Harry Maguire

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England struck by poor club form in qualifying blip

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What do you do as a national team manager when the best players in your group are struggling at the club level?

That’s the issue currently facing Gareth Southgate, and it’s spilled over into Euro 2020 qualification as England fell to the Czech Republic 2-1 on Friday, its first Euro qualifying defeat in ten years.

While its obvious England has a massive talent imbalance between offense and defense, the poor form plague has also struck, leaving Southgate with a host of difficult choices both up front and at the back. It has become such a pestilence that Southgate was left with no choice but to admit it after the match.

“In terms of the players, I think there are players who are not playing well for their clubs, but that is the situation we are in at the moment, certainly in a couple of positions,” admitted Southgate in the post-match press conference. “We collectively have to accept the result, but of course, as the manager, then I have got to accept that as well, absolutely.”

The England boss has some serious pondering to do up and down the pitch. Marcus Rashford has become a problem for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the suddenly stagnant Manchester United attack, and he gave way in the England starting lineup to young Jadon Sancho, who was unable to lift England on the day. In midfield, a now-broken Dele Alli was a guaranteed starter at the World Cup two years ago but was left out entirely this international break as Tottenham continues to flounder, while fellow Spur Harry Winks was relegated to the bench. Harry Maguire in defense has begun his Red Devils career well, but beside him was Michael Keane who has been downright poor at Everton thus far. Ross Barkley has lost his place at Chelsea and was left among the substitutes in Prague as well in favor of the in-form teammate Mason Mount, but with England misfiring Barkley was unable to change the tide off the bench.

The problem for Southgate is two-fold, and he’s damned no matter what. In the case of players like Alli, Rashford, and Winks, the England boss chose to replace them with less experienced players, which clearly upset the balance and cohesion within the squad. Yet he chose to stick with Keane, who has started every Euro qualifier thus far, in favor of a younger Joe Gomez and that backfired as well, as Keane toiled ineffectively in Prague. Gomez himself has lost his place at Liverpool to Joel Matip, and would have been another questionable option.

Injuries also played their part no doubt. Key players in Aaron Wan-Bissaka, John Stones, and James Maddison were axed due to injuries or illness, while Callum Hudson-Odoi was not selected as he recently returned from a long-term problem himself. Still, Wan-Bissaka’s absence left Southgate with no choice but to select a replacement, choosing Kieran Trippier on the edge of the back line, who has seen an up-and-down start to his Atletico Madrid career. Even Stones had dipped in form at Manchester City, falling completely out of the matchday squad in favor of Aymeric Laporte and Nicolas Otamendi before succumbing to an unspecified muscle injury.

These problems caused issues tactically for a squad that suddenly had to deal with a deviation from the norm. Southgate deployed a 4-2-3-1 with Mount in the central creative role, but according to Yahoo’s Kieran Canning, the national team has not played in such a formation in two years. Southgate mentioned multiple times in his post-match press conference how displeased he was with England’s off-ball structure and movement, a direct product of mixing and matching. “We tried something [in the second half] to make ourselves a bit more solid without the ball, and that didn’t happen,” he said. “We didn’t look any more solid, and we were poor at using the ball in the first half. That said, at 1-1, at half time, we were able to change that. I think we were better in the second half and we created chances to win the game.”

To make matters worse, the few players in good club form didn’t live up to standards on the international stage. Declan Rice, maybe West Ham’s best player so far this season, was miserable in a pivot with Jordan Henderson and hauled off in the second half. The Mirror says between the midfield pair, they made just one successful tackle through the entire match and completed just 11 passes in the opening 20 minutes of the game. Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has been one of many fantastic Liverpool players this season, was bafflingly left on the bench in favor of Trippier.

The issues facing Southgate are a stark reminder how long two years truly is. This England squad felt far more solid and secure with depth as it reached the semifinals of the World Cup just two year ago. Now, there are glaring holes and numerous questions at a host of different positions. With the starters floundering in Prague, Southgate’s choices off the bench have thinned considerably, and Rashford’s injection of quality off the bench two years ago in Russia 2018 is no longer to be found as he came on with 17 minutes to go on Friday. The rock solid World Cup back-three of Stones, Maguire, and Kyle Walker is nowhere to be found despite the presence of all three in the setup.

Little has changed personnel wise for England, and yet two years on after a promising World Cup run with a host of players in their prime, the squad now feels in flux again as key individuals are forced to fight for their places. Gareth Southgate does not sit in an envious position, looking for answers while keeping faith in some key squad members while making necessary changes elsewhere hoping not to upset the squad chemistry. A visit to Bulgaria on Monday represents a quick turnaround between two road matches, an opportunity to right the ship amid the necessary distraction of travel. Anything less than a convincing performance will allow lingering questions to fester for another month, plenty of time for the sudden dysfunction to become even more chronic.

