Rio Ferdinand withdraws from England’s upcoming qualifiers

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The story here isn’t that Rio Ferdinand isn’t playing. His withdrawal due to fitness concerns was foreshadowed by Alex Ferguson this weekend. The story is more about how we got here, with the nine-month history of Ferdinand under England boss Roy Hodgson inverting on itself after today’s news.

Because of the particular way the 34-year-old has to manage his fitness (subtext: his bad back), Ferdinand isn’t prepared to accept Roy Hodgson’s recall to the England national team. He called the England boss today to explain the peculiarities of his situation, an explanation the Three Lions boss both bought and appreciated:

“I’m disappointed Rio will not be available but due to the detailed pre-planned training and medical programme he must follow it’s not possible,” said Hodgson. “However, I was pleased that Rio called and asked to meet with me. It was important to hear from him personally about the way he must manage his body between games.”

That must have been a remarkable conversation. Recall last summer, when Rio Ferdinand (above) shared his feelings that his exclusion from England’s Euro 2012 squad had less to do with health concerns than internal conflicts. Hodgson, heading into his first major tournament, decided to exclude Ferdinand while professing doubt about whether the veteran defender’s health would allow him to compete in a three-plus-week tournament. For Ferdinand, the exclusion had more to do with his inability to play with John Terry, who at the time faced charges on racially abusing Ferdinand’s younger brother, QPR defender Anton.

Fast forward nine months, and the tables are turned, even after Hodgson once mistakenly said Ferdinand would no longer be considered. John Terry’s retired from international duty, and thanks in part to Michael Dawson’s withdrawal from the upcoming qualifiers, Hodgson’s thin in the middle. And he’s now convinced Ferdinand’s fitness won’t be a problem.

source: Getty Images“This is not to say he cannot play back-to-back games – he can and has proven so,” Hodgson (right) said on Monday. “He’s out this time due to particular pre-planned details already in place for his programme.”

Ferdinand could meet England’s demands, but to do so, it seems he needs to be at a different point in his program. And not anticipating a callup to the national team, Manchester United’s staff probably outlined a routine assuming he’d have a week off. And that didn’t happen.

“The issue is not [the amount of games],” Alex Ferguson said this weekend.  “The issue is his whole preparation for football today. It involves treatment, it involves rest, it involves heavy days followed by some light days followed by some easy days.”

It sounds like the England callup just came at the wrong time, something Ferdinand had to explain personally.

So it is that Hodgson’s reach comes up empty-handed, but give the England boss some credit. Although he’s saying the right things and being convivial about the whole situation, Hodgson has ultimately been vindicated. It’s still questionable whether fitness concerns were the only reasons Ferdinand didn’t go to Euro 2012, but given health is keeping him out of the national team for San Marino and Montenegro, Hodgson would be justified in a “I told you so!”

But that’s not the Roy Hodgson we know.

“I must place on record how I was impressed with his commitment to playing for England,” Hodgson said. “I look forward to hopefully selecting him for squads in the future.”

The feeling is mutual.

“One thing I made clear was that my passion and commitment to represent my country is as strong as ever,” said Ferdinand. “It is disappointing that I won’t be able to play a part in the upcoming games but I told Roy that I want to continue to be available for England and I look forward to working with him in the future.”

It took a long time for them to come together, but Hodgson and Ferdinand are back on the same page. It puts the player back where he belongs – where should have been all along. We don’t see him in uniform this week, but there should be a time in the near future where we’ll see Ferdinand in all white once more.

Leicester 0-0 Southampton: Saints lose chance to gain relegation ground

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Leicester City and Southampton finished scoreless at the King Power Stadium on Thursday, as the latter failed to pick up three critical points in a heated Premier League relegation race.

The best opportunity on the day likely came in the second half when Marc Albrighton‘s brilliant volley was deflected over the crossbar by Saints keeper Alex McCarthy.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Burnley with Moses’ second-half strike ]

Southampton boasted many of its regulars as they prepare to stave off being dropped down to the Championship next season, although Mark Hughes‘ side features in a big FA Cup semifinals clash over the weekend against Chelsea.

Chances were at a minimum in the opening stanza, with Leicester the more dominant of the two sides in attack, although it didn’t amount to much on their various counterattacking opportunities.

Kelechi Iheanacho threatened early on for the Foxes, coming close in the 15th minute with a strike that narrowly missed the far corner. This came briefly after he followed up on his own blocked attempt moments prior.

