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Southgate hails Hart influence as Butland gets chance

Joe Hart has remained a "fantastic" influence for England despite the goalkeeper's dwindling hopes of a starting berth at the World Cup.

Manager Gareth Southgate confirmed Stoke City's Jack Butland will start Tuesday's friendly against Italy after Everton's Jordan Pickford extended the Three Lions' run of clean sheets to five matches in a 1-0 win over Netherlands.

That streak began with Hart between the posts in the 1-0 World Cup qualifying victory versus Slovenia, but West Ham's on-loan goalkeeper – comfortably the most experienced player in Southgate's squad with 75 caps – has struggled for form and first-team opportunities since.

Adrian retained the number one spot after Hart was ineligible to face parent club Manchester City in December and his first Premier League game in more than three months for David Moyes' men ended in a shambolic 3-0 defeat to Burnley.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of the Italy match, Southgate revealed Hart and the uncapped Nick Pope were aware of his plans to select Pickford and Butland for the final matches before he names England's provisional World Cup squad.

"I think the circumstances were difficult and the team got more solid just after he went out of the side, with David coming in and working as he does," Southgate said, reflecting on Hart's West Ham predicament.

"That's football. You have to take your opportunities. Joe's professionalism has been brilliant for us. He has worked well for us and always performed well.

"We had the best record in qualifying defensively. This week, even though he knew he wouldn't be playing in the games, he's been a fantastic influence with the rest of the players and the rest of the goalkeepers especially.

"There are seven or eight matches left with their clubs and it's up to the goalkeepers to perform well and we'll take it from there."

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As enthusiasm tentatively builds around Southgate's youthful squad, Italy arrive at Wembley at the beginning of a significant rebuilding job.

A humiliating play-off defeat to Sweden saw the Azzurri miss out on World Cup qualification for the first time in 60 years.

Under-21 boss Luigi Di Biagio is in caretaker charge and oversaw a 2-0 defeat to Argentina in Manchester last Friday, but Southgate – who made the same progression as Di Biagio into his current role – believes talk of a crisis around Italy has been overblown.

"I'm not so sure they're in as much of a state as people say," the former Middlesbrough manager added.

"They're not at the World Cup because they were in Spain's group, really. They didn't quite get the play-off right but they've got some good players and they're a proud footballing nation. They won't come to Wembley and roll over, that's for certain.

"Okay, there's some changes because that's the consequence of not qualifying. Everybody knows that.

"I've coached against the coach who is in charge before. His detail is always good; the Italian team's detail is always good.

"We'll be in for a really good test. They'll press us with more intensity than we got pressed [against Netherlands], which is a really good challenge for us."

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