The return of UEFA club competitions this week offered a reminder that there remain significant hoops to jump through before the delayed European Championship kicks off.

Fixtures being switched to alternative venues due to local coronavirus regulations cast the multiple host city model for Euro 2020 in an unhelpful light, with March's international break set to throw up fresh challenges.

Postponing and rearranging a major sporting event due to ongoing and unspeakably tragic global circumstances makes any focus on the footballing concerns within the equation feel somewhat crass.

But all 24 men leading countries into the finals will look at their squads before kick-off and ponder whether the additional 12 months of waiting and haphazard preparation have been a help or a hindrance in terms of form and personnel.

For England manager Gareth Southgate, the delay looks to have been advantageous.

It is highly unlikely the now resurgent John Stones and Luke Shaw would have featured in his defensive plans, much less centre-forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who is now the obvious back-up to captain Harry Kane.

Aston Villa's sparkling creative inspiration Jack Grealish now has England caps to his name, while a crop of richly gifted youngsters are flourishing.

None more so than Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden, who will go head to head when Premier League leaders Manchester City travel to Arsenal on Sunday.

Learning on the job

When Southgate comes to whittle down his final 23, versatility will count as a plus point for those hopeful of making the cut.

Foden and Saka have it in abundance, even if they have edged towards a degree of specialism during stunning runs of individual form during English football's winter months.

A central midfielder on his way through the youth ranks at boyhood club City, Foden's deployment on the left-wing has more or less coincided with the record-breaking 17-match winning run across all competitions that left Pep Guardiola's side 10 points clear at the start of the weekend

Not that it stopped Guardiola starting the 20-year-old as a false nine away to Liverpool, before switching Foden to the right flank for the second half, from where he provided an assist and a goal to inspire a statement 4-1 win.

Then, with Ilkay Gundogan injured, he was back in midfield to open the scoring during Wednesday's 3-1 win over Everton.

"He can play in both positions, he is so young," Guardiola said ahead of the Arsenal game.

"Phil just needs - and for the age [he is], he will get it –  the timing to play inside.

"When you play as a winger you have to play in one tempo, with one timing and one rhythm. When you play in the middle you have to play with another one.

"When he gets this balance, he will be 10 times the extraordinary player that he is right now. It's just a question of time."

Foden has four goals and two assists since the turn of the year in the Premier League, the same figures that can be attributed to Saka since Mikel Arteta selected him on the right wing for the Boxing Day clash against Chelsea.

Saka has featured at left-back, in both wing-back roles and centrally during Arteta's tenure, but he got on the scoresheet in a dominant 3-1 derby victory and has not looked back.

"I see Bukayo evolving, getting better and getting to understand different positions and finally we will fit him in one that gives the best [result]," Arteta said back in July. It appears he has his answer.

Variety is the spice of life

Splitting Saka's 21 Premier League appearances this season into centre, right or left positionally, Opta data shows he creates 1.1 chances per 90 minutes when on the right.

Both of his top-flight assists this term have come when starting on that flank, while an expected assists (xA) scored of 0.23 per 90 indicates a better quality of pass into danger areas when set against stints on the left or through the middle.

The 19-year-old, whose four England caps have come at left wing-back, is similarly effective dribbling on either flank, with 1.4 (left) and 1.5 (right) completed per match.

That figure rises to 3.1 when Saka has played through the middle this season, although two appearances and a solitary – albeit goalscoring – start in a central three versus Sheffield United skew his numbers to a degree.

Guardiola's words this week suggest Foden will find himself back on the flanks at Emirates Stadium, but the City star's feel for a goal comes to the fore when he plays through the middle.

In six Premier League games where he has operated centrally, his goals per game rate of 0.81 per 90 minutes and 2.4 dribbles completed per game are his highest across the three categories.

A shot conversion of 30 per cent also dwarfs his efforts from the left (11 per cent) but 2.5 chances created from open play per 90 in the latter role is perhaps the most significant statistic when it comes to explaining why he has made Leroy Sane's old position his own.

Among Europe's best

Saka and Foden each stack up very well when compared to the leading players under 21 throughout Europe. Indeed, no player within their age range has played more than Saka's 2,317 minutes in all competitions across clubs in the big five leagues.

Foden (2,130) comes in sixth in that regard, while his 11 goals are third behind Moise Kean (16) and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland (25). Saka's six goals overall place him seventh.

