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Walker: England need a “miracle” to win World Cup

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There’s nothing quite like positive thinking…

Then again, this is the English national team we are talking about.

[ MORE: England to host USMNT ]

With Gareth Southgate‘s side once again waltzing through qualification to a major tournament, it appears the Three Lions squad are keeping their feet firmly on the ground despite a growing sense that they could be a darkhorse at the 2018 World Cup this summer.

Manchester City and England right back Kyle Walker is having none of that.

Walker spoke to TalkSport on Wednesday and had this to say when asked about England’s chances at the World Cup in Russia.

“I hope we can go as far as we can go, but we need to be realistic. To win the World Cup is going to be a miracle, but we have got the players to do it,” Walker said. “A lot of us play in probably the best league in the world. We’ve got the players to do it, but have we got the experience going further along in competitions? No we haven’t. Not in recent years. We need to be realistic. There are a lot of good teams out there and our record in tournaments has not been fantastic.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations inside the camp – England haven’t won a knockout game for God knows how many years, so for us to go there and win a knockout game, that would be a step in the right direction.”

Tell it how it is, Kyle…

Seriously, where are we with this England team? It feels like in the past few tournaments they’ve gone from potential semifinalists (EURO 2012), to shambles (2014 World Cup) to darkhorses (pre-EURO 2016) and then back to shambles (post-EURO 2016).

And so the cycle continues.

England has a squad of hugely talented players and it does appear that Southgate is picking horses for courses in a fluid 3-4-3 formation, rather than simply selecting the biggest names and upsetting the balance of the team. That was the problem with several England managers in the past but now they have a balance and they are tough to break down with Walker converted to a right-sided center back and a squad of players who are dynamic in attack and comfortable on the ball, even if their goalkeeping issue is yet to be resolved.

Walker has this spot on. England need to first get out of their group which includes Belgium, Tunisia and Panama and that should be doable with the Three Lions facing Belgium in their final Group G game. Then it’s all about the knockout rounds and, like France in the 2014 World Cup, reaching the quarterfinals with a young, hungry side would be seen as success and a significant step in the right direction.

Walker and his teammates will have to deal with growing expectation, and pressure, if England get out of their group and win their Round of 16 game, but it seems like they’re comfortable with flying under the radar which is in stark contrast to the levels of expectation at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

You can’t class England as an underdog due to the talent at Southgate’s disposal

Areas of improvement for Man City next season

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Many are trumpeting Manchester City’s amazing title season as the tip of the iceberg under Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium.

While the club’s momentum was tired by a pair of losses to Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League and a come-from-ahead failure versus Manchester United, the City set is prepared to smash any number of records by season’s end.

Yet it’s not irresponsible to suggest City will get better in 2018-19. Any argument that teams may figure out Guardiola can be mooted by his players’ increased familiarity with his system. There’s an argument to be made that City will lose more matches based solely on bounces and luck, but Guardiola’s men can perform better even with the stylish demands of their boss.

Here’s how:

Return of Mendy — Benjamin Mendy was a thrilling addition to the team before his ruptured ACL caused him to become more known for his entertaining Twitter feed than anything he’d do with a ball at his feet. Left back was actually an issue for City on several occasions this season, and Mendy’s return to health coupled with increased Danilo familiarity (should he stay) will help the cause more than it hurts it.

English backs get better (or get going) — Of players who played a bunch for City, Kyle Walker and John Stones ranked ninth and 13th according to WhoScored and ninth and 11th on Squawka in terms of individual performances. Walker’s numbers were his worst in three seasons, understandably given his comfort at Spurs and a new system, while Stones has been stagnant for both Everton and City since his breakout first two seasons in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Still just 23, he needs to improve to be a part of a top Premier League defense.

More consistency from the right wing — Raheem Sterling can line up on any part of an attack trident, even getting some center forward time, but the league needs to look out if he can continue to improve his service from the right side. Right now, teams focus heavily on Leroy Sane on the left, where Guardiola looks to set up shop more often than not. That’s opened things up for Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, and David Silva… now Sterling needs to do the same for Sane, who could have an unbelievable run with a little more space.

Center forward insurance — Sergio Aguero was devastating at forward despite a car accident and knee injury restricting his season so far to 25 matches (21 goals and six assists there is pretty good, huh?). He’s also 29 years old.

