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Walker: Southgate ‘backbone of this team; man’s a gentleman’

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Oh, the difference 24 months can make.

[ MORE: Deschamps: EURO heartbreak drives France to World Cup final ]

The entire footballing world could infer pretty safely that the vibe surrounding the England camp had changed massively between the time the Three Lions were eliminated from the 2016 European Championship — at the hands of Iceland — and Wednesday, when Gareth Southgate‘s side was defeated by Croatia in the semifinal of the 2018 World Cup.

Following Wednesday’s heartbreaking failure, Kyle Walker, who was in the squad and on the field when the full-time whistle blew and England were effectively embarrassed after losing in such hopeless fashion, spoke passionately of the 180-degree turnaround in terms of belief and support that he has witnessed over two years, and that he felt in the moments immediately following the end of extra time — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was there in France, in the Iceland game, and it was completely different to that. For them to still be singing when we’re seeing friends and families, chanting our names and singing the manager’s name, is completely different. And I think we need to take full credit for that because we’ve changed that.

“I think the football has brought the nation together, people are going to pubs and celebrating, and that’s what football should be about. It’s enjoyable, we all love to play the game and fans love to support it. So it’s hats off to us. It’s unlucky we couldn’t bring it home for them, but hopefully there’s time in the future.”

“There’s nothing better, when people are writing you off and saying, ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt,’ slagging people off, it’s kind of saying: ‘Well, there you go, have that back at you.’ But we do it for ourselves as well.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am to share the dressing room with these players. We’ve all grown up watching England, and to represent your country at a semifinal of a World Cup, there’s no better feeling.”

[ MORE: Mourinho: England needs to keep coaches for next World Cup ]

As for Southgate, to hear Walker tell it, there’s not a single person in the locker room that wouldn’t run through a brick wall for him.

“The man’s a gentleman. That’s the best way to describe him. He’s been in our shoes. He relates to us massively. He knows what to say at the right time. And he makes you feel like you’re the best player in the world. He gives you that confidence, and I think that he needs to take the most credit out of everyone of us.

“We’re the guys who are running on the pitch, but he’s the backbone of this team. He’s made sure that everyone has stuck together through good and bad moments, and made sure our feet stayed on the floor. I can’t put into words how much credit he deserves for this.

And to think, Southgate only wound up in the job — one he pretty openly and firmly stated he didn’t want — because Sam Allardyce incriminated himself in a newspaper sting operation after 67 days on the job.

Southgate was the England U-21 manager at the time. Fast-forward 22 months, and he’s a near-lock to receive a four-year contract and be tasked with leading his country through the upcoming EURO and World Cup cycles.

Southgate asks media to “help the team” after lineup leak

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England management is unhappy with the media after a coach was snapped with the proposed lineup for Saturday’s match against Panama.

Assistant manager Steve Holland was photographed holding a teamsheet that appeared to show a pair of changes in the England attack, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek replacing Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford partnering with Harry Kane up front. While Southgate attempted to play down the leak, stating the piece of paper was “just a squad list” and “the next sheet has different players in different positions,” he was also clearly frustrated with the media’s decision to run the photos.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“Obviously any time, if we were to give the opposition the opportunity of having our team it’s a disadvantage to us,” Southgate said in his pre-match press conference. “So of course our media has to decide whether they want to help the team or not.

The teamsheet showed no changes to the defense, with the team playing a three-center-back system as Kyle Walker continues his role along that back line. Kieran Trippier stays in at wing-back opposite Ashley Young, with Jordan Henderson sitting in the midfield between them. Jesse Lingard retains his place in the attack centrally with help from the addition of Loftus-Cheek, and the pair of strikers ahead of them.

Walker was also asked about the leak, and he said Holland apologized to the team, even if they felt it was unnecessary. “He’s apologised to us all in training, which we had a bit of banter with him about, and that was it.”

“I think if you guys try to keep it to yourself and don’t bring it out to the world,” Walker added, “because it’s not going to help us come the later stages of the tournament, please God we get there. All the rest of the world’s seen our team now, if that is the team or if not. As I say, you guys have to do your little bit, so if you could just please help us with that it would be polite.”

Walker hopes young England squad proves more “streetwise”

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Kyle Walker, who finds himself one of England’s youthful elder statesman ahead of next month’s World Cup, believes Gareth Southgate‘s 23-man squad has a “different vibe” around it and hopes that vibe will aid in galvanizing the Three Lions when they arrive in Russia.

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

Iterations past, as Walker sees it, lacked a certain “streetwise” sense about them; not that they weren’t always a hard-working bunch, but that they lacked the understanding to play smarter, not harder, in certain moments.

Walker, who missed out on the 2014 World Cup due to an injury suffered not long before the tournament in Brazil, feels he’s matured a great deal during his first 12 months at Manchester City, under Pep Guardiola, and he’s ready to impart some of that wisdom on the rest of the squad, with the help of a few of his Man City teammates — quotes from the Guardian:

“The whole vibe around England now is completely different. It is a younger set of players and we are taking huge steps in the right direction but we still probably need to get more streetwise.

“English footballers are honest, they will run for 90-odd minutes, but that is not always what you need. Sometimes you need to rein back a bit and try and control the game with your passing.

“When we come up against Belgium, say, it could be a deciding game but we need to realize that we don’t have to score in the first 10 minutes. If you can control the game you can wait until the 80th minute or longer if necessary. I’m trying to bring that calmness from Manchester City, and so is John [Stones].

