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.

source: Getty Images
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.

source: Getty Images
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?

 

 

 

La Liga return: State of play in Spain ahead of June 11 restart

La Liga return
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La Liga will return on June 11 and El Clasico’s heated rivals will restart a battle for the top of Spain’s top flight.

Catalan clubs face drama at both ends of the table with Barcelona in first and Espanyol in 20th. Between there is mayhem.

MORE: Premier League remaining fixtures ]

Barca holds a two-point edge on Real Madrid in its bid for a third-straight La Liga crown and fifth in six seasons. Real will need a slip-up from Quique Setien’s men as there is not a Clasico to be found on the fixture list.

The other two Champions League spots will be hotly-contested with four sides within two points between third and sixth, especially considering the side bringing up the rear is powerful Atletico Madrid (45 points). Sevilla currently sits third with 47 points, with fourth-place Real Sociedad and fifth-place Getafe on 46.

Valencia is also in the picture with 42, and seventh-place will be a Europa League spot should Real Sociedad win the Copa del Rey or rivals Athletic Bilbao (37 points) win it and climb into sixth.

[ Bundesliga: Live scores | Week 29 preview, predictions  ] 

The bottom half of the table is a relegation picture, even if 11th-place Osasuna counts a nine-point lead on the bottom three of Mallorca (25 points), Leganes (23), and Espanyol (20).

The matches will, of course, be played behind closed doors, though Spanish authorities have hope for fans in the 2020-21 season.

Matchweek 28 will be played from June 12 to June 15 with the full La Liga schedule below, while there are also details on how you can watch on TV in the USA.

La Liga schedule

  • TV Channels: beIN Sports USA
  • Stream LiveVia beinSports
  • When: From June 11 to July 17

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Barcelona 27 18 4 5 63 31 32 13-1-0 5-3-5 58
 Real Madrid 27 16 8 3 49 19 30 9-4-0 7-4-3 56
 Sevilla 27 13 8 6 39 29 10 6-5-2 7-3-4 47
 Real Sociedad 27 14 4 9 45 33 12 8-2-3 6-2-6 46
 Getafe 27 13 7 7 37 25 12 7-4-3 6-3-4 46
 Atlético Madrid 27 11 12 4 31 21 10 8-5-1 3-7-3 45
 València 27 11 9 7 38 39 -1 8-6-0 3-3-7 42
 Villarreal 27 11 5 11 44 38 6 6-4-3 5-1-8 38
 Granada 27 11 5 11 33 32 1 8-2-3 3-3-8 38
 Athletic Club 27 9 10 8 29 23 6 7-3-3 2-7-5 37
 Osasuna 27 8 10 9 34 38 -4 5-5-4 3-5-5 34
 Betis 27 8 9 10 38 43 -5 7-3-4 1-6-6 33
 Levante 27 10 3 14 32 40 -8 7-3-3 3-0-11 33
 Alavés 27 8 8 11 29 37 -8 6-5-3 2-3-8 32
 Valladolid 27 6 11 10 23 33 -10 3-7-3 3-4-7 29
 Eibar 27 7 6 14 27 41 -14 6-1-7 1-5-7 27
 Celta Vigo 27 5 11 11 22 34 -12 4-5-4 1-6-7 26
 Mallorca 27 7 4 16 28 44 -16 6-2-6 1-2-10 25
 Leganés 27 5 8 14 21 39 -18 4-3-7 1-5-7 23
 Espanyol 27 4 8 15 23 46 -23 1-5-7 3-3-8 20

Havertz makes history in Bayer win

Freiburg v. Bayer Leverkusen recap and video highlights
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Kai Havertz made more Bundesliga history as Bayer Leverkusen got back in the win column with a 1-0 win at scrappy Freiburg on Friday.

Havertz became the first player in history to score 35 Bundesliga goals before the age of 21 with the match’s early second-half opener, assisted by Leon Bailey. He turns 21 on June 11.

[ Bundesliga: Live scores ]

Havertz has 11 goals and five assists in Bundesliga play this season including five goals since the end of the coronavirus pause.

Bayer pulls in third place with 56 points, one ahead of RB Leipzig and one back of Borussia Dortmund. Gladbach lurks three points back.

Freiburg may have waved goodbye to its sixth-place hopes, now four points back of Wolfsburg.

[ MORE: Week 29 preview, predictions  ] 

There were hints of danger for both teams in the opening throes.

Leon Bailey missed an early chance for the visitors, and Vincenzo Grifo saw a turnover at the other end denied by a sliding challenge.

Bailey was dangerous but not clinical as Bayer controlled the first half but, like many, couldn’t find away through Freiburg’s cagey, Burnley-like compactness.

Freiburg broke the other way and had a glorious chance to steal a lead when Roland Sallai sent Lucas Holer on goal, but Lukas Hradecky cut down the angle and Holer missed wide on a chance to score in consecutive matches.

Bailey played his part well in setting up Havertz’s post-halftime opener. The Jamaican dribbled into an out of traffic before cutting a path onto Havertz’s path.

Havertz rolled the ball between the legs of Freiburg star backstop Alexander Schwolow to make it 1-0 in the 55th.

Freiburg had one more big chance to get a point, as Christian Gunter crossed for Nils Petersen but the latter couldn’t get enough on the shot to beat Hradecky.

Bundesliga preview: Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund

Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund preview
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Last-place Paderborn is running out of time to make a run out of the drop zone, and a visit from Borussia Dortmund wouldn’t normally inspire too much.

