Gareth Southgate believes England’s callow squad can be “hugely competitive” at Euro 2020, even if his young players are some way off their peak.
Harry Kane grabbed a hat-trick on Thursday as the Three Lions marked their 1,000th international with a 7-0 demolition of Montenegro, sealing top spot in Group A and pool matches at Wembley next summer.
It was an impressive display by Southgate’s men, especially given star Raheem Sterling was absent following a skirmish with Joe Gomez and England’s line-up was their youngest since 1959.
The 57-cap former defender has consistently shown trust in young prospects since taking the helm and hopes it will reap rewards, just as it did at last year’s World Cup.
“You can never tell, because you just don’t know who’s going to be available, who’s going to be on form,” Southgate said.
“We’ve got a fairly settled squad, but there are obviously players who’ve been with us in the last 18 months and are still in our thinking.
“We are always learning about the players more in the really big matches and the really high-pressure games.
Although next summer is going to be before a lot of them peak, we can still be hugely competitive...with a squad that’s very excitingGareth Southgate
“But we feel the team (against Montenegro) was extremely young, the squad is young.
“We’ve got to get the balance right with that, but these, in most cases, are our best players we think.
“Although next summer is going to be before a lot of them peak, we can still be hugely competitive and our challenge is to be able to compete, as we found a way to compete in Russia, with a squad that’s very exciting.”
Southgate is clear what England’s best team would be if he had to pick it tomorrow, but knows he has to juggle his desire to keep a settled side with adaptability.
The Three Lions boss used Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – who capped his first start since March 2018 with a goal against Montenegro – as an example after a knee injury denied him the chance to play a key role at the World Cup.
“The good thing is we’ve got really good options in every position,” Southgate said.
“And that’s key, because you’ll all remember plenty of tournaments where we’ve had a key injury on the eve of the tournament and then we’ve all been in meltdown about what might happen. So there is some strength in depth.”
Southgate is not ruling out players that are currently out of favour but have played a part before, name-checking World Cup star Dele Alli, just as he is keeping tabs on other young talent.
The Three Lions boss says that “it’s a case of when, rather than if” someone like Manchester City’s Phil Foden is called up, unless “something goes wildly off-track for him”, but such call-ups rely on form and fitness.
There is no doubt that the likes of Alli and Foden would love to be involved next summer, with the country sure to be gripped as at Euro 96, with the group games, semi-finals and final all to be played at Wembley.
“It’s going to be an incredible experience for the players, for our fans,” Southgate added.
“We want to make Wembley somewhere that teams fear coming, that’s part of the message I gave to the players. So, yes, it’ll be a very, very special event to be a part of.
“And the players deserve it. They’ve played extremely well against opponents we should beat, in a group we should win, for sure, but the quality of their play and the number of goals they’ve scored…
“I used to look at Germany in qualification and they were racking up sixes and sevens and we used to be struggling to break down teams who played with a low block.
“We’ve now managed to play in a way that’s been able to solve that problem. Now we’ve got to solve the different sorts of problems that come with the higher-ranked opponents, and that’s the challenge of the next few months.”