Gareth Southgate is planning wholesale changes against Ivory Coast as England continue to fine-tune ahead of this winter’s World Cup in Qatar.
A year that the Three Lions hope to end in glory at the Lusail Stadium on December 18 got under way with a testing 2-1 comeback win against Switzerland at Wembley on Saturday evening.
Breel Embolo opened the scoring for the side ranked 14th in the world and England rode their luck at times before Luke Shaw equalised and skipper Harry Kane converted a match-winning penalty.
Southgate mixed callow players with experienced internationals in the Wembley friendly and plans to switch things around as preparations for Qatar continue against Ivory Coast on Tuesday.
“We’ll make changes,” the England boss said. “We think that’s the right thing to do.
“We want to keep all of the squad involved. I think that has been a strength for us. Players who come in perform well at the level and the team march on.
“They need to feel that we’ve got the confidence in them to go into any game and we’re also at a stage of the season where their load is heavy and we’ve got to make sure we try and navigate that in the best way possible.”
Southgate has already seen six players withdraw from the England squad and there are question marks over Emile Smith Rowe and John Stones, with the former absent against Switzerland and the latter pulling up in the warm-up.
“With John, he just felt a bit of tightness before the game,” he said. “We’re certain it’s not too serious.
“It could be that he’s OK before Tuesday but we didn’t really have time before the game to assess properly so there was no point in taking a risk at that moment and we will find out a bit more (on Sunday).
“Emile did some work with the fitness team today so there’s a chance he’ll do some of the training session (on Sunday). He is the only other one we have got any flags on.”
Southgate hopes to have the pair available for England’s final scheduled friendly before the World Cup gets under way in November – and last match before finding out their group opponents in Friday’s draw.
“I think the whole thing was a really worthwhile exercise for us and that’s why you want that quality of opposition,” he said of Switzerland as attention turns to the Ivorians’ arrival.
“We could take lower level teams but you don’t learn anything and actually we want to be stretched, we need to be stretched. It puts your record at risk but that’s not important, really.
“We’re trying to do well in tournaments and I think with the Nations League as we’ll have had more competitive games than any previous generation, so that means sometimes you come unstuck but I think in the long-term you are better for it.”
That pursuit of progress saw Southgate reach a milestone on Saturday, with the debuts of Marc Guehi, Kyle Walker-Peters and Tyrick Mitchell meaning he has now used 100 players as England manager.
“I’m not sure whether that’s a good or bad thing but we‘ve certainly never turned down an opportunity to give players a chance,” the Three Lions boss said.
“I’ve tried to look at the future when we’ve made those types of decisions – players that there is time for and the investment might come short-term, mid-term or it might be in a few years’ time.
“I thought Marc did exactly what I’ve seen him do. I watch him play for Crystal Palace and sometimes he can go under the radar because he’s rarely out of position and he’s so calm, so you don’t see lunging tackles, perhaps eye-catching moments.
“But he played with that discipline and assuredness. I thought he was excellent.
“With Ben (White), a small error for the goal, just got caught off his shoulder, but to come in 15 minutes before the game (after Stones’ issue) and be as composed as he was, the rest of his game was very, very good with and without the ball. I thought two were real positives.”
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Another positive against Switzerland was the performance of Jordan Pickford, who produced some important stops at a time when his place as England number one has been frequently questioned.
“He’s always played well for us,” Southgate added. “He has a good focus with us, he has a very good relationship with (goalkeeping coach) Martyn Margetson, who I think does an excellent job with him.
“He knows the structure around him, he knows clearly how we want him to play.
“Look, there is competition for everybody’s position and that’s what we want. We don’t want people just sitting thinking confidently that there’s no competition. That doesn’t help a team.
“I think the form of the other goalkeepers is important but he showed again today big saves in important moments.”
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