Football: Pressure back on England manager

England's manager Gareth Southgate taking part in a press conference at the King Power stadium in Leicester, England, on Sept 10, 2018.
England's manager Gareth Southgate taking part in a press conference at the King Power stadium in Leicester, England, on Sept 10, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

After deep World Cup run, Three Lions risk drop in Nations League if they don't buck up

LONDON • It might not be easy fathoming how the Nations League works. But, one game in, there is already a potential scenario that suddenly feels much more realistic - namely that Gareth Southgate could become the first manager to be relegated in the Premier League and with the England team.

A touch harsh? Maybe, when Southgate has done so much to enhance his own reputation during his time in charge of England after his failings at Middlesbrough.

While the 48-year-old, for the record, has "absolutely no problem" with the attention that falls on the England manager, he is acutely aware it will not get any easier for the Three Lions, who have lost three games in a row, and will face Switzerland in a friendly at Leicester's King Power Stadium today.

After that, the next game in League A of the convoluted Nations League competition will be on Oct 12 away to Croatia, who beat England in the World Cup semi-finals.

And three days later, there is an away rematch with the Spanish who reminded the home fans in their 2-1 Nations League opening win at Wembley on Saturday that England still have a lot to learn when it comes to looking after a football.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the Swiss game, Southgate again lamented the absence of an elite game-changing midfielder in his squad.

"The only one in my lifetime is (Paul) Gascoigne," he said.

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    Consecutive games England have lost, including two (to Croatia and Belgium) at the World Cup.

He also touched on how he had to "find the best way" for his team to play, although praise was reserved for Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford, who opened the scoring against La Roja.

"He knows we have real belief in him," the former England Under-21 boss added. "He scored a goal and he was in the penalty box more. At times, his previous goals have come outside the box and we know he can hit the ball.

"But we've been encouraging him to get higher up the pitch and not drop quite as deep, and he got his reward for that."

Not that Rashford is guaranteed a place in today's match against Switzerland, when Southgate will name a much-changed side.

The Football Association yesterday announced that Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli will miss the encounter after suffering a minor muscle strain, with Leicester duo, defender Ben Chilwell and winger Demarai Gray, drafted in.

"We have to give the other players a start," Southgate said.

"It's important for their development and, physically, there are a lot of players who haven't had a game of football yet this season. So, on this occasion, that's the approach we have to take."

Ruben Loftus-Cheek can expect to start. Kyle Walker, who lost his place to Joe Gomez against Spain, is also expected to return to the starting XI.

Danny Rose will take over from Luke Shaw and there might also be starts for Jack Butland, James Tarkowski and Fabian Delph in what will be a calculated gamble on Southgate's part, facing a side that regularly feature in the top 10 of Fifa's world rankings.

He will also want to avoid the ignominy of being the first England manager to lose more than three matches in a row, with that record throughout 146 years of international football on the line.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2018, with the headline 'Pressure back on England manager'. Print Edition | Subscribe