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PST’s World Cup roundtable: Pre-Final edition

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What an intoxicating tournament.

It’s hard to say anything else as France and Croatia prepare for the 2018 World Cup Final.

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From Russia’s blowout opener and the Spain-Portugal thriller right down to Wednesday’s semifinal tussle between Croatia and England, this tournament has been as close to unforgettable as we’ve seen in some time.

The ProSoccerTalk staff is answering questions ahead of Sunday’s final.

Forget their age, Who would you rather have in your midfield for a one-game winner-take-all final: N'Golo Kante or Luka Modric?

Joe Prince-Wright: Luka Modric on current form. But only just. Does all the simple things well and forces opponents to totally change their defensive shape.

Nicholas Mendola: Kante is amazing, but there are a few players of his ilk/style that can come close to replicating what he does so well. Modric types are more difficult to find, and given the insane year he’s had — much of it his doing — I’m amazed he’s been able to stay so laser-focused.

Kyle Bonn: Modric has had a wonderful World Cup and may win the Golden Ball, but in the modern game, N’Golo Kante is potentially the most valuable piece of any top European team, and any teambuilding starts with him.

Matt Reed: It’s such a tough decision because they offer such different aspects, but if you’re looking for a player that does what he’s asked every single match I’m going with N’Golo Kante. His positioning and tactical awareness are always flawless, and Kante’s ability to essentially serve as a fifth defender makes life very difficult for opposing sides to break them down.

Dan Karell: I think Modric. He’s just so good all-around, and playing at Real Madrid has taught him the defensive side of the game. He’s certainly not as good defensively as Kante but I think he’s so much better with the ball than Kante is that it outweighs the defensive skill Kante has.

Nikola Kalinic (L) and Modric (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

Scale of 1-10, 1 being “not a chance” and 10 being “it’s haaaapppening,” what odds does Croatia have of winning on Sunday?

JPW: 4 out of 10. Croatia’s exertion have to catch up with them soon but France will be very wary.

NM: 3. I don’t want to bet against a relentless Croatia, but France has gotten it done without hitting its top gear. That probably comes Sunday, and the tired Bleus will have a trouble matching that over 90.

KB: 5! I truly believe this is a wide open match. Croatia has earned the right to have an equal chance at winning this game. They have tactically been superior to every team they’ve played so far.

MR: It’s easy to argue that Croatia has benefited from being on the “easier” side of the draw, but they’ve done everything necessary to take care of business and reach this point. That said, the Croats have played an extra game… and then some… with three consecutive extra time efforts. I just don’t envision them being able to find complete fitness ahead of the final, so I’ll go with a 4.

DK: 7. Croatia has defied the odds up till this point in the knockout stages and has grown into every game they’ve played. Assuming they’re still drinking some of MJ’s Secret Stuff and have energy on Sunday, they will surely put France on the defensive. If France doesn’t score a couple of quick goals in the first 20 minutes of the game, Croatia has a great chance to lift the title.

Are Croatia’s three trips to extra time going to crush them?

JPW: Not crush but hamper. France also had an extra day of rest and Croatia have wracked up the miles in this tournament.

NM: That and one day’s less rest is going to make a difference. That’s 90 full minutes and two nervy, adrenaline rides through penalty kicks.

KB: I thought they would against England, yet they were the team with the legs at the end. Hard to have seen that and then bet against Croatia on the grounds of tired legs.

MR: They’ve proven us wrong up until this point, so let’s not rule them out completely. Let’s put it this way though. If France plays up to its potential, especially having had an extra day of rest, Les Bleus will be champions once more.

DK: We’d have assumed, but somehow they’ve survived and continue to get stronger. After the tournament, these guys are going to all need a month-long rest in one of those cryo-chambers, but for now their bodies are holding up.

How has this World Cup affected Paul Pogba‘s reputation, if at all?

JPW: Enhanced it slightly. He’s played well so far without setting the tournament alight but you could say that about everyone apart from Mbappe and Kante for France. Deschamps has everyone doing the dirty work and Pogba has been a lot more regimented at doing that than he was in the past with France and Man United.

NM: His rep has been burnished, as he’s played in both advanced and set-back roles. Honestly, his performances may have justified some of what Jose Mourinho has chosen to do with Pogba’s immense talent.

KB: This is hard to say. We’re so used to praising Pogba on his standout performances with Juventus, but the way he plays these days he doesn’t stand out anymore, even when he has a good match. I don’t think his reputation changes much, even if they win the World Cup.

MR: Pogba may be one of the biggest winners of the World Cup regardless of result on Sunday. He’s taken a lot of heat at Manchester United for not being able to adapt and at times being selfish, but this tournament has shown his willingness to put ego aside and take the squad’s needs to heart. The semifinal performance against Belgium really shed some light on his recent change in play by just breaking up balls and clogging the midfield for Les Bleus.

