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England vs Hungary: Nations League encounter offers Gareth Southgate's supporting cast another chance to impress

England have failed to score in seven of their 15 UEFA Nations League games; Indeed, seven of the last eight times the Three Lions have failed to find the net in all competitions have been in this tournament

Phil Foden, England
Image: England are in need of spreading out their goals

The Nations League mini-series this month must have felt like a marathon at times for Gareth Southgate.

The England manager will negotiate his fourth game in 11 days which have thus far shown the Three Lions are well off where they would need to be if the World Cup had started last weekend, as it ordinarily would have were it being staged in Europe.

Nowhere near their best, with several mitigating factors, but there can really be no excuse if England don't at least end a challenging month on a winning note at a sold-out Molineux when fans return to the stands for the visit of Hungary on Tuesday night.

The end of a mammoth season for club and country is in sight. It has been some final lap for 2021/22, ending two days before the Premier League fixtures for the 2022/23 campaign are announced.

Southgate wants a squad full of talent competing at the sharp end of seasons for their respective clubs, but Liverpool's quadruple tilt, West Ham's enthralling search for Europa League glory, Chelsea's Spring of uncertainty and Manchester City's dramatic fourth Premier League title in five years has irrevocably left core members both physically and mentally fatigued.

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Gareth Southgate says he is only focused on the players who are currently in his squad after he was asked about the lack of attacking England have available, with players such as Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford not in the squad.

Southgate will therefore be grateful for a winter World Cup and has shrugged off criticism of his side's winless start to their Nations League campaign.

That said, anything less than a win over Hungary would leave himself open to a level of scrutiny unprecedented during his five-and-a-half-year reign.

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England are now bottom of Nations League Group A3 on two points while Italy, who failed to qualify for the World Cup, are top with five points.

Put simply, after signature wins eluded him against Germany and Italy, a performance and accompanying result three games out from their World Cup opener against Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium on November 21 is essential.

Raheem Sterling has scored 19 goals for England
Image: Raheem Sterling has scored 19 goals for England

Southgate insists he will not let his decision-making be influenced by reaction to their recent displays, and the drab goalless draw with Italy hasn't diminished his desire to rotate in the last of this June slog.

"Through this period I've got several different objectives," he said at his press conference on the eve of the Hungary renewal.

"There are players who are fresh. There are things we want to see. We've got a different tactical challenge tomorrow. They're a good side. There's a lot for us to take from the game."

Is now still the time to experiment?

(left to right) England's Jack Grealish, Harry Kane and Declan Rice at the final whistle after the Alzheimer's Society international match at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Saturday March 26, 2022.
Image: England have only scored once so far this month

Sky Sports News senior reporter Rob Dorsett:

"Southgate is juggling a lot of balls because you have to remember that including this game with Hungary, England only have three matches before they start their World Cup campaign in Qatar in November.

"He wanted to use this camp to try out some new faces, try out some new systems and a few different roles and tasks. For example, we know he's asked Jack Grealish to do more tracking back and to show more tactical awareness.

"There has been experimentation and I'm sure Southgate would have liked to do that again, planning for the World Cup. But the results so far in this Nations League campaign means that he's been a little bit exposed to criticism.

"The fact is that England have only scored one goal in three matches - that was a penalty. They've not won a game yet in the Nations League and he's called the Hungary game 'must win' if they want to avoid relegation from Group A."

More needed from Kane, Sterling supporting acts

England have been reliant on Harry Kane for goals
Image: England have been reliant on Harry Kane for goals

Southgate has spoken of England's reliance on Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling for goals.

Kane has been England's leading goalscorer in each one of the last five seasons. Kane and Sterling between them have contributed to more than 60 per cent of England's goals in that time.

That is something Southgate is worried about and England need to address.

He said: "There was a perception of what we have and had and reality of what Harry and Raheem have delivered, compared to everyone else.

England, Harry Kane
Image: Kane is happy to shoulder the burden of responsibility

"There are a lot of clubs searching around Europe for players this summer. Ours have still got steps to take. I'm really happy with the options we've got.

"We've not been able to have Phil [Foden] this time, there's still some players who can really make a difference at times and there's a good competition.

"My focus is on the players here now. Whenever there's a question about Man Utd it becomes a bigger deal than everything else. There are lots of players who have the ambition of being in the squad for Qatar and it's a challenge for all of them to look forward to."

Kane said on Monday: "In any team you're going to have a striker who gets the majority of the goals. I'm sure every lad wants to score, get assists and affect the game.

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England’s Harry Kane says his England teammates don’t put pressure on him to score.

"The most important thing is having the mentality of that hunger to go and get those goals. Midfield runners, set plays are really important and in tournament football we've done that really well.

"As a striker, you have that expectation, the team have expectation on you as well to produce. I enjoy scoring goals, I enjoy winning games. I'll try to help the team in whatever aspect it is. We all know our responsibilities and jobs."

Southgate understands the pressures that come with managing England.

What he needs heading into the summer is a display against Hungary that provides him with the reassurance that England's plethora of attacking pieces is a unit that is still well-stocked, well-tuned and ready to ease the burden on the usual suspects.

Missing Man Utd players have a 'lot to do' to make squad

Marcus Rashford had two good early chances
Image: Marcus Rashford scored four goals in 24 games in the Premier League last season

Southgate said the Manchester United players who are out of the national squad have a "lot to do" to get back into the frame for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

While defender Luke Shaw is out injured, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho have not been selected due to poor form, leaving Harry Maguire as the only United player in the squad for their Nations League game against Hungary on Tuesday.

