Jadon Sancho

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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.

EURO qualifying wrap: FC Dallas striker sinks England

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Well, well, well, England can lose a EURO qualifier.

[ MORE: Ranieri finds new job ]

For the first time in a decade, the Three Lions came up short in a qualifier, while France needed a bit of tomfoolery to win its match and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo moved closer to 700 career goals in an easy win.

No one joined Belgium as officially in the tournament, but Ukraine is very close.

Czech Republic 2-1 England

Maybe it was a bit too young, or maybe the club form was a bit too off from some his stars, but England’s long unbeaten EURO qualifying run is over at 43 matches.

Mason Mount, Declan Rice, and Jadon Sancho started for the Three Lions, who went ahead after five minutes when Harry Kane converted a Raheem Sterling-won penalty.

But the Czechs drew level within four minutes and the hosts dominated the rest of the first half. It felt like a winner was coming for Jaroslav Silhavy’s men, and it came in the somewhat unlikely form of a 30-year-old debutant from FC Dallas.

Zdenek “The Cobra” Ondrasek scored off a Lukas Masopust cut back to give the Czechs a 84th minute lead and the hosts on to go level on points with group-leading England, who has played one fewer match.

Gareth Southgate was not pleased:

“We conceded too many poor chances and we gave the ball away too many times. We knew we’d have to be at full tilt to deal with the Czech Republic but we should have been strong enough to deal with them.”

Also not pleased? A certain prince.

Portugal 3-0 Luxembourg

Cristiano Ronaldo is one goal away from 700 in his career for club and country after bagging a second half goal in Portugal’s easy-enough win over visiting Luxembourg.

Bernardo Silva and Goncalo Guedes also scored for the reigning EURO champions.

Iceland 0-1 France

You would’ve though Antoine Griezmann was dead as he limped out of the box after drawing a penalty, and you’d be fair to imagine he had a severe pain-delay problem considering how long it took him to hit the turf, but don’t worry he was fine and back in the fray moments after Olivier Giroud‘s penalty sealed a win for Les Bleus.

Elsewhere

Andorra 1-0 Moldova
Montenegro 0-0 Bulgaria
Turkey 1-0 Albania
Ukraine 2-0 Lithuania

Chelsea youngster Mason Mount set for first England start

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According to a number of reports from England, young Chelsea talent Mason Mount is readying for his first international start as England gets set to face the Czech Republic in Euro 2020 qualification on Friday.

Mount has two international caps to his name, having come off the bench against Bulgaria and Kosovo in the last international break. He will now make his full debut, a well-earned reward for a stellar Premier League season thus far. The 20-year-old has scored four goals and assisted another through the first eight games of the season and has been one of the most positive attacking influences at Stanford Bridge alongside fellow academy graduate Tammy Abraham.

“Nothing I’ve seen surprises me at all,” England manager Gareth Southgate said of Mount’s play during his pre-match press conference on Thursday. “We’ve had him marked as a player from the first time I saw him at St. George’s [Park]. Chelsea would be the same on that, I think, but of course he’s now been able to have the opportunity to play in the Premier League and display that against top teams. I think you saw his penalty in the Super Cup, [that] was a nice cameo of what he’s about, really.”

Mount is the beneficiary of the withdrawal of James Maddison, who departed the England squad due to an illness, still unable to make his international debut. He will start ahead of Chelsea teammate Ross Barkley, whom Mount has supplanted as the starting attacking midfielder at Stamford Bridge. “I don’t think it matters what our starting three is [in attack],” Southgate said at the press conference while discussing the importance of having depth. “Clearly, at the moment Raheem [Sterling] and Harry [Kane], their numbers are incredible and the consistency of their performance is, but the rest can be down to performance at any given time.”

Mount’s 7.40 WhoScored rating so far through the first eight games of the Premier League season puts him in the top 20 of players in the league and third among English talents behind Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling and his Blues teammate Abraham. His 2.1 key passes per game ranks 13th in the league behind high-volume players like Kevin De Bruyne, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Jack Grealish.

The 20-year-old is set to start alongside fellow youngster Jadon Sancho who is reportedly readying for another spot in the lineup after scoring a brace against Kosovo his last time out to mark his first international goals. Sancho also started against the Czech Republic in the reverse fixture back in March, a 5-0 rout that saw him assist Sterling’s 24th minute opener.

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)

Breaking down Pulisic’s competition at Chelsea

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Christian Pulisic has gone three Premier League games without seeing the field. An unused substitute again at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea topped Brighton 2-0 on Saturday, the 21-year-old told NBC Sports that his lack of playing time is “very frustrating” and that “it is tough for me right now.”

Frank Lampard is under no obligation to play the American despite his hefty $73 million price tag on the move from Borussia Dortmund over the winter. With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at the performances of his competition at Chelsea and determine whether the Blues boss is making the right decision in keeping Pulisic on the bench.

There seems to be at least four other attacking players above Pulisic in the depth chart: Experienced international wingers Willian and Pedro, and youngsters Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi. Here’s a closer look at each player’s season so far.

