England manager Gareth Southgate is under no illusion about the task ahead and believes the World Cup semi-finalists face an “exceptional challenge” for the rest of the year.
Eight weeks after securing their best-ever World Cup performance on foreign soil, the semi-finalists were brought down to earth with a bump by Spain in Saturday’s UEFA Nations League opener.
England, currently sixth in the FIFA world rankings, fell to their first competitive home defeat since 2007 as Luis Enrique’s men deservedly ran out 2-1 victors at Wembley.
The summer feel-good factor remains but the Three Lions are in midst of a three-match losing streak for the first time since 1988 – and are looking to avoid it becoming a record fourth successive loss against Switzerland,
“We’ve got to look at everything,” the England manager said of improving ahead of Euro 2020.
“What we know is that with the group of players that we have with maybe one or two others is the best group of players that we have in the country, so we’ve got to find the way best way of playing.
“I knew this three-month period would be an exceptional challenge and will tell us a lot about exactly where we stand, but I think that’s good for us.
“We’ve got to go through those games, we’ve got to go through those experiences otherwise we would go into a finals tournament in two years’ time…
“If we were just playing qualifiers now against a lower standard opposition on the back of the result, the outcome in the summer, we might have a perception of where we are which is false.
“I think after the next few months we will be very clear.”
Next month’s Nations League double-header promises to be the hardest test for a long time, with England travelling to World Cup semi-final foes Croatia before heading to Spain.
They are “two of the world’s best teams” but Southgate is not getting caught up in the prospect of relegation from the top tier, with the manager instead focused on sticking to his principles in search of progress.
Finding a way to compete with the tools at their disposal is key, but the lack of a creative midfield force remains an ongoing issue for the Three Lions.
“The only one in my lifetime is Gascoigne and I’m not sure he was developed, I think he was a consequence of a unique talent,” Southgate said of his former team-mate.
“I think what is happening at junior level is that there is more emphasis on technical ability, there is more, right from five, six, seven-year olds, there is more emphasis on being able to handle the ball and play.
“We’re seeing that with some of our junior teams. But we can see there’s a period of time for those players to come through.
“We can see there’s a few players around our squad that have the ability to do that, but Spain have had a production line for a long period of time.
“Look at those who have gone and those that come into the team. Of that type of player, they’ve produced more than any other team in the world.”
Southgate relishes the challenge of solving such issues, which only fuels questions as to why he has yet to extend his contract beyond Euro 2020.
“Well, first and foremost, 100 per cent focused on this job, nothing else,” he said. “I am under contract, I have two years.
“You know that leads to a European Championship, which we have games at Wembley, which is going to be a brilliant experience. That is my pure focus.
“I know absolutely what comes with the job so anything that suggests there’s a problem with what surrounds the job, and the focus and attention of it, absolutely no problem at all.
“I want to be in games that matter.
“I believe I’ve been through an experience that is as pressured as you’re ever going to face at any club or international team in getting through a World Cup, so I’m totally comfortably that, and what’s beyond that is to be decided.
“For me, I’m under contract, I’m enjoying the role, I love the challenge of it and that’s it really.”
Asked why a new deal is not a priority given everyone likes a pay rise, Southgate added: “That’s not for me to decide and I think in the end it’s not something that’s right to discuss publicly.
“I think it’s the right thing to focus on the job, and I’m sure, as and when there’s anything to update, we will do that.”