Jadon Sancho (11) is the only under-21 player with more assists than Foden (six), while the City player's 44 chances created from open play comes in second to the Dortmund winger – another handy illustration of the ample resources at Southgate's disposal.

How he should deploy them will be relentlessly discussed before June, even if those arguments are now the preserve of Zoom calls rather than crowded pubs.

What increasingly appears beyond debate is that Foden and Saka have established ironclad cases for inclusion, having at best been outside punts a year ago.

Along with their dazzling array of skills, the versatility Guardiola and Arteta have used to their benefit could prove invaluable to Southgate amid the cut and thrust of tournament football.

England boss Gareth Southgate is to take part in a study exploring the links between football and dementia and has urged other former professionals to do the same.

The 50-year-old has volunteered to join the HEADING study, led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

A second independently led study by the University of Nottingham, called FOCUS, is being backed by funding from the Football Association and Professional Footballers' Association.

It is hoped the research can further understanding of possible links between professional footballers and an increased risk of neurodegenerative disorders. Former England international Nobby Stiles had dementia when he died last year, while fellow 1966 World Cup winner Bobby Charlton has the disease.

"This is an incredibly important issue in our game and I'm very happy to play my part in supporting this research," Southgate said via the FA.

"Having turned 50 last year, I am now eligible to take part in the HEADING study, which could provide crucial and valuable insight to help people who play the game now and in the future.

"I would encourage any former professional footballer who is willing and able to take part in the HEADING or the FOCUS study to do so.

"Our involvement is absolutely essential if we are to have a greater understanding of this issue;

Gareth Southgate will not set strict boundaries when it comes to team discipline but the England boss expects his players to be "reliable" and "good ambassadors".

Harry Maguire, Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood have all been involved in high-profile incidents in recent months that led to them being dropped from Three Lions duty. 

A breach of coronavirus isolation rules while in Iceland proved costly for Manchester City playmaker Foden and Manchester United forward Greenwood in September. 

The pair appeared to be shown in a Snapchat video posted by one of the women they were said to be socialising with at England's team hotel in Iceland, a meeting then forbidden under the country's strict rules in response to COVID-19.

Both were sent home and missed a subsequent game against Denmark, although Foden was recalled for England's matches against Republic of Ireland, Belgium and Iceland last month. 

Maguire was also in the headlines for the wrong reasons in August after he was arrested while on holiday on the Greek island of Mykonos.

The 27-year-old – who was originally selected, then dropped from the October internationals – is appealing a suspended prison sentence after he was found guilty of aggravated assault, resisting arrest and attempted bribery.

While Southgate is not prepared to lay down strict rules for his players, he does expect them to conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times. 

"I would think every club is going to want to minimise the issues," he told a media conference. 

"On a broader level, I mentioned the responsibilities of being an England player. That shows the change of landscape for any players involved with us. 

"We want the country to connect with the team, be proud of the team and that they are good ambassadors for everything we are trying to do. 

"Reliability is part of our criteria. I'm not going to say this is the line, and anyone who crosses it we don't consider, but we're always observing how professional they are and how they will be if they are away with us for 35-40 days. All of that has to come into our thinking."

Southgate was speaking after England were drawn against Poland, Hungary, Albania, Andorra and San Marino in Group I for 2022 World Cup qualifying. 

That means a meeting with Poland striker Robert Lewandowski, who has started the season in scintillating form for Bayern Munich.

After 55 goals across all competitions last term for the Bundesliga and Champions League winners, Lewandowski has already plundered 15 goals this campaign. 

Southgate is an admirer of the 32-year-old and says his defenders will relish the opportunity to try and shackle one of the world's best strikers. 

"He's an incredible finisher," Southgate added. "I love the way he plays. He's got an excellent all-round game, protecting the ball, bringing others into play. All different types of finishes. 

"He's a huge talisman for Poland. It's a great challenge for our defenders to come up against centre-forwards like that.

"In the modern game, there are not so many number nines, but Lewandowski is absolutely in that mould."

Gareth Southgate fears England's top stars will be burnt out by the time the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament comes around next year.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has been critical of the Premier League for their refusal to follow other European leagues and sanction the use of five substitutes.

This season's matches have been squeezed into a shorter timeframe due to the impact of the coronavirus, which delayed the completion of the 2019-20 season.

Speaking at a media conference following the draw for the World Cup qualifying groups for Qatar 2022, the England manager joined Klopp in expressing his fears over the workload placed on some players.

