Gareth Southgate has discussed the importance of England’s fixtures with Malta and North Macedonia after naming his squad for June’s Euro 2024 qualifiers.
England will look to build on a perfect start to the qualification campaign next month, when the Three Lions travel to Malta on June 16, before hosting North Macedonia three days later.
The qualifiers come after a gruelling campaign that has included a mid-season World Cup, but Southgate insisted he was keen to choose the strongest possible squad.
“It (the short time between the season’s end and the qualifiers) hasn’t influenced selections at all. It is a difficult season for clubs, the players and us,” he told his press conference to announce the squad.
“We are always mindful of the welfare of the players and we have to allow players time to recuperate but not to de-condition physically.
“Like every other country we have important qualification matches on our way to Germany.
“We have picked a strong squad and the players always enjoy coming here. I think we will manage it as well as we can.”
Southgate refuted suggestions that he could look to rest his leading names this summer and said England can not afford to overlook either of June’s opponents.
“I don’t think the rest of the world will be doing that this summer (resting players) and we’ve played North Macedonia at home twice and never beaten them. So I think we could easily fall into the trap – to be a top team, to be European champions we need to nail the fixtures, like we did in March, and you’ve got to make sure you nail the more complicated ones because everybody has the view (that they are easy).
“I think it’s a good test of commitment, I think it’s a good test of togetherness. I think this group don’t want to let each other down. We want to keep progressing as a team. We have five opportunities to work together before the European Championships, if we can qualify, and we played so well in March that we need to make sure that we back that up and are not needing to go to North Macedonia at the end of the (qualifiers) needing to get through.
“I think this group of players has enough humility to recognise that.”
Southgate has named Brighton centre-back Lewis Dunk in his squad after an excellent season for the Seagulls, with the defender recalled for the first time since winning a sole cap in 2018. Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings has also earned inclusion and Southgate said it was hard to ignore their form.
“Yeah absolutely (it was too hard to ignore them). Both clubs (Brighton and Aston Villa) have been excellent. Unai Emery has done a brilliant job at Aston Villa, and the same with [Roberto de Zerbi at] Brighton. Brighton have been exceptional and Lewis Dunk and Levi Colwill have been a big part of that.
“(Dunk has) shown great composure with the ball. He is asked to defend very often in one-v-one situations and he thoroughly deserves his call.”