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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.

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)

Ederson, Mahrez outstanding as Man City endures Everton challenge

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Riyad Mahrez scored an incredible free kick and Ederson thwarted a late Everton charge as Manchester City plucked a 2-1 win from Goodison Park on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Gabriel Jesus and Dominic Calvert-Lewin traded first half goals to set up a grandstand second half.

City restores the five-point gap between itself and first place Liverpool, while Everton sits two points above the drop zone in 15th.


Three things we learned

1. Algerian wizard brings 90 minutes worth of magic: Riyad Mahrez was magic from Moment No. 1. He forced a save out of Jordan Pickford in the first minute, and had a number of incredible moments en route to his spinning free kick around the wall in the 72nd minute. The goal was his fifth shot on target to go with four key passes (and a hockey assist on Jesus’ goal). Nice luxury to have when you want to rest Bernardo Silva and David Silva for the Champions League.

2. Capable Everton shows up: Marco Silva‘s men have the talent to beat anyone on any given day, but have been maddeningly inconsistent in a fairly easy set of fixtures to start the season. They’ve lost 2-0 to a pair of newly-promoted sides.

So of course they were going to go toe-to-toe with an absolutely stacked Man City, right? On another day, with another goalkeeping performance for the visitors, Everton easily nabs a point (Ederson was on… his…. game).

The match probably stirred plenty of pride in the hearts of the Toffee faithful, but also had to infuriate those who know Everton should’ve entered the match with a similar point total to their visitors. With Burnley, Brighton, and West Ham next, can the Toffees start to stack some wins?

3. Fierce emotions and razor-thin margins: Perhaps no moment showcased the game like Morgan Schneiderlin‘s studs-up challenge on a counterattacking De Bruyne. It was a yellow card and might’ve been worse with another referee on the case.

Man of the Match: Mahrez


Riyad Mahrez forced Jordan Pickford into a two-fisted save in the first minute, as Yerry Mina allowed a long dribble into the heart of the pitch.

A scary injury to Theo Walcott halted the proceedings for the next five minutes, as the winger caught a cross to the side of the head and stayed down for treatment.

Gundogan looked set to make it 1-0 in the 11th minute but he smashed Mahrez’s cross to the back post off the cross bar.

Mahrez led another foray down the right to help produce the opener, which was all about Kevin De Bruyne‘s immaculate first touch cross. It beat Michael Keane and Jesus stooped to power it past Pickford, who was caught off guard and splayed high to miss the low effort.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

After 2-3 chances to level the score, Everton got its goal through Iwobi’s hard work forcing the ball past Fernandinho and a mess of attackers.

The ball squirted to Seamus Coleman, who chipped the ball to the line and Calvert-Lewin headed it into the back of the goal for emphasis.

Pickford made a nice save on Walker to close out the half.

Everton was very bright at the start of the second half, and Ederson had to make a phenomenal save on Mina’s in-tight header in the 55th.

Sterling made a great run in the 60th minute, but couldn’t turn a Mahrez pass past Pickford and inside the post.

City took its lead through Mahrez’s wonderful free kick, and Everton’s hopes of a quickfire answer were denied by Ederson’s sliding tip of a Calvert-Lewin shot.

Sterling put it to bed with a Goal Decision System aided call in the 85th, smashing a shot off the bottom of the bar and over the line. Set up by Aguero and Mahrez, Pickford was hung to dry by Seamus Coleman and Tom Davies.

Everton’s Silva bemoans ‘cheap goals’ after Toffees falter

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Marco Silva is having trouble providing answers to why his team continues to underperform in big moments.

Everton failed in its bid to ride into the Top Four after five weeks, falling 3-1 to Bournemouth on Sunday at the Vitality Stadium, another inconsistent performance from a string of fixtures expected to yield much more than seven points.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 3-1 Everton ]

The Toffees have drawn Crystal Palace, beaten Wolves and Watford, and lost to Aston Villa and Bournemouth. That fixture list led to lofty early season expectations, and Everton has failed to live up to them.

Take Sunday: The Toffees went down early but rebounded to level the score through Dominic Calvert-Lewin and were in control of the game before a pair of glaring errors put them down 3-1.