"I think all coaches are concerned about the number of matches," Southgate said.

"It's not one area in particular, it’s the overall volume. We're in a shortened season. No winter break, which was deemed to be a good idea last year.

"We've got the issue over the substitutions. We've known that. When the debate comes up, we were on to how difficult September would be as soon as the leagues restarted again.

"Everyone else came to that decision, a bit later. Jurgen will be like me, looking at what will March be like.

"For the top players in particular, they are the ones that play European, International and league football.

"What we’ve tried to affect, we lobbied UEFA for five substitutes. I know there are talks about the FA Cup going that route.

"I would think Jurgen would be frustrated because in Germany, they work so closely together. I see the logic in what they're saying.

"A compact season like this is always a concern, with what you will get at the end of it."

Southgate admitted it was challenge of his job to have a constructive dialogue with Premier League managers, who he acknowledged are under intense pressure, over the handling of players.

Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho recently questioned whether Southgate bowed to pressure from Manchester City counterpart Pep Guardiola when Raheem Sterling pulled out of England squad through injury.

Sterling then appeared in City's next match against Tottenham while Spurs had three players who all featured in games for England.

Southgate added: "We have the most intense competition at the top of our league.

"We have some very successful managers who have huge motivation, all of our clubs with huge motivation and responsibilities.

"Nearly all of our squad are playing in England, and our league is very different. It’s one of the additional situations as England manager you have to deal with.

"It's always important to have respectful relationships, but the reality is our objectives are different. They are the clubs' players, we have to respect that."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has accused the Premier League of ignoring the mental and physical welfare of players with its refusal to sanction five substitutions.

The issue was neither raised nor discussed at a Premier League shareholders' meeting this week despite Klopp and other managers, such as Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, regularly highlighting the issue.

Clubs had previously been allowed to make five changes during the restart last season, but the Premier League twice voted against continuing it before the start of the current campaign.

The English Football League has since voted to allow managers to make five subs if needed, with the rule already in place in the Champions League and elsewhere in Europe.

Klopp again spoke at length on the subject at a media conference on Friday ahead of Liverpool's Premier League fixture with Wolves.

"I was not surprised because I knew about it. I think that information speaks for itself, nobody thought it would go through," Klopp said of the meeting.

"I told you the facts that if we would have voted in the managers' meeting, which we were not allowed to, then it would have been through, 100 per cent, with 15 or 16 votes.

"That it didn’t happen since then is obviously a sign that some shareholders see it differently to their managers.

"That's not really a good sign as it shows that these people really ignore the player welfare. The coaches don't do that but these people do it.

"If we don't have a chance to vote for it then we have to accept it for the moment, but because it's about player welfare – mental health and player welfare, it's a whole package.

"We will not stop fighting for it because it’s just the right thing to do."

Klopp claimed England will suffer from player burnout at next year's European Championship if the issue is not addressed.

The German also maintained that Liverpool were not seeking an advantage on the pitch, despite the club's injury problems this season, but simply looking after the best interests of all players.

"Next summer it will become a problem for Gareth Southgate," he added.

"Because all the players Gareth wants to pick, most of them play three times a week and will do that from February on again, so Gareth will get what we can give him.

"If they stick with three subs, it becomes an FA problem. [Fulham manager] Scott Parker mentioned in the managers' meeting that for Fulham three subs is better because five would be an advantage for bigger squads.

"But he doesn't think we should vote on it. He thought the Premier League or FA should decide on it."

Klopp continued: "It is not about Liverpool. It's about all the players and load-management, and nothing else. Not to get an advantage, but to deal with the problem of the COVID-19 situation in the best possible way.

"We cannot just ignore it because some people say it would be an advantage for others. It would not be an advantage; I cannot say it often enough. It's not about Liverpool.

"It's just the right thing to do. I'm pretty sure all the teams have to play now every three days from now on. It will be massive for all teams, everybody will feel the difference to other seasons."

Jose Mourinho has urged England coach Gareth Southgate to name the Premier League managers who pressurise him to rest their players as he questioned Raheem Sterling’s international absence.

Southgate recently claimed England's players faced significant demands from their clubs because of an intense schedule of domestic and European commitments.

Speaking at a pre-match news conference ahead of Spurs' clash with Manchester City, Mourinho cast suspicion on Sterling's withdrawal from Southgate's squad and said "we all know" the forward will play for City on Saturday.

Sterling pulled out of England's squad with a calf injury, while Tottenham's contingent of Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Harry Winks featured in at least two of England's three matches.

