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Gareth Southgate has bullishly defended his tactical approach, saying his job is “to win football matches” and “not just have a philosophy”.
The debate around England’s attack has formed one of the main remaining criticisms of the manager, with Southgate commonly perceived as lacking a big idea compared to other major nations.
In what could be construed as a pointed line about Spain and Germany’s World Cup campaigns though, Southgate said: “If you’re going home at the start of the tournament then the philosophy doesn’t wash”.
The England boss also said that, contrary to perceptions, he would rather not play a three-man centre-half line.
“I know people think I have a preference for a certain system, but if anything my preference has always been 4-3-3,” Southgate revealed. “But I don’t think it’s always been appropriate for us to play and get the best out of the team.
“The job is not just to have a philosophy. The job is to win football matches. And you can have a philosophy but if you’re going home at the start of the tournament then the philosophy doesn’t wash, really.
“With the national team, you’ve got to keep winning. Of course we want to win and score goals as we have this time, but the key is always getting the best out of the players you’ve got.”
As regards Kylian Mbappe, Southgate said the forward has been a significant consideration, but that Kyle Walker is a defender who can “deal with him as well as anybody”.
“I mean, usually if we change shape, it’s for a tactical problem rather than an individual problem,” the England manager said. “Clearly with France, they’ve got an outstanding player that if you can get extra bodies around him, it can’t be one person’s responsibility.
“We’ve obviously got a player who can deal with that as well as anybody I can think of but it can’t be just his responsibility and you’ve got to have zonal coverage on players like that.
“We also can’t let Antoine Greizmann have the run of the park because he’s a pretty good player himself so I think we always prepare for the team for.
“These are the patterns we see, these are the positions individual players like to take up, you go into certain detail that they need to know because they know it’s important in the biggest games but equally we’re doing that at the other end of the pitch as well.”
Southgate meanwhile confirmed that Raheem Sterling will not start having just returned from London on Friday morning. The manager did reveal he’s had to increase security at his own home.
“He landed this morning, had a bit of breakfast, went to get some sleep, so he’s had two seven-hour flights, not a lot of training. It’s not a good preparation for the game, I’ve got to bear that in mind,” Southgate detailed.
“We flew here three weeks ago on the Tuesday. On the Wednesday we did a very light session as a group because there’s an injury risk of doing a heavier session so, by the time I’ve seen how he is physically and had a chance to chat with him, I’ll know if he can play some part in the game but he’s obviously not going to start.
“I could relate to it, because I’ve had to put extra security at home because pictures of my house have been published through this tournament. My wife was concerned about that. None of that is helpful.
“These are the sorts of spin-offs you have when you are involved with England. So I could totally understand where Raheem was in terms of feeling the need to look after his family at that time.”
Southgate meanwhile revealed that he and his staff decided on the team the morning after the 3-0 win over Senegal. The England coaches watched a presentation from over two years’ work on France, and it very much conditioned choices.
“We decided on Monday. We’d already watched by Monday night all the games of France, we’d already reviewed our game from Senegal. So we’re very clear on the right path because then you’ve got to deliver that through the week. We’re comfortable with where we’re at.”