Gareth Southgate has emerged from another international camp of ups, downs and complications feeling that England have taken big steps forward despite the loss to Denmark.
Last month’s meet-up saw the Three Lions boss deal with the fallout from Harry Maguire’s Greek court case before narrowly winning in Iceland, where Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood’s bio bubble breach saw them sent home.
The pair missed the 0-0 draw in Denmark and were omitted from this month’s triple-header, which started with Tammy Abraham, Ben Chilwell and Jadon Sancho’s arrival being delayed for breaching coronavirus rules.
England kicked on by beating Wales 3-0 in a friendly and then secured an impressive 2-1 comeback win against Belgium as a supposed club versus country row over Harry Kane’s fitness bubbled in the background.
Southgate had hoped to end the break on a high against Denmark but – without Kieran Trippier as the full-back faced a Football Association hearing for alleged betting breaches – suffered a 1-0 home loss to Denmark.
Maguire was sent off in the first half and Reece James was shown red after full-time as a testing seven weeks continued, but Southgate remains focused and clutching to the positives.
“I think it’s an unusual period for everybody in the world and everybody’s having to deal with complicated scenarios, plans that are constantly changing,” he said.
“My job’s no different to every man on the street whose going through changes at work, complications with what they’re doing day in, day out, restrictions on their lives.
“So, I’m experienced enough and strong enough to deal with all of those things.
“We’re learning a huge amount. We’ve learned a lot about all of this group of players – the 30 players we’ve had with us in various guises this week.
“Learned a lot about different scenarios within games, learned a lot tactically and we’ve taken big steps forward internally as a group and that will stand us in good stead moving forward.”
Tonight’s game was full of emotion, desire and hunger. Proud to have made my full senior debut in such a testing game. I take full responsibility for the Red card after the final whistle. Moments like this will make me stronger! pic.twitter.com/PYcZf9WMyF
— Reece James (@reecejames_24) October 14, 2020
After a short but hectic period focused on club matters, England head to Belgium – the top-ranked side in the world – in November for a crunch Nations League encounter before welcoming Iceland to Wembley.
It remains to be seen whether another fixture will be organised for the start of that break after New Zealand were forced to pull out of their friendly due to the impact of Covid-19.
There appears little chance of Maguire being overlooked for November’s matches, despite the Manchester United captain being banned for the Belgium match.
The 27-year-old’s sending off for two poorly-timed challenges left his side a man light for an hour, while Southgate said James’ red card for dissent after the end of his impressive full debut was “not acceptable”.
We’re learning a huge amount. We’ve learned a lot about all of this group of players – the 30 players we’ve had with us in various guises this week
England have been shown three red cards this autumn having never previously received one – something that their manager will address, while stressing the impact it can have on the biggest stages.
“100 per cent,” Southgate said. “Since I took the Under-21 job, we talked to them all the time about discipline because we knew in tournament history not only had it cost us but it had cost other teams.
“I think we only ever had one red card with the Under-21s. We hadn’t any before the last few weeks with the seniors, so that’s something we’ve got to learn from because the game in Iceland was a lot more complicated having gone to 10. Tonight the same.
“Of course there have been things off the field which haven’t been right. We’ve addressed them. This week has been hugely positive with the group of players.
“The senior players have led really well. The camp has had a really good feel about it. There have been elements of all the performances that have been good, with and without the ball.
“We’ve given a lot of debuts and the group have grown stronger together.
“Tonight, as difficult as it was for them, the resilience shown, the leadership shown on the pitch with 10 men and the way that they know they came off there having given everything and deserved more from that spell as a group internally stands us in good stead.
“Of course externally there will be huge opinions about everything but that is the nature of being with England.”