Gareth Southgate will continue to balance the pursuit of progress with a desire to win as England attempt to kickstart their Nations League campaign against Hungary with the World Cup looming large.
The end of a mammoth season for club and country is in sight for the Three Lions, who complete a run of four international matches in 11 days at a sold-out Molineux on Tuesday evening.
England kicked off June’s Nations League slog with a shock 1-0 loss in Budapest and have been unable to record a win since, with a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Germany followed by a drab 0-0 home draw against Italy.
Those results leave them bottom of Group A3 at the halfway point but Southgate has no regrets about using this run of games to experiment given the World Cup in Qatar is just five months away.
Asked what the priority is against Hungary, the England boss said: “Win the game, first of all but, as you’re aware, throughout this period I have several different objectives that we’re trying to achieve.
“We’ve got players who are fresh, that could be important. There’s definitely some things we want and need to see.
“We’ve got a different sort of tactical challenge tomorrow, which every team in the group and lots of other teams around Europe are finding difficult against Hungary. They’re a good side.
“So there’s a lot for us to take from the game and it’s very important to say this group of players have been incredible – their mentality, their desire to play for England, to work on the training ground every day to get better.
“We’re very fortunate to have a group who are as committed.”
Southgate is delighted that England have taken this fixture on the road away from Wembley and expects the return of fans to provide an extra boost at the end of a tiring period.
Saturday evening’s match against Italy in Wolverhampton had to be played behind closed doors as punishment for the fan disorder around the Euro 2020 final, but Molineux will be full to the brim on Tuesday.
“It’s exciting to have fans back, it’s fantastic and we’re really looking forward to that,” Southgate said. “I think that can give the team a lift of energy, which at this stage is helpful.
“I know how much people at Wolverhampton are looking forward to the game and hosting us and I know the atmosphere that’s been created when I’ve been to matches here, when their team plays.
“So, we’ll enjoy that, the players will enjoy that and we’re looking forward to the game.”
England’s 25-man squad all took part in the session held at Wolves’ Sir Jack Hayward Training Ground on the eve of the fixture, but Phil Foden needs assessing again after his slow recovery from Covid-19.
“They’ve all got to be checked post-training, one or two bumps and bruises but we’ll assess them over the rest of the day but everybody was on the training pitch so that’s a good sign,” Southgate said.
“We have to chat with our physical performance guys and medical team because he’s back in training but there’s a reality as to how much conditioning he’s had over the last three weeks and what our expectation of him could be so we’ll do that.”
The only outfield player to have been fit for every fixture this month but not feature is Conor Gallagher, who is in line to win his fourth cap on Tuesday.
“He’ll have a chance,” Southgate added. “The reason is just the teams and formations we’ve picked haven’t necessarily fitted up to this point. But also you have to earn your England caps.
“Although we are trying to look at things, everybody has to be patient.
“We think it’s really important to have a squad that has a great collective mentality and that’s going to be huge as we move forward to the World Cup.
“Because when we get to the World Cup we won’t be just handing minutes out to people.
“So there’s 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.”