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Roy Hodgson’s starting XI against Italy – combinations and permutations

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In the weathered hands of England manager Roy Hodgson rests a seemingly infinite number of combinations and permutations from which to pluck a starting XI for the World Cup opener against Italy on Saturday.

Attack is where the discrepancy lives. Joe Hart will start in goal, Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Glen Johnson will be the starting back four, and Steven Gerrard has locked down one of the central midfield spots.

That much we know. But from there on forward, things get sticky.

The general issue is whether Hodgson will go aggressive and deploy a diamond midfield behind two strikers or whether he’ll opt for the balance of a 4-2-3-1, utilizing two holding players behind three attacking midfielders and a lone striker. But formation is only one component of Hodgson’s prescription. A considerably larger concern is one of personnel and with a number of talented young stallions at his disposal, the England manager has some very difficult decisions to make.

So let’s take a look at a few different setups Hodgson has available to roll out against the Azzurri.

THE TASTE OF LIVERPOOL

The most talked about formation for England, the 4-4-2 diamond midfield, happens to be the same shape Liverpool used to claim second place in the past season’s Premier League. Brendan Rodgers perfected this setup with a rotating group of midfielders but always present in the bunch was Gerrard, at the fulcrum, and Raheem Sterling, in any one of the three advanced roles. Proving himself capable of opening defenses up from the left or right side, Sterling’s game rose to a new level late in the season when Rodgers inserted him into the center of the pitch where his quickness and evasive nature proved too much for stiff-legged central defenders.

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Adam Lallana looks poised to exchange his Southampton shirt for a Liverpool kit.

Another key to the diamond midfield is balance, which is achieved through utilizing fit outside midfielders who have no issue playing both sides of the ball. And there’s no better man for that job than Jordan Henderson, who makes 90 minutes of sprinting look like a walk in the park.

A fellow Liverpool player, Henderson has an intimate understanding of Gerrard and Sterling as well as how to correctly use the diamond shape to his advantage. Henderson’s ability to drop deep, at times even alongside Gerrard, allows Hodgson to select a fourth member of the midfield with slightly more aggressive tendencies.

And who better for that role than Adam Lallana, the $34-42M transfer target of Liverpool, who looks primed to join the Reds by the end of July? The 26-year-old excelled on the left side for Southampton this past year, is not opposed to running himself ragged for 70 odd minutes and provides devastating trickery to compliment that of Sterling.

Opting for a four man midfield with Liverpool connections may feel biased but it’s a proven commodity that sparks goals. Factor in the Daniel Sturridge connection up top and this feels like a balanced yet aggressive lineup for Hodgson to utilize in the event he truly desires to take the game to Italy.

THE (ROONEY-LESS?) YOUTH BLITZ

If Hodgson really wants to throw a curveball at Italy he’ll unleash the youth, likely in a 4-2-3-1, which provides a bit more protection than the diamond. The youth setup would partner 22-year-old Jack Wilshere alongside Gerrard in what would be a clever pivot. Wilshere’s love for the tackle compliments that of Gerrard while the Arsenal man’s knack for creating off-the-dribble would provide a key link between the attacking midfielders and the striker.

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Many pundits feel Wayne Rooney’s starting spot could be in jeopardy. Will Hodgson pull the plug?

In front of Gerrard and Wilshere would be 19-year-old Sterling on the left wing, 20-year-old Ross Barkley in the central attacking role and, ideally, 20-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right wing. The obvious issue currently facing this system is that Oxlade-Chamberlain is nursing a knee issue that may keep him out against Italy. While his speed and two directional play would devastate and provide balance to this shape he’d be well deputized by Henderson or Danny Welbeck, who would then swap sides with Sterling.

One downside of a youth blitz in a 4-2-3-1 is that Wayne Rooney may be the odd man out. It’s a predicament many pundits believe Hodgson may be inclined to move forward with given the United man’s sub-par Premier League season and poor World Cup history. That said, charging forward without Rooney in the starting lineup feels like a titanic miss and one that Hodgson would be wise to avoid risking. Instead, Hodgson could push forward with a youth blitz and Rooney, who could partner with Sturridge in front of a diamond midfield made up of Gerrard, Sterling, Barkley and Ox/Henderson/Welbeck/Wilshere.

