England boss Gareth Southgate feeling the pressure before Euro 2020 – ‘I have to deliver’

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England boss Gareth Southgate begins his preparations for Euro 2020 against Austria on Tuesday night and admits: “I have to deliver.” In 2018, the Three Lions travelled to Russia with virtually no expectations only to reach the semi-finals. But ahead of facing Austria, the first of two pre-tournament friendlies at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough, Southgate admits the situation is very different three years later.

“I’ve got to try to manage the expectations for the players, but I accept the situation as a manager,” he said.

“There’s expectation – I have to deliver. We have to deliver as a group of staff, although it’s not about me in terms of if we can be successful.

“But, of course, it will be about me if we fail. No problem, that’s the gig.”

Southgate admits though that vital centre-back Harry Maguire may not be fit until the closing stages of the tournament – if at all – but is selecting him for his leadership qualities as he recovers from ankle ligament damage.

“We know exactly where he is at,” Southgate insisted. “Our medical team has been with him over in Manchester he has not travelled yet to us because of the quarantine issues coming back from the Europa League final in Poland.

“So he has a bit more to do, but we have just got to keep assessing him and updating where he is.”

Amid much speculation, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold was also included as one of four right-backs in the final 26-man squad.

However, Jesse Lingard, Ollie Watkins, James Ward-Prowse and Marcus Greenwood, who has been ruled out by a long-standing injury, were the four senior players to be told they would not be part of the final group.

The uncapped trio of Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White and Ben Godfrey also miss out but remain with the group on standby in case of any new injuries before England’s opening game of the European Championships against Croatia at Wembley on June 13.

True enough, Southgate did as he said he would and picked what he believes to be the best 26 footballers in the country – even if an unnaturally large proportion of them appear to be right-backs.

Rockliffe Hall in the leafy village of Hurworth, County Durham, is the perfect retreat on a warm June afternoon ahead of the storm that awaits the England manager.

It is a site he knows well – the home of Middlesbrough, where he cut his managerial teeth in a vain three-year battle against relegation more than a decade ago. Times were very different then.

“On my managerial journey, I mean then I was a 17-year-old apprentice like I was at Crystal Palace,” he said.

“Now I’m probably a 23-year-old player. I’ve only managed 200 games so in terms of experience. I’ve got a lot of experience now of as high a pressured job as you can have. Experience of big matches with the national team.

“But I still know that I’ll be better again in two years’ time and I’ll be better again in four years’ time because I’ve got the desire to improve, learn, reflect, get better and I want to be the best possible coach and manager that I can be.”

Southgate’s tenure started brightly at Middlesbrough after his controversial appointment without the necessary coaching qualifications his newly-professionalised role required.

But when it started to unravel as much due to lack of resources as any managerial failings, he began quickly became undermined as another young English managerial failure in the league where the foreign coach was king.

However, since he reluctantly took the England reins following the debacle of Iceland and the Sam Allardyce fake-sheikh scandal, he has always been meticulous about showing his working.

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Which is why one of the most unbalanced, accident-prone and individual-reliant squads of recent memories actually makes sense.

“Basically they are in our best 26 footballers and that is why they are in the squad and if I could have picked a fifth or sixth right back, I probably would have done,” Southgate responded when asked to address the elephant in his squad.

As it is, it is just the four and tomorrow Trent Alexander-Arnold will start on the right, Kieran Trippier on the left while Kyle Walker and Reece James continue their recovery from Porto.

With Ollie Watkins one of those let go from the initial 33, it leaves just Dominic Calvert-Lewin as back-up to the injury-prone Harry Kane. Or perhaps Marcus Rashford.

But Southgate has calculated he can take that risk to allow an abundance of creative talent elsewhere.

It means he has Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka to call on if Raheem Sterling’s poor form continues into the summer.

So perhaps that will be enough to outscore opponents facing a defence likely to be missing Harry Maguire in the early games and possibly, too, the protection of Jordan Henderson.

So many years praying for the fitness of David Beckham or Wayne Rooney have been enough to question taking one injured player into a tournament. Now we have two.

But if Southgate believes it will work, it is hard not to feel something of a buzz. As in 2018, he has put together a group that can exceed the expectations of a nation.

That was not particularly hard in Russia, but now the goalposts have moved.

“We’ve always gone into tournaments in bygone days worrying about maybe one or two key injuries, Southgate said. “Now we feel we have some depth which is important.

“It’s pointless us sitting worrying about the possibility we might lose players. You have to find ways of winning with the hand you’ve got.” Even if it does contain four twos.

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