Spurs striker Kane even played 76 minutes of their win over Iceland despite the fact England were not able to qualify for the finals of the Nations League.

Mourinho said: "Gareth Southgate, I read, I don't think I'm wrong in what I read, he supposedly said that some football club managers, they put pressure not to play for the national team.

"And because of that he feels sometimes the need to call club managers to try to cool down the emotions and try to control the difficult situation for him.

"I would like him to say who. I would like him to say which are the coaches who put pressure on the players not to go?

"And I would like him to say which are the coaches that he calls and speaks on the phone with them. Apart from that, he has the right, he has the power to call the players he wants.

"He wants to win matches, especially after a defeat, the next match even being a dead rubber is an important match. I sympathise with that."

Mourinho continued: "And of course we all know Sterling will play tomorrow. When Eric Dier left the national team injured in the previous month, he didn't play two matches for Tottenham.

"He didn't play a Premier League match and a Europa League match. He needed a couple of weeks to recover and Raheem is going to play tomorrow.

"These are the little details I think Gareth should explain to us all. Apart from that, I totally support him in the fact that in the national team, in a country like England, the Three Lions on the shirt is always to be respected and he plays with the players he wants to play."

England manager Gareth Southgate is happy to have a selection headache as he prepares for Euro 2020 next year, after the Three Lions' youngsters starred against Iceland.

Records tumbled at Wembley in Wednesday's Nations League encounter, with England winning 4-0.

Declan Rice opened his international account, with Mason Mount doubling England's tally before Phil Foden – who had created the opener – scored his first goals for his country to complete the rout.

The only players aged 30 or older in England's starting XI were Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker, Southgate starting four players – Foden, Mount, Rice and Bukayo Saka – aged 21 or younger; the first time the Three Lions have done so in a competitive match since November 1959.

His faith was repaid, with all of them turning in impressive displays as England dominated from start to finish, controlling 78.3 per cent of the possession, while Jack Grealish was again in superb form from a free role on the left flank.

Grealish, 25, won six fouls, meaning he has drawn 21 in total since his debut for England in September, more than any other player in that time.

Rice, meanwhile, is the first West Ham player to score for England since Matthew Upson against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, while the midfielder is also the second-youngest Hammer – after Joe Cole – to net for the Three Lions.

Two of Mount's three goals this season have come for his country, and with Foden's late double, three players aged 21 or under netted in the same match for England for the first time since February 1883 against Ireland, when William Cobbold, Oliver Whateley and Frank Pawson found the net.

Foden is the youngest player in the history of the England national team to score more than once in a match at Wembley.

He also became the youngest player to score and assist in a match for England since Marcus Rashford in September 2017.

With Southgate's 3-4-3 system finally clicking against Iceland, the debate will now turn to whether it is the formation the England manager should use heading into the Euros.

Jadon Sancho came on from the bench, as did Tammy Abraham, while in-form Dominic Calvert-Lewin was an unused substitute.

Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford were missing altogether, and with Mount, Grealish and Foden all looking sharp, Southgate has a plethora of attacking options to choose from, without factoring in the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Maddison.

However, it is a headache he is happy to deal with.

Southgate told Sky Sports: "I think over the last few days their talent has been outstanding. It was a very difficult game, all the players were hearing messages that this is meaningless and there was nothing to play for but they did play for it, there were big opportunities for young players but also for some older players.

"We're still trying to build and improve all the time. There was lovely football and it was good to watch and it was good for the young ones to get the goals – very special for them.

"The squad that we've had over the last three months is going to peak in the next three to five years and they'll get a lot more club experience and international experience. We'll invest the time in them. There are some very good senior professionals as well.

"We are still working on the balance of players for the system. Our attacking play was very, very good. If it's a headache about having good players in the side then that's a good one to have."

One down side for England was captain Harry Kane failing to score from five attempts – none of which hit the target.

Wednesday is the only day of the week Kane is yet to score on for England, the Tottenham star having attempted 12 shots in three such games, but failing to land a single one on goal.

Phil Foden opened his England account with a double as Gareth Southgate's side ended their Nations League campaign on a high with a 4-0 victory over 10-man Iceland.

Defeat to Belgium on Sunday had ensured Wednesday's Group A2 meeting at Wembley was a dead rubber, but England's youthful team nevertheless turned in an impressive display.