Regardless of using a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 diamond, the key to the youth blitz would be giving England fans that which they fiend for the most: Sterling alongside Barkley in what would be a freakishly athletic, skillful and audacious pair that few opposing defenses, including the Italians, would be equipped to handle.

THE RUNNING MAN

As we know by now, heat and humidity will play a large role in this World Cup meaning many a match will come down to a battle of the fittest. And no venue will provide a greater challenge of the conditions than the sweltering jungle of Manaus, where England faces Italy. To hedge against those conditions, don’t be surprised if Hodgson opts for an attacking group of running men, which means James Milner becomes a real possibility to start.

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James Milner’s third lung may be enough to get him into Roy Hodgson’s starting XI.

The City man is as fit as the come. Inserting him on the right side along with Gerrard in the fulcrum, the inexhaustible Henderson on the left, and Sterling at the point of a diamond midfield could prove a very wise play.

If Hodgson opts for a 4-2-3-1, Rooney could drop into the attacking midfield role, Sterling to the bench and Wilshere alongside Gerrard.

It’s a lineup that would allow England to put Italy under pressure and bring veteran leadership into the side. While not the most exciting play, Milner’s work rate could break down Italy’s left side for a sub like Sterling or Oxlade-Chamberlain to then capitalize.

THE OLD GUARD

The most conservative and downright uninspiring attack Hodgson could play would be to pair Gerrard with Milner and Frank Lampard.

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Frank Lampard can play a role for England in the World Cup, hopefully just not as a starter.

Whether in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 and regardless of who is played on the left side, such a lineup would reek of a lack of ambition and spell doom for England.

Fortunately, while such a makeup could have been foreseeable under Fabio Capello’s tenure as manager, it seems unlikely that Hodgson would revert to such a level of conservative tactics. There is a freshness about this England squad that is just begging to be unleashed on the world.

What better stage to make it happen than to kickoff Brazil 2014?

 

 

 

Manchester City continues to trim squad with Mangala, Nasri deals reportedly likely

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 05:  Samir Nasri of Manchester City smiles with Eliaquim Mangala during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg match against Paris Saint-Germain at the Football Academy training ground on April 5, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola has brought in a full band of reinforcements to Manchester City this summer, and now he must make room.

With Joe Hart almost certain to move to Italian club Torino in the next few days, a few other City players banished by Guardiola may be set to depart as well.

Manchester City can only include 17 foreign players on its Champions League roster, meaning it must leave off two of the 19 currently with the club. With Hart leaving, that is one less homegrown player on the roster. That is leading Pep Guardiola to try and find new homes for the likes of Eliaquim Mangala and Samir Nasri.

France Football reports that Mangala could be headed back to his former club FC Porto on loan, and according to reports in England, the Manchester club might be forced to eat wages in order to make that happen. Tottenham is apparently also interested for a permanent move, but they’d likely want him at a price significantly cheaper than the $55 million City paid for him just two years ago. Other clubs reportedly in for Mangala include Valencia and Napoli, with the former having just sold Shkodran Mustafi to Arsenal and would likely be searching for a replacement.

According to a number of reports in Spain, Samir Nasri has piqued the interest of La Liga side Sevilla. Nasri has seen his playing time at City decline for a number of years, and in the process was ousted from the French national team. According to AS, with the possibility of Nasri’s all-out exclusion from the City squad, he has interest from the Spanish club as well as Besiktas in Turkey. Like Mangala, however, Nasri’s hefty contract is forcing City to consider much of his wages as sunk.

Nasri’s departure is less imminent, however, considering Guardiola’s praise of him after the 3-1 win over West Ham on Sunday. The Spaniard said Nasri could stay, and while the player appreciated the sentiments, he also admitted a switch is yet possible. “Yes, there could still be movement,” Nasri said. “It depends on a lot of things in fact. There’s been a lot of speculation. Things that are true. Things that are false too because they’ve never shown me the door or anything like that.”

Even Stevan Jovetic has been looking for a way out of the Etihad, but a possible move to Fiorentina apparently was nixed over a disagreement on wages.

Joe Hart’s agent confirms loan move to Torino

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Joe Hart of Manchester City warms up prior to the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
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Joe Hart‘s Manchester City departure seems all but complete.

According to a report in Italy, the goalkeeper’s agent has confirmed a loan move to Torino is complete pending a medical.

