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England need to find better balance and greater threat, admits Gareth Southgate

Gareth Southgate knows he has to help England kick on at Euro 2024 (Adam Davy/PA)
Gareth Southgate knows he has to help England kick on at Euro 2024 (Adam Davy/PA)

Gareth Southgate says now is a time for strong leadership and intelligent decisions as England’s under-fire manager looks “to find the best way forward” after a concerning start to Euro 2024.

Among the favourites to go all the way in Germany this summer, they have opened the finals with a narrow win and an underwhelming draw, just as they did three years ago.

England went on to reach a first their Euros final and suffered a heart-breaking shootout defeat to Italy, but the current feeling around the national team is lower than at the same point in 2021.

Sunday’s performance in the 1-0 win against Serbia raised concerns that were exacerbated against Denmark, with the team struggling across the board and booed by fans following the 1-1 draw in Frankfurt.

Boos greeted the final whistle as England drew 1-1 with Denmark
Boos greeted the final whistle as England drew 1-1 with Denmark (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“We didn’t press the ball with our intensity and we kept conceding possession too cheaply and when you do those two things it’s hard to have control in the game,” boss Southgate said.

“It led to an anxious performance the longer we game went on and we understand that that’s got to be better if we want to progress to the stages of the tournament that everybody’s expecting and delivering what we need to deliver.”

Despite the sense of concern around the displays, England head into Tuesday evening’s final Group C game against Slovenia in Cologne top of the group.

Their four-point haul will likely be enough to qualify as, at worst, a third-placed side, but the focus is on winning the Euros rather than limping through to the knockout phase.

Southgate’s side are intent on following the Lionesses by becoming European champions and making history as the first England men’s team to win the continental crown.

Asked how big a challenge he is facing, the England boss said: “The challenge is to do something that’s never been done before, so it couldn’t be any bigger.

“We know that we’ve had a lot of issues to deal with in the lead into that, but we are where we are now and we have to find the best way forward, so that’s the responsibility I have.

“I’ve got to lead the group in the right way, make intelligent decisions to find the best balance, to find more of a threat with what we’re delivering with the ball and to be better without the ball so that we’re not needing to defend for the long periods of the game that we are at the moment.”

Fitness has been the main headache Southgate has had to contend with around these finals, with absentees compounded by the physical condition of others.

The latter consideration played a part in his decision to take off captain Harry Kane in the second half on Thursday as the Bayern Munich sharpshooter missed the end of the season with a back injury.

Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden were also withdrawn as part of an bold triple change that saw Southgate turn to Jarrod Bowen, Eberechi Eze and Ollie Watkins with around 20 minutes remaining.

“We just felt our front line put a lot of work into the game the other day,” the England manager said.

England skipper Harry Kane was replaced by Ollie Watkins as part of a bold trip change
England skipper Harry Kane was replaced by Ollie Watkins against Denmark (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“He’s (Kane) only had one 90 minutes in the last five or six weeks, so the other night took a lot out of him.

“We could have stayed with it, but we thought to get speed in the front line at that moment, to get energy to be able to press, was important.

“So that was the decision we took with all of the substitutes basically.”

Those changes will continued to be discussed in the aftermath, so too the decision to leave Cole Palmer on the bench.

Cole Palmer has yet to make an appearance at the Euros
Cole Palmer has yet to make an appearance at the Euros (Mike Egerton/PA)

The Chelsea player ended the campaign in top form but has yet to play a minute at the Euros.

Asked if Palmer has been dealing with an injury, Southgate said: “No, but the other guys have been training exceptionally well. Cole has as well.

“We decided to go with probably a little bit more speed against their back line as the game wore on, but Cole we know can have an impact in these games as well.”

England returned to their remote Blankenhain base straight after the disappointing draw at Deutsche Bank Park.

Those who played on Thursday were working indoors the following day alongside left-back Luke Shaw, who is working his way up to match fitness having been out since mid-February with hamstring issues.

England’s 10 unused players against Denmark trained at their Spa & GolfResort Weimarer Land base on Friday.