Five things we learned from Gareth Southgate and Jesse Lingard ahead of Nigeria game

Friday 01 Jun 2018
England boss Gareth Southgate and Jesse Lingard faced the media on Friday ahead of the game with Nigeria at Wembley

England manager Gareth Southgate and midfielder Jesse Lingard faced the media on Friday afternoon ahead of their game with Nigeria at Wembley.

It’s the penultimate match for the Three Lions squad before they head to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, so we picked out the key talking points from the press conference.

England v Nigeria
  • International Match
  • 5.15pm, Saturday 2 June 2018
  • Wembley Stadium connected by EE
  • Live on ITV

No tattoo trouble

There were no prizes for guessing the topic of the first question. And Southgate was quick to speak of his backing for Raheem Sterling, who has been the subject of media headlines over one of his tattoos this week. The Manchester City forward used social media to put across his thoughts on the matter and the Three Lions boss explained his thoughts on the situation too. “I had a deep conversation with him to see how he was with everything. He knows he’s got our support and understands how some people perceived the tattoo, but any tattoo is like any work of art, it’s an individual meaning and the intent is all with the person. Raheem’s a pretty strong character and is focused on his football. The personal story of a lot of our players is remarkable. People often highlight the issues and faults of all of the squad, but for so many of them it’s incredible they’ve got to the point they have. They’re a great example to young kids of what you can achieve if you dedicate your life and are focused on it. Of course, they have talent but there’s so much more that is needed to become a top professional. Raheem, in particular, embodies that. Nothing is given to you in life, you have to fight all the way.”

Baby boomers

One player who won’t be present at Wembley this weekend is Phil Jones, who has returned to the north-west as his wife prepares to give birth to the couple’s first child. And with Fabian Delph’s wife also due to give birth during the World Cup, Southgate believes any good news can be shared among the whole squad. “There’s no news at present, but obviously we’re looking forward to some good news in the next couple of days and it’s important for him to be there,” he said. “We talk about the importance of football, but family has to come first. All being well, it will be a lovely story and he’ll be there for the birth. It’s not an inconvenience for us, it’s a part of life and it’s a brilliant part of our group’s experience over the next month. A couple of the boys have just got engaged and we have a couple of boys who are going to be fathers for the first time, or again, and they’re all great things for us to celebrate as a group. They’re the shared stories which make us closer.”

Phil Jones will miss Saturday's game with Nigeria as his wife prepares to give birth


Lingard appreciation

With Lingard sat alongside him at the Grove, Southgate revealed the Manchester United man will be starting Saturday's game after impressing in training over the last week. The England boss has never hidden his admiration for the creative midfielder, stretching back to 2013 when he was U21s boss and Lingard was often loaned out to the Championship to get games under his belt. “Jesse is fantastic at recognising space and working away from the ball to provide a great link between midfield and attack,” he explained. “He gets between the lines brilliantly and I’ve worked with him for a long time and had belief in him. I can remember watching him on loan at Birmingham a few years ago and watching a game at Leeds. He hardly got a kick that day, but that was because his team-mates couldn’t see the moves he was making. His performance was so intelligent but he was operating on a different thinking level to the rest of the team that day. He’s had a super season this year. There’s been a question mark over whether he can convert what we see from his finishing in training into matches but this year he’s done that, so it’s a good moment for him.”

No promises

With just two games to come, against Nigeria and then next Thursday’s game with Costa Rica, before England head to Russia, Southgate is making no promises to his players over what to expect in terms of selections or tactics. “I think we know what we want to see in each area of the field and we’re clear on what we think,” he revealed. “But also there’s no need for me to say too much on that publicly and that goes for players across the board. I’ve explained what we’re using these two matches for and I haven’t given them the team for tomorrow, but we have a very clear plan on how we want to use the matches.”

Jesse’s pride

Lingard spoke of his honour at being involved in the squad and preparing for his first World Cup with the Three Lions. “It’s means so much to me, my family and all of the people that have contributed to my career,” he said. “To put the shirt on is a huge honour for me and we just want to give back to the nation. We all believe in each other and that we believe we can spring a surprise in the World Cup.”

If you want to see the Three Lions in action against Nigeria at Wembley on Saturday, tickets are still on sale and also for the game with Costa Rica at Elland Road in Leeds on Thursday 7 June.

Have you enjoyed England’s World Cup adventure? Why not join the England Supporters Club? It’s free and you’ll get some great offers and ticket priority.

By Nicholas Veevers