Gareth Southgate to make England changes with fitness concerns including Harry Kane

gareth southgate to make england changes with fitness concerns including harry kane

Gareth Southgate says fitness issues are limiting his players' ability to press opponents - Shutterstock/Dave Shopland

Gareth Southgate is ready to make changes for England’s final group game against Slovenia and has raised fitness concerns over his players including Harry Kane.

England manager Southgate could also be forced into a change of plan amid fears over Luke Shaw, and though he is expected to change his starting XI following an admission that the one that started Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Denmark did not perform as intended, he revealed his selection could be governed by fitness issues.

Southgate has suggested Kane is injury-free, but not fully match fit after the striker, who was taken off against Denmark, did not play the final two games of Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga season because of a back problem.

Kane was among England’s senior leadership group, along with vice-captain Kyle Walker, Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham, who in the wake of Thursday’s draw urged team-mates to stay calm and not panic. The senior group expressed their confidence that both performances and results will come good.

Telegraph Sport understands that Southgate’s original plan had been to try to use Shaw off the substitutes’ bench in England’s third and final Group C game against Slovenia in order to help the left-back towards full match fitness for the knockout stages.

But Shaw once again trained inside on Friday, rather than outdoors with those who did not play in the dismal draw with Denmark, raising doubts over whether he will be ready to play any minutes, even as a substitute, against Slovenia in Cologne next Tuesday night.

Southgate has identified poor pressing as one of his chief concerns after labouring against Serbia and Denmark, with concerns over fitness “limitations” impacting players’ intensity during the two matches.

‘We are not pressing well enough’

Having accepted responsibility for the draw against the Danes, Southgate will ponder how best to freshen his starting line-up after picking the same team for the first two matches of the tournament.

“It’s because we are not pressing well enough, with enough intensity,” said Southgate when asked why England had tailed off after taking the lead in both games. “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. It is as simple as that. We have to keep the ball better and build with more control. Then we will be defending less and we’ll have more confidence.

“We’ll have a look at everything. We felt the right thing to do was to give confidence to the players we picked in the first game. We had won the previous game, the guys who came in for the previous game, we were very happy with what they contributed so we have to do the same process after this match. We’ll look at the performance and look at the next opponent and find the best solutions for the next game.”

On Kane, Southgate said the 30-year-old was taken off in the second half against Denmark as he has only played one full match since returning from his back injury at the end of the season.

“We felt with the three front players that they played the bulk of the game the other day and we needed to get some legs onto the pitch,” Southgate said. “Harry’s only had one 90 minutes in five or six weeks. Given what the other game took out of us, given the heat against Denmark, we needed to press better towards the end of the game and it was always in our mind that all of the forward players might need freshening at that point.”

gareth southgate to make england changes with fitness concerns including harry kane

Southgate substitutes Harry Kane against Denmark - PA/Adam Davy

Ahead of the Slovenia game, Anthony Gordon and Cole Palmer are yet to play any minutes, while Kobbie Mainoo is competing with Conor Gallagher to take the place of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jarrod Bowen has provided energy from the bench. Ezri Konsa is believed to have impressed in training, but it remains to be seen whether Southgate makes any changes in defence.

Shaw was named among the substitutes for the opening group game against Serbia, but was not part of the match-day squad for the dismal draw with Denmark.

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag claimed England’s plan had been to use Shaw in the knockout stages, but Southgate had ideally wanted to give him some playing time before then as part of his recovery.

Shaw has not played because of a hamstring injury since February 18 and sources are worried that Southgate has made a mistake by taking him to the Euros – regardless of whether he recovers in time to play in Germany.

A source said: “Luke’s not played for over four months. Even if he plays, he’s not going to be anywhere near fit enough and there’s a real chance he will pick something else up.”

Southgate and his squad travelled back to their Blankenhain camp immediately after the draw in Frankfurt, with the manager reviewing the game as players underwent a recovery session.

‘The emotion and the way we are playing isn’t calm’

He described his players as caring too much, which has led to even some of his experienced players losing their calmness and producing errors.

“Well, there can be no suggestion that they are not trying,” Southgate said. “They are running, they are giving everything, but at the moment the emotion and the way we are playing isn’t calm in the moments we need it to be. To go to the stages of the competition that we want to end up in, that has to be better. We know that.”

With his young squad aiming to reach the final of a major tournament abroad for the first time, Southgate has told the inexperienced players in his squad that finals are a “roller coaster” where teams can build momentum and have opportunities to recover from setbacks.

They have drawn their second match of the tournament in the last two finals, against Scotland at Euro 2020 and then against USA at the World Cup.

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“I am seeing every day that they are loving working together. I don’t think it is a lack of spark,” he said. “They need firm leadership at this time, in my opinion. We have to guide 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. So that is going to be a bit of a roller coaster. It’s not going to go smoothly when you are trying to achieve extraordinary things. They are bloody difficult. So, 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.

“We have got some strong leaders in the dressing room here who have been in situations like this and will play their part in lifting people. And of course all of the staff have to do that as well – that is our job.”

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