Gareth Southgate has given a bleak assessment of England’s status on the back of their demoralising defeat by France and made it clear “there is no magic wand” to help the national team back to a position where they can cope against elite opponents.
Southgate, reflecting on only three wins from eight games in charge, said every part of the team needed improvement and admitted the 3-2 defeat at the Stade de France, against a side who had to play with 10 men for virtually the entire second half was the first time since taking the job he had been angry with his players in the dressing room.
“There was no point raising my voice but equally you can’t sugarcoat what happened in that final 30 minutes,” Southgate said. “I don’t think that does any harm. I think they know anyway, they are a very honest group of players. It’s a big challenge. I played the last time we won in France, 20 years ago, and actually we got battered for a lot of that game and scored a goal on the counter.
“That’s the reality of where we are as a country. We have some young players coming through who have really good potential and can be exciting but there is no shortcut. I am afraid there is no magic wand but we are recognising where we are short, we are recognising where we can exploit teams. We’ve had some joy doing that but our game, in all areas, without the ball has to improve.”
Southgate’s wins have come against Malta, Scotland and Lithuania but the manager said he did not regret choosing difficult opponents for the friendly fixtures. His team have already been beaten by Germany, with a return game planned for Wembley in November, and drew with Spain during his spell as the caretaker manager.
Southgate was also frustrated by the 2-2 draw against Scotland at Hampden Park on Saturday but the defeat in Paris represents the biggest disappointment of the new era, not least because he noted some of the team’s old flaws once Raphaël Varane had been sent off. England, he said, had become anxious as soon as they had the extra man.
“I am bitterly disappointed to be 2-2, with them down to 10, and not at least take a draw,” Southgate said. “But I am not shocked. I saw France a lot last summer [during Euro 2016]. I know the power and athleticism they have and the speed. I also know where we are as a team and the hard work that lies ahead to try to bridge the gap between the three teams we’ve played.
“The only way we can understand the gap is by playing these teams. If we’d played lesser teams and won maybe we would all be getting excited and thinking we are better than we actually are. The reality is to find out exactly where we are against the very best. We’ve had two matches away and one at home and for long periods we’ve acquitted ourselves well. But we have a bit to do and I think it’s important, as a group of players and a group of staff, we recognise that.”
He added: “If we’d lost to lesser teams then that would be a bigger concern. I know we are improving and I know the players are receptive but I also know that’s not going to happen in the space of two or three months. I’ve got to keep that at the forefront of my mind. I want the players to feel disappointed because they have to recognise the moments when they have an opportunity to get a really good result.”
Southgate had used Tuesday’s friendly to experiment with a 3-4-3 system but a bad night for England does not necessarily mean him reverting to an orthodox back four. “I don’t think the goals we have conceded are anything to do with either system,” he said. “We were overloaded on a set play for the first goal. We got a tackle [wrong] and it was a weird chain of events for the second goal and the third was a gift.”
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