Southgate wants England reaction, not pub talk
Gareth Southgate knows England must respond against Bulgaria before worrying about where they rank among the best teams in world football.
Since taking charge of his country late in 2016, Southgate has overseen a surprise run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and qualification for the inaugural Nations League Finals, where the Three Lions finished third earlier this year.
But a free-scoring start to qualification for Euro 2020, including a 4-0 win over Monday's opponents last month, was checked by a lacklustre 2-1 defeat to the Czech Republic in Prague on Friday.
England struggled for midfield control and were careless in possession, exposing a worryingly fragile defence to pressure they were unable to withstand – Jakub Brabec cancelling out Harry Kane's early opener from the penalty spot before substitute Zdenek Ondrasek pounced to net a late winner.
Impressive performances up until that point lifted Southgate's men up to fourth in the world rankings, although where the team truly lies in that conversation is of no concern to their manager at this point.
"The last couple of days have been about preparing right and making sure we get a reaction. We know it's going to be a difficult game again and we have to be at our best," he said.
"[The players] are very self-reflective. They know. They don't need me to tell them when we don't play at the level we can. We have to recover quickly from the result. There's no point moping around, feeling sorry for ourselves.
"To be one of the best teams in the world, we have to prove that in the biggest competitions. What we have to focus on is qualifying for the European Championships.
"Where we sit among the best teams in the world is a matter for debate and pub talk.
"We performed extremely well throughout the World Cup and for most of the Nations League. That's why we're highly ranked."
Southgate has no injury concerns in the squad that has travelled to Sofia, which does not include suspended Tottenham left-back Danny Rose.
One player England hoped to call upon was uncapped playmaker James Maddison.
The Leicester City star was ruled out of this round of qualifiers through illness and courted tabloid controversy by being photographed in a Leicester casino on the same day as the Czech Republic defeat.
"Once a player has been released from the squad, it's up to them how they spend their individual time," Southgate said.
"I guess what James has learned is that if you have an involvement with England there is an increased spotlight on you.
"That goes with the territory. It's a high-profile position."
Kane moved on to seven goals for the qualification campaign last time out and is determined to lead by example when it comes to getting matters back on course.
"Myself and quite a few other in the team have been involved in high-pressure games for club and country, away games in Europe which are always tough," he said.
"Our main objective is to win. How we do that, we don't mind. We've just got to get the job done.
"If we can win it puts us in a very good place to qualify. We've got more than enough players in the team who have played in big European games."
Victory in Bulgaria would seal qualification for England if Kosovo do not beat Montenegro at home.