DK: It’s a tough call. I think part of Pogba’s problem is he is so skilled in so many areas – technique on the ball, speed, strength, aerial ability – that he wants to be 4 players in one instead of just being the best Pogba. In the game against Belgium, he completely wore down Fellaini, no small task against his Man United teammate, and showed excellent control on the ball and vision to keep the ball moving and keep it away from Belgium, or find Mbappe in space down the wings. If that’s Pogba at his best, it’s certainly worth the price of admission.

Who deserves the World Cup’s Golden Ball?

JPW: Probably Modric. He’s been sublime. Kante should be in the running too and if Mbappe scores a few in the final, he may well get it.

NM: Modric is the favorite, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Antoine Griezmann pass Modric and Kylian Mbappe with a fine final.

KB: Whoever has a better match, Mbappe or Modric, will win the Golden Ball. They have both been stunning this tournament.

MR: It has to be Kylian Mbappe. He’s playing on the best team in the tournament right now, but more importantly he’s carrying their attack. Antoine Griezmann has been largely disappointing in this World Cup, while Olivier Giroud has been nearly nonexistent. Had it not been for Mbappe’s pace and skill, France wouldn’t be at this point.

DK: Two words. Luka Modric. Yes, Harry Kane has 6 goals and has been brilliant. But he’s failed to score in each of England’s last two games and he’s also failed to make a real impact on the game. Modric meanwhile has been absolutely stellar for the entire tournament. His consistency is unparalleled and he is a joy to watch. 2nd place would be for N’Golo Kante.

Barring a 4-goal night from Griezmann or Mbappe, Harry Kane will have at least a share of the Golden Boot. Where does he rank in the world right now, as an impact player? Top Five? Top Ten?

JPW: Top five. He delivered in most of England’s games and you would have put your mortgage on him scoring at least one of his two big chances vs. Croatia. Wasn’t meant to be.

NM: He’s on the edge of the Top Five, though admittedly he’s sitting there more for club play than the World Cup. That said, he was quite good even when not facing Panama.

KB: If you asked me 2 weeks ago, I would have told you he ranked in the top 5 strikers in the world, without a doubt. But he underwhelmed in the knockout stages, and I still have questions about his ability to carry a team and produce something out of nothing like a world class striker can. He hasn’t played in too many extra-high leverage matches in his career, and that needs to happen before we consider him world class.

MR: You’re talking about two very different Harry Kane-s. The Tottenham Kane is arguably the best striker in the world. He’s probably a top 5 impact player when with Spurs, but this showing with England was honestly a bit disappointing for me. Some of that has to do with the fact that many of the Three Lions’ attackers were less than impressive, but half of Kane’s goals came from the penalty spot and he only scored once after the group stage. This World Cup won’t hurt his overall stock, but it’s very easy to argue that he wasn’t the best striker in Russia.

DK: Against Sweden and Croatia, his stock dropped significantly. But I’d still say he’s one of the 10 best players in the world. Like Luis Suarez and other great poachers, he has a great knack for being in the right place at the right time, and he’s clinical in front of goal, whether from 12 yards out or 18.

England’s Harry Kane, right, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, centre, and Kieran Trippier (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

It is not coming home, Pt. 1: Where will time see this England side? Are they a nation returning to consistent contender status, or simply the recipients of good performances and a friendly bracket?

JPW: They’ve given their fans hope but you can’t deny this was a golden chance to reach the final. They were on the easier side of the bracket but this is a young team and they’ll be together for EURO 2020. I expect them to do well in that tournament too with Gareth Southgate at the helm.

NM: The Three Lions were inspiring for the entire run, even in the face of a shaken extra time performance. England is probably set to remain a second-tier team, not too bothered in qualifying but not favored to get to a semi-final. Kane’s continued growth along with consistency for Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford can make a difference.

KB: This is a team on the rise. Gareth Southgate made tactical mistakes in the loss to Croatia, but he is the right man forward, and hopefully England sticks with him through thick and thin. Only Young, Vardy, Delph, and Rose are at an advanced age and will be unlikely to take part in 2022. There is more young talent coming through (think: Sessegnon and Alexander-Arnold). Southgate is a great talent evaluator (think: discovering Maguire as a true international). They will be contenders in Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup.

MR: Nearly everything went right for England to reach the semifinals in Russia, but make no mistake, this team is young, hungry and only improving over the next several cycles. Of the squad’s current 23 players, only eight of them are older than 28. The likes of Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford are going to be with this Three Lions side for a very long time, while some of England’s elite youths including Phil Foden and Tammy Abraham will surely make a push into the team. The loss to Croatia is a difficult pill to swallow, but Gareth Southgate’s men instilled a belief in the national team once again, one that will surely grow their confidence heading into Qatar and beyond.

