Gareth Southgate will make changes against Montenegro in order to balance “freshness and continuity” as England attempt to build on their impressive start to Euro 2020 qualification.
Last year’s World Cup semi-finalists kicked off Group A in emphatic fashion as they hammered the Czech Republic 5-0 in front of a sell-out Wembley crowd on Friday evening.
Raheem Sterling’s first international hat-trick was complemented by Harry Kane’s penalty and a Tomas Kalas own goal as England made a dream start to their European Championship campaign.
But there is little time to relax. Southgate’s men will line up in Montenegro for their second Group A match just 70 hours after wrapping up three points in the first, meaning rotation is likely in Podgorica.
“I think we need to find the balance between freshness and continuity, so that’s been on our mind most of the week,” the England manager said.
“I need to have a look at their game (a 1-1 draw away to Bulgaria) to finalise what we expect (from Montenegro).
“But we know, we have been there twice before and not managed to beat them, so it will be an intense environment, completely different to the challenge (against the Czechs) and a good one for us because we have to be able to adapt to these different situations and make sure that we can show our quality in different environments.”
Southgate plans to head to the Balkans with just 20 players, having seen his initial selection hit by seven withdrawals.
Eric Dier became the latest after suffering a hip issue in the first half on Friday, meaning former Republic of Ireland international Declan Rice could make his first start after coming on for his debut against the Czechs.
Callum Hudson-Odoi – one of just two additions to the injury-hit squad – also made his senior bow on Friday, when the 18-year-old substitute replaced Duncan Edwards as his country’s youngest ever competitive debutant.
“I think the rest of the players make it an environment where they can come in and be themselves,” said Southgate, who gave Jadon Sancho, 18, his first competitive start.
“They don’t feel inhibited around the camp, so they don’t feel inhibited on the pitch and you could see that by the way they played on the pitch.
“I thought that Jadon (made) a really good contribution for the first goal. Bit of a mixture outside of that, but that’s wing players.
“We’re asking them to try things, we’re asking our attacking players to take players on and as the coach you have to accept that they’ll fail a number of times and the times they succeed, we’ll create chances and we’ll create goals.
“To finish with two young wingers, as we did, I think was really exciting and, again, was only what we’d seen during training this week.”
Rice, Hudson-Odoi and Sancho are the latest in a long line of youngsters to get a chance to shine under Southgate, whose squads repeatedly favour promise over experience.
Such bold calls have led to the likes of Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart being eased out of the international set-up, but the Three Lions boss knows he has to be “responsible” with the development of young talent.
“We – and I include Steve (Holland, assistant manager) in this – watch a high number of games, so we’re very clear on the capabilities of all of the players,” Southgate said.
“And that’s critical, because we need to know how they’re going to react in different situations, in different positions.
“Then we’re thinking about what’s right for them individually, what’s right for the balance of the team.
“Although we wouldn’t have hesitated to start any of them tonight, you still need experienced leadership on the field to give those youngsters a chance to flourish.
“And you’ve got to dip them in at the right times and make sure that you don’t over-expose them too quickly, keep that level of expectation at one that can help their development as well.”