Can Man United buy its way back to glory?

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By all accounts, Manchester United is having a woeful start to the Premier League season. However, the front office reportedly believes it can solve the crisis at the club with strategic purchases over the next two seasons.

According to a report in the Telegraph, Manchester United is looking to make eight signings spread through the next two summer transfer windows. The report claims they’ve already created a shortlist of targets and one may even be acquired in the upcoming winter transfer window in January. Players like Leicester City’s James Maddison and Ben Chillwell have been rumored to be on Man United’s radar in recent days, as it looks to improve its squad.

[READ: Maddison pulls out of England squad]

There’s no doubt that Man United’s team is in dire straights. From the days of Sir Alex Ferguson where the team had Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand and many others, the current squad absolutely pales in comparison.

This summer was supposed to be a massive one for the club after another season outside the top four. And yet, the only major signing was Harry Maguire. Ironically, one of the summer’s first signings for current manager – for how long, who knows? – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Daniel James, has been very good when fit.

While on defense Man United is decent, in the final third, the Red Devils are woeful. With Anthony Martial still out injured and the departures of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez this summer, Marcus Rashford looks too under pressure to handle all the responsibility right now. Man United has only scored one goal from open play in the last five games, and it’s not looking like things will improve that much even when Paul Pogba and Martial return from injury.

So it raises the question: Can Man United buy its way out of trouble? The answer, is maybe.

Manchester City spent boatloads of money, and it did end up with a first Premier League-era title in 2012. Only Micah Richards was from the club’s youth system in the squad. The latest smart purchases from Man City has put the club on a path to long-term success.

And yet, it’s not like Man United hasn’t spent a ton of money over the last decade chasing success. Since Ferguson retired, millions were spent on signing so many players, some of whom turned out to be good, but none turned out to be great. There was Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini. Then Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, and Angel Di Maria. Then Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin, and Anthony Martial. Soon after it was Pogba and Eric Bailley and don’t forget Henrik Mkhitaryan. How much did Victor Lindelof, Lukaku and Sanchez cost Man United?

I could go on even further, but the point is made. Man United has spent tons, and it seems like with no plan.

The only way this new plan works is if they buy smart and buy players who fit well in a system, not just the ones who are shining in other systems.

Longstaffs lead Newcastle past miserable Man Utd

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More than a few eyebrows were raised when Newcastle United boss Steve Bruce started both of his young Longstaffs against Manchester United at St. James’ Park on Sunday.

It’s fair to say they popped off the head when the younger one belted the Magpies out of the Bottom Three against the sunk standard Red Devils.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Matty Longstaff scored in the 72nd minute and older brother Sean combined to stifle a sloppy Manchester United midfield in a 1-0 win.

Manchester United has nine points, good for 12th, while Newcastle is up to eight points and 16th place.


Three things we learned

1. Man Utd woeful without Pogba, Martial: Most teams, to be fair, would look poor without two world class talents, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s men look absolutely idea-free up front. Marcus Rashford did little to nothing on the day, and in his defense his physical gifts are left for nothing without decent service. The side heaps pressure on the still-young center forward when it only gives him a pressure-packed possibility or two per game.

Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United is full of industry, but the Magpies have been wide open for business in the middle of the park. The fact that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had no answers for the Longstaff brothers, making their 15th and 1st PL appearance, should be massively alarming. It’s a great story for Newcastle given the combined 40 years between the academy products, but the Red Devils didn’t even look like a well-drilled unit of superior talent against one of the worst-performing teams in the PL this season. Not legendary, Ole.

2. Speaking of the Longstaffs: Steve Bruce made a brave move in starting 19-year-old Matty Longstaff alongside his brother Sean, the former making his first PL start and the latter chased by Manchester United in the summer.

It’s absurdly early for this, but Newcastle fans will freely dream of a decade of two brothers bossing the center midfield for them at St. James’ Park. It’s a story best told by clubs like Newcastle, even if the beautiful goal was produced by Saint-Maximin and Jetro Willems.

3. Differing fortunes for MLS men Almiron, Yedlin: Newcastle’s former record signing was bright again, but showed his battered confidence with two very poor moments. First he got behind the defense but took two extra touches to turn a breakaway into a blocked shot. Then his long dribble saw him cut right outside the box only to earn a deserved yellow card for diving rather than staying onto the ball. His potential and the flashes mean Newcastle has to keep him out there to work through it, but the Paraguayan’s faith in his finishing is shot right now.

