England v Albania: Gareth Southgate hoping to cure summer hangover

The last time England played football, it was moribund.

Kalvin Phillips and Conor Coady of England take part in a sprinting exercise during a training session at St George's Park. (Photo by Eddie Keogh - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

It must be hard playing with a hangover, and plenty of those who took England to the country’s second major final appear to be doing just that.

Things need to change against Albania tonight but they will. The personnel, certainly, will be different with Luke Shaw still getting over concussion, Mason Mount recovering from dental surgery, James Ward-Prowse and Declan Rice ill, Marcus Rashford at home working on his fitness and Kieran Trippier and Jadon Sancho dropped. At least Jack Grealish trained yesterday after illness.

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No wonder Leeds United and the other 19 Premier League clubs officially came out yesterday against World Cups every two years.

England manager Gareth Southgate and assistant Steve Holland (right) during a training session at St George's Park. Picture: PA

England’s work this week has been about refinding a tempo missing in October’s 1-1 draw with Hungary which has left England still needing four points to qualify for next winter’s World Cup. England must set their sights higher against Albania at Wembley tonight and in San Marino on Monday.

That is because there are two different pressures on them – the pressure to qualify, which at this stage is light, and the far more significant pressure to show they are developing into a team able to give the 1966 World Cup some company on the honours board.

“Hungary defended really well and we didn’t play at the level we have hit, certainly this calendar year,” reflected former Middlesbrough captain and manager Southgate.

“We’ve had a good focus this week on making sure we’re on the front foot, making sure our pressing is better than it was that night and making sure we move the ball quickly because these teams are well organised and you’ve got to break down a packed defence. Our quality has got to come to the fore.”

Kane – one of those who has suffered more than most since the European Championship, although a failed attempt to leave Tottenham Hotspur has probably been a bigger factor – added: “We know we’ll probably have the majority of possession so it’s just about moving it quickly and into the right positions, making sure we don’t lose our shape. We have plenty of players who can impact the game.”

The enforced changes could freshen England up.

Rice has been outstanding this season, but if midfielder Phillips plays his Leeds role tonight rather than his England one, he will provide more creativity from deep. Shaw has started the season poorly but likely stand-in Ben Chilwell has recently hit form for Chelsea.

England’s embarrassment of riches between Kane and the midfield mean Arsenal’s Emile Smith-Rowe - who, like Chilwell spent time on loan at Huddersfield Town – still might not start tonight but there is a good chance he will play some part in the next two games, and add vibrancy when he does.

Certainly the disruption is par for the course for an international manager.

“We’re used to dealing with that,” said Southgate. “It’s never straight-forward but we’ve just got on with it.”

Two good wins would go a little way to clearing foggy heads.