“Yes, Joe Hart will play for Toro,” agent Jonathan Barnett told Tuttosport. “It’s all done, the goalkeeper said yes to the Granata and now Manchester City have given the green light. It’s all true, it’s secured. Tomorrow Hart will have a medical in Turin.”

Earlier Monday, it was reported that Hart was considering the offer but had not decided yet if this was the right course of action. Reports over the last week have stated the 29-year-old has been looking to leave Manchester City after being benched by Pep Guardiola, but preferred a permanent move to a loan due to the uncertainty for his family that comes with the short-term nature of a loan.

To back this up, Sky Sports reporter Gemma Davis tweeted that Hart has been given permission leave the England squad to travel to Torino for a medical. This is unlikely to affect Hart’s place in the England team, given they do not play until Sunday.

After two games in Serie A play, Torino sits seventh in the league table with a win and a loss so far. 30-year-old Daniele Padelli has started both games in goal, playing the full 90 minutes. Padelli has been the main man for Torino since his arrival in 2013, missing just a chunk of games two seasons ago when benched early in the year.

Reports: Nigel de Jong preparing to leave LA Galaxy for Galatasaray

Los Angeles Galaxy's Nigel de Jong, right, strikes the ball in front of San Jose Earthquakes' Quincy Amarikwa during the first half of a MLS soccer game Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
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Multiple reports across both the United States and the Netherlands have claimed Nigel de Jong is close to a move to Turkish giants Galatasaray.

A report by AD writer Maarten Wijffles states that De Jong is currently in the country for talks. However, while L.A. Times writer Keith Baxter confirms that a deal is in progress, he claims the player is still currently situated in the United States and has not left for Turkey yet.

According to reports in Turkey, Galatasaray began its interest in De Jong only recently, when Newcastle enforcer Cheick Tiote apparently failed a medical. Other reports citing sources with Newcastle and the player have disputed this, saying talks instead broke down over personal terms.

De Jong had only joined Los Angeles at the end of the January transfer window, moving from A.C. Milan after the termination of his contract. The 31-year-old Dutchman made 18 appearances for the Galaxy and did not score a goal.

Between Tiote and De Jong, the Turkish club is clearly targeting a certain style of player. De Jong has been known throughout his career as a midfield enforcer, sometimes on the border of dirty play, and that did not change during his short time in Major League Soccer. He made several cringe-worthy tackles, including one in April on Darlington Nagbe that caused many to fear for Nagbe’s career until it was revealed he suffered just a sprained knee. Another in early July earned De Jong a straight red card against Vancouver in early July.

The Dutchman was thought to be taking over Steven Gerrard‘s Designated Player spot next year after his retirement at the end of the current season, but De Jong’s departure means the Galaxy could have an open DP slot next season.

Lionel Messi picks up hamstring injury, will travel with Argentina anyways

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 20: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Betis Balompie at Camp Nou on August 20, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi’s “return” to the Argentinian national team may have to wait.

Barcelona has revealed their superstar picked up a left hamstring injury at an unspecified time, and discovered them during tests earlier on Monday. The statement said he would still travel to Argentina to link up with the national team for the international break, and will have more tests there.

Argentina, sitting in the third spot in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying and just two points above elimination, have vital matches against Uruguay and Venezuela over the next week. “His presence in those matches will depend on how the injury develops,” the statement from Barcelona read.

It is unclear when Messi developed this injury. He has played the full 90 minutes in all four of Barcelona’s matches this season, including the 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, the first of the four matches in which he did not score or assist a goal.

This also could be a bit of gamesmanship from Barcelona. Obviously, it benefits clubs for their players to rest during international breaks instead of play international matches, and for them to suddenly announce an injury to Lionel Messi would put pressure on Argentina to consider sitting their superstar. Of course, in attempts to dispel this idea, Barcelona included in their statement that the injury report was “approved by the FC Barcelona Medical Services and the Argentinian Football Association.”

A legitimate injury to Messi would be a devastating blow to Argentina considering Sergio Aguero has already withdrawn from the squad following an injury picked up against West Ham this weekend. Aguero was substituted in the 88th minute of Manchester City’s 3-1 win over the Hammers.

Messi was expected to make his first appearance to the national team setup after his brief “retirement” following the loss in the Copa America finals.