Kieran Trippier has developed into a “animal” under Diego Simeone’s tutelage at Atletico Madrid and his defensive talents are vastly underappreciated, according to the England manager Gareth Southgate.
Trippier’s deployment at left-back in England’s 1-0 win over Croatia at Wembley was the most surprising aspect of Southgate’s teamsheet, especially so given the impressive seasons of Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell at Manchester United and Chelsea.
But Trippier was one of England’s best players during their 2018 World Cup run to the semi-finals, and Southgate’s continued faith was rewarded with a composed performance at left-back by the 30-year-old, coming after a Liga title win with Simeone’s defensively supreme Atletico, for whom he played right-back.
“What Kieran has, firstly, is hugely underestimated,” Southgate said. “I think people are still seeing the lad that was at Spurs a couple of years ago and not the defensive animal that has grown at Atletico Madrid, trusted by one of the best and most successful coaches in the world.
“He gets his distances right on cover, he’s good one-v-one to stop crosses, and his talking is really good. We had a back four, there was always going to have changes in it today and we felt that communication, that organisation was an important part.”
The decision meant Southgate only needed one of his two orthodox left-backs on the bench and had the difficult task of telling Chilwell he would not be in the 23-man matchday squad, with Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho and the still unfit Harry Maguire also missing out on a spot on England’s bench.
Southgate has been vocal in his disappointment at Uefa’s rules which force him to pick three of his 26-man squad to miss out on a spot on the bench in every match, but insisted problems with morale had not surfaced in the group as a result.
“They haven’t because of how professionally they [Chilwell and Sancho] took those discussions and how much respect they’ve shown for the whole group. As have lots of substitutes who are good players who haven’t been able to get on the pitch today.
“We know that to be a successful team this is one of the areas that’s got to be right. We don’t win today’s game without the way players prepared for the friendlies. Without the way the players who didn’t make the final squad of 26 contributed through that preparation period. All of those factors come into a team getting the sort of result it did today. That’s a team - that’s what it’s about. We’ve got to continue that right the way through this tournament.
“This was the downside of a squad of 26 to have to have conversations with boys that don’t deserve to be left out. But we’ve got cover certain positions and for this game we went a certain route with Trips at left-back. Everybody knows the competition for places in those attacking areas. So through no fault of their own we have to make a decision somewhere along the line and whoever we did that with is going to be a very good player who didn’t deserve it.”
Far from settling on his first XI however, Southgate insists there will plenty of chances for those who missed out against Croatia to make their contribution on the pitch.
“We’ll look at every opponent, we’ll look at our team for every game, I think we have to have flexibility. We’ve got players who came into the game and did a great job today and we’ve got other players in the squad who’re going to have a really important part to play. That will work its way around, there’s going to be opportunities for a lot more players in the next couple of weeks.”
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