England's manager Roy Hodgson (L) looks

English players playing fewer minutes in the Premier League: What can be done?

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As if all the chatter about the lack of B-teams, a dearth in player development and whether England should convince Andan Januzaj to play for their country wasn’t enough, now data has been released showing the proportion of English players playing in the Premier League has decreased. According to a study by Opta, commissioned by the BBC, English footballers account for less than one-third of the minutes played in the country’s top division.

As a comparison, in Spain, which both lifted the most recent World Cup and took the Euro 2012 title, Spanish players play 59% of the minutes in La Liga. Germany, who placed third in FIFA’s latest rankings, has 50% of its Bundesliga minutes played by Germans.

With England still uncertain to qualify for the World Cup, news such as this only serves to increase fear that the country will continue to fall behind. With that fear comes knee-jerk reactions, ones centered on keeping players out rather than fostering growth within. Former Football Association chairman Lord Triesman believes England’s problems are getting worse, and stated, “Unless there is some sort of ratio idea that Uefa president Michel Platini has been advocating over the years, I expect that we are not going to resolve that problem.”

Perhaps the emphasis is in the wrong place. What the study doesn’t mention is how many of a country’s players are plying their trade in one of the world’s best leagues. Germany, who booked their ticket to Brazil on Friday night, has Mesut Özil at Arsenal and Mario Gómez at Fiorentina, to name just two examples. The spine of Spain hails from Real Madrid and Barcelona, but they also have David Silva at Manchester City and now rising star Thiago Alcântara at Bayern Munich.

England? With the exception of third-choice goalkeeper Fraser Forester, who stops his shots at Celtic, every single call up in the past 12 months has come from a Premier League side. The English are simply not plying their trade elsewhere. Perhaps it’s due to the cost of English players, perhaps from a desire for the players to stay at home, to play in the best league in the world. Perhaps it’s a mixture of both.

But rather than worry about the proportion of Englishmen playing in the top English league, perhaps England should fret more about their players playing in top leagues, period. Yes, it’s good for the national team if clubs develop home grown talent at quality academies. But it’s also good for the national team if players take a chance on playing outside of the British isles. When English teams compete against sides from Germany and Spain in the Champions League, they are often frustrated.

So too with international football. England may have ultimately triumphed over Montenegro on Friday night, but that was mainly due to the visitors changing their approach in the second half. The Three Lions were unable to beat Ukraine, and go into Tuesday’s match with Poland in desperate need of a win. Concern over how England will fare should they be forced into a playoff to reach Brazil reveals just how little confidence the English have in their players at this time.

Limiting the number of foreigners allowed in the top division would be an easier solution than finding ways of sending young players to other leagues, but in the long run, it will benefit neither the players nor the fans. The league will suffer as more and more talented players head to other countries. On the other hand, exposure to other styles of play, and experience gained from playing in other leagues, would do wonders for England’s talent, both with club and country. And that growth in talent will allow them to compete with the best players from other countries, naturally increasing the proportion of minutes played by Englishmen in the top division.

Surely that’s better than an artificial cap on players from outside the Home Countries, yes?

Pep Guardiola: “Maybe I’m not good enough”

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Pep Guardiola has admitted he “may not be good enough” for his players at Manchester City.

Ahead of City’s clash against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) Guardiola has been defended his squad after severe criticism from the media.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

City were hammered 4-0 at Everton last weekend, their worst league defeat since 2008 and Guardiola’s worst-ever league defeat as a manager.

With plenty pointing the finger of blame at goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and City’s defense, their manager put himself in the firing line.

“They are good players. I have respect for the guys, so why would I say the guys are not good? So I don’t understand the lack of respect for the professionals when they have been amazing players, and [people saying] they are not good enough for me. Maybe I am not good enough for them,” Guardiola said. “They are Manchester City players, top players. They have a lot of quality. They have shown that many times in the past and this season.”

Mind games.

Guardiola, 46, is no doubt facing the biggest challenge of his season as City look to at least seal a top four spot in this his debut season in England. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager has already “said goodbye to the title” and if they lose against red-hot Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium then more questions will be asked of his tactics and if they can work in the Premier League.

So far the possession-based slow build up style has been hot and cold for City, with plenty of counter-attacking teams in the PL (Chelsea, Spurs, Everton, Leicester etc.) having a field day against a shaky defense.

Despite being 10 points off the pace, Guardiola is sticking by his philosophy. One thing really sticks out to me from his first few press conferences in England: “We will see if my style of play can work in the Premier League.”

So far, it’s not.

Watch Live: Liverpool vs. Swansea City (Lineups, Stream)

SWANSEA, WALES - MARCH 16:  Kyle Naughton of Swansea City is closed down by Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on March 16, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Liverpool host Swansea City to Anfield on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Reds aiming to stretch their unbeaten run at home in the Premier League to 18 games.

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Jurgen Klopp is a little concerned with the number of games his team have had to play over the past few weeks, but a victory against the struggling Swans would momentarily move his side just four points behind leaders Chelsea who play on Sunday.

As for Swansea, new manager Paul Clement knows a win would take his team out of the relegation zone and with new signings arriving that would be a massive boost. It would also be a massive ask for the Welsh side to get anything at Anfield but this may be a good time to play Liveprool after their midweek trip to Plymouth in the FA Cup and the EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton coming up on Wednesday.

In team news Liverpool start with Philippe Coutinho once again, while Joel Matip is on the bench after the Reds finally settled the dispute with Cameroon. Swansea hand debuts to new signings Martin Olsson and Tom Carroll.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Sturridge, Moreno, Lucas, Origi, Matip, Woodburn

Swansea City: Fabianski; Olsson, Mawson, Fernandez, Naughton; Cork, Carroll, Fer; Sigurdsson, Llorente, Routledge. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Amat, Fulton, Dyer, Borja, McBurnie

Viktoria Plzen set to sign midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz

Obafemi Martins, Oniel Fisher, Andreas Ivanschitz
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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PRAGUE (AP) Czech champion Viktoria Plzen is close to signing Austrian midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz.

Plzen says Ivanschitz agreed terms for a contract lasting 1 + seasons and will sign it when the team returns from a training camp in Spain. Ivanschitz has already joined the squad at the Oliva Nova resort, the club says.

Ivanschitz helped the Seattle Sounders win their first MLS Cup in December.

[ NEW HOMES: Fonte | Berahino ]

No financial details were given.

The 33-year-old Ivanschitz also played for Rapid Vienna and Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, Mainz in the Bundesliga, Levante in Spain and Panathinaikos in Athens.

Ivanschitz played 69 games for Austria in 2003-14, scoring 12 goals.

FIFA allows Matip to represent Liverpool during AFCON

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Joel Matip of Liverpool heads to score his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on October 29, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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Joel Matip is going to get to play for Liverpool during AFCON after all.

The center back had turned down the chance to represent Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Liverpool was forced to apply to FIFA for a waiver.

[ PL PREVIEW: Swansea vs. Liverpool ]

Matip suffered an ankle injury in December, adding to his desire to stay at Anfield. He declared himself internationally retired and was one of six Cameroon players who refused call-ups for AFCON.

He last played for the Reds on Dec. 11, and can be selected by Jurgen Klopp against Swansea City on Saturday.