Gareth Southgate‘s England has a bizarrely positive, grounded feel about it these days, and much of that belief centers around the 47-year-old manager’s refreshingly honest nature of management and speaking to the press.
[ MORE: England’s 26-man roster for final World Cup qualifiers ]
While there were serious questions raised over whether or not Southgate truly wanted the job, at least at the time he was put in charge, it would appear his presence has provided the Three Lions that much-needed healthy dose of reality and grounding. Take, for example, his comments on Thursday, in which he bemoans the lack of (fit) options available to him, and does everything but name names in saying, “I’ve had to call in players that don’t belong here right now” — quotes from the Guardian:
“It’s frustrating because the biggest story here is we have about 12 players missing with injury. It’s incredible. If you were to say, ‘Am I entirely happy with the squad I’ve named?’ then no, because we’ve got too many good players missing with injury. And the consequence of that, you could well argue, is that there are one or two in the squad who haven’t necessarily warranted it on their performances.”
“The reality is that I don’t want players to be comfortable,” he said. “The danger when you don’t have competition for places is twofold. What’s the level needed to get in the squad? And is everyone fulfilling that at the moment? Well, I’m not so sure they are.
“There’s been a couple of easy decisions because I haven’t had to make any phone calls [to players who might feel hard done by]. They are always difficult phone calls to make but I’d rather be making them. After that, we come into training and it’s: ‘Am I a shoo-in to get in the team or do I have to push a bit harder because I have a couple snapping at my heels?’ There’s a good challenge for those players in the next week if they want to stay in the squad.
Even without the full complement of players he’d have preferred to call into camp for next week’s final pair of World Cup qualifiers against Slovenia and Lithuania, Southgate still has the in-form likes of Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli to fall back upon as England need just two more points to secure automatic qualification to next summer’s tournament in Russia. The vibe around England feels, at least from afar, to be better at present than it has done in a long, long time, especially at any point being nine months ahead of a major international tournament.
Newcastle United’s players have canceled their Christmas party, as manager Rafa Benitez admits he’s working on January gifts for the St. James’ Park set.
The Magpies have one point from their last eight matches, and face Arsenal, West Ham, and Manchester City in the run-up to the New Year, closing off a run of five matches in 16 days with Brighton and Stoke.
[ PL PREVIEW: Man City vs. Spurs ]
Benitez says he’s begun talks with managing director Lee Charnley about the January window. The team is expected to make moves whether Mike Ashley completes a reported sale of the team or not. From Sky Sports:
“At this time it is just to talk about ideas,” he said. “You might say ‘I would like to sign this player’ and someone will say ‘£40m’ – maybe it is not realistic.
“The main thing, we had this conversation, then we have to move forward quickly. I don’t know the details but at least we were talking about that. We have to progress and it is so obvious that we have to improve things.”
Newcastle has been linked with a number of notable names a few weeks from the start of the January market, including Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, prolific Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun, as well as Liverpool’s Danny Ings and Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.
- Leicester leads all-time 26W-18D-23L
- Foxes 3W-1D vs. Eagles since Oct. 2015
- Palace won at Leicester in Feb. 2015
The Claude Puel revolution at Leicester City has the Foxes surging up the Premier League table, and Saturday’s visitors from Crystal Palace are making moves of their own (Watch live Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).
Leicester has won four-straight matches, the latest a 4-1 beatdown of Southampton at St. Mary’s, and returns to King Power Stadium with a chance to make a dent on the five-point deficit between the Foxes and the Top Four.
WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE
After beginning the season 0-7, Crystal Palace has claimed 14 of 30 points to move from 20th to 18th on the table. Roy Hodgson’s men have two wins and four draws in their last six matches.
What they’re saying
Leicester’s Harry Maguire on the task at hand:
Palace’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek on his high-flying loan spell from Chelsea: “It’s what you aspire to be when you’re younger. Right now it’s a case of trying to improve as much as I can and to keep the performances up. As long as I’m enjoying it I think I’ll do well, so I’m really happy. The experience of playing week in week out and the physical side of things, getting my body used to playing games – sometimes three in a week – has been a massive thing for me, especially when I haven’t played for two years regularly. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to get away from Chelsea, to play regular football, get my body used to it, get more robust and I think once you have that then it’s a platform to play better.”
This could be a fun one, with names like Zaha, Townsend, Loftus-Cheek, Vardy, Mahrez, and Gray ready to bless the match with pace and creativity. Goals have come in bunches when Leicester’s on the pitch, and we’ll call it 2-1 to the Foxes.
Mike Grella didn’t get to pick No. 20 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft, but that didn’t stop Columbus from getting their hands on the New York Red Bulls veteran.
Colorado selected Grella with the third overall pick, then sent him to Columbus for a second round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.
[ MLS: Ousted “blacklisted” by MLS? ]
The only other pick was made by Minnesota United, who took Tyrone Mears from Atlanta United.
Grella, 30, is a well-traveled Duke product who has played in England and Denmark. He scored 18 times with 13 assists in 89 matches for the Red Bulls, but missed most of the 2017 season with a pair of knee injuries.
It’s a good gamble for the Crew, and an extra draft pick for 2019. Second-round picks have become long odds to make MLS rosters, with Tommy McNamara and Aaron Long the last impact players to come out of the round. That was in 2014, and both needed changes of scenery before hitting their MLS strides.
We do not recommend putting any money on John Cena’s Premier League predictions for this weekend.
The actor and WWE star was the guest picker on the BBC site on Friday, and admitted his soccer knowledge doesn’t extend much further than Cristiano Ronaldo and a tour of Tottenham (he has a fondness for Spurs, it seems).
[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]
But his actual selections are quite amusing. From picking matches based on species to trying to anger his fiancee’s Arsenal supporting brother, Cena brought the goods.
Why West Ham will win at Stoke: “Who doesn’t love a good ham? It provides you with nourishment, happiness and a sense of community. It is always served at a big family function gathering. I like West Ham. 0-1.”
Why Southampton will win at Chelsea: “From where I am from, in Massachusetts, Southampton is a pretty cool place, so I am going to have to pick them, only because of how it relates to the States.”