Joel Matip

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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.

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.

Premier League Preview: Liverpool v. Leicester City

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  • PL leaders Liverpool host 3rd-place Leicester
  • Rodgers makes managerial return to Anfield
  • Reds can go 8 points clear of Man City (for a day) with a win

The clash of Matchweek 8 will see Premier League leaders Liverpool host Leicester City, the two-month-old season’s surprise performers, at Anfield on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

The Reds haven’t so much as dropped a point this season and have only trailed one opponent, 19th-place Newcastle United for a grand total of 21 minutes. Jurgen Klopp‘s side has won 16 straight PL games dating back to last season and has conceded just five goals in seven games this term. The Reds were far from their best, at least defensively, when they beat Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League on Wednesday. After going 3-0 up in 36 minutes, Klopp’s men gave all three goals back in a 21-minute period before Mohamed Salah grabbed a late winner. Back in England, though, Liverpool are yet to conceded multiple goals in a PL game this season.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

On the other side, Leicester have the look a side set to challenge for a top-four place all season. After suffering their only loss, to Manchester United, three weeks ago, the Foxes have responded with a 2-1 comeback victory over Tottenham Hotspur and a 5-0 thrashing of Newcastle United. Brendan Rodgers is set to return to Anfield as the opposing manager for the first time since departing as Liverpool boss in 2015. Rodgers knows all too well the enormity of the task ahead of Klopp — chasing Liverpool’s first-ever Premier League-era title and the club’s first top-division title since 1990 — after coming oh so close in the 2013-14 season.

Injuries/suspensions

Liverpool: OUT – Xherdan Shaqiri (calf), Nathaniel Clyne (knee); QUESTIONABLE – Joel Matip (knock), Alisson (calf)

Leicester: OUT – Matty James (achilles); RETURNING – James Maddison (ankle)


Projected lineups

Liverpool: Adrian – Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson – Henderson, Fabinho, Wijnaldum – Salah, Firmino, Mane

Leicester: Schmeichel – Pereira, Evans, Soyuncu, Chilwell – Ndidi, Perez, Praet, Tielemans, Barnes – Vardy


What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp, on the near-disaster against Salzburg: “How do I explain that? I think it was obvious: we left the very successful path of the first 30 minutes. That was some of the best football we played so far, against how we all saw a little bit later a very well organized team with a clear idea and identity. We did everything they don’t like, on a high speed, scored the three goals, could have scored more. They changed the system – that’s allowed and is not really a problem usually, but tonight it was for us because we changed the approach a little bit for some reason.”

Brendan Rodgers, on returning to Anfield: “I’m really looking forward to going back. I had the real privilege of managing there. So much learning took place for me at Liverpool. I always take the positives when I analyze my time there. The first couple of seasons went well and we went close to the title. The third year was more difficult but there was great learning for me as a coach. The fourth season didn’t last so long. There were so many highs as a young manager and I’ll always be grateful for that.”


Prediction

Leicester will give Liverpool everything they can handle, and more, but the Anfield effect will certainly be felt when the Reds are forced to dig deep in the final 30 minutes. In the end, Liverpool will have too much possession and force the Foxes to work a little too hard just to stay in it. Liverpool 2-1 Leicester.

Premier League player Power Rankings

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The latest Premier League player Power Rankings are here, as we rank the top 20 players based on current form.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Players from Liverpool, Leicester and Chelsea dominate our rankings, while there are 12 new entries.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League. If they didn’t play in the last matchweek, they aren’t getting in this list!

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


1. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Even
2. Jamie Vardy (Leicester) – Up 18
3. Harry Kane (Tottenham) – New entry
4. Riyad Mahrez (Man City) – New entry
5. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) – Down 2
6. Jorginho (Chelsea) – New entry
7. Fabinho (Liverpool) – New entry
8. Matt Doherty (Wolves) – New entry
9. Youri Tielemans (Leicester) – New entry
10. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool) – Up 3
11. Fikayo Tomori (Chelsea) – New entry
12. Wilfried Ndidi (Leicester) – New entry
13. Joel Matip (Liverpool) – Down 8
14. Mason Mount (Chelsea) – Even
15. Callum Wilson (Bournemouth) – Even
16. Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) – New entry
17. Andriy Yarmolenko (West Ham) – Even
18. Heung-Min Son (Tottenham) – New entry
19. John McGinn (Aston Villa) – New entry
20. Chris Wood (Burnley) – Down 2

Klopp tabs Matip as ‘one of the best pieces of business’ for Liverpool

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On Friday, in Liverpool’s run-up to a Premier League battle with Sheffield United, Jurgen Klopp labeled Joel Matip as “one of the best pieces of business we did in the last few years.”

