Euro 2020 qualification

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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.

Chelsea youngster Mason Mount set for first England start

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According to a number of reports from England, young Chelsea talent Mason Mount is readying for his first international start as England gets set to face the Czech Republic in Euro 2020 qualification on Friday.

Mount has two international caps to his name, having come off the bench against Bulgaria and Kosovo in the last international break. He will now make his full debut, a well-earned reward for a stellar Premier League season thus far. The 20-year-old has scored four goals and assisted another through the first eight games of the season and has been one of the most positive attacking influences at Stanford Bridge alongside fellow academy graduate Tammy Abraham.

“Nothing I’ve seen surprises me at all,” England manager Gareth Southgate said of Mount’s play during his pre-match press conference on Thursday. “We’ve had him marked as a player from the first time I saw him at St. George’s [Park]. Chelsea would be the same on that, I think, but of course he’s now been able to have the opportunity to play in the Premier League and display that against top teams. I think you saw his penalty in the Super Cup, [that] was a nice cameo of what he’s about, really.”

Mount is the beneficiary of the withdrawal of James Maddison, who departed the England squad due to an illness, still unable to make his international debut. He will start ahead of Chelsea teammate Ross Barkley, whom Mount has supplanted as the starting attacking midfielder at Stamford Bridge. “I don’t think it matters what our starting three is [in attack],” Southgate said at the press conference while discussing the importance of having depth. “Clearly, at the moment Raheem [Sterling] and Harry [Kane], their numbers are incredible and the consistency of their performance is, but the rest can be down to performance at any given time.”

Mount’s 7.40 WhoScored rating so far through the first eight games of the Premier League season puts him in the top 20 of players in the league and third among English talents behind Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling and his Blues teammate Abraham. His 2.1 key passes per game ranks 13th in the league behind high-volume players like Kevin De Bruyne, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Jack Grealish.

The 20-year-old is set to start alongside fellow youngster Jadon Sancho who is reportedly readying for another spot in the lineup after scoring a brace against Kosovo his last time out to mark his first international goals. Sancho also started against the Czech Republic in the reverse fixture back in March, a 5-0 rout that saw him assist Sterling’s 24th minute opener.

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

EURO 2020 qualifying: Portugal edges Serbia, France batters Albania

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With four goals each, France and Portugal were in no need of favors as they comfortable cruised by their opponents in Saturday’s EURO 2020 qualifying action.

[ MORE: EURO qualifying wrap ]


Serbia 2-4 Portugal

The Serbians were no match for the Portuguese.

Portugal, trailing an unbeaten Ukraine in Group B by eight points, were more than ready to cut the deficit on Saturday night in Belgrade. And despite taking 42 minutes to get the engine going, the goals, eventually, poured in.

William Carvalho broke deadlock minutes before halftime, tapping in the ball into the back of net following a lack of chemistry between Serbia’s goalkeeper and defense inside the six-yard box.

Gonçalo Guedes added one of his own to put the visitors up two goals early into the second half. More than twenty minutes later, with Serbia back into the game through a Nikola Milenković goal, Cristiano Ronaldo, as always, made sure to make his presence known.

Goals galore followed shortly, with Aleksandar Mitrovic and Bernando Silva scoring within two minutes.

Portugal, with a lot of ground to make up, now sets its sights on Lithuania, while Serbia travels to Luxembourg.

France 4-1 Albania

Is this the year that Kingsley Coman separates himself from everyone else in the elite category? So far, it’s looking like it and France – like Bayern Munich – are gladly benefiting from it.

With a brace from the winger, France cruised past Albania in Paris.

The 23-year-old scored first in the eight minute, following a sublime back from Raphaël Varane. In the 68th minute, with France up by two, Coman recorded his second of the night.

 

Albania spoiled Hugo Lloris‘ clean sheet following a converted penalty from Sokol Cikalleshiu.

Despite an unbeaten record through five matches, the pressure on France remains intact with Turkey and Iceland, who only trail by goal differentials, as they take on Andorra next. Albania, on the side, host Iceland.

Elsewhere

Kosovo 2-1 Czech Republic
Lithuania 0-3 Ukraine
England 4-0 Bulgaria
Iceland 3-0 Moldova
Scotland 1-2 Russia
Slovenia 2-0 Poland
Turkey 1-0 Andorra

Euro 2020 qualifying: Germany routs Estonia, Belgium knocks off Scotland (video)

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Euro 2020 qualifying wrapped up for the summer on Tuesday, but not before some wild scorelines and impressive results.

Here is a rundown of the top matches:

[READ: USWNT thrashes Thailand in World Cup opener]


Germany 8-0 Estonia

Like Thailand for the U.S. Women’s National Team, Germany had its way on the field against Estonia at the Opel Arena in Mainz, Germany, as Die Manschafft rolled to an 8-0 victory. Estonia’s backline was too easily broken and was too weak to stand up to Germany’s strong attack, which found a way to score from close range time and time again. The match was punctuated with Marco Reus’ terrific free kick in the 37th minute, giving Germany its first five-goal first half since the famous 7-1 over Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semifinals. Leroy Sane late put the finishing touches with a quick strike that took Estonia’s goalkeeper Sergei Lepmets by surprise. Sane’s teammate Ilkay Gundogan also scored, along with a brace from former Arsenal winger Serge Gnabry and a goal each for Timo Werner and Leon Goretzka. With the win, Germany move three points back (with a game in hand) from Northern Ireland, which has remained unbeaten and holds a perfect 4-0 record so far in qualifying.

Belgium 3-0 Scotland

Romelu Lukaku has had a rough season in the Premier League and multiple reports state he could be leaving, but on Tuesday, he showed everyone what he’s capable of. Lukaku scored a brace, the first on a header just before halftime and the second on a rebound off a save by Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall. Lukaku nearly grabbed a third a few minutes later, flashing a strike on his weaker right foot just wide of goal. An abject Scotland side were constantly under pressure on the road and after many near-misses, Kevin De Bruyne fired a low missile home from outside of the box to put the finishing touches on the game. With the win, Belgium move to the top of Group I with 12 points while Scotland, with their second loss of qualifying, sit in fourth place behind Kazakhstan and Russia.

Here are the rest of the results around Europe on Tuesday:

Belarus 0-1 Northern Ireland

Azerbaijan 1-5 Slovakia

Hungary 1-0 Wales

Albania 2-0 Moldova

Andorra 0-4 France

Iceland 2-1 Turkey

Kazakhstan 4-0 San Marino

Russia 1-0 Cyprus

Greece 2-3 Armenia

Italy 2-1 Bosnia and Herzegovina

Liechtenstein 0-2 Finland