Gareth Southgate has called England’s Nations League match against Germany on Tuesday at the Allianz Arena as a “great test of where we are” as the World Cup approaches.
England will take heart from their last meeting with Germany, when Southgate’s team won 2-0 at Wembley last summer to book their spot in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals.
England travel to Munich after a 1-0 loss to Hungary in their Group C opening, but the encounter with Germany, one of just five remaining meetings until the 2022 World Cup, represents a considerably more difficult assignment.
But with Hansi Flick having replaced Joachim Low and Germany unbeaten in a year, can England repeat the feat? And will Southgate’s players seize this opportunity to impress as he ponders his World Cup selection decisions?
With only five games remaining between now and November, Southgate is using England’s Nations League campaign to experiment with personnel. “We have not got friendlies to try it, so we have to do it in these types of games,” he said on Saturday.
World Cup places up for grabs
Southgate has said he already has a “pretty good idea” of his strongest team but there are still places in his World Cup squad up for grabs as England continue their preparations for Qatar.
That experimentation included handing debuts to James Justin and Jarrod Bowen on Saturday.
Leicester full-back Justin endured a difficult afternoon, struggling with a knock before he was withdrawn at the break, but Bowen enhanced his credentials with a positive performance on the right-hand side of England’s attack.
Bowen will hope for more minutes at the Allianz Arena but Southgate has plenty of others to consider too. He described Raheem Sterling as “absolutely fine” having been an unused substitute on Saturday, while Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka, Kalvin Phillips and Conor Gallagher are also vying for places in the starting line-up having been omitted against Hungary.
John Stones is another player in the frame for a start having appeared alongside Southgate at his press conference on Monday and the Manchester City defender admitted he and his team-mates have the World Cup squad firmly in their minds. “Everyone is fighting for their place at the World Cup and trying to play well,” he said. Southgate added: “The mindset of this group is that they want to push and they want to perform well.
“Every one of them wants to play tomorrow night, there’s no doubting that. There’s huge motivation in the group.” Should Southgate ditch the back three?
One of the biggest decisions facing Southgate ahead of this game centres on England’s formation. Should he persist with a back three or switch to a four?
England have of course shown the benefits of using a back three in their major tournament appearances under Southgate, reaching the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 and adopting the system again to overcome Germany on their way to the Euros final last summer. But there is a growing feeling that, as well as being unnecessarily cautious and inhibiting England in an offensive sense, the formation does not suit enough of Southgate’s players.
The approach was met with criticism, however, with Southgate facing accusations of being overly cautious. It was only after Kalvin Phillips replaced Coady in the 79th minute and England reverted to a back four that they finally began to threaten. He favoured a back three in Saturday’s defeat to Hungary, using Kyle Walker, Conor Coady and Harry Maguire at centre-back and James Justin and Trent Alexander-Arnold as wing-backs.
Check the latest Sports news section for latest updates.