England boss Gareth Southgate admits defensive weakness and demands Croatia improvement in Euro 2020 opener

Gareth Southgate has admitted there is “a lot of work to be done” on England’s defence ahead of Euro 2020 after being disappointed with his side’s performance when out of possession in the narrow friendly win over Romania.

Marcus Rashford’s second-half penalty was ultimately enough for England to back-to-back wins from their two warm-up games but debutant goalkeeper Sam Johnstone was called into action on several occasions at the other end.

Southgate named something of a makeshift starting line-up, with no Chelsea or Manchester City players included after their late arrival to the camp and Harry Maguire still unavailable due to an ankle injury.

Even so, the England manager was not happy with how easily his team were opened up by a side ranked 43rd in the world and who have failed to qualify for this summer’s tournament.

When asked whether he wanted to see an improvement defensively in Sunday’s Group D opener against Croatia at Wembley, Southgate said: “Absolutely. I didn’t like us without the ball in the first half but that was the whole team. That started from the front.

“We weren’t disciplined in the way we defended. Our recovery runs were not good enough. It meant that the midfield was stretched the back players had too many decisions to make. They were having to come in spaces where they shouldn’t have needed to be.

“Without doubt we can improve on that. I have also got to allow the team that played the reality that we had made a lot of changes and had to preserve some players and give others minutes that they needed.

“There is a lot of work to be done on the training ground as without a doubt we cannot give up the number of chances we did today and not expect to be punished.”

Southgate added: “We can improve on all the small details on the two performances we have had. We were able to pick up a lot of learnings from the first game and feed them in to today. You know, some of the things on discipline and details on defending set plays.

“Today there were other things that weren’t good enough and need emphasising and need to be put right before next week’s game. This now is a period where you can build with a team.

“It’s one of those rare occasions where you get some work with the team, some continuity and opportunity to improve and we will take every opportunity we can over the next few weeks to be able to do that and polish every aspect of our game.”

England’s vulnerability when playing without the ball on Sunday may have influenced Southgate’s decision to call up Ben White, the Brighton and Hove Albion defender, as the replacement for the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold in his final 26-man squad.

The 23-year-old made his first international start against Romania at the Riverside Stadium, playing all 90 minutes, and did enough to see off competition from midfielder and set-piece specialist James Ward-Prowse for the squad’s final spot.

White will hope to make a late push in training this week and start against Croatia, given Maguire’s absence and the uncertainty over who will parner John Stones in defence, but Southgate said he is still debating who to start on Sunday with his backroom team.

“We are constantly talking as a coaching staff, constantly looking at the players and looking at the opponent,” the England manager revealed. “The best team for the game with Croatia may not be the best team for the game with Scotland. We have to make sure we get those calls right.

“Of course myself and Steve [Holland, assistant manager] have monitored these players so closely for 12 months so although we learn from these games, there are also things in those matches that we have seen over a longer period of time. So we are not surprised by things. These matches confirm things for us.

“I go away and of course have my individual thoughts but all of my coaches are the same and we come together and discuss those things and thrash them around and test the robustness of any decisions we are deciding on. But of course we have another week’s training to get through as well.

“Every time I have ever written a team down on a scrap of paper over the last 12 months I have had to get the pencil with the rubber out and changed it because we have lost people. So I am loathed to pen it in ink if you like tonight. Hopefully we can avoid any injury or illness issues in the next few days.”

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