Although manager Gareth Southgate has already seen his England squad qualify through for the next stage of the 2024 European Championships, there is no denying the dead rubber against Malta last week was a pretty horrific watch, and arguably safe in their selections, complacency was a major issue from minute one.
Had Southgate decided to blood some of the new newbies and less experienced in the camp, such a disjointed performance would have been more understandable, but with the kick off later this evening at the Tose Proeski Arena as we close the group out with North Macedonia, fans are demanding a reaction – everyone knows it is a results business, but for the money paid, fans also want some kind of entertainment along the way.
Speaking after the Malta clash, the gaffer explained.
“Performance is the priority. We’ve set a standard. We didn’t reach that standard on Friday. We have to get back to what we’re good at. There’s always a chance within that to have a look at a couple of things that we’d like to see as well. We play a team who, although they can’t qualify, have tremendous pride and they’ll be wounded by what happened in Manchester. We have to be ready for a really good atmosphere. Full crowd, full stadium.”
The reference to Manchester was our earlier 7-0 victory over the side, so they will most certainly be playing for pride here in front of their home fans, and Southgate will find himself forced into a couple of changes for tonight’s encounter.
Newcastle United fullback Kieran Trippier has a personal issue to attend to, so he has already been taken out of contention for the game, and although he did not face Malta, West Ham United Jarrod Bowen has also remained in England because of a minor injury. Southgate explained that with the quick turnaround he was not comfortable that the issue could be assessed fully, so has simply taken the safest option.
“We didn’t really have enough time to assess it fully and make an accurate decision, so we felt better to leave him in England. We wouldn’t take a risk.”
Nothing is really riding on this game, we have already come through Group E as winners, and even though the hosts cannot qualify, they will be backed by a sold out stadium, so England will have to be on it this time around, or the negativity on show will only increase if the game becomes a complete banana skin – and from that point of view, there is almost everything riding on it.