Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer, Skopje
November 19, 2023 20:32
Gareth Southgate says “performance is the priority” in North Macedonia as already qualified England look to make up for a win with a loss to minnows Malta.
The Euro 2020 runners-up booked their place at next summer’s tournament with two games remaining and were at the mercy of Friday’s qualifiers.
England disappointed a packed Wembley crowd by limping to a 2-0 win over Malta, leading the coach to suggest his players were subconsciously lacking gas.
Southgate is not criticizing those who have done so well for him over the years, but he is demanding a greatly improved performance in North Macedonia when they take the curtain up in 2023.
“Performance is the priority,” Southgate said.
“We have set a standard. We didn’t reach that standard on Friday. We have to get back to what we are good at. There’s always an opportunity to look at some of the things we’d like to see as well.
“But the most important thing is making sure we achieve the performance levels we have set.”
England’s final match of the year will also be their last on foreign soil until the Euros take place in Germany.
A sold-out Tose Proeski arena awaits although the Macedonians’ hopes of qualifying have been dashed, with the main focus on revenge on Monday.
Few saw June’s 0-7 demolition of Old Trafford at Old Trafford coming and Blagoja Milevski’s side are looking to get a famous result with a draw at home to the reigning European champions. Europe and Italy since then.
Southgate, whose side are so far unbeaten this year, said: “We didn’t hit the form we wanted on Friday, so it’s all focus on tomorrow’s game.
“We are up against a team who, despite not being able to qualify, have huge pride and they will be hurt by what happened in Manchester.
“We have to be ready for a really good atmosphere. Full of spectators, full of stadiums. We have had a very good calendar year so we want to finish strong.”
England’s final camp of the year was disrupted by no-shows.
Five players withdrew from the original squad due to injury and two more players left the team before flying to the Balkans.
The Football Association announced Kieran Trippier had returned home due to personal problems, while injury meant Jarrod Bowen had to leave camp on Sunday.
“Unfortunately, Jarrod has been injured,” Southgate said. “I think he felt it a little bit yesterday and then again at the end of practice today.
“We didn’t really have enough time to fully assess and make a really accurate decision before the game, so we felt it was better to leave him in England so he could assess properly. body.
“I don’t think it’s anything serious, but we don’t have enough time and we’re not going to risk that situation.”
Bowen is ready for a key role for England’s rotation on Monday, as is Trippier.
The withdrawal of Newcastle’s versatile full-back shows the scarcity of options at left-back with Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell injured.
“We need to adapt,” Southgate said. “We have a few different options and we feel comfortable with it. We can find a good solution to this problem.
“We don’t have anyone playing there regularly, but we’ve adapted to a lot of situations over the last few years and we feel comfortable doing it again tomorrow.”
When asked about the options and changes to the squad, he added: “We probably did that a little bit in terms of personnel in the last few years.
“So, yes, that’s an option. Obviously we have players who play as full-backs. We can adjust. Of course, we have Fik (Fikayo Tomori), who did it the other day, Rico Lewis, Marc Guehi can play on the other side.
“He’s done that for us before in a game so it’s just to make sure everyone knows their job. It might change the way you build templates and things like that, but we feel comfortable with the current situation.”