London (AFP) – England manager Gareth Southgate plans to rotate his team against San Marino as the Three Lions look to seal their place at the World Cup on Monday.
Southgate’s side will be guaranteed to feature at next year’s tournament in Qatar if they avoid defeat in San Marino.
The Group I leaders crushed Albania 5-0 on Friday and should have few problems with the world’s lowest-ranked side in their last qualifier on Monday.
After Harry Kane’s hat-trick and goals from Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson put England five up half-time against Albania, Southgate was able to make a raft of second half changes to rest his stars.
But he still plans to switch things up in San Marino, while also admitting Mason Mount and Luke Shaw are likely to miss out again as they recover from a tooth infection and a head injury respectively.
“Yes, we will make quite a few changes but what we’ve done well in the past is sustain good performances, even with those changes,” Southgate said.
“Although it was one of the more experienced teams we’ve fielded, we still had a lot of exciting young talent out there.”
Maguire’s headed opener for England was a welcome boost after a difficult period for the out-of-form Manchester United centre-back.
Maguire celebrated by sliding to his knees, cupping his ears and sticking his fingers in them in what was perceived as message that he won’t be distracted by his critics.
Former Manchester United captain Roy Keane said Maguire’s celebration was “embarrassing” but Southgate was quick to defend his player.
“I don’t know, is he a Hulk Hogan fan? I don’t know what the celebration was for,” Southgate said.
“He’s a fabulous player, two months ago he was in the European Championship team of the tournament.
“He’s rushed back because he’s the sort of player that has a huge conscience to help his club and I said during the week you get lots of players that hide in the treatment room when the pressure’s on.
“He hasn’t done that and I’ve got massive respect for doing that.
“He’s been able to switch his focus, have a few more days on the training pitch, which has probably helped him as well, and his performance was very good.”
Southgate also dismissed talk about his future as an “irrelevance” after the Albania victory.
Reports before the game suggested Southgate was expected to sign a new two-year deal to take him through to Euro 2024, but he insisted it was not his focus.
“It’s an irrelevance for me. I’m under contract, I’m not out of contract, and I’m very well backed and supported here,” he said.
“My focus is getting this qualification done and everything else can wait.
“We need a point, we are not done, and it would be wrong for my attention to be anywhere else than that.
“My job was to get this team to a World Cup and then we can look at everything else after that.”