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UEFA Nations League

England seek response to Netherlands nightmare with reminder of progress made

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Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho - England

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ByBen Grounds
08/06/2019 at 15:17 | Updated 08/06/2019 at 16:00

The final of the Nations League will take centre stage on Sunday, but not even the most ardent England fan will admit to being enthused by the starter course involving Gareth Southgate's exhausted group and Switzerland.

Portugal will seek to win a first trophy on home soil, 15 years on from going so close to lifting the European Championship, with the showdown between Virgil van Dijk and Cristiano Ronaldo promising the perfect end to an encouraging inaugural tournament.

But, like 11 months ago when England were beaten by Belgium, who finishes third and who takes fourth remains largely irrelevant, beyond an exercise in appeasing sponsors.

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England have the chance to get the Netherlands loss out of their system

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England saw their hopes of a first trophy since Le Tournoi unravel from the moment Jadon Sancho missed a glorious chance to make it 2-0 against the Netherlands, 10 minutes into the second half on Thursday.

A marginal offside call assisted by video technology did little to help the mood, and now we have been left with an unwanted relic that clings to this very modern tournament.

Are England fans owed a performance?

At 2pm on Sunday in Guimaraes, Southgate will call on his players to produce one last performance in a contest that can be viewed as a chance to give something back to the country's disappointed fans.

An estimated 18,000 England supporters descended on Portugal this week, with Dutch fans outnumbered four-to-one in Guimaraes. The vast majority of those who have made the trip have behaved impeccably.

But is Sunday's match further punishment for the manner in which England self-imploded or a consolation? Southgate says he is reluctant to make too many changes against a Swiss side who are also smarting from a 3-1 reverse against the hosts.

England fans celebrate Jesse Lingard's strike - before it was ruled out

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"We lost an important game on Thursday. We've got thousands of fans here and we have to make sure our performance is one that gives them something back. Every time we take the field, we are learning things about the players and how we need to improve.

"We'll probably have to make some changes. We've got doubts over (Ben) Chilwell, (Marcus) Rashford, (Jordan) Henderson. There's a few more to check. I don't want to make wholesale changes," he said.

"The importance of the match is clear for us and whoever comes in needs to come into a fairly stable line-up."

Will the Champions League stars return?

After the loss of a semi-final for a second successive summer, with more than a shade of the defeat to Croatia in Moscow having taken the lead only to lose in extra time, it is not only the fans who are struggling to find the appetite.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, who was a second-half substitute, admitted it was tough to prepare to face the Netherlands after being left "physically and emotionally drained" by lifting the Champions League just five days earlier.

Jordan Henderson admitted he struggled to motivate himself for the Netherlands match

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Southgate must now decide whether it is worth recalling Henderson from the start, and assess the value in fielding Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Danny Rose as well as Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold, who were all left out from the starting line-up against Ronald Koeman's side.

Third-place games rarely set the pulse racing but Southgate rejected the notion that the game would be little more than a practice session.

"No England international is a practice match. Every time you wear this shirt, it is of importance for you, the country and the supporters. Individuals have opportunities to impress," he added.

"They are very strong at playing from the back, they are a very settled team, very consistent for the last couple of years in terms of selection and method with key players like (Xherdan) Shaqiri and (Granit) Xhaka."

None of England's 23-man squad have returned home following the semi-final defeat - further evidence that the UEFA Nations League is being taken seriously, with the Switzerland game being viewed as a springboard for the remainder of the EURO 2020 Qualifying campaign.

Should England stick to playing out from the back?

Despite defensive errors leading to the Netherlands' two extra-time goals, Southgate is not about to rip up the blueprint that has taken England to fourth in the FIFA world rankings.

England's playing style has become identifiable right through the age groups, and while Switzerland offers little more than a glamourised practice match, progressive football is not about to be replaced by a more pragmatic approach.

Thursday demonstrated the pitfalls of such a high-risk strategy, but Southgate defended his methods.

John Stones has been offered support by Gareth Southgate

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"We're asking the players to play more from the back, but every team that I've seen in however many years that's won a World Cup or a European Championship has been able to build from the back," he said.

"I think we've moved past the days where I've even walked past local parks and I've heard parents shout, 'get it out of there'. We can do that, but we won't be in semi-finals because we wouldn't retain the ball well enough.

"The other night was painful, but we didn't lose the game because we were trying to play from the back. We lost because we made mistakes."

John Stones' place in the England side, with Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher among those questioning whether he has improved under Pep Guardiola.

But for Stones - and Southgate - Sunday offers a chance to end the season on a high note, and to provide a reminder of the progress made since Russia 2018.

Predicted line-up: Jordan Pickford, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Harry Maguire, Danny Rose, Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane.

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