Butland among the changes as Southgate tries to find a balance
Gareth Southgate has promised changes as England wrap up their World Cup qualifying campaign in Lithuania, with Jack Butland among those with a chance to impress.
With a place in Russia already assured, the Stoke goalkeeper will start in place of Joe Hart, who has played every minute of the previous nine qualifiers.
More experimentation is likely, in terms of tactics and personnel, as Southgate looks to coax an exciting performance to sweep away memories of Thursday’s torturous 1-0 win over Slovenia.
It is hard to recall a less dynamic Wembley display and the man in charge of improving matters is eager to find the right formula before next summer.
“We’ll make changes, but want to get the balance right,” he said.
“It is a results business but the way I want to play is to entertain as well. This is a game where we want to give a strong performance and win.
“We were very clear in our mind how wanted to evolve and we’ve got an extra game to do that now, which is a great opportunity to look at a couple of things.
“Everyone was disappointed with the performance, none more so than me. We want to learn things from the game and don’t want to waste that opportunity.”
The likes of Harry Maguire, Michael Keane, Harry Winks, Kieran Trippier and Jesse Lingard are among those desperate for a chance to impress, but Southgate would only guarantee Butland a starting spot.
The 24-year-old has made only one appearance for his country since suffering a stress fracture of the ankle in his previous start in Germany nearly 18 months ago.
That was the beginning of a long spell on the sidelines, but he is now back at peak condition and pressing Hart hard.
“I’ve said all along there’s great competition for places,” said Southgate.
“Joe’s performance the other night was excellent, not only did he make important saves but also his decision-making and distribution and his management of the game were excellent.
“Clearly, we have also got other good goalkeepers and this is a great opportunity for Jack to play.
“He’s been patient for his opportunity and his form is good.
“Jack was my captain at Under21 level. He’s an outstanding personality, a strong leader, so why don’t we use those qualities?”
Butland is unapologetic about his designs on Hart’s No.1 jersey, but insists the battle is well-intentioned.
“We’re after the same shirt but we’re keen to push each other to a high standard because that means success for us as a nation,” he said.
“We have brilliant rivalry but a great friendship, too. It’s been a long process getting fit and I finally feel like I’m back where I was, playing consistently and in the England set-up.”
England’s midfield has drawn scrutiny in the days since Slovenia, with Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson seemingly unable to provide the spark to break down a side with limited attacking ambition.
Dele Alli’s return from suspension adds a touch of the unpredictable to the mix but Southgate warned the diminishing number of homegrown players in the Premier League is having an impact on the quality at his disposal.
“We have a league where every week 70 English players play. When I was playing it was probably about 150,” he said.
“We have a problem in terms of opportunities for young players.
“The players we’re selecting we believe are the best in the country.
“The desire is for the country to get behind them. They need support and backing, but they’re not there yet.
“They’re not where everybody else wants them to be.”
Asked to ponder where the heirs to Paul Gascoigne, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were, he added: “Those names came in at 18 or 19 but were surrounded by senior players who’d won lots of things.
“Our average age, around 25, is one of the youngest of the big teams around Europe.
“The guys are having to learn together. It’s a steep learning curve but we’ve got to get used to it and be strong enough, mentally.”
Gareth Southgate at the LFF Stadium in Vilnius last night