John Stones backs Gareth Southgate for England and praises ruthlessness

• ‘I can’t see why he couldn’t take on the senior England role,’ says defender
• Marcus Rashford likely to start up front against Malta on Saturday

Gareth Southgate has the required ruthless streak to be England’s next permanent manager, according to John Stones, and members of his first squad are impressed with the time he has taken to speak with them on an individual basis since they convened at St George’s Park this week.

England face Malta on Saturday in the first of Southgate’s four-game temporary stewardship since he stepped up from his role with the under-21s to replace Sam Allardyce. Yet there is already confidence within the squad, voiced by the Manchester City defender Stones, who featured under the 45-year-old in the junior set-up, that Southgate has the quality and, perhaps just as significantly, the self-confidence when it comes to difficult decisions to take on the position full-time.

Asked if Southgate, who earned 57 caps in an international career which stretched over eight years, is tough enough to assume the role, Stones said: “Being a defender I think it is born into him. Every manager knows when to have the ruthless streak in telling the players what they need. Sometimes it is not what those players want to hear and I have experienced that [with Southgate] in the under-21s.

“I have been in situations in games where we weren’t playing well and doing what he wanted and he came in at half-time and told us precisely that. We went on to turn it round and that is a great quality to have.

“I can’t see why he couldn’t take on the role. He knows all the players, he has been in the set-up and he’s been great for the under-21s. In the summer he got silverware [at the Toulon tournament]. It is a new challenge and chapter for him and I am sure he will be relishing coming here and working and trying to do his best in these four games. Whatever happens after that is down to the FA.

“But he brings great calmness to the group and he is always talking to every player individually, which is a good characteristic to have as a manager, to spend a bit of time and give advice to individuals. Every manager speaks to a team as a collective but I think the lads really appreciate when he speaks one on one and gives advice on good and bad things. We all know we have to improve.”

Stones, revived by his summer move to Manchester City, is expected to win his 12th cap against Malta and Southgate will step up the side’s tactical preparations at St George’s Park on Thursday. He often employed a diamond formation with the under-21s and the make-up of his senior side may lend itself to a similar approach against a team ranked 176th in the world and the whipping boys elect of the section. That could mean Dele Alli employed at the tip, operating just ahead of Wayne Rooney and Jordan Henderson, and Eric Dier anchoring.

Marcus Rashford, who scored a hat-trick for Southgate’s Under-21s against Norway last month, is likely to start up front in an attack-minded selection aiming to seize the early momentum in the group after a traumatic few months. “For any manager that’s been here, whether Roy Hodgson or Sam Allardyce, it’s always the same: we want to win for us, for the coaching staff, for the fans, for everyone that’s involved in England,” Stones said. “And definitely for Gareth now, while he’s here with his coaching staff. It’s going to be an exciting four games and hopefully it is going to be good for the future as well.”