Sam Allardyce’s abrupt exit just one match into qualification could have thrown the Three Lions off kilter, yet the former defender steadied the ship and earned the manager’s job on a permanent basis.
Southgate stuck with the tried and tested in order to get England to Russia next summer, but now the focus turns to getting the best out of the talent pool at his disposal.
Honing a three-man defence in the friendlies against Germany and Brazil is just the start, with the manager looking to young, talented players who he believes have the ability and attributes to kick on.
“I think these guys, in terms of their technical ability, their physical capabilities, and the energy they’re going to bring, and the competition they’re going to bring, brings another dynamic,” he said after naming a youthful 25-man squad.
“The way I want to play the game, and what’s needed to build from the back, and play through midfield in that, needs a certain sort of technical player.
“We had to qualify, so to fiddle too much with the team and change the team while you are still having to win, and you’re not certain whether the lads are going to be able to go in and handle it, is difficult.
“Now we’ve got a phase where, OK, let’s see what’s possible here: how can we evolve the team, how can we take it forward, how can we give some of the young players that we’ve seen over the summer coming through?
“How can we start to make that a pathway that they believe in, and that we think gives them the opportunity? I think that’s the responsibility.
“And whether I see the benefit of that, or whether other England managers down the line see the benefit of that, I think it’s the right thing to do for English football.”
Uncapped Tammy Abraham, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Joe Gomez are a nod to the future in this month’s squad, so too Tottenham’s Harry Winks after impressing last month.
Those inclusions have seen more experienced names overlooked, with a lack of game-time costing Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The switch of formation has also played a part in the latter’s omission, so too that of Chris Smalling – a centre-back whose ability to bring the ball out of the back was questioned by Southgate.
“No, I think he can (bring it out),” he said, attempting to clarify his comments in the press conference. “We have players like (John) Stones and (Eric) Dier and (Harry) Maguire who are even better.
“Until they’re given the chance to do it, then we won’t know whether they can play at this level.
“Chris has proved (himself) – he’s got 30 caps, he plays for Manchester United, so I know what he can do.
“The other guys I want to see and want to look at and that’s an important part of how we want to play, building from there.
“That’s probably the toughest call I’ve had to make because of the team that Chris is playing for and the fact he’s playing and keeping clean sheets.”
Smalling helped England secure the continent’s best defensive record during qualification, but Southgate is looking to build from the back to address the lack of goals.
Jack Wilshere could well help to “build and create chances”, but questions over fitness and minutes cost the Arsenal midfielder a call-up this time.
“The concern for me with Jack is that it’s not just this one injury, it is many injuries over a long period of time,” he said, having also called up Danny Rose despite just a handful of Tottenham appearances.
“If you look at seven or eight years and how many matches he has played, I think it is important that he is able to have a real run of games that we are able to say he is robust, he is ready.
“I don’t need to see him in terms of his quality, so if I am picking him in March I will be delighted because I think he’s a really exciting player.
“We know he’s the type of footballer we want.”