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Opinion – Southgate must push England forward in this international break

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This international break should prove to be an interesting one for England. With games against the Czech Republic and Montenegro, they have the perfect opportunity to continue their good run of form.

The Three Lions are a better team than both of their opponents and will be keen to get their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign off to a winning start.

Their focus, though, has to be on pushing this side forward and looking to the future. This qualifying campaign is one in which Gareth Southgate has to implement and develop the team that will be the first choice for the next decade.

Now, there are some caveats to that. Several injuries have robbed him of players that are likely to be key men moving forward. John Stones, for example, should be the first choice central defender for as long as possible. His ability to play out from the back is absolutely key to how England want to play.

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LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 12: Declan Rice of West Ham United celebrates during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal FC at London Stadium on January 12, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Similarly, losing Trent Alexander-Arnold is another blow. While Kyle Walker is the first choice at right-back now, the Liverpool full-back will be first-choice in future. He’s better defensively, better going forward and like at Liverpool, brings a better balance to the team as a whole.

Beyond those two, though, there is plenty of work to be done. First, there is the battle for the left-back spot. That once belonged to Danny Rose, but the Spurs man is far from the first choice now. Instead, the battle is between Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell.

Shaw has been reborn at United and Chilwell has continued to develop nicely at Leicester City. Southgate has to work out who he wants to be the first choice and give them their chance to shine. At present, most would pick the Foxes star.

There is less of a debate surrounding Declan Rice. The midfielder has been called up after changing his allegiance, and Southgate has to get him into the first-team as soon as possible.

Borussia Dortmund v Borussia Moenchengladbach - Bundesliga
DORTMUND, GERMANY – DECEMBER 21: Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund celebrates scoring his side’s first goal during the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Moenchengladbach at Signal Iduna Park on December 21, 2018 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Rice has been nothing short of exceptional for West Ham this season. Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to bring him into the team has helped to turn their season around. What he has shown is that he has all the attributes to be a key man for the national side.

Rice is excellent at winning the ball back, is good at maintaining possession and has an eye for a pass. He’s a vast improvement on Eric Dier and getting him into the team as early as possible is a necessity. This international break has to be used to get him accustomed to the setup and ready to play a vital role moving forward.

Southgate then has to work out what to do with his attack. With Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford to choose from, the England manager has outstanding forward options. He needs to work out a style and system that gets all of them working together.

That may seem extreme on the case of Sancho, but a team with all those four up front is one that few would want to come up against. This break can lay the foundations for them to form a fearsome quartet.

Across the team, Southgate has decisions to make. The squad he has picked shows he is looking to the future and continue the rebuild he started following the World Cup.

While his focus will be on winning the games against the Czech Republic and Montenegro, he has to look beyond that. This international break is the perfect opportunity for him to move England forward and into the next stage of their development.