Southgate to start ‘confident’ Sancho against Kosovo
England manager brings in teenager for Rashford Alexander-arnold and Chilwell join starting XI
Jadon Sancho will start England’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Kosovo tonight after Gareth Southgate said there was no point holding back the 19-year-old winger.
It means a change will be made to a forward line that the England manager hailed as among the best in international football after the 4-0 win over Bulgaria on Saturday at Wembley.
Marcus Rashford is set to be left out against Kosovo, who are ranked 120th in the world but rated by Southgate as the most dangerous opponents in Group A.
Southgate said he was not sure there was now enough “jeopardy” in the qualification process for major tournaments – and that he was against the expanded format of 24 teams taking part in the finals next summer.
He exempted Kosovo from criticism but, in a sense, Southgate is prepared to create his own jeopardy by shaking up a winning team. Both full-backs are expected to be changed, with Trent Alexanderarnold coming in for Kieran Trippier on the right and Ben Chilwell selected ahead of Danny Rose on the left.
But it will be the inclusion of Sancho which will excite the England fans as the Three Lions play their first fixture at St Mary’s since October 2002 when they were held to a 2-2 draw by Macedonia, in another Euro qualifier, and Southgate was among the substitutes.
“We’ve got players that we need to find [out] more about, give experience to, but in games where there’s plenty riding on it, not that we’ve already qualified,” Southgate said. “So, we need to see people perform under pressure and how they’re going to cope with that. I think that tomorrow will be the case because it will be a proper test for us.”
Sancho comes into that category. The London-born Borussia Dortmund player has already impressed in his seven appearances for England. This will be his third competitive start as he stakes his claim to join Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling in attack.
“He’s confident in his own ability, you can see that in the way that he plays,” Southgate said. “I think he’s one that, because of where he plays his club football, he still goes under the radar a little bit in terms of the quality of his performances and the level that he’s playing at every week.
“So, I said when I named the squad, he’s not a player we’re looking to hold back. He’s a real competition. We talked really positively about the front three the other day. He’s one that’s in that sort of bracket, so we look at him and Callum [Hudson-odoi], who had such a big impact in his first couple of caps as well.
“You see him play for Dortmund, he’s very diligent in his work as well
‘There isn’t enough jeopardy to make all of the groups as exciting as they could be’
as the fact that he’s exciting in his ability to beat people and we talked the other day about his decisionmaking when he’s running at speed and he’s able to find a pass and the right selection of pass, more often than not.”
Southgate is aware that England only have seven more matches before next summer’s tournament should, as expected, they qualify comfortably as they top their group with three wins from three matches and 14 goals scored.
It means he has little time to give opportunities to the young players he has brought in while also honing his squad – and the style of play he wants when they meet some of Europe’s leading nations.
“That’s what we’ve got to think about in team selections over the next, well, we’re only seven games away from naming a squad. So, we’ve got to give people [opportunities],” Southgate said.
At the same time, qualification has become easier with England in a group with Kosovo, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Montenegro.
“It’s always dangerous to comment when we have a game [against Kosovo] that is a potential to drop points if we’re not right,” Southgate said, adding that he wanted to take England’s first meeting with Kosovo – who are undefeated in 15 matches – “out of the equation” with his argument.
He added: “But, I think if I look across Europe in general, you’d have to say there isn’t enough jeopardy in the qualification process to make all of the groups as exciting as they could be. We saw the difference that the Nations League presented in terms of excitement for fans and the thrill of that.
“When I was playing you had to win your group, and I think European Championships were only 16 teams so that makes a difference in itself. The first World Cup qualifying I was involved in, Italy were in our group and you had to win the group.
“Then there was a play-off for some of the better-placed teams. So, I think the big thing is the number of teams that get to the finals … I would question whether it’s the right thing.”
Southgate said he was not against the idea of the lowest-ranked nations having to go through ‘prequalifying” and play each other as effectively happened in the Nations League.
He also said it was better to have shorter qualifying campaigns.
“When a lot of the teams lower down are playing big opposition, they end up sitting like Bulgaria did [against England] and like Gibraltar did when they played Ireland, really deep, and they never get to attack and they never get to develop the other side of their game,” he said.
England v Kosovo St Mary’s, 7.45pm, ITV1
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