Kyle Walker

Getty Images

England struck by poor club form in qualifying blip

Leave a comment

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.

Wolves run past off-kilter Man City

Leave a comment

Manchester City just couldn’t catch Adama Traore.

The speedster finished twice on the break off Raul Jimenez assists, as Wolves collected a surprising 2-0 win over Man City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Wolves had two fewer days’ rest than their hosts, but flummoxed City with stifling defense and flair on the counter.

City is eight points back of leaders Liverpool, while Wolves are up to 11th with 10 points. This is the first time City has seen Liverpool’s lead stretch beyond the six points they’ll due for later this season.


Three things we learned

1. Furious Pep has no answers: Wolves keeper Rui Patricio had a fine day between the sticks, but City rarely sent true trouble the way of the visitors’ goal. David Silva cranked a free kick off the bar, but City looked like the team on a day’s shorter rest. Visibly angry, Guardiola couldn’t conjure up production without Kevin De Bruyne.

2. Traore does his job after Wolves miss early chance: The visitors were easily the better side in the first 15 minutes, catching City off guard, but Patrick Cutrone and Raul Jimenez each failed in bids to make it 1-0 to Wolves.

Jimenez, however, answered the bell on an 80th minute counter attack with strong dribbling and a pass to Traore, who waited patiently for his chance to poke past Ederson. Traore added another off a slick Jimenez pass, but had a lot more work to do in beating Ederson. Remarkable.

3. Frustrated City lives in the book: The two-time reigning Premier League champions were shown five yellow cards on the day, as Wolves tactics helped the visitors live in the heads of the heavily-favored hosts.

Man of the Match: Traore


[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Patrick Cutrone couldn’t chip a fine opportunity on goal as Wolves earned a surprise chance in the first five minutes.

An injury to Romain Saiss caused an early delay and the 13th minute introduction of Ryan Bennett.

Riyad Mahrez made a miserable giveaway from the attacking third, sending Cutrone on a long break toward goal.  But Fernandinho slid to block a first shot then bravely stopped the rebound with his head to keep it 0-0 at the Etihad Stadium.

Kyle Walker tried his luck from distance before halftime, and Rui Patricio collected the ball rather than risk it sneak off the post and into the goal.

David Silva curled a free kick off the bar soon after the match entered its final half hour.

Wolves patiently waited for their chance and got it via counter attack, as Mexican star Jimenez did a lot of work to set up patient Traore for a 1-0 lead with just over 10 minutes to go in Manchester.

Jimenez’s outside-of-the-boot pass to spring Traore for the comforting second goal was delightful, and the Spaniard had plenty to do on a 50-yard run toward his brace.

Watch Live: Man City-Wolves, Arsenal-Bournemouth, Saints-Chelsea

Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Premier League delivers a monstrous four-match Saturday, including three 9 a.m. ET kickoffs involving European contenders.

Man City hosts Wolves, and Pep Guardiola hands starts Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker, while Riyad Mahrez holds his place against El Tri’s Raul Jimenez (Watch live on NBCSN or online via NBC Sports.com).

[ STREAM: Man City-Wolves ]

Man City: Ederson, Cancelo, Fernandino, Otamendi, Walker, Gundogan, Rodri, Silva, Sterling, Mahrez, Aguero. Subs: Bravo, G. Jesus, Zinchenko, Angelino, Bernardo, Foden, E. Garcia.

Wolves: Patricio, Boly, Coady, Vinagre, Saiss, Traore, Neves, Moutinho, Dendoncker, Cutrone, Jimenez. Subs: Ruddy, Doherty, Vallejo, Bennett, Gibbs-White, Otto, Kilman


Arsenal will look to overpower in-form Bournemouth with a trident of Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and young buck Bukayo Saka (Watch live on CNBC or online via NBCSports.com).

Eddie Howe starts both of his Wilsons, Harry and Callum, but only one of his Cooks (Steve). Lewis Cook is on the bench.

[ STREAM: Arsenal-Bournemouth ]

Arsenal: Leno, Chambers, Papastathopoulos, David Luiz, Kolasinac, Ceballos, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Pepe, Aubameyang, Saka. Subs: Martinez, Tierney, Torreira, Maitland-Niles, Holding, Willock, Martinelli.

Bournemouth: Ramsdale, Stacey, Cook, Ake, Rico, H. Wilson, Billing, Lerma, King, C. Wilson, Solanke. Subs: Boruc, Francis, Surman, Groeneveld, Cook, Fraser, Kelly.


