England can’t just focus on Lewandowski in key World Cup qualifier – Southgate

Gareth Southgate knows England cannot just focus on star man Robert Lewandowski if they are to beat nearest challengers Poland and take a huge stride towards World Cup qualification in Warsaw.

After securing an impressive 4-0 win against Hungary last Thursday, the Three Lions boss fully rotated his starting line-up as they won by the same scoreline against Andorra on Sunday.

Jesse Lingard’s brace was complemented by Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka efforts as England strengthened their grip on Group I as they returned to Wembley for the first time since the Euro 2020 final defeat.

EnglandJesse Lingard, left, and Bukayo Saka, right, scored in the win over Andorrav Andorra – FIFA World Cup 2022 – European Qualifying – Group I – Wembley Stadium
Jesse Lingard, left, and Bukayo Saka, right, scored in the win over Andorra (Nick Potts/PA)

Southgate’s side have won all five matches at the halfway point of this World Cup qualification campaign and the rest of the road to Qatar would appear straightforward if they win in Warsaw on Wednesday.

“Clearly with the result that Hungary have ended up with (losing 1-0 to Albania), Poland look like being the nearest challengers, which we probably thought when this group was drawn,” Southgate said.

“It’s a great incentive for us now. If we can go to Warsaw and win then we really are in control of the group.”

England defender Harry Maguire secured a late 2-1 win against Poland in March, when the visitors were without Bayern Munich sharpshooter Lewandowski through injury.

Robert Lewandowski, left, celebrates after scoring in the qualifier win over Albania
Robert Lewandowski, left, celebrates after scoring in the qualifier win over Albania (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

Head coach Paulo Sousa said they are not the same side without the striker, who will be leading the line against the Three Lions at Stadion Narodowy.

“They played at Wembley without him and they gave a very good account of themselves,” Southgate said.

“We only scored really late on in the game to win it, so of course it’s no different if we didn’t have Harry Kane or Raheem (Sterling) then they would be a big loss to us.

“The very top players for any team in the world are a loss if you don’t have them and every coach will feel the same way.

Harry Maguire scores England's winner against Poland
Harry Maguire scores England’s winner against Poland (Catherine Ivill/PA)

“But when we’re preparing the team to play against Poland, we’re not just looking at Lewandowski.

“We absolutely respect what he brings and we know what a threat he is, but they’ve got some other very dangerous players as well.”

Lewandowski scored twice in Poland’s 7-1 win in San Marino on Sunday evening, shortly after a much-changed England completed their comfortable, if unspectacular, defeat of Andorra.

Lingard was among the brightest performers in that win, grabbing two goals and providing another having responded well to missing the cut for the Three Lions’ Euro 2020 squad.

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Southgate was full of praise for the 28-year-old and has backed him to rise to the challenge of getting minutes at Manchester United, where superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has just bolstered the attack.

“I mean, that’s a situation that we’ve had with different players over a long period with England,” Southgate said.

“It’s not so long ago that the number of English players playing in the league was really low and we were having to pick players that either weren’t regulars in their team, or perhaps were out on loan.

“We picked Mason (Mount) for the first time when he was in the Championship, so we’ve had to be creative on that.

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“We know that Jesse has got a challenge, he knows he has got a challenge with the quality of the attacking players at United, but they’ve also got a lot of matches and different competitions.

“So hopefully he can take that challenge on and he will take that challenge on.

“He’s really rebounded brilliantly in the last 12 months or so from a tough period and he showed again today that he’s got quality.

“It’s not necessarily the quality of the opponent, it’s being able to perform within a group of very talented players that we have and stand out.

“I think that shows you the level that he’s capable of from today’s performance.”