Making his first competitive England appearance since breaking coronavirus protocol after a victory over Iceland in September, Foden marked his return in style, setting up Declan Rice's opener before adding further gloss to a routine win with a superbly taken brace.

Mason Mount had doubled England's tally, with Birkir Mar Saevarsson's red card for a second bookable offence all but ending any comeback hopes for outgoing Iceland coach Erik Hamren.

For differing reasons, Jack Grealish and Foden were the big stories heading into the game and the two playmakers combined for England's 20th-minute opener.

Rice was the benefactor, heading in his maiden England goal from Foden's free-kick, which was won by Grealish, who moments later teed up Bukayo Saka.

The Arsenal youngster failed to beat Ogmundur Kristinsson, but Mount made no such mistake with England's next chance, coolly prodding in after latching onto Harry Kane's knockdown.

Harry Maguire's marauding run forward resulted in a fine pass through for Foden, whose shot was charged down by Kristinsson, who then denied the midfielder again before Kane curled wide.

Iceland's hopes seemed to have been extinguished nine minutes into the second half – Saevarsson receiving a second yellow for pulling back Saka.

Kari Arnason might have changed that, yet he headed wide from Ari Freyr Skulason's corner.

Yet England had the third goal their dominance deserved in the 80th minute when Foden swept home from Jadon Sancho's cutback.

The 20-year-old Foden was not done there, however, and capped off a fine individual display with a thumping strike into the bottom-right corner.

What does it mean? Southgate's system finally clicks

England have now remained unbeaten in their final game of a calendar year in each of the last seven years (W5 D2), since a 1-0 defeat to Germany in 2013. And though it has been a frustrating Nations League campaign, Southgate’s 3-4-3 formation clicked in style on Wednesday.

The trick now will be if Southgate can find a winning formula at the back to provide the platform for the likes of Grealish, Foden and England's other young guns to do the damage.

The kids are all right

England had four players aged 21 or younger – Saka, Foden, Rice and Mount – in the starting XI for a competitive international for the first time since November 1959 against Northern Ireland, and the youngsters did not let Southgate down.

Foden – the youngest player to score twice in the same match for the national team at Wembley – was the pick of the bunch, and his strikes meant England had three players aged 21 or younger score in the same match for the first time since February 1883.

Hamren's Iceland tenure ends with a whimper

Hamren has taken the decision to step down after this match and Iceland's new coach will face something of a rebuild.

Having taken over after the 2018 World Cup, Hamren has failed to lead Iceland to a third successive major tournament and, on Wednesday, his team mustered just two attempts, failing to test Jordan Pickford at all, and they had only 21.7 per cent of possession.

What's next?

Both of these sides will next be in action during the March international break, with World Cup 2022 qualifying set to start.

Phil Foden was back in Gareth Southgate's good books with his history-making Wembley double in the 4-0 win against Iceland.

But the 20-year-old England midfielder admitted afterwards that being sent home following an away game against the same opposition in September was "one of the hardest moments" of his life.

Foden, along with Manchester United teenager Mason Greenwood, was told to leave the England camp for breaking coronavirus protocol after the 1-0 win in Reykjavik.

The Manchester City youngster returned to competitive action for England on Wednesday against familiar opponents, and turned in a stellar display in an emphatic Nations League win, opening his international account with a superb late double.

Having set up Declan Rice's opener – the West Ham midfielder's maiden England goal – Foden swept home from Jadon Sancho's pass to make it 3-0 before rounding off the scoring with a crisp finish from the edge of the box.

In the process, Foden became the youngest player in the history of the England national team to score more than once in a match at Wembley, but the playmaker insisted he was simply relieved to have repaid manager Southgate's faith.

"It's up there with one of the best games and it means a lot to me," Foden told Sky Sports.

"I just couldn’t stop smiling after my goal, it’s an unbelievable feeling and I’m just going to try and enjoy it as much as I can.

"[The incident in Iceland] was one of the hardest moments of my life. That’s the time you need the trust of your manager and Gareth had a lot of respect for me and it means everything to me. I just wanted to repay him with goals and do well.

"I was just determined to come back and do the best I can. I was a little bit nervous at the start of this camp but I got used to it after a while."

Southgate was thrilled for Foden to make such an impact on his first competitive appearance for his country since September 5, with the City man having come on as a substitute in a friendly win over the Republic of Ireland last week.

"I'm really pleased for him, he's such an exciting player," Southgate told Sky Sports.

