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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.

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.

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.

Leicester City rues stoppage time penalty in loss to Liverpool

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Brendan Rodgers can handle the late conceded penalty to Leicester City, but he thinks it may not have been awarded had the referee not blown the whistle on Saturday at Anfield.

“We are bitterly disappointed to concede the penalty and it did not look clear and obvious to me,” he said. “I think Sadio Mane made the most of the contact. I don’t think if it had not been given by the referee it would have been overturned by VAR. When the referee gives decisions it is hard for them to overrule it.”

[ MORE: Match recap | Klopp reacts ]

That it happened in stoppage time, and James Milner converted the opportunity to keep Liverpool’s perfect start to the season in order.

James Maddison had scored in the 80th minute to put the score line at 1-1. He was even more direct about Mane’s theatrics which, of course, came after a foul.

“Soft. It was very soft. I don’t think the contact warrants the way Sadio Mane went down but you have to respect that the referee’s decision stood in the end.”

Okay, but… Liverpool out shot Leicester City 18-2. The Foxes scored with their only shot on target. The result didn’t happen in the most satisfying faction, but the better team won on the day.

Liverpool stay perfect, beat Leicester in stoppage time

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Liverpool kept their 100 percent record intact, as James Milner‘s last-gasp penalty kick secured a 2-1 victory against Leicester City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

After Sadio Mane gave Liverpool the lead, James Maddison equalized late on at Anfield as Brendan Rodgers‘ men looked to have grabbed a point.

But then Milner scored from the penalty spot to stretch Liverpool’s club-record winning streak to 17 league games and eight from eight this season.

Liverpool stay top of the table on 24 points, while Leicester have 14 points.


3 things we learned

1. Liverpool’s luck continues: The Reds haven’t got going this season, and they’ve won all of their opening eight games. It looked like Klopp’s side were finally going to run out of luck on Saturday, as Leicester caught them cold late on but Mane then won a penalty kick. In wins against Southampton, Sheffield United, Chelsea and now Leicester they were lucky to get over the line. In truth, Liverpool haven’t got out of second gear this season. Klopp won’t care. They’re top.

2. Leicester prove top four credentials: It was far from a great display from the Foxes but they were resilient and showed they can grab points against the big boys. They will need to do that if they’re going to finish in the top four, not least the top six. Brendan Rodgers’ side put in a mature display and did him proud on his return to Anfield. This wasn’t a swashbuckling Leicester display, but it was steady and solid, and they were unlucky not to grab a point.

3. Matip missed: Dejan Lovren came into the starting lineup and he looked shaky and Liverpool really missed Joel Matip. The towering center back is out injured and has Joe Gomez struggled recently, meaning Lovren will have to get up to speed quickly for Liverpool. In the end Matip’s absence didn’t cost Liverpool, but they did look a little less solid.

Man of the Match: Sadio Mane – Took his goal really well and dug deep to do plenty of defensive work on both flanks. He continues to stand tall for Liverpool and won the late penalty kick.


Early on Liverpool did all the pressing as Leicester’s Caglar Soyuncu held things together for the Foxes at the back.

A cross from the right caused Liverpool’s defense some issues as Dejan Lovren tried to clear but sent a looping header towards his own goal.

As the first half wore on Leicester batled their way into the game as Ben Chilwell was causing Sadio Mane plenty of problems down the Foxes left flank.

Firmino then missed a great chance as Trent Alexander-Arnold whipped in a lovely ball from the right. At the other end Adrian produced a fine save from Soyuncu’s header after James Maddison whipped in a superb free kick.

Then Liverpool took the lead right on half time. James Milner’s superb long ball found Mane on the break and the Senegalese winger raced clear and finished calmly to make it 1-0.

Just after the goal Firmino pulled the ball back to Mane and his effort was straight at Kasper Schmeichel when he should have doubled Liverpool’s lead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Schmeichel produced a fine save at the start of the second half as Alexander-Arnold’s cross found Salah and his flick was pushed away by Leicester’s goalkeeper.

Jonny Evans then cleared but the ball hit Mane and almost rebounded in as Liverpool kicked on in the second half. Leicester steadied themselves and started to cause a few problems in attack with half time sub Marc Albrighton a box of tricks. Ricardo Pereira‘s cross from the right was cleared by Alexander-Arnold as that sprung the game into life.

Firmino’s effort squirmed just wide and then Albrighton set Jamie Vardy free but he squandered a great chance at the Kop end. Andrew Robertson then had a great chance but Schmeichel saved well. Dennis Praet then flashed a shot just wide for Leicester as the game finished in an end-to-end fashion, and the Foxes grabbed a late equalizer.

Substitute Ayoze Perez wriggled free and played in Maddison, who had been quiet all game long, and the Englishman finished low past Adrian.

Virgil Van Dijk could have won it for Liverpool late on but he fluffed his lines as he nodded Robertson’s cross over, but just when it looked like the Reds would drop their first points of the season the winner arrived.

Mane was brought down by Albrighton in the box and Milner kept his cool to make it eight wins from eight as Liverpool remain perfect.