Gareth Southgate’s personality and intelligence means he’ll never be somebody who thinks he’s got everything all worked out, and the same goes for his right-hand man, Steve Holland.
They’re both humble enough and aware they are always learning and as you discover more from seeing your teams in big tournaments than the build-up, it’s inevitable lessons will have been drawn from Euro 2020 even though it’s worth remembering it was England’s best showing for 55 years.
What I saw against Hungary, where England made one change [Jack Grealish for Kieran Trippier] and went to a back-four, was a team that is very confident and assured. You can see that two successful tournaments in a row have given them a strut, even though there was disappointment in the final.
England manager Gareth Southgate (left) and his right-hand man Steve Holland (right)
There was belief, maturity and patience in their first post-Euros game, even in the first half when you thought they needed to create something there was no rush from the players. They didn’t invite any panic that would have been detrimental to their play.
I liked their confidence, it felt like a team comfortable with each other. I also liked the fact that Kalvin Phillips and Mason Mount played ahead of Declan Rice instead of Phillips playing next to Rice as happened in some Euro games.
That was an obvious tweak from the latter stages though I know Phillips was more advanced in the opening game against Croatia and set up the winner.
There is a definite fluidity that I’m sure is helped by having only one change in the starting XI. Maybe Gareth is really nailing down his best team. For many years, we always guessed what the strongest England team would be.
Now you’d be pretty sure of nine or 10, Gareth seems to trust the two full-backs, the centre-back pairing, Rice and Phillips in the middle whether as a two or a three.
The World Cup is next year, closer than it usually would be but it’s still a fair distance away so you don’t exactly know how things are going to evolve.
The England players are comfortable with each other after recent tournaments
When you think about Qatar and whether England are going to be more on the front foot and getting after teams, that could happen naturally as confidence grows among the players, rather than a big shift in the manager’s thinking.
If you think about Jack Grealish, he is going to play Champions League football for the first time this season with Manchester City, and doubtlessly improve working with Pep Guardiola. So you are going to have a more complete footballer than he was at the Euros.
Declan Rice has not played European club football before. He will do with West Ham and that is going to make him better, as good as he is already.
I’m not one who would be overly concerned about whether we go out with a positive or negative mindset. I think it’s too simplistic a way of looking at things.
What England showed at the Euros is more often than not, Gareth got the tactical decisions right when to chase games, and when not to. When he changed formations, it worked. It is only over-analysis of the final that has caused criticism.
Jack Grealish will be a more accomplished footballer for playing in the Champions League
It would be logical to keep the team that played in Hungary and send them out again against Poland on Wednesday which is a tough fixture (he can make as many changes as he likes for Andorra on Sunday!)
Unless someone is so outstanding this evening at Wembley or somebody else gets a knock or isn’t quite at it in training, it would make sense to stick to the same group. Having said that, the general mood is so confident, it wouldn’t weaken the team’s chances if a couple of changes were made.
I wouldn’t be worried if Trent Alexander-Arnold came in for Kyle Walker or Jordan Henderson down the middle. The group looks comfortable and strong.
When we get to the World Cup, there will be debate whether Grealish and Phil Foden can play in the same side, or Walker and Alexander-Arnold.
I think it is more fluid in the forward areas, you can tweak and change a bit more, though I have to say right now Mason Mount would be my first name on the teamsheet. What a player he has become, so talented on the ball and reliable without it as well.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is the first choice for Liverpool but England have plenty of options
It does look like Walker is Gareth’s No 1 ahead of Trent but we will wait and see as the qualifiers progress. As we have seen many times before, players can drop form, other can overtake.
But there is definitely a loyalty factor in Southgate’s selections, borne out of a defined plan and way of thinking. Once he has decided on what would work best in a certain area of the pitch, he tends to stick to it if it works.
But it’s natural that you get changes on the fringes, the XI that starts in Warsaw doesn’t automatically become the XI that starts the World Cup
Alexander-Arnold is such a wonderful footballer, there aren’t many countries in the world where he wouldn’t be in the starting team.
He is the best in many aspects of the job but all-round in terms of full-backs who can fly forward and do their defending, Walker edges it for his defensive work.
But we are blessed in that area, really, there wouldn’t be an issue if it’s Walker, Alexander-Arnold or Reece James.
Kyle Walker (left) seems to be Gareth Southgate’s preferred starter in the right-back position
Sancho’s figures at Dortmund last season would have seen him picked by most international teams but he started only once at the Euros.
Does that mean he won’t force his way in before November 2022? We will have to wait and see, who is in form, who is fit and all those things.
John Stones hasn’t started the season. I don’t think it’ll concern Gareth yet, Guardiola and other managers are easing some of their international players back slowly after a long campaign, but obviously the manager won’t want any of his players to be sidelined for a long time.
I don’t see Stones being frozen out though. He was part of a really tremendous City defence last season.