“I’ve adapted my own game a bit since changing club. I stay back a bit more. When I was at Tottenham the fans wanted attack, attack, attack but, if you send too many bodies forward, you are liable for the counter. With England we are working in training on controlling situations a little better. If we can make it work on the pitch we will hopefully have a good tournament.”

[ UCL FINAL: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Whether or not Walker plays right back — where he’s spent the majority of his career — or on the right side of a back-three, he’ll be second-most senior member of a defensive unity which is nearly untested in major tournaments.

Of the nine defenders chosen in the squad, only Gary Cahill (58 – the only player over 40) and Walker have made more than 30 appearances for England. Of the 23 players chosen throughout the entire squad, the average number of caps won is 19.5.

PST’s Top Ten Premier League defenders and goalkeepers

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ProSoccerTalk quizzed its staff on the best players of the 2017-18 Premier League season, broken up into eight categories.

Goalkeepers, left backs, center backs, right backs, center mids, attacking mids, wingers, and center forwards/strikers were slotted 1-10 (with wing backs lumped in with the fullbacks).

[ MORE: The Premier League season in statistics ]

In this first of two posts, we handle the goalkeepers and backs. First-place votes are in parenthesis.

Goalkeeper

10. Mat Ryan, Brighton and Hove Albion

9. Kasper Schmeichel, Leicester City

8. Martin Dubravka, Newcastle United

7. Jack Butland, Stoke City

6. Jordan Pickford, Everton

5. Hugo Lloris, Tottenham Hotspur

4. Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea

3. Nick Pope, Burnley

2. Ederson, Manchester City (1)

  1. David De Gea, Manchester United (3)
(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Left backs/left wing backs

10. Patrick Van Aanholt, Crystal Palace

9. Charlie Daniels, Bournemouth

8. Leighton Baines, Everton

7. Ryan Bertrand, Southampton

6. Nacho Monreal, Arsenal

5. Andy Robertson, Liverpool

4. Fabian Delph, Manchester City

3. Ben Davies, Tottenham Hotspur

2. Marcos Alonso, Chelsea (2)

  1. Ashley Young, Manchester United (2)
(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Right backs / right wing backs

10. Seamus Coleman, Everton

9. DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle United

8. Hector Bellerin, Arsenal

7. Matthew Lowton, Burnley

6. Cedric Soares, Southampton

5. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool

4. Victor Moses, Chelsea

3. Kieran Trippier, Tottenham Hotspur

2. Antonio Valencia, Manchester United (1)

  1. Kyle Walker, Manchester City (3)
(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Center backs

10. Jamaal Lascelles, Newcastle United

9. Vincent Kompany, Manchester City

8. Lewis Dunk, Brighton and Hove Albion

7. Harry Maguire, Leicester City

6. Toby Alderweireld, Tottenham Hotspur

5. Nicolas Otamendi, Manchester City

4. Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea

3. Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool

2. James Tarkowski, Burnley

  1. Jan Vertonghen, Tottenham Hotspur (4)

Walker: England need a “miracle” to win World Cup

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There’s nothing quite like positive thinking…

Then again, this is the English national team we are talking about.

[ MORE: England to host USMNT ]

With Gareth Southgate‘s side once again waltzing through qualification to a major tournament, it appears the Three Lions squad are keeping their feet firmly on the ground despite a growing sense that they could be a darkhorse at the 2018 World Cup this summer.

Manchester City and England right back Kyle Walker is having none of that.

Walker spoke to TalkSport on Wednesday and had this to say when asked about England’s chances at the World Cup in Russia.

“I hope we can go as far as we can go, but we need to be realistic. To win the World Cup is going to be a miracle, but we have got the players to do it,” Walker said. “A lot of us play in probably the best league in the world. We’ve got the players to do it, but have we got the experience going further along in competitions? No we haven’t. Not in recent years. We need to be realistic. There are a lot of good teams out there and our record in tournaments has not been fantastic.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations inside the camp – England haven’t won a knockout game for God knows how many years, so for us to go there and win a knockout game, that would be a step in the right direction.”

Tell it how it is, Kyle…

Seriously, where are we with this England team? It feels like in the past few tournaments they’ve gone from potential semifinalists (EURO 2012), to shambles (2014 World Cup) to darkhorses (pre-EURO 2016) and then back to shambles (post-EURO 2016).

And so the cycle continues.

England has a squad of hugely talented players and it does appear that Southgate is picking horses for courses in a fluid 3-4-3 formation, rather than simply selecting the biggest names and upsetting the balance of the team. That was the problem with several England managers in the past but now they have a balance and they are tough to break down with Walker converted to a right-sided center back and a squad of players who are dynamic in attack and comfortable on the ball, even if their goalkeeping issue is yet to be resolved.

Walker has this spot on. England need to first get out of their group which includes Belgium, Tunisia and Panama and that should be doable with the Three Lions facing Belgium in their final Group G game. Then it’s all about the knockout rounds and, like France in the 2014 World Cup, reaching the quarterfinals with a young, hungry side would be seen as success and a significant step in the right direction.

Walker and his teammates will have to deal with growing expectation, and pressure, if England get out of their group and win their Round of 16 game, but it seems like they’re comfortable with flying under the radar which is in stark contrast to the levels of expectation at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

You can’t class England as an underdog due to the talent at Southgate’s disposal