DK: I’m sure time will see this England side as the beginning of a great generation, with Kane, Raheem Sterling, Eric Dier, John Stones, Jordan Pickford and many more still very young, with more talent challenging the starters coming from the youth ranks. England were awarded plenty of luck from the draw but that’s part of the fun of a World Cup, sometimes you get that luck and sometimes you have to earn it in harder circumstances, like France has from its side of the bracket. Ultimately, this England team made fans believe again and that’s a feat no one would have expected heading into the tournament.

It is not coming home, Pt. 2: Where is it going, and what score line will it bring with it?

JPW: France will win. 3-1.

NM: France, 3-1. It’s 2-0 for a while before Croatia pulls one back and France quickly answers through a substitute.

KB: France takes it on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

MR: France, 2-1.

DK: I think it’s going to Croatia. 2-1 winners. After extra time. Because of course.

FIFA propose salary cap, transfer fee talks

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has proposed talks with leagues across the globe about potentially implementing a salary cap and limits on transfer fees as the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The leader of soccer’s world-governing body released a lengthy video statement Saturday, in which he also asked league associations to work together to find the best solutions for the club and international calendar moving forward.

Last week he said FIFA wanted a ‘common sense’ approach to players who are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and that players showing messages of support should be ‘applauded and not punished’ despite FIFA’s previously strict rules around players sharing political, religious or personal messages during games.

FIFA are working on a financial package which they hope to discuss with members and finalize in their next council meeting later this month but recent talks with associations across the globe have suggested a salary cap or transfer fees limit could work.

Here is what the FIFA chief had to say specifically when it comes to soccer adapting to the changing financial environment.

“On the financial and governance aspects, I also heard some interesting proposals on a wide range of topics,” Infantino said. “From salary caps to transfer-fee caps or other taxation mechanisms, to the possible obligation for governing bodies, competition organisers and clubs to build reserves or to contribute to a reserve fund which can be of assistance in hours of need such as now.

“I personally advocate for clearer and stricter financial regulations, imposing full transparency and good governance principles, and not only limiting this to the transfer system, but to the entire football ecosystem. FIFA is doing already a lot of work on this area, even if we face some strong vested interests who fight against our plea for a better global governance in our sport.

“Dear friends, we will need your full support and commitment to move to the next level of good governance in football globally. I think that these and other measures, projects and ideas should be discussed at all levels. I know that this is something that will spark intense debate, but debate is healthy, and we should speak about it all together – as we stand together during this difficult period.”

Quite how a salary cap or a limit on transfer fees would work remain to be seen but given the huge financial burden places on clubs during the coronavirus pandemic, it is a very plausible solution to help stop clubs from going out of business.

With governing bodies such as UEFA placing strict financial fair play rules on clubs to stop them from spending beyond their means, FIFA doing something similar would be possible.

Would clubs, leagues and associations sign up for these new rules? In the short-term, probably. Long-term, it would be tough. Nobody knows how long sports, and society, will be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and even if a vaccine is found and fans can return to stadiums and things go back to relative normality, the financial implications of the past four to five months is likely to be felt for years to come.

The salary cap system will not work for every league or even every region but as we’ve seen in Major League Soccer, it can bring stability and certain leagues need that across the globe.

Premier League confirm zero positive COVID-19 test results

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Following the latest batch of tests on players and club staff the Premier League have revealed that there were zero positive results out of 1,195 COVID-19 tests taken on Thursday June 4 and Friday June 5.

The last three rounds of testing has now seen one positive result as Tottenham Hotspur confirmed the individual that tested positive earlier week was one of their players or staff.

With the sixth round of testing now completed in the Premier League, a total of 6,274 COVID-19 tests have now been carried out with 13 positive results.

All players and staff at Premier League clubs will be tested twice a week during the strict return to training protocols put in place, as full contact training is now up and running and a restart date of June 17 has been set.

Here is the statement from the Premier League in full on the latest result:


The Premier League can today confirm that on Thursday 4 June and Friday 5 June, 1,195 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19. Of these, zero have tested positive.

The Premier League is providing this aggregated information for the purposes of competition integrity and transparency. No specific details as to clubs or individuals will be provided by the League and results will be made public after each round of testing.

Round 1: 17-18 May – 748 tested, with six testing positive from three clubs.
Round 2: 19-22 May – 996 tested, with two testing positive from two clubs.
Round 3: 25-26 May – 1,008 tested, with four testing positive from two clubs.
Round 4: 28-29 May – 1,130 tested, with zero testing positive.
Round 5: 1-2 June – 1,197 tested, with one testing positive.
Round 6: 4-5 June – 1,195 tested, with zero testing positive


Watford season restart preview

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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they are at ahead of the final nine weeks of the season as Watford are up next.

