England vs Italy: Gareth Southgate says playing behind closed doors an ’embarrassment’ for country

Molineux hosts a repeat of the Euro 2020 final on Saturday evening as England face Italy in the Nations League behind closed doors

Gareth Southgate says it is an “embarrassment” for England to be playing Italy behind closed doors in the Nations League on Saturday.

The Football Association was hit with a two-match ban, one suspended, following the behaviour of fans ahead of the Wembley defeat by Italy in last summer’s Euro 2020 final.

There will be around 3,000 people in attendance at Molineux this weekend, largely made up of U14 schoolchildren who under UEFA rules are allowed free admission to fixtures played behind closed doors.

“If it is an embarrassment, it is for England as a country,” manager Southgate said.

“A lot of the people that caused the problems I’m not certain were football fans.

“We spoke enough about it, we spoke about it after the final and when the punishment was first given, what I will say is the vast majority of our fans who travelled to Germany on Tuesday behaved brilliantly, a big thank you to them because maybe people were thinking something different but there were a huge majority who were a credit.”

Southgate hints at making changes
Despite having to play four Nations League fixtures at the end of a long season, Southgate insists any of his fit players are capable of playing against Italy but did hint at making changes from the 1-1 draw in Munich.

“There is nobody we can’t use,” he said.

“We have got to think about some things we have got to see, the freshness of the team as well, I think this is a good game for some of the other players to come into, it is a top-level game and is a good sign to show trust towards the players going into these games.

“I think if we only give players certain types of matches, you don’t find out enough about them and they don’t find out enough about the tactical challenge.”

Phil Foden, recently crowned PFA Young Player of the Year, trained at St George’s Park on Friday but remains a doubt as he recovers from coronavirus. Kalvin Phillips trained away from the group after suffering a dead leg in Germany.

James Ward-Prowse looks in line to start against Italy after joining manager Southgate in the pre-match press conference.

The Southampton captain said: “The manager highlighted before about seeing certain types of players in different types of games and hopefully if that opportunity comes then it’s a good opportunity for me to showcase what I can do against a high level of opposition. It will be a good opportunity to hopefully get some minutes.

“Everybody here is in the squad because they perform well for their club – and you can see that in training. The level is so, so high and having missed out on the European Championship squad, that was a big hurdle for me to overcome.

“I see this as a new challenge now, a new opportunity and I think that has given me a bit more of an incentive heading into this World Cup announcement that I want to be there, I want to be part of this fantastic group and hopefully replicate the success we had.”

Southgate: Grealish a great character
Jack Grealish has started only three of England’s previous 11 competitive matches and is increasingly becoming an impact substitute under Southgate – but does the Manchester City forward deserve a starting berth?

The Three Lions struggled for rhythm in the final third during their draw with Germany until the introduction of Grealish down the left flank with 20 minutes to go helped force a late equaliser.

Southgate, who after the game challenged Grealish to improve his tactical nous if he is to become a regular starter at international level, praised the 26-year-old’s mentality on Friday and insists he loves working with him.

“It’s important for all of our players that they feel that they understand how we want to play,” Southgate said.

“We give them a structure and we prepare them for the games, but within that, with their own talents and their own, we want them to come out. That’s what makes the difference in the games.

“Jack had a fabulous impact on the game when he came on. I know he enjoys his football with us, but he also enjoys his football with his club, so I think it’s important to say that. He has learned a huge amount being part of a team that has won the Premier League, which is massively important to him.

“He’s a player we love working with. He’s got a great mentality, a great character and I think he is a really good guy to have around the group. He has that joy having a football at his feet, which adds so much when you see players in training every day.”

England vs Italy – Opta stats
This is the first meeting between England and Italy since the EURO 2020 final last July. The game ended 1-1 before the Italians won 3-2 on penalties.
Italy have lost just two of their last 15 games against England in all competitions (W7 D6), losing 2-0 in June 1997 and 2-1 in August 2012, both in friendlies. In competitive matches, they’ve lost just once in nine meetings (W5 D3), a 2-0 defeat in a World Cup qualifier in November 1977.
England are playing an international match at Molineux – the home of Wolverhampton Wanderers – for only the fifth time, with the other four coming between 1891 and 1956. In the most recent game in 1956, they won 5-2 against Denmark with Tommy Taylor scoring a hat-trick and Duncan Edwards scoring twice.
England have won just one of their last five games in the UEFA Nations League (D1 L3), failing to score on three occasions. Meanwhile, Italy have lost just one of their 12 games in the UEFA Nations League group stage (W5 D6).
England have failed to win their last two matches (D1 L1), only once before have they gone three without a win under Gareth Southgate, doing so in a three-game losing streak between July and September 2018.

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