Mason Mount

The 20-year-old England youth international has exploded onto the scene this campaign, forced into the rotation due to Chelsea’s transfer ban. He has taken his chance marvelously, proving a massive threat to opposition defenses on the ball. The sample size is still small, but Mount is currently rated as WhoScored’s 14th best player so far this season with an impressive 7.45 rating. He has delivered three goals thus far, and has produced over two key passes per game and just under two successful dribbles per game.

Lampard has begun to deploy Mount more centrally, pairing him in midfield with Ross Barkley and allowing him to venture forward. He created three chances against Brighton last time out and won the penalty that saw Jorginho put Chelsea in front just after halftime. There is no doubt that in his current form, Mount should be starting every match for Chelsea at this point, and Pulisic can have no qualms about sitting behind the fellow youngster.

Pedro

Since arriving from Barcelona in 2015, Pedro has been a versatile player that has seen significant time under a host of different Chelsea managers who have all noticed his value. Playing as a true winger, a central creative force, or a wing-back in various formations, Pedro has been able to contribute in a number of ways.

This season, Pedro has been of decent quality. He started slow against Brighton last time out but ended up with a solid overall performance, testing the goalkeeper a few different times and creating opportunities for his teammates. Still, that was his first league appearances since August and he was withdrawn for Hudson-Odoi after an hour. Lampard doesn’t seem to fully trust the Spaniard. His appearance in the lineup against Brighton instead of Pulisic was probably the most surprising given his lack of playing time thus far, but he proved a valuable asset.

Willian

Willian provides an experienced foil to the youthful Mount and Hudson-Odoi (Getty Images).

While a hamstring problem carried over from summer international duty limited him early in the season, the 31-year-old Brazilian has seen significant playing time over the last month. Racking up three straight 90-minute showings in a row in league play, Willian is a trusted servant for Frank Lampard early on. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat difficult to determine why.

Aside from the demolition of Wolves in which he was brilliant, the performances have been quite spotty for Willian thus far. While his passing accuracy is 80 percent this season, a closer look shows a host of square passes well outside the box that inflate that total. Against Brighton, Willian added little creativity, especially in the first half when Chelsea as a whole struggled to produce much of anything. Still, he came away with the game’s second goal, a tight-angled strike out of basically nothing that was deflected in and punished poor one-on-one marking and even worse goalkeeping.

Another key part of Willian’s game is his defensive contributions which often can neuter his overall attacking threat. He came away from the Brighton with four completed tackles on the right flank, an impressive total for a winger. A look at his performance in the loss to Liverpool shows he was pinned back by his defensive duties for much of the game, and when he did get forward he was unable to produce much, completing just two of his six attempted passes in the penalty area and failing to come away from the match with an official chance created. Willian is a good squad player, but he hasn’t exactly dazzled in the early going. His fans will say he’s never been a dazzling player, and that’s a fair retort.

Callum Hudson-Odoi

Just having returned from an Achilles injury, the 18-year-old is clearly a fabulous talent. With the Blues having rejected Bayern Munich’s advances. There’s a feeling of obligation to play Hudson-Odoi now that Bayern has been rebuffed to confirm the club’s commitment to his future. Still, there’s a reason he sees the field. In 30 minutes against Brighton, he picked up an assist and proved valuable defensively, completing two tackles in two attempts and completing 21 of 24 passes. It wasn’t an inspiring passing chart, but Chelsea was playing with a lead the entire time.

Plenty remains to be seen here how he gets on after returning from injury, but as a huge talent that has already broken into the England senior squad, there’s little reason to think he won’t see a lot of the field.

The verdict:

This is a difficult one to analyze as aside from Mason Mount, there are plenty of question marks remaining among those in front of Pulisic on the depth chart. Willian and Pedro are older, experienced players who don’t light up the field but managers love them for their dedication to the team effort and game plan, while Hudson-Odoi has plenty to prove on his way back from injury but figures to be given the chance to do so.

Given the unknowns, there’s no reason to think Pulisic can’t work his way back up the ranks. Chelsea is clearly committed to youth this season, and there is plenty of incentive to develop Pulisic into a regular contributor given his promise, his age, and the club’s financial commitment. Eventually, it’s logical to think Willian and Pedro will be phased out in favor of the younger attacking players.

Let’s also remember, Christian Pulisic isn’t the only good player struggling for time at Chelsea. Jorginho has proven an improved asset at Stamford Bridge, while Kante has also struggled with injury, the improved play of Jorginho has enabled Lampard to be careful with the French midfielder, confirming Kante missed the Brighton squad with a hamstring problem that left Chelsea to be cautious. Had Jorginho not been playing so well, Kante may have been risked.

While it’s natural to panic over Pulisic’s small workload early on – and certainly frustrating for the player given his phasing out at Dortmund at the hands of Jadon Sancho – it’s not time to push the big red button. Lampard has clearly told Pulisic to improve his training, and nobody but the team knowns what goes on there. All we can judge is what happens on the field, and until someone at Chelsea struggles greatly and deserves to be replaced, it’s tough to see a way back in for Pulisic in the short-term.