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Focusing on Nigel Pearson’s Watford, they have battled back from an awful first half of the season (which included having three different managers) to drag themselves out of the relegation zone as things stand. However, there is plenty of hard work ahead for the Hornets as they try to preserve their Premier League status.

[ MORE: Every PL season restart preview ] 

Let’s take a closer look at all things Watford when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Watford were rock bottom and looked doomed heading into December but the turnaround since Nigel Pearson arrived has been remarkable. They won once in their opening 17 Premier League games of the season as first Javi Gracia then Quique Sanchez Flores were sacked, and Nigel Pearson arrived to bring organization and defensive stability. He has done more than that as home wins over Man United, Aston Villa, Wolves and Liverpool has breathed new life into their season. Now, Watford are still only out of the relegation zone on goal difference (one goal, to be exact) and if Aston Villa win their game in-hand they are back in the bottom three. That said, any Watford fan would have bitten your hand off in December had you offered them this scenario heading into the final nine games of the season. Their home form should see them over the line but there are plenty of tetchy games coming up between now and late July for Watford. If Troy Deeney can return to training and action, that will be a big boost, but losing Gerard Deulofeu to a serious knee injury just before the suspension was a cruel blow as he’d been the catalyst to turn their season around.


Tactical analysis: There’s no doubt Watford have the talent to be further up the table, just as it showed last season when they were battling in the top half for most of the campaign (before their famed second half of the season slump hit) and reached the FA Cup final. Putting players in the right positions is key and Abdoulaye Doucure has been vital to their turnaround in form. His surging runs from midfield were not impacting play enough earlier this season but Pearson has moved him into almost a No.10 role and he’s flourished. With Etienne Capoue and Will Hughes in deeper central midfield roles behind Doucoure, they have found the right balance in the engine room. The French midfielder causes havoc and has defenses dropping off, which allows the wingers and forwards around him to find space. Defensively, Ben Foster has been great all season in goal and Pearson is very good in setting up his teams to be tough to break down in two solid blocks and then lethal on the counter. Ismaila Sarr has settled down in his first season in the Premier League (Liverpool know all about that) and he will have a big say in their battle against the drop as he will cut in from the right flank. Watford are now sturdy and if Andre Gray can hold the ball up in Deeney’s absence, Sarr and Doucoure will give him plenty of support in attack.


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Foster —–

— Feminia — Cathcart — Kabasele — Masina —

—- Capoue —- Hughes —- 

— Sarr — Doucoure — Pereyra —

—– Deeney —–


Remaining schedule:
Home: Leicester, Southampton, Norwich, Newcastle, Man City
Away: Burnley, Chelsea, West Ham, Arsenal

Predicted finish: They don’t have the easiest run-in but given the fact they’ve beaten Man United and Liverpool, we know this Watford side under Pearson has a shock up their sleeve. Wins against relegation rivals Norwich and West Ham will be key and they will likely need two more wins from their other seven games to have a chance. That is doable and I think with Bournemouth and Aston Villa having a very tough run-in, Watford will just stay up. Just. No matter what happens, Pearson has done a fine job to organize them and he is a master at orchestrating great escapes against relegation.

Dortmund beat Hertha on day of Bundesliga protests (video)

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Borussia Dortmund beat Hertha Berlin 1-0 in a hard-fought encounter at the Westfalenstadion, as Saturday saw Black Lives Matter protests and messages of support take place across the Bundesliga in Germany.

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Dortmund and Hertha led the protests, as players and staff from both teams knelt as one before kick off to show support for the movement sweeping across the USA, Europe and now the world.

After Bayern Munich’s players wore armbands which read ‘Black Lives Matter’ and had warm-up shirts which called for an end to racism, while Dortmund had warm-up shirts on which read ‘No Justice, No Peace’ among other messages of support after widespread protests in the USA.

As for the action once the game started at Dortmund, Jadon Sancho (who last weekend paid tribute to George Floyd) went close on several occasions throughout but a battling and in-form Hertha came close to taking a shock lead in the second half but Alexander Esswein dragged his shot inches wide.

Moments later Dortmund finally broke through as Sancho clipped the ball into Julian Brandt who nodded down for Emre Can to calmly slot home and seal all three points.

The victory means Dortmund are steady in second place but are seven points behind leaders Bayern Munich with four games remaining. Hertha lost for the first time since the restart but remain well in the hunt for Europa League qualification.

Below are videos of the protests from both clubs, plus the game-winner for Can which just about keeps Dortmund in the title race.