He’s not wrong.

“In a world of big transfer fees, to sign a player like Joel Matip on a free transfer is incredible,” Klopp said. Again, he’s not wrong.

The 28-year-old signed on a free from German side Schalke back in the summer of 2016, and he has become a fixture of the Liverpool defense, standing strong next to Virgil Van Dijk as part of one of the best back lines in Europe.

It essentially happened by accident. Matip, signed as nothing more than defensive cover for a squad that included Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho, Joe Gomez, and Ragnar Klavan. Yet he started 27 matches that season, forging a partnership with Lovren with Sakho on his way out, Gomez still too young for a consistent role, and Klavan down the depth chart. The next season van Dijk was brought in and yet Matip pushed through hamstring and ankle injuries to make 22 starts. Last season, en route to a vicious title challenge and a Champions League crown, Matip again was not meant to start, but with Lovren and Gomez both injured, Matip formed a critical partnership with van Dijk and has led by example.

So who else has come from relative obscurity on a savvy bit of business to take a starring role? Here are the five best bits of business in the Premier League currently playing for the club that snagged them, outside of Klopp’s prized center-back of course.

5) Kasper Schmeichel, Leicester City (Leeds United, $2 million)

Goalkeepers never draw the same massive transfer fees as their outfield counterparts, but even so, the Leicester City shot-stopper has been a true man of the badge since joining in 2011, making 341 appearances for the Foxes and proving a key cog in the legendary run to the title a few years back. That team was full of great value players (more on that in a bit), and while they cashed in on some, the son of the legendary Manchester United goalkeeper stuck around the club he loves.

4) Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur (MK Dons, $6 million)

As just a teenager, Alli was sent to Spurs in the winter of early 2015 and immediately loaned back to MK Dons for the rest of the season. Immediately, they had to know their mistake. Alli was selected as the Football League Young Player of the Year in April, and his career skyrocketed from there. Providing both a physical presence and free-flowing nature on the ball, Alli has proven a versatile option in midfield for Spurs, and while he struggles to maintain consistent form, his best is both fearsome and artistic. Still just 23 years old, it seems the best may be yet to come for the England midfielder who has already racked up 187 appearances for the London club.

3) Andy Robertson, Liverpool (Hull City, $10 million)

Sure, Joel Matip came for free, but he still might not be the best bit of business on the club. Andy Robertson, Liverpool’s stellar left-back, signed for $10 million and looks to be the makings of a downright star. At 25 years old, he also looks set to be a Red for quite some time, giving the club incredible value for its money. $10 million in today’s market doesn’t net teams what it used to, making it all the more impressive the Reds could snag a player of his promise for such a price. Along with Trent Alexander-Arnold on the other side, the Reds appear set for a long time with one of Europe’s best back lines.

2) Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea (Marseille, $9 million)

The Blues are known for splashing the cash, but the then-23-year-old Spaniard came over from Ligue 1 in the summer of 2012 to little fanfare. He has gone on to make 345 appearances for Chelsea, serving as captain for many and proving a versatile and consistent option along the defense. Perhaps the most stunning part of Azpilicueta’s career is that he only has 25 caps for Spain, a shockingly low number for such a valuable player at one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Still, his service to Chelsea has been a far cry from his measly up-front cost.

1) Jamie Vardy, Leicester City (Fleetwood Town, $1.5 million)

Much has been made of Vardy’s story, having come from the semi-professional ranks and risen up to a Premier League title. For what he’s given Leicester City – 277 appearances and 110 goals, including 83 Premier League strikes in 182 appearances – the fee is next to nothing. Not many could have predicted what Vardy would provide, or that he’d become a regular for the England national team before the rise of Harry Kane, but now the tale has been written. Vardy will go down as one of the most undervalued transfers in Premier League history, deservedly so.