But Sunday’s match between the two sides sees Dortmund taking the pitch for the first time since seeing its title hopes dashed in a fierce Klassiker, and Paderborn’s picked up points in all three matches since play resumed from the coronavirus pause.

Not only that, the sides drew 3-3 in November at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion, BVB firing back from a 3-0 halftime deficit thanks to goals from Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus, and Axel Witsel.

[ Bundesliga: Live scores | Week 29 preview, predictions  ] 

Paderborn has been playing well for a last-place side, ornery and collecting more cards than most teams in the Bundesliga.

As for Dortmund, the black and yellow side performed well enough to get a result from Bayern but lost on a Joshua Kimmich wondergoal and will likely still be lamenting what could’ve been if VAR reviewed an apparent Jerome Boateng handball in the box.

Still, there’s too much talent here, even at a desperate host. In a non-coronavirus world, the home crowd changes our opinion a little on the score line. We’re feeling a blowout, Dortmund 4-0.

Below is how to watch Borussia Dortmund v. Paderborn on TV in the USA this Saturday, while above you can follow the action live, as the three points are so valuable to both clubs but for very different reasons.

Bundesliga schedule

  • TV Channels: FS1
  • Stream LiveVia Fox Soccer
  • When: Saturday, May 30 – 12:30 p.m. ET: Bayern Munich v Fortuna Dusseldorf
  • Americans Abroad: Giovanni Reyna (Dortmund)

Remaining Premier League fixtures ahead of June 17 return

Premier League schedule
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The 2019-20 Premier League season will restart on June 17, the league confirmed Thursday, as ‘Project Restart’ readies for empty stadiums around England.

So who’s left on the schedule? The slate of 92 matches features some doozies including the Merseyside Derby (Matchday 30), the North London Derby (Matchday 35), and — of course — Liverpool’s visit to Manchester City (Matchday 32)

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Check out all the stats for the season so far, as well as the state of play for all 20 clubs’ seasons in the races for the Champions League, Europa League, and safety from relegation.

Of course, you’ll be able to watch the Premier League via NBCSports.com all summer long.

Additionally, the matches will be staged in non-traditional windows. Here are the kickoff times for midweek and weekend matches.

Matchday 28 — June 17

Aston Villa v. Sheffield United
Manchester City v. Arsenal

Matchday 30

Aston Villa v. Chelsea
Bournemouth v. Crystal Palace
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Arsenal
Everton v. Liverpool
Manchester City v. Burnley
Newcastle United v. Sheffield United
Norwich City v. Southampton
Tottenham v. Manchester United
Watford v. Leicester City
West Ham v. Wolves

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Matchday 31

Burnley v. Watford
Liverpool v. Crystal Palace
Tottenham v. West Ham
Wolves v. Bournemouth

Matchday 31 to be rescheduled due to FA Cup quarters
Chelsea v. Manchester City
Leicester City v. Brighton and Hove Albion
Manchester United v. Sheffield United
Newcastle United v. Aston Villa
Norwich City v. Everton
Southampton v. Arsenal

Matchday 32

Arsenal v. Norwich City
Aston Villa v. Wolves
Bournemouth v. Newcastle United
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Manchester United
Crystal Palace v. Burnley
Everton v. Leicester City
Manchester City v. Liverpool
Sheffield United v. Tottenham
Watford v. Southampton
West Ham v. Chelsea

Matchday 33

Burnley v. Sheffield United
Chelsea v. Watford
Leicester City v. Crystal Palace
Liverpool v. Aston Villa
Manchester United v. Bournemouth
Newcastle United v. West Ham
Norwich City v. Brighton and Hove Albion
Southampton v. Manchester City
Tottenham v. Everton
Wolves v. Arsenal

(Paul Harding/PA via AP)

Matchday 34

Arsenal v. Leicester City
Aston Villa v. Manchester United
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Liverpool
Bournemouth v. Tottenham
Crystal Palace v. Chelsea
Everton v. Southampton
Manchester City v. Newcastle United
Sheffield United v. Wolves
Watford v. Norwich City
West Ham v. Burnley

Matchday 35

Aston Villa v. Crystal Palace
Bournemouth v. Leicester City
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Manchester City
Liverpool v. Burnley
Manchester United v. Southampton
Norwich City v. West Ham
Sheffield United v. Chelsea
Tottenham v. Arsenal
Watford v. Newcastle United
Wolves v. Everton

(Photo by Visionhaus)

Matchday 36

Arsenal v. Liverpool
Burnley v. Wolves
Chelsea v. Norwich City
Crystal Palace v. Manchester United
Everton v. Aston Villa
Leicester City v. Sheffield United
Manchester City v. Bournemouth
Newcastle United v. Tottenham
Southampton v. Brighton and Hove Albion
West Ham v. Watford

Matchday 37

Aston Villa v. Arsenal
Bournemouth v. Southampton
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Newcastle United
Liverpool v. Chelsea
Manchester United v. West Ham
Norwich City v. Burnley
Sheffield United v. Everton
Tottenham v. Leicester City
Watford v. Manchester City
Wolves v. Crystal Palace

Matchday 38

Arsenal v. Watford
Burnley v. Brighton and Hove Albion
Chelsea v. Wolves
Crystal Palace v. Tottenham
Everton v. Bournemouth
Leicester City v. Manchester United
Manchester City v. Norwich City
Newcastle United v. Liverpool
Southampton v. Sheffield United
West Ham v. Aston Villa

Ndidi
(Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)