England players not fit enough to press effectively, claims Gareth Southgate

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Gareth Southgate has suggested his England team lack the physical levels to execute his gameplan at Euro 2024 while Declan Rice has opened up on the pressure the players are feeling.

The mood in the England camp was heavy on introspection and soul-searching as they came to terms with Thursday’s 1-1 draw against Denmark. It was not so much the result, which has kept them in the driving seat to qualify for the last 16 as Group C winners. Rather the collective performance, which was defined by errors on the ball and an absence of aggression without it. The press did not work, the absence of high-intensity sprints glaring, and it was worrying to see how Denmark were able to find spaces.

Southgate has made no secret about his fears over the fitness of a clutch of starting players, who have not completed many full games in recent weeks and months. The captain, Harry Kane, is among them. He injured his back towards the end of the domestic season with Bayern Munich and has come through 90 minutes only once since 4 May – in England’s 1-0 win over Serbia in the opening round of group games here.

Kane did not press or run in behind against Denmark and Southgate took him off in the 70th minute for Ollie Watkins, feeling that he needed fresh energy up front. Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden were substituted at the same time. Saka missed Arsenal’s final Premier League game with an injury and played only 25 minutes of England’s warm-up matches.

“We are not pressing well enough, with enough ­intensity,” Southgate said. “We have limitations in how we can do that with the physical condition. We can’t press as high up the pitch as we might have done in the ­qualifiers, for example. And we are not keeping the ball well enough. We have to keep the ball better and build with more control.”

Declan RiceView image in fullscreen

Rice was asked for his opinion on Southgate’s comments. Was the physical condition of the players an issue? “It’s hard to say, really,” Rice said. “You only know yourself. Lads are never going to admit if they’re tired or not. As someone watching a game, you can tell if a player is tired or not. A player’s never going to admit that.”

The pressure on the players is intense, the scrutiny unforgiving and it has been possible to wonder whether it has affected them. Southgate admitted after the Denmark game that “if anything they’re showing they care too much”.

Rice said: “We are all so desperate to do the country proud. We are all so desperate to win, to be leaders, to go out there and give people memories for lifetimes.

“Sometimes I maybe feel like we put too much pressure on ourselves where we could just go out there and let it just take care of ourselves. But, look – two games, one win, one draw. And now we go into that last game [against Slovenia on Tuesday]. Our objective is always to qualify and I’m sure we can still do that.”

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Southgate said: “I am seeing every day that they are loving working together. I don’t think it is a lack of spark. At the moment, they ironically care too much and they need firm leadership. We have to guide them through the difficult period that is coming but really stay on track and focused on this challenge ahead.

“We are trying to do something that has never been done before [win the Euros]. So that is going to be a bit of a rollercoaster. It’s not going to go smoothly when you are trying to achieve extraordinary things. They are bloody difficult. We have to accept the level of expectations, we have to accept the arena we are in. And we have to find a better way of playing to how we have so far.”

Source: theguardian.com

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