We're still finding our feet: Southgate
Gareth Southgate said he will "stick to the plan" despite watching England lose 1-2 to Spain in the Uefa Nations League at Wembley on Saturday.
- Published 10.09.18
London: Gareth Southgate said he will "stick to the plan" despite watching England lose 1-2 to Spain in the Uefa Nations League at Wembley on Saturday.
For all the goodwill flowing Southgate's way after his young side's surprise run to the World Cup semi-finals, they have now lost three matches in a row, albeit to high-calibre opposition, for the first time since 1988.
Coming on the back of defeats to Croatia in the World Cup semi-final and Belgium in the third-fourth place playoff match, Saturday's loss to Spain will give more ammunition to those saying England still lag behind the world's top sides.
Despite taking an early lead through Marcus Rashford and finishing with a flourish, England were outclassed at times as Spain marked Luis Enrique's first game in charge with victory secured by goals from Saul Niguez and Rodrigo.
"It was a tough test in terms of pressing and a team who are so good in possession," Southgate told reporters.
"We have to keep reviewing and looking at what we do. But we want to stick to the plan and get better at it.
"We are under no illusions that Spain were the better team for long periods. We are still at the early stages of what we want to do. They pressed well and it took us a while to work out where they were coming from and solutions to it."
Southgate, whose side face Switzerland in a friendly next week and also have to play Croatia in the Nations League, said defeats are all part of the evolution of his team.
"We are still finding our feet. We can go back to an old style, but we will never be a top team," he said. "Or else, we stick with it and accept it won't always work."
Asked if England can close the gap before the next European Championships, Southgate said: "It's very difficult to say. I think we've got some players who can and have shown in this game that they can perform at the highest level and there's some who are still a work in progress.
"We have got 19 matches. It's not very long, but in my opinion, we have got the best group of players in the country here.
"We have got some others who might come back from injury and maybe coming through from the junior ranks."
For former Spain midfielder and Barcelona coach Enrique, his opening match could hardly have gone any better. With the likes of Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Gerard Pique all retiring from the international stage, his starting line-up contained only five players who started against Russia in the World Cup last-16 penalty shoot-out loss. Rodrigo and Niguez both seized their chances with impressive displays, while old stalwarts Sergio Ramos and David De Gea were rocks at the back as England pressed late on.
"The thing I liked most in this game was the attitude of my players," Enrique, who took Barcelona to two La Liga titles and one Champions League triumph during three years in charge, said.
"We suffered a bit towards the end, but against good opponents, that can happen. Now we can go on and improve.
"Winning like this is the very best possible way to begin. We deserved to win."
In the past, Spain were vulnerable whenever they lost possession. But against England, they seemed more comfortable without the ball and defending with their backs against the wall, as they had to do in the latter stages of the game.
"This was a perfect night. The team picked up a huge victory and we saw a very impressive Spain side," said Saul.
"In the second half, we knew how to cope under pressure and that's an important thing for us that we stuck together in tough moments like in the second half."
Captain Ramos added: "We have started a new era with a coach who has a lot of experience and there are few better ways to start than to win at Wembley."