England face a familiar, ominous threat as their path to qualification for Euro 2020 continues to look little more than a formality – but it will not come from any of the teams they will face on the route to next summer’s showpiece.
Southgate also opted for the experience of Atletico Madrid’s Kieran Trippier over Liverpool youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back – despite the latter’s vastly superior form over the past 12 months.
The policy cannot be criticised given a 4-0 victory that barely caused England to break sweat, but there is still a good case for freshening up England with young blood at St Mary’s on Tuesday.
It would not be a case of taking Kosovo lightly, simply giving England’s young brigade a taste of the competitive action they will need to prepare them for what may await when sterner examinations come next summer.
Not so much experimentation, more sound common sense in readiness for the acid tests.
Leicester City’s Ben Chilwell will come in for suspended Danny Rose at left-back, while England’s side would hardly be weakened by Alexander-Arnold’s inclusion.
Mount won his first cap as a substitute and there is a case for actually playing him or Maddison rather than the extra insurance policy of both Henderson and Rice. They could certainly offer a viable alternative and serious competition to Ross Barkley, not as replacements for the future but certainly as rivals.
The good news for England and Southgate is that the squad looks like it can bear a fair amount of rotation without seriously weakening the overall package.
England captain Harry Kane, with a hat-trick here to take his England tally to 25 goals from 40 appearances and go above 1966 World Cup final hero Sir Geoff Hurst in the all-time list of goalscorers, and Raheem Sterling are irreplaceable.
Kane, admittedly helped by a regular supply of penalties, is building a truly remarkable body of work with England.
He leads from the front in every respect, his tireless work ethic and consistency a touchstone for this modern England, while his partnership with Sterling increasingly looks like a natural, telepathic fit. Southgate has a pairing that will be the envy of many countries at Euro 2020.
Southgate also has room for manoeuvre elsewhere that hardly strips his starting XI of quality.
In defence, Alexander-Arnold is hardly a downgrade on Trippier in the absence of the injured Aaron Wan-Bissaka and the dropped Kyle Walker, while those midfield options also include Tottenham’s Harry Winks.
Borussia Dortmund’s 19-year-old Jadon Sancho has proved he lives comfortably at this level. He will relish more chances and the big, competitive stage.
England would not be belittling Kosovo or any of their future opponents in qualifying by shuffling their pack. It would simply be a case of seeing the bigger picture.
It is an old concern – but it may be the start of Euro 2020, when faced with the sort of forensic examinations the best teams conduct, before we find out just how good this England team is and how much progress has been made since they just came up short in the semi-finals at the World Cup and the Uefa Nations League.
England have been here before. This time they must be ready for when the serious interrogation starts next summer.