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Who should be in England’s World Cup starting XI?

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With England’s 23-man squad for the 2018 World Cup announced on Wednesday, all of the talk is now about who will start for Gareth Southgate‘s men this summer in Russia.

So, who will start against Tunisia on June 18 in Volgograd?

A few quick notes before we get into the nitty-gritty of selecting a starting lineup.

Only five players from the 23 who represented the Three Lions at the 2014 World Cup last time out have survived (Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Jordan Henderson, Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling) and only Sterling looks like a guaranteed starter at this point.

This is truly a new generation for the Three Lions squad with plenty of youngsters included in the squad and several players set to feature in their first World Cup.

Below is a look at the starting XI I would select if I was Southgate, with a brief explanation for the picks.


JPW’s England starting XI

—– Butland —–

—- Walker —- Stones —- Maguire —-

— Alexander-Arnold — Dier — Alli — Young —

—- Sterling —- Kane —- Rashford —-


Explanation: In goal, I’m going with Jack Butland as I think he takes less risks, is a solid shot-stopper and has been more consistent over the past few seasons, despite injury, for Stoke. Jordan Pickford is better with his feet, which could impact Southgate’s decision, but I’d go with Butland.

In defense, the three-man central defensive system has been working really well for England as they shutout Germany, Brazil and the Netherlands in recent friendlies and only conceded a penalty kick late on against Italy. Kyle Walker looks fabulous as a right-sided center back in a three, while John Stones and Harry Maguire both love to maraud forward with the ball. Maybe Gary Cahill or Phil Jones could come in for Stones to try and bring some balance, but Southgate wants his defenders to possess the ball.

In a 3-4-3 formation both the wide positions are really up for grabs. With Walker slotting inside, Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold will battle it out for the starting spot at right-wing back. Joe Gomez would’ve likely been included ahead of TAA if he wasn’t injured, so too Nathaniel Clyne had he been fully-fit, but the teenager has jumped ahead of his two teammates and should get the nod. At left-wing back it’s between Danny Rose, Ashley Young and Fabian Delph and I’d go with Young, who has been superb for Manchester United all season long and reinvented in that role under Jose Mourinho.

In the two central midfield spots it’s all about how adventurous Southgate will be. I’d seriously consider having Jordan Henderson in central midfield due to his passing ability but I think Eric Dier is the safer bet as he can play as a center back and slot in for Stones, Walker and Maguire when they surge forward. Alongside Dier in a free role would be Dele Alli, with the Tottenham attacker given plenty of freedom to support Harry Kane in attack.

Speaking of the forward line, Kane is likely to be the skipper and he should be flanked by the searing pace of Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford. That trio, on their day, can rip apart any team, while having Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck to jump off the bench late on and make an impact is very useful.

La Liga: Espanyol up to 2nd, Athletic held again

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The top of the La Liga table is quite something.

While Barcelona continues to lead the way, below them rests nearby Espanyol after the Periquitos defeated basement-dwellers Huesca 2-0 on Borja Iglesias’s third and fourth goals of the season. The Spaniard struck just before halftime to open the scoring, before hitting again just past the hour mark to seal the three points.

Real Valladolid jumped above Real Madrid into sixth with a 1-0 road victory at Real Betis. A 35th minute goal by 30-year-old journeyman Antonioto was enough to earn the win, as Betis popped off 20 total shots, but only four were on target. Takashi Inui had a great chance but whiffed right on the doorstep midway through the second half. With Sunday’s results, Real Madrid dropped all the way down to seventh.

Getafe topped Rayo Vallecano 2-1 to jump into the top half of the table. The eventual winner was a 67th minute own-goal by 20-year-old Sergio Akieme who would have been celebrated for a quality finish tapping home a cross, although it was into his own net.

Finally, first-half goals four minutes apart cancelled out as Athletic Bilbao and Eibar drew 1-1. The home side struck first at Ipurua Municipal Stadium as the referee went to VAR 17 minutes in and found that Inigo Martinez tackled Sergi Enrich in the box, a clear scythe after the Athletic defender anticipated incorrectly the incoming cross. 24-year-old Brazilian Charles completed the penalty with a slow run-up, putting the hosts in front. Four minutes later, the visitors struck back on a fabulous moment of anticipation by Raul Garcia who headed perfectly in front of a streaking Inaki Williams who got behind the defense and put the ball into the back of the net.

Timbers tops RSL to clinch playoffs, Galaxy now controls destiny

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The Western Conference playoff picture has become more clear after the Portland Timbers clinched a playoff spot by topping Real Salt Lake 3-0.

