Toulon targets set for England Under-21s by Gareth Southgate

Thursday 19 May 2016
England Under-21s head coach Gareth Southgate during training in Toulon

England Under-21s boss Gareth Southgate admits it’s hard to predict what to expect at this year’s Toulon Tournament.

The Three Lions kick-off their Group B fixtures on Thursday evening when they face Portugal, but with further games against Guinea, Paraguay and Japan to come next week, Southgate’s side are sure to face some varied opposition.

And after leading his team to fourth spot at the annual tournament in southern France two years ago, before Aidy Boothroyd’s U20 side matched that last year, the head coach is hoping to go one better this time around.

Portugal v England

Toulon Tournament
6.30pm, Thursday 19 May 2016
Stade Leo Lagrange, Toulon
Live on BT Sport

"It’s difficult to know [what to expect], but the discussion is can we do better than we have in the last two years, which is fourth? Can we win it?" he asks.

"The reality is we don’t know too much about the opposition, one or two may go a bit younger but we know Japan are taking their Olympic squad so they’ll be a lot older and will have played a lot more together.

"We haven’t got a great deal of insight into Guinea and Paraguay and we’re waiting to see what age group they go with so it’s a bit quirky as a tournament in that respect."

Southgate has brought a 20-man squad to the competition, with the majority of those involved having featured for the U21s this season along with three new faces in Jack Grealish, Rob Holding and Kasey Palmer.

And with three more games in five days next week, he fully intends to utilise his whole squad to share the workload and get an idea of what some of those fringe players are capable of.

England Under-21s and Sunderland forward Duncan Watmore trains in Toulon

Duncan Watmore broke into the England set-up at last year's Toulon Tournament and won the 'Player of the Tournament' award.

"We have a desire to get everyone a start and make sure that load is shared equally, so for us success isn’t whether we just win or lose, it’s what the individuals take from it and what we learn as a group," he explained.

"That should help us moving forward for next season’s games and beyond that and that’s why development football has to be about more than the final result.

"Last time I took the team to Toulon we had seven or eight new players and three of those ended up being with us for the whole campaign, so in many ways it benefited us as a learning experience.

"There’s every chance that could happen again with the boys that we’ve brought in for the first time here.

"It’s a good opportunity for them and it highlights that there is a depth of talent which keeps moving up, as we have others who are involved in big matches over the next couple of weeks but we are able to keep players who are in and around the first team at Premier League level to see how far they can go.

Southgate's squad practice their shooting in Toulon ahead of the tournament

"We’ve only had six matches and we have potentially five in the next two weeks so it’s a chance to play out those games when you’re ahead or behind and have to make those decisions.

"There’s a lot of different experiences for them, as well as being away together as a team for two weeks, building up to that next Euro Qualifier in September and hopefully towards next summer as well."

By Nicholas Veevers in Toulon, France