Southgate questions pre-season start to Nations League

COPENHAGEN (AFP) – England manager Gareth Southgate said Nations League matches should not have gone ahead during pre-season for most major European leagues after his side laboured to a 0-0 draw away to Denmark early yesterday.

Southgate’s squad was hit by a raft of injuries and off-field problems after Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood were sent home on Monday after breaching coronavirus protocols following last Saturday’s 1-0 victory in Iceland.

The pair reportedly invited people back to the team hotel in Reykjavík in what Southgate described as “unacceptable” and “puzzling” behaviour, which would have resulted in being dismissed from the squad even if infection from coronavirus had not been a risk.

Without Foden and Greenwood to choose from, Southgate’s options were limited as he experimented with a 3-4-3 formation that struggled to get the best out of the front three of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho.

However, it was a lack of match fitness with the Premier League not starting until this weekend that he pointed to as the reason for such a sharp contrast between England’s performances over the past week and their free-scoring form in qualifying for Euro 2020 prior to the coronavirus shutdown.

“The physical conditioning of the players was a huge factor,” said Southgate. “We shouldn’t have been playing. It doesn’t work for the clubs and it doesn’t work for international football.

“I’m really pleased with what the players who are here have given. We take four points, everybody would like six, but it is in our hands now for the games at Wembley.”

Denmark were comfortably beaten 2-0 by Belgium in their Nations League opener last weekend.

Belgium’s 5-1 win over Iceland early yesterday moves them to the top of League A Group 2 ahead of their trip to England next month.