Rashford and Sancho have been out of favour since England's defeat by Italy in the Euro 2020 final last year, but Southgate said last month they still had enough club matches remaining to show their quality and change his mind before the World Cup in November.

Jadon Sancho reacts to a missed chance for Manchester United against Manchester City as Kevin De Bruyne watches on
Image: Jadon Sancho netted just three league goals in his debut season at United

Both forwards were missing from United's last three Premier League matches of the season as the club finished sixth, missing out on Champions League qualification.

When asked if United's players would be fresher in the coming season without Champions League football to contend with, Southgate told reporters: "We've only got one with us. They've got a lot to do to get back in the squad.

"I think the lower the load then of course the less likely for injuries and the hope that players can be that little bit sharper, but there's no way of knowing. Some players are at their best when they're in a rhythm of playing."

Marcus Rashford is England's third-highest scorer under Southgate

For all of Rashford's struggles in the past 12 months, he would still be the third highest goalscorer in the England squad were he to have been included.

The United forward has 11 goals in 43 appearances since Southgate took charge - the same number as Phil Foden (two goals in 15), Jack Grealish (one in 23), Bukayo Saka (four in 17) and Mason Mount (four in 30) combined.

Sancho has scored three goals in 23 caps but has played only 72 minutes for his country since the Euro 2020 final.

Is Foden match fit to face Hungary?

England's Phil Foden during the international friendly against Ivory Coast at Wembley Stadium
Image: Phil Foden has recovered from a positive Covid test

Sky Sports News senior reporter Rob Dorsett:

"On the face of it, good news for England. Everybody was out training on Monday morning at Wolves' training ground - including Phil Foden. The Man City forward tested positive for Covid when he first joined up with the squad at St George's Park.

"He has recovered from that illness and is no longer showing symptoms. He has been free from them for a while and could technically have played against Italy on Saturday but Gareth Southgate said he wasn't in any shape to do that.

"He's missed quite a lot of training because of the illness and is still feeling some of the affects of that fatigue.

"There was an issue surrounding Kalvin Phillips and his dead leg that kept him out of the start of the game against Italy but he's been training.

"Many members of the squad have played a lot of football this season and Southgate has been leaning heavily on the sports scientists in the camp to test the energy levels and see who has still got plenty left in the tank."

Southgate added: "There were one or two bumps and bruises but everyone was on the training pitch so that was a good sign.

"We've got to chat with our medical team about Foden. He's back training but there's a reality of the conditioning he's had over the last three weeks [during his COVID illness]."

A chance for Gallagher to shine?

Conor Gallagher will not play for Crystal Palace against Chelsea this weekend
Image: Conor Gallagher is yet to feature in this camp

Midfielder Conor Gallagher is the only outfield England player yet to feature in this block of fixtures and could be involved against Hungary.

"He'll have a chance," said Southgate, who had a full squad available for training. "The reason is just the teams we've picked, the formations we've picked hasn't necessarily fitted up to this point.

"Also, you have to earn your England caps. Although we're trying to look at things, everybody has to be patient, we think it's really important we have a squad that have a great collective mentality.

"That's going to be huge as we move forward to the World Cup.

"When we go to the World Cup, we won't just be handing out minutes to people so there is always this balance of needing to find out about people, seeing how they are when they're not in the team and this group are excellent at that, they support each other, they create an environment where the team is first and that gives you a great chance of success."

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Amid rumours of a documentary following the partners and families of the England football team at the upcoming World Cup in Qatar, manager Gareth Southgate says he finds the term 'WAG' disrespectful.
  • England lost their last match against Hungary earlier this month, ending a 15-match unbeaten run against them between 1965 and 2021. They last lost back-to-back games against the Hungarians between 1953 and 1962, a run of four.
  • Hungary have only won one of their 11 away games against England (D1 L9), a famous 6-3 win at Wembley in November 1953 with Nándor Hidegkuti scoring a hat-trick. It was England's first home defeat against a non-British or Irish nation, and Hidegkuti remains the last away player to score a hat-trick against England.
  • England have only failed to score in three of their 25 meetings with Hungary in all competitions, including last time out on June 4th (0-1) - they've never failed to score in consecutive games against Hungary.
  • Hungary have lost just two of their last 12 matches in the UEFA Nations League, picking up six wins in the process (D4). Indeed, the Hungarians have found the back of the net in 11 of those 12 games, only failing to net against Russia in October 2020 (0-0).
  • England haven't conceded more than one goal in any of their last 25 games in all competitions, shipping just eight goals in the process - the last team to net more than once versus the Three Lions were Belgium in November 2020 in the UEFA Nations League (2-0).
  • England have failed to score in seven of their 15 UEFA Nations League games (47%). Indeed, seven of the last eight times the Three Lions have failed to find the net in all competitions have been in this tournament. In fact, England have failed to score in a higher share of matches in the UEFA Nations League (47%) than they have in any other competition in their history (exc. friendlies).

What's next for England?

After the culmination of this month's Nations League camp, England will next convene in September ahead of the two remaining group stage matches.

The Three Lions face Italy at the San Siro on September 23 before hosting Germany three days later at Wembley.

Southgate will submit a long list of players to FIFA on Friday October 21, but the England manager is expected to announce his final World Cup 23-man squad on either November 9-10. The FIFA deadline is Monday November 14.

England will depart for Qatar on Tuesday November 15 before they face Iran in their opening World Cup group game on November 21 at the Khalifa International Stadium, Doha.

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