Christian Pulisic is on the bench for Chelsea, no surprise there, as the Blues continue an open run of fixtures with a trip to Southampton (Watch live on NBC Sports Gold).

Frank Lampard starts Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, and Callum Hudson-Odoi against a Saints side held up in the middle by ex-Chelsea man Oriol Romeu.

[ STREAM: Southampton-Chelsea ]

Southampton: Gunn, Valery, Bednarek, Yoshida, Bertrand, Hojbjerg, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Redmond, Long, Ings. Subs: McCarthy, Stephens, Adams, Armstrong, Boufal, Obafemi, Danso.

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Tomori, Zouma, Alonso, Jorginho, Kante, Willian, Mount, Hudson-Odoi, Abraham. Subs: Caballero, Christensen, Barkley, Kovacic, Pulisic, Batshuayi, James

Abraham, Tomori named in England squad

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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)

Norwich shock Man City

2 Comments

Norwich City stunned Manchester City by beating the reigning champions 3-2 at Carrow Road on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Pep Guardiola‘s Man City last lost a Premier League game in January, and were outfought by Daniel Farke‘s Norwich who had 11 players out through injury.

The Canaries went 2-0 up early through Kenny McLean and Todd Cantwell and although Sergio Aguero pulled one back before half time, Teemu Pukki made it 3-1 at the start of the second half. Man City pulled one back late on through Rodri to set up a stunning finish but the Canaries held on to some wild scenes at Carrow Road at the final whistle.

With the win, Norwich now have six points for the season. City remain on 10 points after being stunned.


3 things we learned

1. Laporte badly missed: It is too early to say that Aymeric Laporte‘s serious knee injury will cost Man City the title, but it is clear his absence will be a huge blow. John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi were all over the place in central defense and their slack mistakes in possession epitomized a sloppy defensive display. Those issues spread to Kyle Walker and Ilkay Gundogan and perhaps Pep Guardiola’s decision to leave Kevin De Bruyne on the bench set the tone for the display.

2. Greatest upset in recent history?: Missing 11 players due to injury, Norwich fielded a whole host of newbies and pulled off one of the biggest shocks in recent PL history. Amadou was making his PL debut, while Tettey and Byram were also making their first starts of the season as Daniel Farke was forced to shuffle his pack. Before kick off you could get the same odds on Man City winning 7-0 as you could for a 0-0 draw. That is how unlikely this result was.

3. Pukki a revelation: With six goals to his name already, the Finnish journeyman was at his predatory best once again. He is so calm in front of goal and runs the channels so well on his own. He had little help in attack but gave Stones and Otamendi a torrid evening. Pukki is the breakout star of the PL season so far, and the August Player of the Month continued his wonderful form from the international break (two goals in two for Finland) to lead Norwich to a famous win.

Man of the Match: Teemu Pukki – A goal and an assist is fair enough, but Pukki sets the tone for this entire Norwich team. He runs himself into the ground each and every game, and when he gets a chance he has the composure to wait and wait and wait before slotting home or setting up a teammate. Norwich’s entire team put in superb displays, but Pukki is their undisputed talisman.


After Man City had dominated the early stages, Norwich shocked the reigning champs to take the lead. A corner found McLean and he flicked home a header to score his first Premier League goal and make it 1-0.

City battled their way back into the game and Aguero sent a good chance effort over the bar, before Norwich doubled their lead to send Carrow Road wild.

On the break Pukki ran towards goal and teed up Cantwell perfectly as the youngster slotted home to put Norwich in dreamland.

Before half time Sterling hit the post with a header, and right on half time Bernardo Silva’s cross found Aguero who nodded home to hand Man City a lifeline.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

At the start of the second half Man City were still all over the place defensively as Pukki dragged a shot wide after Stones was caught out and moments later it got worse.

Pukki punished yet another sloppy mistake, as Otamendi was caught on the ball by Emiliano Buendia and the Finnish striker was on hand to sweep home his sixth goal of the season.

Late on Man City threw everything at Norwich as Sterling’s cross was nodded over by Aguero and Tim Krul then denied Otamendi’s header with a fine save. Moments later Man City made it 3-2 as Rodri’s shot from distance set up a tense finale.

Norwich held on for a famous victory as Farke’s banged up squad put together a sensational, gritty display to beat Man City.