Gareth Southgate says it’s “awkward” for England to face Italy behind closed doors in the Nations League on Saturday.
The Football Association has been hit with a two-match ban, one of which is suspended, following the behavior of fans ahead of Wembley’s loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final last summer.
There will be around 3,000 people in attendance at Molineux this weekend, largely made up of U14 schoolchildren who, under UEFA rules, are allowed free access to matches played behind closed doors.
England vs Italy: How to follow
Follow England v Italy on our dedicated live blog on Sky Sports digital platforms on Saturday. Kick-off in Molineux at 7:45 p.m.
“If it’s an embarrassment, it’s for England as a country,” manager Southgate said.
“A lot of the people who caused the problems, I’m not sure, were football fans.
“We talked about it enough, we talked about it after the final and when the punishment was first handed down, what I will say is that the vast majority of our fans who traveled to Germany on Tuesday went performed brilliantly, big thanks to them because maybe people were thinking something different but there was a big majority that was a credit.”
Southgate hints at changes
Despite having to make four Nations League appearances at the end of a long season, Southgate insists all of his in-form players are capable of playing against Italy, but have hinted that he would bring changes from the 1-1 draw in Munich.
“There’s nobody we can’t use,” he said.
“We have to think about some things that we have to see, the freshness of the team as well, I think it’s a good game for some of the other players, it’s a high level game and that’s a good sign to show confidence in players who get into these games.
“I think if we only give players certain match types, you won’t know enough about them and they won’t know enough about the tactical challenge.”
Recently crowned PFA Young Player of the Year Phil Foden trained at St George’s Park on Friday but remains uncertain as he recovers from coronavirus. Kalvin Phillips has been training away from the group after suffering a dead leg in Germany.
James Ward-Prowse looks in line to start against Italy after joining manager Southgate in the pre-match press conference.
The Southampton captain said: “The manager has emphasized before seeing certain types of players in different types of games and I hope that if this opportunity arises it’s a good chance for me to show what I can do. against a high level of opposition. This will be a good opportunity to hopefully get a few minutes.
“Everyone here is in the team because he’s playing well for his club – and you can see that in training. The level is so, so high and having missed out on the European Championship team, it’s was a big hurdle for me to overcome.
“I see it as a new challenge now, a new opportunity and I think it gave me a bit more incentive ahead of this World Cup announcement that I want to be there, I want to be part of this fantastic group. and I hope to replicate the success we’ve had.”
Southgate: Grealish a great character
Jack Grealish has started just three of England’s last 11 competitive appearances and is increasingly becoming an impact substitute under Southgate – but does the Manchester City striker deserve a starting spot?
The Three Lions struggled for pace in the final third in their draw with Germany until the introduction of Grealish on the left flank 20 minutes from time helped force a late equaliser.
Southgate, who after the match challenged Grealish to improve his tactics if he is to become a regular starter at international level, praised the 26-year-old’s mentality on Friday and insists he enjoys working with him .
“It’s important for all of our players that they feel they understand how we want to play,” Southgate said.
“We give them structure and prepare them for games, but inside of that, with their own talents and theirs, we want them to come out. That’s what makes the difference in games.
“Jack had a fabulous impact on the game when he arrived. I know he loves his football with us, but he also loves his football with his club, so I think it’s important to say that. He has learned a lot being part of a team that won the Premier League, which is extremely important for him.
“He’s a player we love to work with. He’s got a great mentality, a great character and I think he’s a really good guy to have in the squad. He has that joy of having a football to his feet, which adds a lot when you see players in training every day.”
England vs Italy – Opta stats
- This is the first meeting between England and Italy since the EURO 2020 final last July. The match ended 1-1 before the Italians won 3-2 on penalties.
- Italy have lost just two of their last 15 games against England in all competitions (W7 D6), losing 2-0 in June 1997 and 2-1 in August 2012, both in friendlies. In competitive matches, they have lost just once in nine encounters (W5 D3), a 2-0 loss in a World Cup qualifier in November 1977.
- England are playing an international match at Molineux – the home of Wolverhampton Wanderers – for only the fifth time, the other four occurring between 1891 and 1956. In the last game in 1956 they won 5-2 against Denmark with Tommy Taylor scoring a hat-trick and Duncan Edwards scoring twice.
- England have won only one of their last five games in the UEFA Nations League (D1 L3), without scoring three times. Meanwhile, Italy have lost just one of their 12 UEFA Nations League group stage matches (W5 D6).
- England have failed to win their last two matches (D1 L1), only once before going three winless under Gareth Southgate, doing so on a three-game losing streak between July and September 2018.