Gareth Southgate: 'No magic wand' for England success after France loss
Gareth Southgate did not sugarcoat his verdict in the dressing room following a defeat to France that highlighted just how quickly England's players need to learn.
Tuesday's match was never going to be as embarrassing as their last clash on French soil, given the Three Lions bowed out of Euro 2016 to Iceland at the last-16 stage in Nice.
There was, though, an all-too-familiar helplessness about aspects of their second-half display as France's young, dynamic side flourished in Paris.
It would likely have been worse than a 3-2 loss had it not been for Raphael Varane's video-assisted sending-off at the start of the second half, with Southgate's frustration at many aspects of the performance palpable.
However, he admitted there is "no magic wand'' that will transform England.
"There was no point raising my voice but equally you can't sugarcoat what happened in that final 30 minutes, in particular,'' he said, having seen Harry Kane score from the penalty spot to make it 2-2 just after half-time.
"I don't think it does any harm. I think they know, they are a very honest group of players.
"They are fully committed, I can't question what they've given. We've just got to learn quickly how to manage games in situations like that.''
England fell short in France despite going to their "absolute limit'' -- a gap to the elite that does not surprise Southgate after March's narrow 1-0 loss in Germany and November's 2-2 home draw with Spain.
"The only way you can understand what the gap is is by playing against those three teams,'' Southgate said. "If we'd played lesser teams and won, maybe we'd all be getting excited and thinking that we're better than we are.
"The reality is, find out exactly where you are against the very best.
"We've had two matches away and one at home, and for long periods we've equipped ourselves well.
"But we've a bit to do and I think it's important that as a group of players and a group of staff we recognise that.''
Southgate wants his team to be more intelligent in timing their aggressive pressing having seen it exploited by France.
The Three Lions boss believes "all areas of the team without the ball'' can improve, with those issues compounded by tactical indiscipline and sloppiness in possession at the Stade de France.
Such comments were borne out of the frustration that is only understandable as Southgate looks to turn promise into success.
"We've got some young players coming through that have got really good potential and can be exciting, but there is no short cut,'' said the England manager, who will go to the Under-21 European Championship and Confederations Cup this summer.
"I am afraid there is no magic wand to that, but we're recognising where we are short, we are recognising where we can exploit teams. We've had some joy doing that.
"But our game without the ball has got to improve.''
England face a different test when they return to action in September, with the World Cup qualifier in Malta, ranked 182nd in the world, followed by Slovakia, the side second in Group F, coming to Wembley.
There remains an inherent confidence within the group that they will be in Russia next summer and Southgate remains upbeat, despite having won just three of his eight matches in charge.
"Look, if we'd lost to three lesser teams or two lesser teams then that would be a bigger concern,'' Southgate added. "But I know that we are improving as a group and I know that the players are receptive to what we are taking on board, and I know that's not going to happen in the space of two or three months.
"I've got to keep that at the forefront of my mind. I want the players to feel disappointed tonight because they've got to recognise moments when you do have an opportunity to get a really good result.
"And the way we were causing France problems with the ball and the fact they are down to 10 at 2-2, then that's where you've got to be ruthless.''
England defender Phil Jones, however, thought his side were just as good on paper as the French but were lacking only application on the day.
Those present at Stade de France may find that hard to swallow but Jones is sure the gulf in class is not dramatic or unassailable.
"I don't think it's the quality of player because when you look at our team versus their team you couldn't turn round and say their team was better quality than ours,'' he said.
"We've got players with bags of quality, it's just putting it together and getting it right.
"We've done well against the top teams in recent times and not quite got over the line. It was the same here and that needs to change going into tournaments because we need to beat these teams.
"It's about bringing it all together because maybe at the moment against the big teams we're maybe falling a bit short. We're by no means far behind them because the way we started [with Harry Kane's ninth-minute opener], if we'd played like that for 90 minutes we'd have been comfortable winners.
"We should have killed the game, no way we should have lost at 2-2 in a comfortable position against 10 men. It's a bitter pill to swallow.''