The Saints now sit four points behind 17th place Swansea City, while Leicester remains in eighth place — trailing Arsenal and the top six by 10 points.

Burnley 1-2 Chelsea: Moses rescues Blues all three points

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With four matches remaining in the Premier League season, Antonio Conte‘s side has everything to play for in the final weeks of the campaign.

[ MORE: Leicester, Southampton finish scoreless at King Power Stadium ]

Chelsea picked up a come-from-behind 2-1 win against Burnley on Thursday afternoon at the Turf Moor behind Victor Moses‘ second-half finish.

Moses was active throughout the match for Chelsea, playing a hand in both goals.

Ashley Barnes pulled a goal back for the Clarets in the 64th minute, but it wasn’t enough for the seventh place side to steal points off the Blues for the second time in 2017/18.

Alvaro Morata’s struggles continued on the day, as the Spanish international had a quality breakaway chance to seal the game early in the second half, but put his right-footed attempt wide of the goal.

The Blues went in front in the 20th minute after Burnley defender Kevin Long put the ball into his own net off of a dangerous cross from Victor Moses on the righthand side of the box.

Olivier Giroud made heavy claims for a penalty in the eighth minute, when the striker went to ground after having been contacted by Long.

The Frenchman started the match paired with Alvaro Morata up front as Antonio Conte looked to rest Eden Hazard and Willian ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup semifinal against Southampton.

The victory for the Blues puts Conte and Co. within five points of Spurs with four matches remaining in the PL campaign. Tottenham currently occupies the fourth Champions League position in England’s top flight.

Does Paul Pogba to PSG make sense?

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Paul Pogba‘s time at Manchester United could be nearing an abrupt end for the second time in his professional career.

And now, a club that was previously tracking the France international appears to be expressing heavy interest in the midfielder once again.

[ MORE: The latest Premier League player power rankings ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Paris Saint-Germain and Mino Raiola — Pogba’s agent — have been in contact recently over a potential move to the French capital at the conclusion of the 2017/18 season.

The report suggests that Raiola has been in talks with several other big clubs in regards to the availability of Pogba in the near future, however, a move to his native country could sweeten the deal for the 25-year-old.

The Frenchman has scored 10 league goals for the Red Devils since he re-joined the side in 2016/17 from Juventus.

Pogba has had an up-and-down relationship at Old Trafford with manager Jose Mourinho, which nearly caused a move for the attacker during the January transfer window.

Cross-town rivals Manchester City were heavily linked to Pogba at the time, however, nothing came to fruition as the Citizens went on to claim the Premier League title with several matches remaining on their calendar.

While PSG seems like a logical fit given the club’s free-flowing attack and recent willingness to acquire massive talents, including Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, the Ligue 1 giants may not be able to financially support another big-time addition like Pogba.

UEFA’s Financial Fair Play laws have been tested by PSG, particularly during last summer’s transfer window when the club acquire both Neymar and Mbappe for over $400 million combined.

PSG is set to meet with UEFA on Friday though, which could give an indication one way or another as to how the front office can approach its spending habits in the months to come.

Watch Live: Burnley v Chelsea; Leicester v Saints

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Two big Premier League games are coming your way on Thursday as Burnley host Chelsea at Turf Moor, while Leicester welcome Southampton to the King Power Stadium.

WATCH BURNLEY-CHELSEA LIVE

Burnley are aiming to win six-straight games in the Premier League as reigning champs Chelsea head to Lancashire hoping to cut the gap on the top four to just five points.

In team news from Turf Moor, Burnley start Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes up top together as Sean Dyche looks to get at the visitors early with plenty of balls into the box. Chelsea rest Eden Hazard and Willian ahead of the FA Cup semifinal and start Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata up top together.

WATCH LEICESTER-SAINTS LIVE

As for Leicester against Saints the Foxes’ hopes of European action are all but over after a poor run of form, while Southampton are battling for their lives in the relegation zone but a win would move Saints to just two points from safety with four games to play.

The teams news from Leicester is that Kasper Schmeichel is out injured in goal, while Claude Puel has picked an attacking lineup with Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho up top and the Mahrez, Gray and Albrighton all starting.

Saints are unchanged from the team which started so well against Chelsea before collapsing to lose last time out.

Click on the links above to watch the games, which both kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET.