Toby Alderweireld

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Euro 2020 qualifying roundup: Belgium qualifies

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Belgium became the first national team to qualify for the 2020 European Championships and boy did the Red Devils do it in style.

Belgium routed lowly San Marino, 9-0 at the Stade Roi Baudouin in Brussels to ensure qualification. Romelu Lukaku scored a brace and assisted on another as Belgium was able to spread the goals around.

[READ: Tactical Analysis – How to Beat Man City]

Seven different players scored for Belgium, plus an own goal from San Marino’s Cristian Brolli. Even Eden Hazard, who set up a pair of goals, didn’t score himself before earning an early break in the 63rd minute.

Nacer Chadli, Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld, Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans, Crystal Palace’s Christian Benteke, Yari Verschaeren, and Timothy Castagne all scored along with Lukaku.

Russia thrash Scotland

In what’s becoming the norm, Scotland again succumbed to a crushing defeat. This time it was to Russia, which beat Scotland, 4-0, at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

The Scotland centerback pairing of Liam Palmer and Charlie Mulgrew couldn’t deal with big Russian striker Artem Dzyuba, who finished with a brace. Magomed Ozdoev and Aleksandr Golovin both scored as well to put Scotland away.

Here’s a look at the rest of Thursday’s qualifying action.

Thursday’s EURO 2020 qualifying results

Group C

Belarus 0-0 Estonia

Netherlands 3-1 Northern Ireland

Group E

Croatia 3-0 Hungary

Slovakia 1-1 Wales

Group G

Austria 3-1 Israel

Latvia 0-3 Poland

North Macedonia 2-1 Slovenia

Group I

Kazakhstan 1-2 Cyprus

Belgium 9-0 San Marino

Russia 4-0 Scotland

Bayern annihilates putrid Tottenham in 7-star showing

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Let’s be straight-forward: Serge Gnabry and Robert Lewandowski humiliated Tottenham Hotspur’s abject back line in a 6-2 demolition of the hosts at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in North London on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Ex-Arsenal academy man Gnabry scored four times and Lewandowski twice while Joshua Kimmich also scored an extraordinary curler for Bayern in the blowout.

Olympiacos lost to Red Star Belgrade, which puts Spurs in the group’s third place. Bayern’s six points account for a four-point lead on the rest of the group.


Three things we learned

1. Lewandowski too powerful: It’s stunning to consider that Robert Lewandowski has never been named to a FIFPro World XI. The Polish striker started a move at the right end line, torching Jan Vertonghen, then worked himself back to the top of the 18 to pick up a loose ball and touch to his right before lashing inside the near post. Lewandowski added another to give Bayern six on the day. He now has 14 goals through 10 matches this season across all competitions.

2. Kane’s fine run (kinda) ends: Making penalties is pretty important, but Kane’s 61st minute success was his only real moment of impact in the match. He skied a free kick over the goal and saw a yellow card in the match. He had a goal or an assist in each of his last five matches, and continued that run. That’s really the lone positive from his day.

3. Serge Gnabry has a field day with Spurs back line, especially one fullback: Danny Rose and Serge Aurier did not deliver the goods at left and right back on Tuesday, with Rose cooked in the run-up to Kimmich’s opener. Aurier was roasted by Gnabry on his first goal, and then didn’t even bother to sprint behind the blazing Gnabry as he completed his hat trick by reaching a long ball from Thiago Alcantara. It’s the sort of move which would doom a player to the bench for weeks, but Spurs are very, very thin at fullback.

The ex-Arsenal man Gnabry added a fourth goal to complete the score line and would’ve loved his return to North London, having spent 2011-16 with Spurs’ heated rivals. He was magnificent.


Spurs struck first through Son in the 12th minute, as Corentin Tolisso passed to no man’s land. Moussa Sissoko took advantage of the giveaway, which carried a hint of a Dele Alli foul, and slid Son into the box.

Manuel Neuer could only get a hand on the South Korean’s shot as it headed for the side panel.

The lead lasted three minutes, and the equalizer was a beauty. Kimmich absolutely cooked Tanguy Ndombele with a cutback and whipped a vicious shot across goal and into the upper reaches of it.

Neuer and Lloris were each tested in the next five minutes, the latter by a Philippe Coutinho arrow in the 21st. The Bayern goalkeeper made an arm save on a hard Ndombele drive in the 25th.

Son ripped a shot wide at the half hour mark, an attempt to beat Neuer to the near post.

Former Arsenal man Gnabry would’ve loved scoring at the home of his former rivals, as he outlasted a dreadful challenge from Aurier and then blazed past a wooden Toby Alderweireld to blast past Lloris.

Gnabry scored again off a Harry Winks error, slipped into the 18 to dig out a shot that beat a diving Lloris.

Rose won a penalty kick off a high challenge with Kingsley Coman, sending Kane to the spot for his lone moment of the match.

Instead of inspiring a comeback, the goal spurred Bayern back into business. Gnabry added two more sandwiched around another classy Lewandowski finish.

Pochettino sends strong message to Spurs’ want-away stars

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Mauricio Pochettino sounds like a manager increasingly tired of answering questions about players who wish to leave Tottenham Hotspur.

[ MORE: Report: LAFC hot in pursuit of Juventus, Croatia star Mario Mandzukic ]

Tottenham’s summer transfer window saw three first-team players arrive, yet a whole host of want-away stars stole the majority of the headlines and have made the opening weeks of the Premier League season plenty difficult for Pochettino. Christian Eriksen, Danny Rose, Serge Aurier and Victor Wanyama all reached varying level of “close to leaving the club,” while Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen quietly declined to extend their current contracts with fewer than 12 months remaining.

Eriksen didn’t start the first two games of the season as Pochettino didn’t think he was in the right frame of mind to do so; Vertonghen has played just once; Rose has played 358 of 360 minutes, but has performed to a subpar standard; and the same goes for Alderweireld.

[ MORE: Lionel Messi still out injured, makes cryptic comments about future ]

To put it simply, it’s been a mess; also, a minor miracle that Spurs have five points from four games, including two away to Manchester City and Arsenal already. The European transfer window mercifully, and finally, closed last week, therefore Pochettino can finally look at his squad and know what everyone who is currently at the club will remain there until January at least. As such, the Argentine has demanded focus from everyone at the club, or else — quotes from the Guardian:

“Always it’s difficult [to sell players] and then I think we are all agreed that Tottenham have more rumors than other clubs. In one month I think the rumors will start again because the situation of the squad is going to help those rumors appear. Now it’s a time to be positive.”

“Victor Wanyama is in my plans. Christian is in my plans. Before I understood that they were in a difficult situation and, of course, we tried to help them, to help the club, to do their business. When it’s one player, then OK. But then it’s a few players, who start to make it difficult to create a good dynamic, a positive dynamic … Now we need to start to win games. Be refocused, and who is not refocused is going to be out.”

Is Pochettino the type of manager who’ll drop an irreplaceable player week after week just to prove a point or maintain a certain level of control over the team? You bet he is, and he’ll gladly prove it should any of the aforementioned players not meet level of focus required.

Eriksen made no bones about his desire to leave during the international break, and while Pochettino sympathizes with a player trying to do the best thing for his own career, he also trusts Eriksen will fall in line and see out his contract in a professional manner.

“When you sign the contract, like Christian who signed for five or six years, you need to be committed from day one to the last day. He isn’t not going to show the commitment because there’s only one year left,. The difference is whether he wants to extend the contract or not. Different players have different goals.

“No one is going to say, ‘I want to leave the club’ and, if no one wants you, then you say, ‘No, I love the club.’ You kill yourself then. The reality is that managers, players, coaching staff — sometimes they have one year left and they are happy; others need a different challenge.”

Who’s the most irreplaceable player on ‘Big Six’ Premier League sides?

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When Aymeric Laporte was lost for months with a knee injury, there was a fairly standard reaction to the news.

This was the player Manchester City could least afford to lose for a long period of time.

[ MORE: Juve wants De Gea ]

There’s a debate to be had there, and it’s been had plenty, but it has us thinking: Which player is the most indispensable for each of the “Big Six” in their quest for a successful PL season?

It’s going to be a defender heavy list.

Tottenham Hotspur

Tough one, here, and we may be just a few months of consistent performances from changing the answer to Tanguy Ndombele (Yes, he looks that good).

But this one’s down to two players. It’s not a defender, as Spurs have three dynamite center backs and the drop-offs between full backs don’t hold wide-enough margins.

It’s between the Harrys (Harries? Anyway, “Between the Harries” sounds like we just started a new reality show).

Don’t be misled by Spurs’ remarkable job making up for the loss of Harry Kane to injury late last season; the big striker is still on history-making pace for his young-enough career. Since becoming a full-time starter, Kane has 162 goals in 241 matches. Would you believe he’s not 27 until next summer?

Harry Winks is the ball-possessing, clean-passing motor that so many teams crave for their midfield. He’s been a 90-plus percentage passer in every season, and has completed 94 percent this early season. Again, small sample size, but his 75 passes per game trails Nicolas Otamendi, Aymeric Laporte, Granit Xhaka, Paul Pogba, and teammate Toby Alderweireld.

It’s almost a coin flip here. We’re taking Kane, but we’re basing it on a tiebreaker of advanced statistics. Anyone making an argument for the 23-year-old Winks deserves to be heard.

Manchester United

This is perhaps the trickiest call of the bunch.

Anthony Martial has been far and away the most important player to the Red Devils’ early season, sputtering as it may be, but it’s far too soon to say he’s irreplaceable.

Four players have played every minute of the early season: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba, Victor Lindelof, and David De Gea. Both Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay have nearly played the full 360.

The fact of the matter, and this belies United’s plight, is that United is too thin to have a single player who would hurt the most to lose; Forced to choose one, we’ll say Maguire as he’s the most proven consistent entity of the bunch.

Chelsea

Another tough one, though it seems like it should be an easy one: N’Golo Kante. But he’s still finding his footing under Frank Lampard and last season wasn’t a great one as Maurizio Sarri messed with a great recipe by moving Kante from his role of pure opposition destruction.

Again, Chelsea’s has a good answer in replacement players for any of their stars getting injured; Marcos Alonso is barely playing, same with Michy Batshuayi. Olivier Giroud, Willian, even Pedro.

So while we’d like to make the case for Cesar Azpilicueta, the answer is probably still Kante.

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Arsenal

The easy answer is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it is not necessarily the correct answer because of replaceability. If the Gabonese superstar goes down, Unai Emery can still roll out a strike force with Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe.

The Gunners are very thin at center back, but the problem is that the starters aren’t stars.

So we’ll proffer one that’s a bit out of the box: Bernd Leno. The goalkeeper has been pretty darn good considering his team has offered very little resistance to attacks. His back-ups are Emiliano Martinez and Matt Macey. There’s no rule stating one of those two wouldn’t be a good starter, but they have six PL appearances between them (all Martinez).

Liverpool

It’s Virgil Van Dijk.

Mohamed Salah is the straw that stirs the drink, but the Reds have a very good attackers behind him (both young and experienced) and made a run to the Champions League and a record league point total while he was not exactly thriving in form (Salah had a lone goal in an eight-match league run over February and March, and missed the incredible Barcelona comeback with a concussion).

The idea of it being Alisson Becker is interesting, but for Liverpool supporters that is probably fueled more by watching substandard keepers derail their dreams for a couple of years. For a neutral and especially for stat hounds, it’s not as big of a drop to Adrian as it seems (but it’s big).

We may want to revisit this discussion in January regarding Fabinho, but Liverpool is very deep in the midfield, too. It’s Van Dijk, and it’s not close.

Man City

It was a combination of a few things, the first obviously being the players’ quality. The PFA Team of the Year winner helped City lower its goals conceded total in his first full season at the Etihad, as City won almost every competition it entered in 2018-19.

But it was also City’s depth behind Laporte, with Vincent Kompany gone to Anderlecht and the next injury seemingly cueing up Fernandinho or Kyle Walker for center back duty.

An argument could be made for Ederson simply based on the keeper’s quality in possession and shot-stopping alone but no other position, really; City may have had to work harder for the title last season with Kevin De Bruyne injured, but it found an answer largely through Bernardo Silva. Leroy Sane looked like City’s MVP two seasons ago, but Raheem Sterling emerged as the club’s best wide man and there’s some guy named Mahrez behind him.

Laporte, it is (And if you want to really get into the nexus of this article, and why the stats say there is a big drop-off from Laporte to even John Stones, let alone a third wheel, check here. Also, I’ve learned that City fans vastly under-appreciate Otamendi).

Best of the Rest

Less explanation, similar amounts of confidence.

Aston Villa: Jack Grealish
Bournemouth:
Nathan Ake
Brighton and Hove Albion:
Shane Duffy
Burnley:
James Tarkowski
Crystal Palace: Luka Milivojevic
Everton:
Michael Keane
Leicester City:
Wilfred Ndidi
Newcastle United:
Fabian Schar
Norwich City:
Teemu Pukki
Sheffield United:
Dean Henderson
Southampton:
Jannik Vestergaard
Watford:
Abdoulaye Doucoure
West Ham: 
Sebastien Haller
Wolves: Willy Boly

Report: Man City looks to January window after Laporte injury

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Hindsight is 20/20, and Manchester City’s decision not to bring in center back depth this summer is looking really poor.

That’ll happen when perhaps the most irreplaceable part of a hopeful quadruple contender goes out for the rest of 2019. Aymeric Laporte’s surgery means that John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi, and (probably) Fernandinho are an injury away from Manchester City using kids or Kyle Walker at center back.

The Daily Mail says that Pep Guardiola will buy a center back in January, five months after pulling out of the bidding for Harry Maguire when the price got too steep.

City almost has to go the transfer route, as the majority of high-ish end free agents on the market on attack-minded.

Laporte is not expected back until at least January, but what would a transfer be? The eventual successor to Otamendi, or something a bit less revolutionary than dropping $75 million on an absolute stud?

Either could work, but both will include inflated fees due to the clear desperation in the case of the buyers.

Also, quality center backs didn’t exactly move this summer. Aside from Maguire, most targets stayed home. Toby Alderweireld, Issa Diop, and James Tarkowski were linked with moves but went nowhere. David Luiz moved, perhaps only because Laurent Koscielny demanded out of Arsenal. Veterans Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, and Ashley Williams opted for playing time, not that Guardiola would’ve been looking to “buy old,” either.

What we’re trying to say is… City’s going to have to spend a lot of dough if they want to buy someone.