England manager Gareth Southgate talks with Kieran Trippier during a break in play. (Source: Reuters)
Gareth Southgate said he will “stick to the plan” despite watching England lose 2-1 to Spain in the Nations League at Wembley on Saturday.
For all the goodwill flowing Southgate’s way after his young side’s surprise run to the World Cup semi-finals they have now lost three matches in a row, albeit to high-calibre opposition, for the first time since 1988.
Coming on the back of defeats to Croatia in the World Cup semi-final and Belgium in the third-fourth place playoff match, Saturday’s loss to Spain will give more ammunition to those saying England still lag behind the world’s top sides.
Despite taking an early lead through Marcus Rashford and finishing with a flourish, England were outclassed at times as Spain marked Luis Enrique’s first game in charge with victory secured by goals from Saul Niguez and Rodrigo.
“Today was a tough test in terms of pressing and a team who are so good in possession,” Southgate told reporters.
“We have to keep reviewing and looking at what we do. But we want to stick to the plan and get better at it.
“We are under no illusions that Spain were the better team for long periods. We are still at the early stages of what we want to do. They pressed well and it took us a while to work out where they were coming form and solutions to it.”
Southgate, whose side face Switzerland in a friendly next week and also have to play Croatia in the Nations League, said defeats are all part of the evolution of his team.
“We are still finding our feet. We can go back to an old style but we will never be a top team,” he said.
“Or we stick with it and accept it won’t always work.”
For former Spain midfielder and Barcelona coach Enrique, his opening match could hardly have gone any better.
With the likes of Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Gerard Pique all retiring from the international stage, his starting line-up contained only five players who started against Russia in the World Cup last 16 penalty shootout loss.
Rodrigo and Saul Niguez both seized their chance with impressive displays while old stalwarts Sergio Ramos and David De Gea were rocks at the back as England pressed late on.
“The thing I liked most tonight was the attitude of my players,” Enrique, who took Barcelona to two La Liga titles and one Champions League during three years in charge, said.
“We suffered a bit towards the end but against good opponents that can happen. Now we can go on and improve.
“Winning like this is the very best way possible to begin. We deserved to win.”
with the Express Morning Briefing