"It was a big week for him to come back in, not easy for him to walk in the door when he'd left like he did previously. For us, it's done. Today the two goals were a glimpse of what he's capable of."

England finished third in Nations League Group A2, though the win means they remain unbeaten in their final game of each year since a 1-0 reverse to Germany in 2013.

With Mason Mount also getting on the scoresheet, three players aged 21 and under scored for England in the same match for the first time since February 1883 against Ireland.

Mount dovetailed well with Rice in midfield – the pair having been close friends since their time together at Chelsea's academy.

"We've been best mates since we were eight years old, we've seen each other grow," Rice told Sky Sports.

"When we knew we were starting tonight together it was special and to both score, our families will be bursting with pride."

Phil Foden opened his England account with a double as Gareth Southgate's side ended their Nations League campaign on a high with a 4-0 victory over 10-man Iceland.

Defeat to Belgium on Sunday had ensured Wednesday's Group A2 meeting at Wembley was a dead rubber, but England's youthful team nevertheless turned in an impressive display.

Making his first England appearance since breaking coronavirus protocol after a victory over Iceland in September, Foden marked his return in style, setting up Declan Rice's opener before adding further gloss to a routine win with a superbly taken brace.

Mason Mount had doubled England's tally, with Birkir Mar Saevarsson's red card for a second bookable offence all but ending any comeback hopes for outgoing Iceland coach Erik Hamren.

For differing reasons, Jack Grealish and Foden were the big stories heading into the game and the two playmakers combined for England's 20th-minute opener.

Rice was the benefactor, heading in his maiden England goal from Foden's free-kick, which was won by Grealish, who moments later teed up Bukayo Saka.

The Arsenal youngster failed to beat Ogmundur Kristinsson, but Mount made no such mistake with England's next chance, coolly prodding in after latching onto Harry Kane's knockdown.

Harry Maguire's marauding run forward resulted in a fine pass through for Foden, whose shot was charged down by Kristinsson, who then denied the midfielder again before Kane curled wide.

Iceland's hopes seemed to have been extinguished nine minutes into the second half – Saevarsson receiving a second yellow for pulling back Saka.

Kari Arnason might have changed that, yet he headed wide from Ari Freyr Skulason's corner.

Yet England had the third goal their dominance deserved in the 80th minute when Foden swept home from Jadon Sancho's cutback.

The 20-year-old Foden was not done there, however, and capped off a fine individual display with a thumping strike into the bottom-right corner.

Gareth Southgate sought to clear the air with Phil Foden on his first day back in the England camp and challenged the Manchester City midfielder to "show everybody what he can do".

Foden made his England debut in a 1-0 Nations League win in Iceland in September but was sent home along with Manchester United striker Mason Greenwood prior to the fixture against Denmark for breaching coronavirus protocols.

The duo were left out of the squad for last month's international window, with Southgate explaining at the time: "We have to send a message to all the players in our teams at every age level that that sort of thing isn't how we do things with England, but then we also have to rehabilitate these two boys."

While Greenwood missed out on selection for November's batch of games, Foden did earn a recall and came off the bench in the friendly win over the Republic of Ireland.

Foden is set to get more minutes in England's final Nations League clash against Iceland at Wembley on Wednesday and Southgate insisted there will be no lasting ramifications for the 20-year-old.

"It has been good to have him back this week," the Three Lions boss said. "Phil has trained really well this week and it was good to get him into the game against Ireland.

"Given the players in the squad and the way it is emerging and evolved over the week, it will be good to get Phil into the game. 

"I am sure he has relished the chance to be back with the squad, we know he is a very exciting talent and he is a player who we have a lot of belief in and who Manchester City have a lot of belief in, so this could be a good opportunity for him to show everybody what he can do really.

"I made sure we chatted on the first day and put that behind us immediately.

"It was done once we had made the decision on the October squad. That was it. From then on it was always going to be a judgment on football.  

"I'm sure for anybody walking back in initially that is going to feel a little bit...especially when you're young, but definitely as the week has gone on he has been more relaxed.  

"I gave him a bit of a hiding at two-touch yesterday, which he was probably a little bit upset about, but he's in with the group.

"He's relaxed, and that's what's important because to be able to play his football properly that's where everybody needs to be."

Gareth Southgate says England produced their best statistical performance against a big nation despite losing 2-0 to Belgium last time out.

The Nations League defeat in Leuven has prompted calls for Southgate to ditch his 3-4-3 system ahead of Wednesday's home clash with Iceland.