DeAndre Yedlin, however, was plenty lively in his first and long-awaited start of the Premier League season after delay after delay in recovery from injury. He helped produced a terrific chance for Carroll, regularly got behind the Red Devils’ back line, and made a great sliding intervention a yard outside the six with 20 minutes to play.

Man of the Match: Matty Longstaff — On emotion, and just ahead of the team’s most consistent weekly performer in Fabian Schar.


Allan Saint-Maximin‘s long dribble provided an early chance for Miguel Almiron, but a less-than-ideal first touch pushed the Paraguayan out of line from goal and produced a mere corner.

A live wire, Saint-Maximin danced through three defenders before dragging a 12th minute shot wide from great distance.

Daniel James won a rare chance for Manchester United, but Martin Dubravka came to claim the free kick from near corner kick distance.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Debutant teen Matty Longstaff swirled a 23-yard shot off the top of the cross bar in the 28th.

Almiron then beat the back line but took a couple of superfluous touches to allow the Red Devils time to block his shot inside the 18.

Harry Maguire flubbed a free header off a corner kick just before halftime. Would the Red Devils rue that?

Matty Longstaff and DeAndre Yedlin combined to cue up Andy Carroll for a header in the 65th, but the big man had to stoop and saw the ball spin over the cross bar.

The lead was rightly won by Saint-Maximin playing Willems into the 18, with the Dutch loanee cutting back for Matty Longstaff to rip low and hard past David De Gea.

Abraham, Tomori named in England squad

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England boss Gareth Southgate has named his 25-man squad for the EURO 2020 qualifiers in October and Chelsea youngsters Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham have both been called up by the Three Lions.

Both players have other options at international levels, but more recently they’ve been part of England’s U21 setup.

Tomori is able to represent Canada, Nigeria and England, while Abraham had previously been non-committal about representing either England or Nigeria at full international level. Mason Mount and Ross Barkley complete a Chelsea quartet in the England squad.

Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Kyle Walker are all out of the Three Lions squad, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka is not called up after falling ill in recent weeks and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a surprise omission.

England face the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, both away from home on Oct. 11 and Oct. 14 respectively, as Gareth Southgate’s men aim to keep their 100 percent record in qualifying for EURO 2020.

If they beat the Czech Republic in Prague they will confirm their spot at EURO 2020.


FULL ENGLAND SQUAD

GOALKEEPERS: Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Burnley), Tom Heaton (Aston Villa)

DEFENDERS: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Harry Maguire (Man United), Fikayo Tomori (Chelsea), Michael Keane (Everton), Ben Chilwell (Leicester City), Danny Rose (Tottenham)

MIDFIELDERS: Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Ross Barkley (Chelsea), Fabian Delph (Everton), James Maddison (Leicester City), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Declan Rice (West Ham), Harry Winks (Tottenham)

FORWARDS: Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Man United), Callum Wilson (Bournemouth), Raheem Sterling (Man City), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Tammy Abraham (Chelsea)

Lindelof wanted by Barcelona this summer, says agent

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Victor Lindelof has developed a solid partnership with Harry Maguire at Manchester United this season, putting together one fo the better defensive records in the Premier League thus far.

It could have been much different had the transfer market had its way this summer.

According to Lindelof’s agent, the 25-year-old was wanted by Barcelona, among other clubs, but Manchester United was not open to any transfers.

“There was a lot of interest from clubs that are even better [than United] at the moment,” Lindelof’s agent Hasan Cetinkaya told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. “When Matthijs de Ligt chose Juventus, Victor was pronounced Barcelona’s first choice.”

As much as Lindelof or his agent wanted the move, there was no chance a move would take place thanks to Manchester United transfer chief Ed Woodward. “His way of playing, his DNA, is very close to Barcelona’s way of playing. He is one of the world’s best centre-backs with the ball at his feet, and Barcelona wanted him. That’s how it was. I can talk about that now. They contacted Ed Woodward on numerous occasions with concrete offers. I had a meeting with their transfer manager, Matt Judge, to try to make a transition. But they just said: ‘There is no chance. Victor is one of our best players’.”

That led to a new five-year deal at Manchester United, hoping to ward off any outside interest that could eventually turn his head despite three years left on his contract. With his future secure, the agent was comfortable discussing past possibilities.

It’s no surprise that Barcelona was interested. They lost out on Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus, and their current situation is dicey. Samuel Umtiti has struggled with injuries the past few years and is out with a foot problem for at least another month, while Clement Lenglet has seen spotty performances, sent off over the weekend against Getafe. That has pushed 19-year-old Jean-Claire Tobito into action, digging deep into the squad depth.