Gareth Southgate never feared ‘tougher test’ in Albania would be called off

England manager Gareth Southgate
England manager Gareth Southgate (PA Media)
15:00pm, Sat 27 Mar 2021
CBAD8A00-D2B9-4E0E-ADDF-D0366C357A34 Created with sketchtool. E9A4AA46-7DC3-48B8-9CE2-D75274FB8967 Created with sketchtool. 65CCAE04-4748-4D0F-8696-A91D8EB3E7DC Created with sketchtool.

Gareth Southgate insists he had no concerns that England’s World Cup qualifier in Albania would be called off and is preparing for a tougher test than San Marino provided last time out.

The Three Lions cantered to a 5-0 victory over San Marino on Thursday and will be looking to maintain their winning start to Group I with victory in Tirana.

Albania also opened their account with three points, winning away to Andorra as they prepared to host England

England and San Marino players embrace after Thursday's qualifier at Wembley (PA Wire)

Southgate does not think the game will be as easy as facing the world’s worst side three days earlier and has called for a strong performance from his players.

“It definitely will be a tougher test,” he said.

“They are a well-coached team, a very experienced Italian coach, and you can see the detail in the way they play.

“We will have to see whether they adapt to us but they play well with the ball and they’re well organised defensively, they’re well organised with their set-plays. So, as always, we’ve got to be at our very best to win the game.”

The game at the Air Albania Stadium was seemingly under threat after the Albanian Football Association (AFA) said on Thursday it had been informed that local police could not guarantee the safety of the teams.

State police later issued a statement saying they had taken the relevant precautions for the match.

We've got to be at our very best to win the game.

There are also questions over the quality of the playing surface at the 22,500-seater stadium – but Southgate has no worries about either issue.

“No, whenever you travel anywhere around Europe now, the stadiums are good,” he replied when asked if he had concerns over security and the pitch.

“I know they’ve had some problems with the pitch, as we did when Wembley first opened, but I also know they’ve been doing a lot of work on that so I’m sure it’ll be better than it was for the matches when the stadium just opened.”

Southgate is likely to make a number of changes to his side, with the likes of Harry Maguire, Phil Foden and captain Harry Kane all pushing for starts.

Another player keen to be involved is Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw – who has not been capped since appearing in a Nations League defeat by Spain in September 2018.

The 25-year-old is enjoying a fine season at Old Trafford and Southgate has also been impressed with a player he has known for some time.

Asked about Shaw’s form, Southgate added: “It has been very good.

“Luke played in the first under-21s game I took charge of, in fact John Stones played right-back.

“There’s never been any doubt in our mind of Luke’s quality. He’s obviously suffered from injuries and had to withdraw from a few squads, but it’s been great to see him playing on the front foot as a full-back both with and without the ball,

“He has been really ambitious with his attacking and I think that is important, he looks physically like he is in good condition to be able to drive forward, he has got excellent quality with the ball and it is a good moment for him.

“I’ve seen somebody who’s just delighted to be here for a start and enjoying his football and playing with confidence.

“I think first and foremost, Luke’s a good defender and that’s very important for us. We talk a lot about possibilities as an attacking team, but we have to keep clean sheets we have to be difficult to play against.

“I like the fact that he’s aggressive in his defending against his wingers, is difficult to play against one against one is doing better at cover defending on his centre-backs.

“He doesn’t need to do anything differently to his form in his club with us. He’s just got to find that level and and play his game and he should feel comfortable doing that.”

Sign up to our newsletter