Will Stones have Swiss role to play?


England manager Gareth Southgate plans to make some changes for Sunday’s Nations League third-place play-off against Switzerland, with defender John Stones’ role under scrutiny.

Southgate has been encouraged by the response of his players after they suffered another semi-final defeat, beaten 3-1 by Holland after extra-time on Thursday night in Guimaraes.

Manchester City centre-back Stones was culpable for two of the Dutch goals, outmuscled by Matthijs De Ligt at a corner and then later robbed by Memphis Depay as he dithered on the ball, while also playing Ross Barkley into trouble ahead of the third.

England manager Gareth Southgate (PA)
England manager Gareth Southgate feels his young squad can continue their progress (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I’m not looking at him (Stones) as an individual in terms of selection tomorrow,” he said.

“I’m looking at the team, the players we want to see and those who will give us the best opportunity to win the game tomorrow.

“In terms of working with (Stones) and supporting him, that’s very important because it was a difficult night for him. But there’s a longer process to be able to do that.

“Tomorrow we have to pick a team that’s ready, hungry to play again, and make sure the balance of the team is right. That’s the challenge of the next 24 hours.”

Despite the disappointment of Thursday night, Southgate maintains the group continue to grow on from their World Cup exploits in Russia last summer and on the road towards Euro 2020.

“We are at the stage now where as a team we are close to getting into finals and the opportunities to win trophies, but we haven’t got there yet so everybody is disappointed with that throughout the camp,” Southgate said at a press conference.

“What is encouraging is that it is very clear that the players are highly motivated as we go forward that they know that we have to be spot-on with the way we prepare, so I’ve seen positive signs within that response and absolutely we should be disappointed with the outcome.

“The match (against Switzerland) will be different to the semi-final. We want to finish the season on a good note.”

The referee ruled out Jesse Lingard's late goal for offside (Mike Egerton/PA)
The referee ruled out Jesse Lingard’s late goal for offside (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I think with VAR, the big calls in the Champions League and in the game the other night were correct. So we have no complaints about the way it was used,” he said.

“It went against us this time. None of their players thought it was offside, but of course it was and unfortunately we didn’t get the call on that occasion.”

Liverpool defender Joe Gomez is hoping to get some game time, having been an unused substitute on Thursday night following his return to the England camp after Champions League success in Madrid.

“I think it’s easy really (to be motivated to play for England). It’s never to be taken for granted to play for your country,” the 22-year-old said.

“I’m still early in my England career and I’m definitely a long way from losing my desire to play for my country.

“It’s an important game that’s going to be difficult. They’ve got top-quality players. It’s still a game to challenge for. We’re in a position where there’s four teams in the finals for a reason.”

Virgil Van Dijk, right, was booed by some England supporters
Virgil Van Dijk, right, was booed by some England supporters (Tim Goode/PA)

Southgate admitted he was happier that the jeers be directed at the opposition rather than his own team.

“I’d say I’m happier they’re booing the opposition now than when they booed our players when we started,” he said with a smile.

“I’d say we’re making progress. Driving through the streets of Malta and some of the songs that were being sung to us that night, so if Virgil has to take a bit, fair enough.”

Ben Chilwell, Marcus Rashford and Jordan Henderson all trained inside on the eve of the game as they looked to prove their fitness in time for Sunday.

The remaining 20 players all took trained as normal at the facilities of Vitoria de Guimaraes, just a stone’s throw from the Estadio D. Afonso Henriques.


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