England manager Gareth Southgate recognised his side have vast room for improvement despite bouncing back from three consecutive defeats as a much-changed team edged past Switzerland for a 1-0 friendly win thanks to Marcus Rashford’s winner.
However, the Three Lions again failed to hit the heights from their World Cup campaign, particularly in a poor first 45 minutes that provoked strong words between the players at half-time.
Southgate, though, did at least stave off an unwanted record of becoming the first England boss to oversee four straight defeats and further puncture the feel-good factor of a run to the World Cup semi-finals.
“It’s not been a perfect week by any means but we finish with a win, which is important moving forward,” said Southgate.
“We had a tactical problem to sort out and so many lads playing their first 45 minutes of the season,” he added of the first-half display.
“It was a tall order to ask them to play against an excellent Switzerland side, they kept the ball well and we had to chase too much. There was plenty of room for improvement.”
The two teams could have met in the quarter-finals in Russia had the Swiss not limped out of the competition with a whimper to Sweden in the last 16.
England proved far too strong for the Swedes before falling short against Croatia in the last four, but it is Switzerland who have so far bounced back from their World Cup disappointment the stronger.
Vladimir Petkovic’s side thrashed Iceland 6-0 to kickstart their Nations League campaign and were the better side for the first 45 minutes at the King Power.
“We could have been two or three nil down at half-time,” said England full-back Danny Rose. “It’s great we can all shout at each other and tell each other to improve like we did.”
Southgate insisted after being outplayed for the majority of a 2-1 defeat by Spain in his side’s inaugural Nations League encounter on Saturday that England must persist with his intention to improve on playing out from the back under pressure.
However, it nearly cost the hosts the opening goal twice in a matter of seconds inside the first 10 minutes.
Jack Butland misplaced a pass which rolled dangerously close to his own goal, and when the goalkeeper’s next clearance to James Tarkowski was cut out by the Swiss high press, Xherdan Shaqiri should have scored rather than striking the post on his weaker right foot.
Southgate has lamented England’s failure to produce midfielders of the calibre that Croatia and Spain possess.
But his side, containing nine changes from the weekend, was struggling even to cope with the Swiss’ passing and movement as the visitors enjoyed nearly 65% possession before the break.
A more positive start to the second period for the hosts was rewarded with the only goal on 54 minutes when Kyle Walker’s hanging cross to the back post was swept home by Rashford for his fifth international goal.
The importance of holding on for a morale-boosting win for Southgate was shown as he introduced a host of regular starters, including captain Harry Kane off the bench for the final quarter.
Shaqiri came closest to an equaliser, but saw his fierce strike bravely blocked by John Stones as England held out for victory.
Lukaku to the double
Romelu Lukaku scored two goals as World Cup semi-finalists Belgium began their Nations League campaign with a comfortable 3-0 win away to Iceland on Tuesday.
Eden Hazard converted a 29th-minute penalty after a foul on Lukaku, with the Manchester United striker netting a quick-fire second before adding a third in the closing stages.
Lukaku, also on the mark in Friday’s 4-0 friendly defeat of Scotland, was brought down by a clumsy tackle from Sverrir Ingason and Hazard rolled the resulting spot-kick to the left of Hannes Halldorsson.
He then got himself on the scoresheet two minutes later by following up a rebound after a powerful Vincent Kompany header was pawed into his path by Halldorsson.
Thomas Meunier struck the outside of the post on the hour, although Belgium ultimately transformed their dominance into a third with nine minutes to play as Lukaku slotted away a fizzing cross from Dries Mertens.
Roberto Martinez’s side move level on three points with Switzerland, who demolished Iceland 6-0 in St Gallen on Saturday.