But the England boss insisted the formation had produced a better performance then the result suggested, comparing it favourably to the famous 3-2 away win over Spain in October 2018.

Asked if his system was too conservative, Southgate said on Tuesday: "Well, I think we were very exciting to watch against Ireland four or five days ago and we were very exciting to watch against Belgium.

"Statistically, our job is to analyse games during and after them. There is a coaching eye on how we have played and then we look at the data.

"[Against Belgium] that is as good a performance as we have had against any of the big nations.

"The interesting thing is there is a perception we didn't start the game well. But in the first half an hour we had more attempts on goal than Belgium; possession, they had a tiny bit more around 52 per cent, but we had the more dangerous attacks and more shots on goal.

"I understand once they were ahead in the latter stages of the game maybe they sat back a bit, but that's partly because we pressed well and they couldn't get out.

"So that performance [against Belgium] was in actual fact a contrast to Spain which everyone is talking about. That [Spain] match was our worst performance statistically."

Southgate added: "There were other things we did well that night [against Spain], we played with great endeavour and we counter-attacked really well, but the perception of that game is not the reality.

"As a coaching team we have to look at if you perform to those levels [like we did against Spain] every week, you lose games. If you perform to the game we did against Belgium, you'll win games.

"So it's a fascinating debate because the perception after a defeat, there's always a narrative and a story. Whichever way we play there will be strengths and weaknesses to the team.

"We need to find the best path, keep improving it, but [three at the back] can be a system that has flexibility, can be adaptable based on the profile of the players.

"That's what we've done for the last few games and then we'll get to this end of this camp and review everything before March."

Comparing the performances

England racked up 16 shots against Belgium compared to only five versus Spain, according to Opta data.

Nine of those attempts came from inside the box in Belgium, but only three of their efforts ended up on target, the same total as their miserable haul in Seville.

England therefore paid the price for poor finishing, but Southgate was right to suggest they were a much greater attacking threat.

The Three Lions also had much more of the ball against Belgium - 55 per cent compared to just 27 per cent in the Spain win.

They also attempted over double the amount of passes (589 to 283) and achieved a greater accuracy (87 per cent to 77).

As well as with the attacking and creative data, Southgate also seems to be vindicated with a look at the defensive numbers. England restricted Belgium to eight shots and only three of those were on target.

Despite beating Spain, England allowed 24 attempts on their goal with six on target.

England's best formation

While Southgate countered the suggestion a back four would be more suitable and talked up the virtues of the current approach, the data is less kind to him when it comes to formations.

Eight of England's 10 defeats since he took charge have come from only 22 games when playing three at the back.

Twenty-four matches with four in defence have resulted in 17 wins, five draws and only two losses. Two games with five at the back, meanwhile, both ended in draws.

Jack Grealish can cope with the increased expectations following a strong start to his England career, though Gareth Southgate has emphasised success will only be achieved as a team. 

Aston Villa playmaker Grealish, 25, made his full England debut in a 3-0 victory over Wales in October - setting up the opening goal for Dominic Calvert-Lewin - but was not used by Southgate for the subsequent Nations League fixtures. 

He set up Jadon Sancho in a 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland last week and was bright in a 2-0 loss to Belgium on Sunday, attempting more passes in the opposition half than any player on the pitch and drawing a game-high seven fouls. 

That result ended England's hopes of reaching the last four of the Nations League and there have consequently been calls for Southgate to begin building his team around Grealish, who has been involved in 12 goals in as many appearances for club and country this season. 

Asked whether it was important to manage the expectations on Grealish ahead of Wednesday's meeting with Iceland, Southgate told a news conference: "I think that's always important with any player, we are going to succeed or fail as a team. It's for everybody to contribute. 

"We've tried to ensure over the past four year that it's collective expectation, we could put pressure on Harry Kane, Raheem [Sterling], other players, and it needs to be the same with Jack. 

"He's had a super start to his international career. I think he'll be able to handle the attention because he thrives under that pressure. He's got great courage with the ball, so I don't think that'll faze him. Equally, it's going to be the squad that brings us success as a collective."

Another player in the embryonic stages of their international career is 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham. 

When told Bellingham wears the number 22 because he was challenged to be capable of playing as a number four, eight and 10 at former club Birmingham City, Southgate said it is important not to try to categorise the teenager as a specialist in any one position yet. 

