Southgate knows the pressure is on as he makes light of full-back selections

It is a good job Bukayo Saka is in the England squad … Gareth Southgate might need cover at full-back.

Southgate used the line about picking the best footballers to explain his selection but the bald fact is that over a quarter of the outfield players are full-backs.

And when asked about it, there was just a smidgeon of tetchiness in his response.

“I think we went through this last week.”

Taking a right-back foursome to the Euros is no major deal but if it backfires, it will be used against Southgate.

And make no mistake, the pressure is on, early.

Gareth Southgate has made some interesting calls and is under pressure to produce at Euro 2020

Because when you look beyond the overload of defenders, this is still a squad sprinkled with stardust, laden with promise.

This is different from World Cup 2018. This is a squad that, rightly, is EXPECTED to go deep into the tournament.

Southgate’s men were celebrated for getting to the World Cup semi-finals but there will be a major inquiry if this array of talent does not make it to the last four of this major tournament.

And he knows it.

“We have to live with that expectation,” Southgate admitted. ‘We know the excitement around the team and it is great.

“We are now relevant.

“I accept the situation, I have to deliver. It’s not about me if we can be successful but it’s about me if we fail. No problem, that’s the gig.

“Are we ready to win? We’ve been to two semi-finals so the next step is to try to go further.”

Kyle Walker is one of four right-backs
Kyle Walker is one of four right-backs

While Southgate will make no excuses if England under-perform, he does insist this squad will have an equally good, if not better, chance at next year’s World Cup.

He explained: “We have got some exciting players who I don’t think are at their peak.

“It is so exciting for the fans and future England managers who will work with players like Jude (Bellingham).

“I’ve still got to bear in mind they have still got a lot of progression to make … but some are now learning how to win things, they are involved in big matches and it’s brilliant for their progress and their opportunities for England. That’s what we want.”

Southgate will again appoint a leadership group within the squad, composed of a handful of senior players such as Jordan Henderson, Harry Maguire, Raheem Sterling and captain Harry Kane.

But the England boss is convinced there are several young players in his squad that are destined to become skippers.

He said: “I’m looking at Jude (Bellingham) this morning, Declan Rice, Mason Mount – they are future captains for whatever teams they play in.”

While Maguire will be in the leadership squad, he is facing a struggle to be out on the pitch for the group-stage games.

But Southgate, who would then almost certainly switch to a back five, believes England could deal with tactical changes.

He explained: “We’ve got to have the ability to do that. It’s an option we want to have. We know we can play a four or a five.

“I think this team has evolved. They are more confident, they are tactically more adaptable.”

As is Southgate himself. Tomorrow, he returns to Middlesbrough, where his coaching career began in 2006.

“In terms of my managerial journey, I was then like a 17-year-old apprentice like I was at Crystal Palace and now I’m probably a 23-year-old player,” he smiled.

“I’ve only managed 200 games. I’ve got a lot of experience in a highly-pressured job but I still know that I’ll be better again in two years’ time.”

That may well be the case. But with the talent in this squad, England expects Gareth Southgate to deliver his best right now.

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