Having ditched the waistcoat, England boss Gareth Southgate can now loosen tie - Stuart Rayner

International football usually goes in cycles – European Championship qualifying to tournament to World Cup qualifying to tournament, now with Nations League games squeezed into the gaps. It provides obvious drop-off points for managers and retiring players, and pauses for reflection.

Covid-19 has, inevitably, messed everything up. Forced to hold Euro 2020 back a year, qualifying for the next tournament started before the last one was played. You might not remember but in March, England beat Poland, Albania and San Marino. Given their impressive recent track record in qualifying, they felt more like warm-up matches.

Whether you see tonight as the start of a new cycle or the continuation of an old one, the Three Lions are back to it in Hungary, where a win, especially with Andorra at home on Sunday, will go a long way to booking their place at football’s first winter World Cup, only 15 months away.

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This will be Gareth Southgate’s third cycle as an international manager, unusual longevity nowadays, and having started with a young side and refreshed it as he went along, it is essentially the same team.

England boss Gareth Southgate. (Photo by Carl Recine - Pool/Getty Images)

No one retired this summer and no one appears to have been retired by the manager. It would be nice to see this team make another step forward in its evolution like it did between the last two cycles.

England reached the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, a big achievement for a country whose footballing self-image far outstrips its achievements.

Southgate, though, recognised the team had to kick on.

Declan Rice, Mason Mount, Kalvin Phillips, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Luke Shaw, Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho, Reece James, Ben Chilwell, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jude Bellingham were handed debuts, Trent Alexander-Arnold became established.

The back three became a four and the football much more liberated.

At the tournament itself, that was somewhat reined in, the pragmatic Southgate not arrogant enough to think England could blitz the competition as Italy tried to, particularly in the group stages.

Now is the time for a bit more arrogance, for the handbrake to come off. Grealish, now a £100m footballer, Foden (injured for the next three matches), Mount, Saka, Alexander-Arnold, Marcus Rashford (also missing), Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane lend themselves to adventurous football. As a Leeds United player, it comes naturally to Phillips.

“We know we’ve got players who can create chances and play good football,” said Southgate yesterday. It would be nice to see more of them.

“The team have gained confidence from what they’ve achieved and the progress we’ve made not only this summer but over the last four years but equally we have to start again.”

However England play in Budapest this evening, especially on Sunday and in Poland on Wednesday, it will be more reserved in the heat of Qatar, where the opposition will be that much better, but hopefully Southgate’s post-World Cup thirst for evolution returns, and that is the direction he wants to go in.

His fantastic record at major tournaments has earned trust whichever direction Southgate wants to go in but having ditched the waistcoat three years ago it would be lovely to see him loosen the metaphorical tie.