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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?

 

 

 

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Mustafi to Arsenal, Guzan to Boro, Tello to Saints

LILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 12:  Shkodran Mustafi of Germany runs with the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Germany and Ukraine at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on June 12, 2016 in Lille, France.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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Arsenal are said to have inquired about Valencia’s German international defender Shkodran Mustafi, 24.

After losing Per Mertesacker until 2017 with a serious knee injury, Arsene Wenger has already spoken about looking for an experienced option at center back.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news

However, it appears he may be looking for a more long-term approach with Mustafi set to cost around $26 million according to report in the Independent. That say that Spanish outlet Cadena Cope believe the German defender is up for sale.

With Laurent Koscielny on an extended break after appearing in the EURO 2016 final for France and Gabriel missing Arsenal’s tour of the USA with tonsillitis, Wenger will use young center backs Calum Chambers and Rob Holding against the MLS All-Stars on Thursday in San Jose, Calif. or maybe even Francis Coquelin as an emergency center back with Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal either side of him.

Mustafi started and scored against Ukraine in Germany’s 2-0 win in their EURO 2016 opener but only appeared again at the Euros as a second half sub in their semifinal defeat to France.


U.S. national team goalkeeper Brad Guzan is set to seal a move to Middlesbrough, according to the Guardian.

Per the report Guzan will leave Villa on a free transfer and will sign a two-year contract for Aitor Karanka’s side. Skyy Sports is also reporting that Guzan will have a medical on Teeside in the next 24 hours.

[ MORE: Fabregas sent off in fiery friendly ]

Guzan, 31, played for the U.S. at the Copa America Centenario this summer but given Aston Villa’s relegation to the Championship the Illinois native wants to stay in the Premier League.

If the move to ‘Boro does go through then he will be battling with Victor Valdes and Dimitrios Konstantopoulos for the starting spot.

Guzan has become the first-choice goalkeeper for Jurgen Klinsmann since the 2014 World Cup when Tim Howard decided to take a sabbatical. Last season he endured a nightmare campaign as they were relegated from the Premier League for the first-time in history.

Here’s hoping Guzan gets a chance to shine at the Riverside but with Valdes also signing on, it’s difficult to know who will be the first choice.


Southampton are chasing two Spanish players, according to the Sun.

Barcelona’s Christian Tello, 24, has spent the last two seasons on loan at Fiorentina and FC Porto but is now looking for a permanent home and Southampton will be hoping to add to their attack after losing Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane this summer.

Tello could leave Barca for $13 million and although he’s scored 20 goals in 86 games for his hometown team, he has failed to break through and finally wants to become a regular elsewhere.

Jay Rodriguez and Charlie Austin are both back fit and among the goals during preseason but with their history of injuries perhaps Claude Puel will be looking to sign one more striker as Saints prepare for both the Premier League and the Europa League.

The report also states that midfield reinforcement is being looked at with Malaga’s Recio, 25, linked with a $7 million move to St Mary’s. Saints seem pretty set in that area of the pitch with Jordy Clasie, Oriol Romeu and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.


Arsenal insist they won’t spend big to compete with Premier League rivals

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal (R) and Ivan Gazidis, CEO of Arsenal (L) in discussion as they sit in the stands prior to the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Arsenal and Olympiacos at the Emirates Stadium on September 28, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Arsenal fans, I can already hear you venting.

The 2015-16 Premier League runners up have signed Granit Xhaka, Rob Holding and Tasumo Asano this summer but many fans and pundits believe Arsene Wenger‘s side is still short of a top class center back and a predatory striker.

[ MORE: Fabregas sent off in fiery friendly ]

Well, bad news. It doesn’t seem like major cash will be splashed this summer.

Speaking in California ahead of Arsenal’s game against the MLS All-Stars on Thursday, chief executive Ivan Gazidis revealed that the Gunners’ transfer policy is not going to change.

“We can’t afford to outgun competitors that have far more money. We have to be very careful, very selective,” Gazidis said. “We would not be successful if we simply went out into the transfer market and tried to outgun our competitors.

“We’re run in a self-sustaining way, and a way that we believe in, because we believe it gives us certainty for the future and enables us to plan our future with confidence. That means we can’t afford to make huge mistakes in the transfer market. We can’t afford to outgun competitors that have far more money to splurge on transfer fees than we do. So we have to be very careful, very selective about how we do things.”

Arsenal lost out on the Premier League title to Leicester City last season which infuriated their fans mostly because in a campaign where Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea all struggled they couldn’t seize their best chance in a decade to win the title.

[ MORE: Arsenal hunt for center back ]

Yes, the Gunners have spent big to bring in Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Xhaka in recent years but compared to the spending of United, City, Chelsea and even Liverpool this summer, they are miles behind.

When all is said and done you have to admire the business Arsenal has become with the Emirates Stadium a beacon for their success. However, just as we saw last season during the second half of the campaign, fans will protest as they are desperate to do more than see their team finish in the top four every season and then bow out in the first knockout round of the UEFA Champions League.

Unless Arsenal’s prudent model of spending changes drastically, you really can’t see them challenging for the UCL title and being favorites to win the PL. It’s that simple.

