching the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and finishing third in the following year’s Nations League, putting them among the favourites to win Euro 2020.
Southgate will name his squad for the tournament in the week beginning May 24 and the England boss has said that “we’re not far away from knowing who our best 23 are”.
The England boss will now review his depth chart of each position after March’s World Cup qualification triple-header and keep on top of players’ fitness, while also keeping in mind those that might just miss out.
“That of course is a difficult message,” Southgate said. “Very difficult and nobody looks forward to that.
“But I’ve always got to remember that it’s worse for those receiving it than it is for those giving it, so you’ve got to have that empathy with how the players are feeling.
“I think, I’ve spoken to quite a few already this week and I will do over the next couple of weeks, so that they know exactly where they sit because I think that’s helpful.
“You’ve got to manage expectations and have some reality about what they might need to do between now and the end of the season.
“And, of course, everybody is so close and the group this week, it is so important.
“It’s not something anybody sees outside the camp, but when you’ve got players training at the right level every day, encouraging each other through those training sessions, socially getting on well together.
“It’s not all about that social part, but the part where you accept being on the bench and accept playing your part and accept not playing the number of minutes.
“That is critical and the group this week had that and that was very important to us getting nine points when a lot of other big countries weren’t able to do that.”
England followed up wins against San Marino and Albania by beating Poland 2-1 on Wednesday, with Southgate deploying a 4-3-3 system for all three games having used a three-man backline for much of the autumn.
The 50-year-old says tactics will depend a little bit on the availability of certain players, but knows it is “harder with a back three” to get attacking players on the pitch.
Southgate will be thinking through systems over the coming weeks and the possibility of versatile players potentially opening others spots in the squad.
“Heading into Russia we were very clear we were going to be 3-5-2 and were very clear we were going to pick the players to fit that system,” Southgate said.
“We’re a bit more fluid and adaptable now and we’d like to cover some different possibilities.
“We have some exciting wide players and players who can come in off the line and play as an attacking eight or 10.
“We do have different options in those creative areas. Some of them are still learning how to win, needing experiences like (the Poland game). But we’ve got to find a way of getting them into the squad.”
We are already up to speed on our group opponents and what they have done prior to this window.Gareth Southgate
Southgate is now hunkering down in his North Yorkshire home as part of the Covid-19 travel restrictions that covered Sunday’s win in Albania.
The former defender is having to manage his “energy in a different way” ahead of the Euros given the restrictive and ever-changing backdrop, which makes preparations across the board more challenging.
“We have got to look at the most recent games,” he said of Group D rivals Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic.
“We are already up to speed on our group opponents and what they have done prior to this window.
“Then there is a lot of planning with all of the staff around what the camps might look like, what the preparation camps might look like, a lot of logistical things to do.
“We are well down the line with a lot of that planning, but of course everything is constantly changing with the Covid protocol and what we might be allowed to do.
“So it’s a massive operation ahead of a major tournament.”