Gareth Southgate wants consistently high performances as England kick off their World Cup preparations fresh from seeing Euro 2020 foes Italy showing what can happen if levels drop.

Now just a matter of days away from finding out their opponents in Qatar, the Three Lions are gearing up for the winter tournament with a Wembley double-header.

England will be without several key players for the friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast but Southgate’s preparations have not been thrown off-kilter.

The 51-year-old has proven flexible during challenging moments during his reign and will use this break to help aid their approach to the World Cup.

“Always performance – we want good performances, consistent performances,” the England boss said.

“We’re used to having to be adaptable and make changes so that doesn’t worry us.

“Normally, whichever team we put out, we get a consistent level from the players and that’s huge credit to them.

“When you lose players, it’s not that we sit and mope around, it’s just ‘OK, what’s the best solution and how do we adjust to the changes that we’ve got to make?’.

“We’ll do that for tomorrow and for Tuesday, it’s an opportunity for everybody to get on the pitch.”

England’s consistency under Southgate has been impressive, having followed their run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals by finishing third in the inaugural Nations League finals the following year.

The Three Lions then enjoyed on an unforgettable run to the Euro 2020 final before suffering penalty shoot-out heartache against Italy, who will be conspicuous by their absence in Qatar.

England Training – St George’s Park – Tuesday 22nd March
England’s consistency under Southgate has been impressive (Martin Rickett/PA)

Roberto Mancini’s side fell to a shock home defeat to North Macedonia in Thursday’s play-off, meaning the Azzurri have failed to qualify for back-to-back World Cups.

“Well, it’s a big surprise,” Southgate said. “I think it’s clear that sometimes teams have a cycle.

“Whether that was their cycle, or whether the after effects of the final and the emotion… I think that’s where our players did so well to recover from the emotion of the final and then to perform as they did in the autumn was absolutely fantastic. I think easily underestimated.

“I think qualifying always is (underestimated) anyway, so I suspect looking at the results and the performances the way they went…Italy were in that position.

“But also there were fine margins in three or four of their games and that’s football.”

Italy finished runners-up in qualifying Group B to Switzerland, who sit 14th in the FIFA world rankings and should provide a good test for absentee-hit England.

Bukayo Saka File Photo
Bukayo Saka has pulled out of the England squad because of Covid-19 (Nick Potts/PA)

Bukayo Saka became the sixth withdrawal of this camp having tested positive for Covid-19, while Arsenal team-mate Emile Smith Rowe looks set to sit out against the Swiss.

“Emile didn’t train today so I would think (it’s) unlikely he’ll be involved tomorrow,” Southgate said.

“It’s nothing too serious but we’ll check to see whether he can be involved tomorrow. Raheem (Sterling) is absolutely fine.

“It was a shame to lose Bukayo but we’re back in those moments with Covid where there is a spike in the country – and we’ve had the same.”

Asked if players were waiting for results to come back following Saka’s positive test, Southgate said: “No, I am lost on the rules, really, so I can’t sit and give you a medical download of all of that.

England Training – St George’s Park – Tuesday 22nd March
Tyrick Mitchell is set for his England debut (Martin Rickett/PA)

”I’m not sure why he is out because I think you can carry on now with normal life but also I think people have an ethical responsibility if they’re positive to stay away from others and stop the spread of the virus.

“I think by the normal rules of life he could carry on, but the football rules are a bit different. I am in a maze of confusion, frankly.”

In terms of available players, Southgate confirmed uncapped Marc Guehi, Tyrick Mitchell and Kyle Walker-Peters will make their England debuts over the coming days.

“Definitely we’re going to have debuts this week, for sure, whether that’s tomorrow or Tuesday,” he said.

“So great moments for those players and we will always want to put them in with experienced players as well, so we’ve got good balance and it gives them the best chance of succeeding.”

Fraser Forster
Fraser Forster is back in the England squad (Adam Davy/PA)

As well as the new faces, Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster surprisingly received a first England call-up since 2017.

The 34-year-old is comfortably the oldest member of the squad and came in for Sam Johnstone, who had replaced injured Aaron Ramsdale.

Forster’s selection also highlighted Dean Henderson’s place in the Three Lions pecking order – little surprise given the Manchester United goalkeeper has made just three appearances this season.

Asked about the decision, Southgate told talkSPORT: “Because Dean’s just not played any football, so we’ve no idea of knowing what form he’s in and I think in goal in particular you need to be playing to be able to be in a rhythm and to feel confident.

“It’s very difficult. I think it would have been unfair on Fraser to pick another goalkeeper who wasn’t playing regularly when Fraser has been playing at a good level in the Premier League.”