Wenger gets a lot of abuse for apparently not spending the cash at his disposal but after comments like this from Gazidis it is clear that the club isn’t going to hand him vasts amounts of cash.

Report reveals world’s most valuable players under the age of 21

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 10:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane on April 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Watch out for these guys in the next few years.

The folks over at Soccerex have put together a handy list of the most valuable players under the age of 21.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza

There’s no surprise that plenty of Premier League stars are in the 20 player list, with four of the top nine hailing from the PL.

Schalke 04 have three players inside the top eight as the Bundesliga side continue their impressive record at developing young stars.

[ MORE: Zlatan reveals MLS offer

Anthony Martial is the clear winner as the Manchester United and France forward is valued at over $10 million more than his nearest competitor. Plenty of other names on the list have been linked with moves to Premier League clubs this summer, while Dele Alli, Marcus Rashford and Kelecho Iheancho also feature among the most valuable youngsters in world soccer.

Below is the list in full, with many factors such as media perception, years remaining on contract, history of injuries and their clubs average selling value all calculated when coming to this valuation.


  1. Anthony Martial (Manchester United) – $52.1 million
  2. Leroy Sane (Schalke 04) – $41.1 million
  3. Renato Sanches (Bayern Munich) – $38.2 million
  4. Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur) – $37.8 million
  5. Kinglsey Coman (Bayern Munich) – $33.9 million
  6. Breel Embolo (Schalke 04) – $28.1 million
  7. Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) – $24.9 million
  8. Max Meyer (Schalke 04) – $23.9 million
  9. Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City) – $22.1 million
  10. Julian Weigl (Borussia Dortmund) – $21.98 million
  11. Gabriel Jesus (Palmeiras) – $21.97 million
  12. Youri Tielemans (Anderlecht) – $21.4 million
  13. Riechedly Bazoer (Ajax) – $21.2 million
  14. Niklas Sule (Hoffenheim) – $18.4 million
  15. Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Monchengladbach) – $16.6 million
  16. Giovani Lo Celso (Rosario Central) – $15.8 million
  17. Ruben Neves (FC Porto) – $15.6 million
  18. Ousmane Dembele (Borussia Dortmund) – $15.5 million
  19. Gabriel Barbosa (Santos) – $15.3 million
  20. Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan) – $15.2 million

Bob Bradley linked with Hull City job in Premier League

PASADENA, CA - JUNE 25:  Bob Bradley coach of  United States during the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup Championship against Mexico at the Rose Bowl on June 25, 2011 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Former U.S. national team head coach Bob Bradley has been installed as the bookies favorite to take over at Hull City in the Premier League.

ProSoccerTalk understands that there has yet to be any formal contact between Hull and Le Havre about Bradley’s services.

[ VIDEO: Pulisic scores for Dortmund ]

Bradley, 58, has yet to coach in England — if he is appointed he’d be the first-ever American to be in charge of a Premier League team — and in the past his name has been brought up surrounding vacant positions at Aston Villa, West Brom, Sunderland and Fulham.

A report from the Hull Daily Mail claims that Hull are looking across Europe for a new manager to replace Steve Bruce who stepped down last week after four years in charge at the KCOM Stadium. Roberto Martinez, current caretaker manager Mike Phelan and Steve McClaren are also said to be in the hunt.

This link with Bradley comes alongside reports of a potential American takeover at Hull but co-owner and current chairman Ehab Allam recently put talks over the sale of the club on hold until after the summer transfer window ends.

[ LONGFORM: Bradley – “That’s Football” ]

As for Bradley, the New Jersey native is the current manager of Le Havre in Ligue 2 in France but it is well known that Bradley has been waiting for a chance to manage in the top-flight of one of Europe’s elite leagues.

After assembling an impressive coaching resume around the globe since he left the U.S. setup in 2011, Bradley appears a good fit for the Tigers.

He worked wonders in a perilous situation in Egypt as he took the national team to the brink of the 2014 World Cup at a time of extreme turmoil in Egypt. He then went to Norway and on a tight budget took newly-promoted Stabaek to a comfortable ninth-place finish in his first season in charge and they then finished third and challenged powerhouse Rosenborg for the title in his second full season in Norway.

Bradley has since moved on to Le Havre in France’s second-tier and after arriving midway through the 2015-16 campaign they agonizingly missed out on the last promotion spot on the final day of last season with just one goal separating the Normandy club from gaining promotion to Ligue 1.

Fans of the U.S. national team have kept Bradley close to their hearts since U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati replaced him with Jurgen Klinsmann in the summer of 2011 and many would love to see him take charge of a Premier League outfit.

Bradley is unlikely to get many resources from Hull’s owners, the Allam family, as Bruce blamed his exit on a failure to add new players this summer. Owner Assem Allam has fallen seriously ill in recent months and has left his son Ehab in charge but he and Bruce butted heads which led to the English manager departing less than three weeks before the new Premier League campaign.

With the Allam family hailing from Egypt the links to Bradley seem to add up as the job he did when in charge of the Pharaohs from 2011-13 was nothing short of miraculous.

Let’s see what direction this moves in but Hull could certainly do a lot worse than hiring Bradley who has a strong background in getting the best out of teams with small resources and the players currently at Hull would certainly slot in nicely with his soccer philosophy.