Gareth Southgate says he understands the boos directed at him from England fans but believes the 1-0 defeat to Italy was a step in the right direction.
England were relegated to League B of the Nations League which ramps up concerns about the prospects of Southgate’s side two months out from the World Cup.
The England boss will be left in no doubt about the feelings of the fans as he was again booed after the game when going to clap the 4,000 away fans inside the San Siro. His side are now without a win in five – their worst run in eight years – and have major problems to address before they go to Qatar.
When asked about the full-time boos, he said: “I understand the reaction at the end because that’s the results we’ve had in this competition. It’s an understandable emotional reaction.”
After an uninspiring first half in Milan, where England’s 3-4-3 system and Bukayo Saka’s role at left wing-back didn’t look right, they were undone on 68 minutes when Napoli’s Giacomo Raspadori was allowed to bring down a long ball in the box and bend into the far corner after Kyle Walker stepped off.
England failed to create a serious chance from their 14 efforts of goal whilst Gianluca Scamacca and Giovanni Di Lorenzo both hit the woodwork for the Italians.
Despite the clear problems with their ability to create clear cut chances, Southgate believed his side took “a step in the right direction” ahead of the World Cup.
He said: “It’s difficult for me to be too critical of the performance. We had more possession, more shots, more shots on target. For large parts of the game we played very well. We didn’t deal with the decisive moment defensively and we had moments where we could have been more decisive in thier final third.
“Our quality wasn’t quite right. It’s a spell where ultimately results are going to be everything reacts to but I thought there were lots of positive signs for us as a team. There were lots of good individual performances. The performance was a step in the right direction. But I completely understand that isn’t going to be the reaction externally.
“We’re not in an ideal situation in terms of numbers of players playing at the highest level but we’ve got to keep working at it and keep on track. There will be a huge amount of noise but that has been created from the summer and I totally understand that.
“The players know this was a game they could have won. If they take their chances and defend the goal better then we do win. It’s fine margins against the biggest football nations and the fine margins are decisive.
“We are where we are in terms of the timing so we need to do the best we can in terms of keeping the guys on track. The reaction to what I say now will be guided by the result completely but we weren’t far off in terms of performance.
“I have got to keep the players believing in what they are doing and keep them from being distracted by going into areas that aren’t correct. That’s the task I’ve got.”
Analysis: World Cup is fast approaching but England look lost
Sky Sports’ Peter Smith:
“Gareth Southgate described it as a step in the right direction – but England’s performance against Italy looked more like a team that was lost. The result was a bad one, given Italy’s recent struggles, and the manner of it has rung alarm bells among the fanbase.
“Two months out from Qatar, England can’t buy a goal from open play, with the attack disjointed from the rest of the team. It’s 22 years since they went three games without a goal at all, while stat comparisons with San Marino’s scoring record in this Nations League underline just how bad it has got.
“That disconnection between Kane and his colleagues comes from Southgate opting to pack the defence. And with a back three behind two protecting in midfield, England looked relatively secure – if excessively cautious – until an individual mistake from Walker gave Raspadori room to score.
“However, the change to four at the back to offer more support up top then left England exposed at the other end. One solution seems to cause a problem elsewhere. They are issues you’d expect to have been resolved this deep into a manager’s tenure.
“But unless Southgate can figure out how to get that balance right in the next couple of months, England will have real problems reversing this slump in Qatar.”
England’s World Cup Group B fixtures
November 21: Iran (Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan) – kick-off 1pm
November 25: USA (Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor) – kick-off 7pm
November 29: Wales (Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan) – kick-off 7pm
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