Recently-minted 21-year-old striker Gabriel Jesus has 10 league goals this season, but only two since netting eight times in his first 11 matches. Olarenwaju Kayode and Marlos Moreno won’t be the answer in returning from loan spells, and Lukas Nmecha isn’t quite ready to be a reliable part of the club.

Who are Pep’s second and third strike options next year? At least one is probably coming from outside the Man City stable.

Pep on near concession: “We were involved in their rhythm”

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Pep Guardiola even has the right description for his team’s near failure.

Newcastle United sprung late pressure on Manchester City at St. James’ Park on Wednesday, and the Magpies came close to getting a point from the Premier League leaders.

[ RECAP: Newcastle 0-1 Man City ]

They didn’t, however, with Dwight Gayle‘s header bounding wide of the far post, and emerged with an 18-straight league win (one shy of the record Guardiola set at Bayern Munich).

Guardiola knows his team deserved a win, but pay attention to his description of what didn’t work for his men in that final stage at SJP, as well as his mild shot at slipping Kyle Walker.

“We deserved to win by far. We did absolutely everything. They defended really well in the counter attack. They defended deep and it’s not easy when this happens but we created enough chances in the first half and the beginning of the second. In the last minutes, we were involved in their rhythm.

“We created chances through halftime, it could’ve been 3 or 4-0, or 4-1 because Kyle is sleeping. But if you have 18 games in a row winning, you may have to live 10-15 minutes in that way.”
He’s 100 percent right (and yes we’re fawning over Guardiola for knowing what didn’t work. Such is life with a 18-match win streak).

Young Man City wins in PKs (video)

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A penalty deep into eight minutes of stoppage time nearly cost Manchester City its chance at a quadruple.

The Premier League leaders’ B-Team led Leicester City 1-0 on a Bernardo Silva goal when Demarai Gray was awarded a controversial penalty.

The teams played 30 minutes of scoreless stoppage time before moving to penalty kicks, where Jamie Vardy missed Leicester’s fourth kick after Ilkay Gundogan, Yaya Toure, Lukas Nmecha, and Gabriel Jesus had connected for Man City. Claudio Bravo then saved Riyad Mahrez‘s attempt to seal it.

[ MORE: Arsenal eliminates West Ham ]

Manchester City really switched up its XI, with only Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus semi-regular starters in the XI. Tosin Adarabioyo, Oleksandr Zinchenko, and Brahim Diaz were among the unusual starters.

Leicester City boss Claude Puel, having seen his side buried 3-0 by Crystal Palace at the weekend, did not start Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, or Demarai Gray.

But once down at halftime, Puel put Mahrez and Vardy into the fold.

Gray later entered, and just as Gundogan’s goal looked set to carry the match, hit the deck under Kyle Walker‘s challenge.

Vardy converted the penalty just into eight minutes of stoppage time to promise extra time.

Here is City’s goal: a nice pass from Gundogan, but what a tidy and powerful jab strike from Silva to make it 1-0.

Jesus turned a Walker cross onto Ben Hamer as extra time started at the KP.

Leicester had its chances, none better than Claudio Bravo’s dalliance with a clearance nearly caroming off Vardy and inside the goal.

Hamer then corraled a Yaya Toure free kick just before the break. Mahrez tested Bravo in the second frame, and Toure had another dig toward Hamer in the 120th minute.

Pep: Man City’s attacking away win is huge

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Spirits are high in Manchester City camp after Pep Guardiola‘s corps of backs helped the team to a 4-0 away win versus Feyenoord in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.

John Stones scored twice, and both Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker had assists in the win, prompting Mendy to call out Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus (who also scored in the win).

[ RECAP: Feyenoord 0-4 Man City ]

As for the architect, Pep Guardiola pointed out that the road victory is a huge step for the club after going winless away from the Etihad Stadium last campaign.

And he pointed out that folks who were critical of his splashing cash on Mendy, Walker, Bernardo Silva, Danilo, and Ederson this summer just saw why City keeps spending big.

“We have made a huge effort to buy five players to make that step forward, like all the big teams have done in Europe. It’s important to see if we can go away and play with an attacking mentality, not conceding counter-attacks.”

Most expected City to pick up a win on Wednesday, but this sort of decisive victory with so many new faces on the road staked a claim to the group.