Trent Alexander-Arnold

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Champions League preview: Chelsea, Liverpool hit the road

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Frank Lampard has a selection headache amongst his wingers as he tries to figure out Chelsea’s best avenue to break down Ajax on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League.

Youngsters Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic starred in the Blues’ weekend win, and Lampard also has Pedro and Willian available at Johan Cruyff Arena before a weekend visit to Burnley.

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

From ChelseaFC.com:

“Callum gave me that in his display from the start and Christian gave me that in his display coming on, and in terms of the wingers I have, Willian gave me that, Pedro gives me that so I have good selection problems when people come on and make a difference. That is what we are all about.

“The extra level that is the Champions League, the detail, the focus, concentration for 90 minutes, making the most of tiny moments, will be a test for all the young players, not just Callum.”

The good news for Pulisic in his bid to match wits with fellow USMNT (for now) player Sergino Dest is that he’s had experience on the UCL stage with Borussia Dortmund.

The other PL side in action is Liverpool, and the Reds will be expecting to get all three points in Belgium against Genk.

But Genk drew Napoli 0-0 at home on the second match day and the Reds will be wary of a slip-up.

“It’s a really good football-playing team,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. “They are organized and brave in their positioning. They don’t play with the pressing line too much but go for second balls, have speed and good midfielders and very active full-backs.”

Klopp will not have Trent Alexander-Arnold (illness) and Joel Matip (knee).

Other highlights…

— American manager Jesse Marsch hopes to lead Red Bull Salzburg to a home win over Napoli when he matches wits with Carlo Ancelotti.

Antonio Conte‘s Inter Milan could really use a result against tricky Borussia Dortmund in Italy.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Ajax v. Chelsea
RB Leipzig v. Zenit Saint-Petersburg

3 p.m. ET
Slavia Prague v. Barcelona
Red Bull Salzburg v. Napoli
Genk v. Liverpool
Inter Milan v. Borussia Dortmund
Lille v. Valencia
Benfica v. Lyon

2019 Ballon d’Or 30-man shortlist released

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The first 30 names for the 2019 Ballon d’Or have been released. There are some usuals, there are some surprises, and there are some head-scratchers.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo both headline the list as expected, as the two share eleven previous awards between them. Behind them are young stars Kylian Mbappe, Frenkie de Jong, and Matthijs de Ligt, with the latter two having made the Champions League semifinals with Ajax. Another pair of Ajax players also make an appearance as Donny van de Beek and Dusan Tadic impressed in that European run.

The goalkeepers on the list are somewhat contentious. Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson rightly appears, having led the Reds to new heights since joining in the summer of 2017. Tottenham netminder Hugo Lloris also shows up, a curious selection given his down form for Spurs the last two or three years. In fact, Lloris has made the most errors leading directly to goals of any Premier League player in the past three seasons, according to Opta. Alongside those two is Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen who has locked down the starting spot at the Camp Nou each of the last four years.

Other Premier League players on the list include whopping six more Liverpool players in Mohamed Salah, Virgil Van Dijk, Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum, Roberto Firmino, and Trent Alexander-Arnold plus Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Manchester City’s five attackers in Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, and Riyad Mahrez.

The most glaring absentee left off the list is Paris Saint-Germain attacker Neymar, who spent much of the year injured or suspended but when on the field put up video game numbers. Considering that France Football hands out the award, his exclusion seems to have a hint of troll to it. Luka Modric, the reigning winner, was also left off the list after struggling over the past year with Real Madrid. Others left off include Paul Pogba, Harry Kane, and N’Golo Kante.

The names on the list seem to heavily favor last year’s Champions League. Players like Tadic, Wijnaldum, and Lloris, for example, are excellent players but would be difficult to argue they deserve a spot in the top 30 players in the world. Meanwhile, players like Neymar, Kane, Lautaro Martinez, Sergio Ramos, Joshua Kimmich, Miralem Pjanic, Angel di Maria, Raul Jimenez, and countless others who either departed the competition early or didn’t appear altogether were an afterthought.

The winner will be announced December 2.

Full 30-man shortlist
Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)
Dusan Tadic (Ajax)
Frenkie De Jong (Barcelona)
Sergio Aguero (Man City)
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)
Kylian Mbappe (PSG)
Donny van de Beek (Ajax)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)
Alisson (Liverpool)
Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus)
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
Heung-Min Son (Tottenham)
Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Bernardo Silva (Man City)
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Riyad Mahrez (Man City)
Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)
Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)
Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona)
Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)
Marquinhos (PSG)
Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid)
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

Player ratings from Manchester United-Liverpool

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Manchester United’s late letdown denied Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a statement victory against Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool, as both managers had their moments at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Man Utd 1-1 Liverpool ]

The players, too, were a mixed bag, as Liverpool missed Mohamed Salah in a big way in a game that also cried out for Paul Pogba.

Manchester United

David De Gea — 6 — Not a ton to do, and would’ve had to have been a super hero to deny the goal.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka — 7 — Was very good for most of the match, though either Andreas Pereira or him failed to bother Andy Robertson‘s cross for the equalizer.

Marcos Rojo — 5 — A solid step-in performance right up until he committed to block Robertson’s cross and missed it, allowing Lallana a tap-in.

Victor Lindelof — 6 — Got away with a foul on Origi in the build-up to United’s goal, but otherwise well within himself.

Harry Maguire — 7 — Marshaled a surprising back three very well.

Ashley Young — 6 — All over the place, sometimes in the good way and sometimes in the bad.

Fred — 5 — Like watching a whirlwind, it’s difficult to tell whether his activity is influential in a positive light or just making up for lack of positional awareness.

