Gareth Southgate has hinted at making changes for the Euro 2020 qualifying clash with Kosovo – even if the England manager believes it will be the toughest test of the campaign to date.
A routine 4-0 victory over Bulgaria at Wembley on Saturday leaves England with three wins from three and sitting top of Group A.
They welcome Kosovo to St Mary’s on Tuesday night with the visitors occupying second spot and currently on a 15-game unbeaten run.
But Southgate is ready to show sufficient trust in his squad to shuffle his pack from the weekend as the likes of Jadon Sancho and Trent Alexander-Arnold push for starts.
“We might freshen the team a bit, I think that would be important,” Southgate revealed on the eve of the first meeting between the two nations.
“We don’t need to, everybody’s fit and available, so we’ve just got to make sure we get the balance right because we need the cohesion and we need to have the right defending and attacking profiles to make sure we’re giving ourselves the best chance to win the game.
“As I said, I’m expecting an enjoyable game. I think there will be a lot of passion on the pitch, a lot of speed, a lot of athleticism and I know Kosovo are also bringing big support, so I think it’s going to be a really good night.”
While the Three Lions will be widely expected to continue their winning start to qualifying, Kosovo travel to Southampton on the back of a weekend win over the Czech Republic.
That result maintains the very real prospect of Kosovo pushing for Euro 2020 qualification, having only been accepted as a member of both UEFA and FIFA in 2016.
Southgate may be ready to rotate his side but he is under no illusion what kind of threat Tuesday’s opponents possess.
Asked if this would be England’s toughest game to date, Southgate replied: “Yes, absolutely.
“I wasn’t surprised by the result on Saturday against the Czech Republic.
“Before the game, my coaches were sitting down to watch the game and I said, ‘I’m expecting you to come and tell me Kosovo win’, because I’ve watched all of the matches, every game, and the level of performance has been consistent.
“The tactical side of the game has been good. The coach has the team really well organised. And, of course, the passion of a relatively new country is clear. The spirit and the passion for the shirt and for the flag.
“So, I think the team have brought all of those things to their performances and I’m expecting them to be the toughest challenge.
“They have the longest unbeaten record in Europe. So, that in itself is a stat that should make people take notice.”
Southgate also confirmed captain Harry Kane – who scored a hat-trick in the Bulgaria win – would not be one of those to drop out of the team.
“I don’t think you can have a player that is undroppable, because I think that’s a dangerous route for any team and it’s probably not healthy for any individual player,” he added.
“So, without wishing to create a load of fuss the day before the game, I think it’s safe to say we won’t be dropping him tomorrow, but his level of performance is consistently so high it would be a rare occurrence.
“But, as we’ve seen, we’ve got to make sure that everybody’s at the top of their game at all times, because we have got great competition for places.”
The game at St Mary’s is a sell-out as the Football Association continue to take the England side away from Wembley – and Southgate is looking forward to another evening on the road.
“We’re delighted to be coming down to Southampton to play,” he added.
“Our experiences of taking the team around the country have been really positive. I know the tickets have sold out really quickly, so we’re looking forward to a brilliant atmosphere tomorrow night.
“We know it’ll be a very tough game. I’m very impressed with Kosovo, the way that they play and the results that they’ve had.
“So, we’re expecting a different sort of challenge to Saturday but one that we’re looking forward to.”
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