First, Fabian Delph couldn’t get muster on Ryan Fraser‘s dangerous free kick and Jordan Pickford couldn’t claim the slight deflection. Then Yerry Mina and Michael Keane failed to notice Callum Wilson before a 1v1 with a stunned Pickford put the game in an even worse position for them.

“It was a big frustration. we lost the game and we gave some things to easily to our opponent,” Silva said. “We have to be ruthless away from home and you have to be clinical in attack.”

Everton had made a habit of winning tackles and 50/50 balls over the first four weeks, but found it tough sledding against the Cherries.

While the Toffees out-tackled Bournemouth 21-17 and finished even in aerial battles, they are usually well in front in tackles (7th in the Premier League) and also lead the league in aerials won per match.

That also tells you that in Everton’s matches, the ball really isn’t on the deck too often.

“They won the second ball and the third ball,” Silva said. “We reacted and equalized and then we introduced some fresh legs in our attacking line but then we conceded in that moment. As always, we have a lot of work to do. Our home form is fantastic but to win our away games we have to be more aggressive and more solid so that we do not concede easy goals.”

Sheffield United is next, and Everton has a League Cup match before meeting its first contender of the season in Man City.

But life doesn’t get truly tough until an absolutely perilous run of fixtures beginning Nov. 30 at Leicester City, and then seeing the following opponents over the next 21 days: Liverpool away, Chelsea home, Manchester United away, Arsenal home.

The Toffees are wasting the chance to build a top class cushion.

Bournemouth punishes sloppy Everton

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Callum Wilson scored twice as Bournemouth stung sloppy Everton 3-1 at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday.

Ryan Fraser also scored for the Cherries, who rise eighth on 7 points to move ahead of the visitors on goal differential.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored Everton’s only marker, as the Toffees fail in a bid to join the Top Four.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]


Three things we learned

1. Marco’s mercurial men: A lot has been made of Marco Silva‘s up-and-down tenure as Everton boss, especially given the club’s wealth of talent. That was again on display, as mistakes overrode Everton’s control of the match for most of the first hour. Keep in mind, though, that the inconsistency has plagued the Toffees since well before Silva came to town. That may not save him.

2. Ramsdale the difference: Eddie Howe trusted 21-year-old Aaron Ramsdale as his No. 1 goalkeeper despite a total of 44 senior appearances in his locker and none above the Championship level (aside from a pair of FA Cup dates). He was calm, decisive, and sturdy. He’s yet to keep a clean sheet, but that’s no matter on the day.

3. Wilson in form:  Callum Wilson’s second and third goals of the season showed his versatility, with a snapped header in a sea of bodies to open the scoring and a long run to beat Pickford on his second. He now has three goals in his last two performances after scoring against Leicester City.

Man of the Match: Ramsdale — Again, this could have easily been 3-1 in the other direction had Ramsdale not mopped up some silly, silly mistakes of his teammates.


Philip Billing fizzed a shot wide of the near post inside of the first 10 minutes, while at the other end Cherries keeper Aaron Ramsdale raced to beat Dominic Calvert-Lewin to a loose ball.

The 19th minute saw Richarlison smash a dipping effort off the top of the cross bar.

Ex-Toffees man Dominic Solanke ripped a shot that Jordan Pickford poked over the bar in the 22nd, and Bournemouth got on the board off the ensuing corner kick when Wilson snapped his neck to power the ball past Pickford.

Richarlison was at it again in the 37th, but couldn’t head Lucas Digne‘s cross inside the near post.

Everton leveled the score when Seamus Coleman spotted Richarlison’s run down the right side and the Brazilian crossed for a powerful Dominic Calvert-Lewin finish.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Ramsdale made a terrific save after Digne and Iwobi combined to cue up a Gylfi Sigurdsson rip in the 47th minute. And Steve Cook made a terrible back pass that helped Richarlison to a chance, but Ramsdale was up to the challenge.

Fraser’s goal came from a set piece, as he swept a free kick toward goal and Fabian Delph couldn’t get purchase on a chance to clear it. It changed direction a little, but Pickford may not have had a chance to save it either way.

It was 3-1 moments later, as Yerry Mina and/or Michael Keane switched off to allow Wilson to race toward a stunned Pickford, who could not react to the break.

Ramsdale then denied Alex Iwobi with a terrific save from 18 yards, and Richarlison couldn’t put the rebound on goal.