The victory not only secured a berth for Portland, but it also left RSL in a position of vulnerability. The LA Galaxy won at Minnesota 3-1 with Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the scoresheet, pulling within a point of RSL, who is done for the regular season, meaning the Galaxy controls its own destiny.

Portland put together a comprehensive performance, disappointing from RSL’s perspective with the playoffs on the line. 15 minutes in, Diego Valeri chipped in a free-kick and defender Larrys Mabiala made a run at the back post for the tap-in. Portland defended well for the rest of the first half, and while the visitors dominated the first part of the second half, they conceded again past the hour mark through another unlikely culprit in Diego Chara. On the counter, Chara made a storming run down the middle, and after collecting a Sebastian Blanco pass, he touched past a charging Nick Rimando and finished cooly. The third came from Blanco with three minutes to go to put the cherry on top of a solid overall performance.

Los Angeles picked up a vital three points thanks to a ruthless attack. Ibrahimovic headed home a beautiful looping cross from Rolf Feltscher right on the half-hour mark, and the Galaxy went up for good.

In the second half, a ridiculous four-minute stretch saw three goals in succession. First, Ola Kamara was denied on the doorstep by Michael Boxall, but seconds later he poked in an Ashley Cole cross at the near post for LA’s second. The third came just one minute later as Minnesota turned it over in their own defensive third, and Ibrahimovic crossed to Roman Alessandrini for an absurd volleyed finish. Minnesota got a consolation just two minutes later through Angello Rodríguez, but it wasn’t enough.

So, the playoff picture is thus: Portland is in with 54 points. RSL is currently in the playoffs, but their regular season is finished with 49 points. The Galaxy, therefore, sit below the cut line on 48 points but have a meeting with Houston next weekend for all the marbles. They need to win to advance to the playoffs, as a draw would leave them with one fewer win, the first tiebreaker.

Supporters Shield still up for grabs as Atlanta, NYRB both win

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The New York Red Bulls are still in the mix, but Atlanta United has taken a one-point lead into the final matchday of the season as both teams won on Sunday.

Atlanta United topped Chicago 2-1 at Mercedes-Benz stadium. Franco Escobar opened it up early and an own-goal put them ahead for good, keeping pace with RBNY’s win over Philadelphia and leaving them a point ahead at the top of the table.

Escobar’s strike came just eight minutes in, after feeding Josef Martinez near the penalty spot who whiffed and fell down, he latched back onto the loose ball and decided to take it himself, curling one inside the far post. Chicago scored in the 24th minute to level the score, but Atlanta did not relent.

Just two minutes after Chicago’s equalizer, Atlanta was back on top. Chris McCann crossed it from the left edge, and Johan Kappelhof attempted to slide and block the cross at the near post, but instead he redirected the ball into the back of his own net.

New York, meanwhile, kept pace with a 1-0 victory at Philadelphia behind a penalty from Kaku, sending Andre Blake the wrong way. The spot-kick was given on a VAR check that determined Alejandro Bedoya handled the ball.

On the final day of the season, the Red Bulls will host Orlando City, while Atlanta is on the road at Toronto. Atlanta can secure the Supporters’ Shield with a win, but New York can jump them with a win and an Atlanta draw or loss. Should Atlanta lose by one goal and the Red Bulls draw, the teams would be level on points, wins, and goal differential, meaning the significant Atlanta lead on goals scored would give them the advantage.

Rooney scores brace, DC United completes improbable playoff push

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They’ve done it. They’ve really done it.

D.C. United, with just two league wins through the first 19 games of the MLS season, has completed an improbable playoff bid by securing an Eastern Conference berth in the postseason with a 3-1 win over NYCFC on the penultimate matchday of the season.

Wayne Rooney, the catalyst for this amazing turnaround, fittingly scored a brace, including the opener just eight minutes in on a fabulous run from Luciano Acosta down the end line.

Acosta was there to secure the win, doubling the lead in the 24th minute with a long-distance strike into the top-right corner.

Goalkeeper Bill Hamid was required to preserve the lead, getting down low to stop a tight-angle strike from David Villa towards the end of the first half. That would spur D.C. on, as they would seal the deal with a penalty from Rooney in the 74th minute, leaving NYCFC with just a consolation in the 78th minute when David Villa ended the bid for a clean sheet.

The victory caps an improbable second-half run for D.C. United, as they have won five in a row and 10 of their last 15. Rooney has been the leader, earning the role of captain despite just signing this summer, and scoring 12 goals in 19 MLS matches. With Columbus Crew drawing, D.C. jumped all the way up into fourth place with the win.