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Gareth Southgate is conscious of diverting the spotlight from failed Phil Foden

That’s something Southgate now insists on every match because “it’s an important part of our team’s psychological preparation” for the “story” of any occasion, but it’s more distinctive for this one.

Denmark is on fire. Their side are constantly talking about the penalty given in England’s 2-1 win in the Euro 2020 semi-final at Wembley, and want to right that “injustice”. The goalscorer Harry Kane is still there, of course, but the player who was criticized for apparently diving is not there. Raheem Sterling is one of three of England’s front six from that match who will not play in Frankfurt as Southgate tries to establish a new chemistry.

It still seemed elusive given the 1-0 win over Serbia. The manager said his staff have “challenged everyone to take that next step” in terms of performance in this game.

It inadvertently echoes Cesc Fabregas’ words about a player who is almost Sterling’s direct replacement in the starting XI. Phil Foden has become the center of much of the debate after a rather dour opening performance from the team.

That’s because he didn’t stand out in the way he did for Manchester City, where he was football writers’ player of the year last season. Fabregas said Foden had to “take responsibility to grow”, to “go a step further”.

Although Southgate has been criticized for not putting the playmaker where he can excel, there is a growing feeling within the game that the player is now too used to the highly defined structure of Pep Guardiola’s City.

It’s almost a contradiction for a star who looks so free in his playing. Foden has been cast as a street footballer, but he is actually the ultimate product of the modern youth development system, having played for City since his youth.

Southgate won’t be able to replicate that kind of structure with England, especially not in a week. There have therefore been arguments that Foden may have to be sacrificed. The idea of ​​building the attack around him has disappeared in the wake of Jude Bellingham’s emergence, to the point where Foden felt he needed to emphasize how they could play together.

However, Southgate is not heeding these calls. Foden will almost certainly start against Denmark, with the team expected to be much the same as against Serbia, apart from perhaps Conor Gallagher coming into central midfield for Trent Alexander-Arnold due to his energy.

Southgate even went out of his way to praise the role Foden played.

“The first thing I have to say is that I thought Phil did an exceptional job for us on Sunday. Other players attracted attention, but the way he worked for the team, defending the spaces, he was really intelligent in the way he played. Towards the end of the game he held the ball for us at crucial moments.

“A lot happened in the match, tactically a lot to solve. And we were happy with what Phil did.”

Southgate even addressed some of the wider debate surrounding Foden, and whether he is a player who needs to be ‘unlocked’.

It was actually the subject of another pre-match meeting. The staff wanted to help a relatively young team deal with the amount of criticism they receive, even after a win. Debates that arise around Foden are part of that.

“After every game against England there will be a story about a player, or a few players. This is a different world than the one you experience at clubs.

“The players as a collective recognize that now, after the past few days. We talked to them about it. ​

“I have to make sure that I can guide them through that, make them understand it and recognize that it is the reality of our world, but we should not be fooled by it. We are in a good position and we know we want to play better.”

Kyle Walker defended his City teammate.

“I don’t think one game defines a player. It is a season or a tournament that defines a player. Especially with Phil coming back at the end of the season, I don’t think there should be as much focus on one ninety minutes as I’m told. Phil is a great character, he has… I wouldn’t say it was a difficult path to get here as he won a lot of trophies at Manchester City, but he had to be patient. This is just another little thing he has to overcome, when after such a great season there is so much pressure on him, that great players have to step up on big occasions.”

It’s hard to disagree. Foden and Bellingham will develop a better understanding the more they play together.

However, Luke Shaw’s absence does mean things could remain staccato for a while longer. The Manchester United full-back has become one of England’s most important players, as the only left-footed defender in the squad.

Southgate said England are unlikely to see Shaw until the end of next week, which would mean the knockout stages.

What that knockout phase will look like remains to be seen, of course. One win almost certainly ensures a team advances to the next round as at least one of the top third-place teams. England records that victory, 1-0 against Serbia. Denmark did not, after a difficult 1-1 draw against Slovenia.

Their needs are greater, as is their emotional edge, given how the Euro 2020 semi-final went. However, England will still want to ensure they top the group, which would all but confirm victory.

Denmark’s highly technical midfield will also be a valuable test, especially with Christian Eriksen at his own emotional peak after telling one of the stories of the tournament.

After suffering a cardiac arrest during his last European Championship match, against Iceland in 2021, he scored against Slovenia.

This is the level the English midfield needs to rise to. That is why Gallagher may replace Alexander-Arnold.

England need to put an act right in Frankfurt tonight. Denmark still wants to put something right.

England v Denmark, Live, RTÉ2/BBC1, 5.0

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