Scott McTominay — 7 — He’s a big, strong, heady youngster, and did well in a midfield match-up which was considering to be a lopsided disadvantage.

Andreas Pereira (Off 90′) — 5 — Ran his shorts off, but so many needless fancy first half touches. Imagine Pogba in his place executing this game plan, and it may’ve been 3-1 at the break.

Daniel James — 7 — Took a beating and contributed plenty at the back end, and that’s without mentioning his cross for Rashford’s goal.

Marcus Rashford (Off 84′) — 7 — A slow start gave way to a star turn, with his goal the highlight but his industry what made him a MOTM candidate.

Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer — 8 — Would’ve liked to see Martial or Mata for Pereira earlier, but the back three was as gutsy and proper trap for Klopp, one that clearly upset the Liverpool boss. With Mohamed Salah out, the move blossomed further.

Subs:
Anthony Martial (On 84′) — N/A
Brandon Williams (On 90′) — N/A

Liverpool

Alisson Becker — 6 — One save and one clearance in a non-descript match.

Andrew Robertson — 7 — Relentless as usual and got his assist through traffic to keep the undefeated record in play. Caught out of the camera on United’s goal, but that’s a symptom of the system.

Virgil Van Dijk — 6 — Fine. Would’ve liked him to do something instead of playing a mile off of James’ run, but expecting heroism in every game is a lot for a center back.

Joel Matip — 5 — A step back for the newly-resigned center back, as he couldn’t cut out James’ cross on the goal.

Trent Alexander-Arnold — 5 — Ten crosses. One on the mark. A decent-enough day in his own end, but far from his standard without Mohamed Salah.

Fabinho — 6 — Hard-edged when the Reds were sleeping.

Jordan Henderson (Off 71′) — 4 — Sloppy and grew more so after the break, clearly frustrated by the atmosphere. Took a decent chance to trouble De Gea and sliced it into outer space.

Georginio Wijnaldum (Off 82′)  — 7 — A curious sub, as the Dutch international looked one of the few players capable of supplying something special.

Sadio Mane — 6 — Has a goal in a world without silly handball rules. Otherwise not really in the fray.

Divock Origi (Off 60′) — 4 — On his horse early, his influence waned to the point he was a spectator when Jurgen Klopp replaced him.

Roberto Firmino — 5 — A rare off day for one of the best center forwards in the business.

Manager: Jurgen Klopp — 7 — It took him a while to figure out United’s back three, but all three of his subs were influential in the point.

Subs:
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (On 60′) — 8 — The original AOC changed the game.
Adam Lallana (On 71′) — 8 — That’s a great way to end a goal drought
Naby Keita (On 82′) — 7 — Got the defense moving, setting up space for Robertson assist.

Key battles for Manchester United v. Liverpool

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The fact that that question is unquestionably valid, the visiting Reds a heavy favorite at the home of their longtime rival, says a lot, doesn’t it?

[ PL PREVIEW: Man Utd v. Liverpool ]

Let’s start with two 1v1 jobs and end with a battle that only involves two men and their bodies.

Can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spring a midfield surprise to level tilted pitch

Make no mistake about it: Whatever midfield Jurgen Klopp trots onto the field at Old Trafford will be far superior to the one on the other side.

Manchester United boss Solskjaer was pretty optimistic when he pointed to this match as the “perfect” one to follow the Red Devils setback against Newcastle United, which seems bonkers but could serve as a proper showcase of why the club continues to back its former star striker.

So how will Solskjaer attempt to outfox the Reds without Paul Pogba as a midfield different maker? It seems likely we’ll see hard men at their hardest and most ornery in the forms of Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic, although Fred has seen plenty of playing time as of late.

Solskjaer might be best served by sitting back and trying to counter, but that doesn’t really vibe with Solskjaer’s overall “We’re Manchester United” mentality. So presuming we won’t see five at the back, it’s paramount that the boss finds a way to outduel (probably) three of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, and Georginio Wijnaldum.

It kinda recalls “The Dark Knight” when the Wayne Enterprises lawyer tries to blackmail the company via its bankrolling of Batman. Picture Morgan Freeman offering a smirking, “Good luck.”

Maguire hopes to defy his history versus Liverpool

Harry Maguire has a quality record against many teams, but Liverpool is not one of them.

The now-Red Devils’ center back managed a goal in Leicester City’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool last season, but that point was the first he’s won against Liverpool dating back to his time with Hull City. Maguire is 1W-1D-4L all-time against the Reds.

Maguire has seen Liverpool score eight goals in its last four matches against him, all while a member of Leicester, and the scorers are familiar: Salah (3), Mane (2),  Firmino (1), Jordan Henderson (1), Philippe Coutinho (1).

With the midfield mismatched in heavy favor of Liverpool, Maguire and Victor Lindelof will need to produce one of their finest displays.

Anthony Martial and Aaron Wan-Bissaka versus their fitness

With Paul Pogba and David De Gea out of the lineup, there’s no question that extra emphasis will be placed on United’s standout players when the ball is kicked on Sunday.

Make no mistake about: Along with Harry Maguire, Martial and Wan-Bissaka have been United’s best players when healthy this season.

Martial scored in United’s first two matches and picked up an assist in the third, where he also picked up a hamstring injury. His ability to make something out of nothing, particularly from distance, is a massive asset against a team as strong defensively as Liverpool. Wan-Bissaka missed his side’s loss at Newcastle United with tonsillitis.

Both would drastically affect which battles we also find key to this match, with their pace and prowess out wide the Red Devils’ most likely avenue to keeping Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson on their toes.

Martial’s return would be especially big. With Marcus Rashford on a terrible run of inconsistency, you don’t know what you’re going to get from the youngster. Martial can only help alleviate the burden.

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.