"Well, I think he could end up playing any of those roles. At Dortmund he's playing as one of two fours or as an eight, and most of the time at Birmingham he was kind of in the position of an eight really," said Southgate. 

"But he's so young, you don't have to specialise yet. [With] a lot of midfield players, it's more important he learns the game, he gets brilliant experiences playing in whatever positions might be his strongest and as time develops it'll probably become apparent which is his more suited position. 

"But he is a midfield player who can pass, tackle, break forward and score goals, so he can do any of those jobs and I never think with young players we should rush to pigeonhole them into one, we should wait to see how he develops. And, at the moment, he's developing really well." 

There has been a focus on the performances of Marcus Rashford following his charity work to help reduce food poverty among children in the United Kingdom. This week he also launched a book club for kids. 

Amid criticism from certain parts of the media and suggestions he should focus on football, Southgate has been left baffled by the treatment of the Manchester United forward.

"I don't really understand those comments. The days where the players just focused on their football and did nothing else are in the far distant past," he said.

"Modern players recognise they have an opportunity to make a difference, whether that's in their local community or on a broader scale, they have a voice and a social media presence.

"You know as a sportsman you're going to have a second career when you finish football, that's the reality, so I don't know why they would limit themselves to just one thing.

"Of course, it's important you're training and focus on games isn't affected, but it's possible to achieve that balance."

Harry Winks is growing concerned about his playing time at Tottenham as he bids to be in England's starting XI for next year's European Championship.

The 24-year-old midfielder made 31 appearances in the Premier League last season, the most he has managed for a single campaign in his career.

However, he has played in just half of Spurs' eight league matches this term, with Tanguy Ndombele and new signing Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg playing in every single one.

Winks made his England debut in October 2017 and has been a regular pick for Gareth Southgate since, featuring in each of their first two games in the current international break.

But his goal is to be a regular starter by the time the delayed Euro 2020 kicks off next June, and he accepts to achieve such an ambition he needs to dig deep at Spurs.

When asked if he needs Spurs boss Jose Mourinho to afford him more minutes, he told reporters: "Definitely. My situation at Tottenham is difficult at the moment.

"It's important that I keep fighting and working as hard as I can to stay in the squad and to stay in the team.

"Every time I get the opportunity for England, I love it, it's a great place to play football here. It's free and the lads get on really well, it's a great place to come to.

"I want to be a part of that in the Euros and I want to be in the starting XI in the Euros as well.

"But, yes, it's important that back at Tottenham I get the opportunities there and I stay in the team there as well."

England's hopes of reaching the Nations League Finals were ended by a 2-0 defeat by Belgium on Sunday, meaning there is nothing at stake for either team in Wednesday's clash with Iceland at Wembley.

Southgate may opt to use the situation to experiment with his team, though he feels that he has had little option to do otherwise across these past three international windows due to the amount of players he has lost to injuries.

In a packed schedule made even busier by the coronavirus pandemic's impact on the 2019-20 season, Southgate fears that by the time of England's next get-together in March, their injury list could be even more alarming – though this could play into the hands of players like Winks.

"What we don't know about March is what we will have available," Southgate added. "It is really an unknown and I have to say a concern.

"In terms of the squad or the starting XI, we have been nowhere near in any of the three [get-togethers this season] to having a full squad to pick from. Nowhere near.

"And, as the season progresses – we will go through with no winter break – we don't know who we will have at the end. So that would be the concern."

England manager Gareth Southgate confirmed he contracted coronavirus last month, though he has since recovered.

Reports emerged prior to Sunday's 2-0 Nations League loss to Belgium that Southgate had tested positive for COVID-19.

After England's hopes of reaching the Nations League Finals were ended by Group A2 leaders Belgium, Southgate revealed the positive coronavirus test.

"I did have the virus," Southgate told reporters. "I was fortunate it was not as serious as so many people in our country but not pleasant, not something you'd choose to have but everything is fine now."

Southgate's England needed at least a draw to ensure their chances of topping Group A2 remained alive going into their final game against Iceland.

However, first-half goals from Dries Mertens and Youri Tielemans put Belgium on track for a win that leaves them needing just a point in their final group game against Denmark to reach the Finals.

It was England's 10th defeat in 48 matches under Southgate – making him the first manager to lose 10 games with the Three Lions since Sven-Goran Eriksson, who lost 10 of his 67 fixtures in charge.

England also suffered back-to-back competitive internationals losses for the first time since tasting three consecutive defeats between July and September 2018.

Page 1 of 7
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.