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England thrash Montenegro, qualify for Euro 2020

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The future has arguably never been brighter for the England National Team.

The Three Lions absolutely mauled it’s opposition, Montenegro, 7-0, on Thursday evening at Wembley Stadium. With the win, England officially qualified for Euro 2020 next summer, though that outcome never seemed in doubt, even from the start of qualifying matches in March.

England captain Harry Kane finished with a hat-trick, but it was Kane’s teammates that provided the bright spots for manager Gareth Southgate on a night where he played a very youthful side.

22-year-old Ben Chilwell finished with three assists, 22-year-old Tammy Abraham scores his first England goal, and 20-year-old midfielder Mason Mount started and looked very strong as an attacking midfielder. 18-year-old Jadon Sancho was bright too and 21-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold has clearly locked down the right back spot over Kieran Trippier.

Of course, the opposition quality of Montenegro, or other group stage opponents – Kosovo, Bulgaria – isn’t great. But England isn’t just beating the teams it’s supposed to beat these days, it’s absolutely pummeling them.

Playing in a fast, high-tempo style with links to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, England has scored an incredible 33 goals in qualifying through seven games. The Three Lions have scored five goals or more on five occasions, and the one win they had under five goals? A 4-0 win over Bulgaria at home.

Its a long, long time in soccer terms between now and June 12, the start of Euro 2020. Plenty can go wrong between now and then, (injuries, poor form, end of season exhaustion) and Southgate will have a very difficult job on his hands settling on a final squad of 23-players.

But if this qualifying tournament has shown us anything, it’s that England has a set style of play, it will play it at home and on the road, and against any other team it faces. And that alone is reason for excitement as England fans wait with baited breath for the start of the next Euros, where England will surely get home games at Wembley.

Southgate admits Sterling is unhappy with punishment

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England boss Gareth Southgate has admitted that Raheem Sterling is far from happy about his punishment for attacking Joe Gomez at England’s training base on Monday.

Sterling, 24, has been left out of England’s EURO 2020 qualifier against Montenegro at Wembley on Thursday after he confronted Liverpool defender Joe Gomez in the players’ canteen, and they had to be separated after Sterling tried to grab Gomez around the neck.

Southgate decided to keep Sterling in the squad and let him train with the rest of the England team, but has punished the Man City winger by making him unavailable for the game on Thursday.

“I wouldn’t imagine that he’s hugely enthusiastic. But I can understand that and in the end he’s with the group,” Southgate said. “He’s a massive part of what we do. He’s with us for the game tomorrow, he’s back with the team on the training pitch enjoying his football. He trained superbly well, as he always does. The thing is finished.”

Southgate added that Sterling will play in England’s final EURO 2020 qualifier at Kosovo on Sunday, with the Three Lions needing just a point from their final two qualifiers to qualify for the tournament.

The punishment for Sterling has divided opinion, with some believing Southgate’s strong stance was warranted as he continues to unify the Three Lions squad but others believe the incident should have been kept in-house.

A bust-up between Sterling and Gomez following the heated battle between Liverpool and Man City 24 hours previous was always going to be leaked out somehow. Southgate seized control of the situation and Sterling was made an example of.

England’s players now know that any squabbling about games they play against one another for their respective clubs is not allowed.

Sterling’s name has been in the news for the wrong reasons once again, but after he attacked a teammate in the England players’ canteen and has since apologized and accepted he was wrong, he can have no complaints.

Southgate on Sterling punishment: ‘We are like a family’

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Gareth Southgate called an impromptu press conference at England’s St. George’s Park training base on Tuesday to discuss one thing.

Raheem Sterling v. Joe Gomez.

[ MORE: Sterling issues public apology ]

According to multiple reports, on Monday the Man City winger was sat in the players’ canteen at England’s training base when Gomez, the first of several Liverpool players to arrive, walked in and was laughing. Sterling then reportedly said “you’re the big man now are you?” and confronted Gomez, trying to grab him around the neck as the two were separated.

This all came after Sterling clashed with Gomez in Liverpool’s 3-1 win over City at Anfield on Sunday, as the England winger was booed heavily by the home fans and also clashed with England teammates Jordan Henderson and Trent-Alexander Arnold during the game.

After a tumultuous 24 hours, Southgate kept calm as he discussed why he had decided to punish Sterling by making him unavailable for the EURO 2020 qualifier against Montenegro on Thursday.

“I love all of my players. We are like a family. The important thing is for a family to communicate and work through problems,” Southgate said. “I don’t expect as a manager to not have to deal with issues. In the end I have to find the right solution for the group. That’s a difficult line, you try to be fair when dealing with all players. I won’t always get that right but I am the manager. Raheem is very important for us but I felt it was the right thing.”

Southgate has been criticized by the likes of Rio Ferdinand and other ex-England players for making the spat public, but others believe he has handled it well and sent a clear message out to the rest of his squad.

Sterling is England’s best player, on current form, so leaving him out is a big call for Southgate. England’s manager is a big fan of Sterling and has praised his ability on the pitch and his maturity off it in recent months.

But Sterling was wrong to go at Gomez and he has since admitted it on social media.

Southgate wanted to nip this in the bud and he is in full control of the situation. What damage this incident, and the way he reacted, does in the long-term remains to be seen. But Southgate is a man who sticks to his principles and he doesn’t want England’s players going at each other due to club matters.

If he sent out a weak message following Sterling’s actions it would have told the rest of the squad it was fine for them to act in a similar manner.

Sterling out of England squad after Gomez bust-up

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Raheem Sterling will be left out of the England squad versus Montenegro after a bust-up with teammate Joe Gomez.

Sterling went head-to-head with the Liverpool center back on Sunday in City’s 3-1 loss to the Reds at Anfield, and couldn’t leave the tension with his club.

The Daily Mail’s Matt Hughes and Sami Mokbel report that Sterling tried to grab Gomez by the neck at St George’s Park on Monday.

[ MORE: Liverpool 3-1 Man City ]

Ex-Liverpool winger Sterling played physical on Sunday and was confrontational on plenty of occasions, too, including a heated exchange with Gomez late in the contest.

England boss Gareth Southgate said the move comes “with the agreement of the entire squad.” Man City center back John Stones is on the Three Lions roster.

From The Daily Mail:

Sterling was sat down in the canteen when Gomez arrived and leant over from behind to shake his hand, leading him to attempt to grab his team-mate by the neck. The rest of the England players initially thought Sterling was joking, but it soon became clear that he had lost control and the pair were separated. The incident was particularly surprising to the other Liverpool players present as Sterling and Gomez had made the peace following the game at Anfield with an embrace following the final whistle.

Wild stuff, and a bad look for Sterling. He’s been England’s best player for some time, and the club is on the verge of qualifying for EURO 2020 but hasn’t achieved that goal yet.

England hosts Montenegro on Thursday and visits Kosovo on Sunday.

Where does this leave Sterling in the England set-up? He’s one of the best attackers in the world, but Southgate runs a tight ship and the Three Lions will likely qualify without him (and there are plenty of English wingers who will queue up for the job). He’ll get another chance almost surely, maybe even on Sunday, but there’s a slippery slope.

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.