Kyle Walker

Getty Images

England struck by poor club form in qualifying blip

Leave a comment

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.

Guardiola reacts to Community Shield, Walker on wild clearance

Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Pep Guardiola and Manchester City landed their first bit of silverware with a victory over Liverpool in the Community Shield, outlasting their Premier League title rivals in penalty kicks on Sunday at Wembley Stadium, and quickly turned his eye to defending the league for a second time.

“It was a good test for both teams,” Guardiola said. “It’s nice for the players to realize what they will face this season. At this level the difference is nothing. One penalty, one point. United will be back, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea… I don’t know what will happen.”

[ MORE: Player ratings | Recap ]

The pace of play was frantic, and there could have easily be seven or eight goals between the teams if Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, and Mohamed Salah had their finishing boots.

Sterling did score, early, and Joel Matip‘s late equalizer forced the match to penalty kicks, where Claudio Bravo saved Georginio Wijnaldum‘s effort in the second round.

It was a thriller, even if wasteful, with Kyle Walker making an incredible goal line clearance to keep the shield within reach. He also has the title on his mind.

“I’m a defender, I stop goals,” Walker said. “I’m glad I can help the team out this time. It’s too early to say, there’s a lot of good teams in this league but hopefully we can be up there or thereabouts.”

Guardiola wasn’t too worried about the second half pressure well-applied by the Reds, who probably deserved the win over 90 minutes.

From the BBC:

“An incredible final from both sides, no team can dominate for 90 minutes. We had real good moments, in the last 15 minutes we were exhausted and they had chances to win the game.”

As for the title, neither team was at full strength. Liverpool was without Sadio Mane, while City left Sergio Aguero and Ederson on the bench and also did not have access to Aymeric Laporte.

Walker extends Man City deal; Hummels returns to Dortmund

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Walker has extended his contract at Manchester City until the summer of 2024.

Walker, 29, has signed a two-year contract extension to his current deal at City with the England right back a huge part of their back-to-back Premier League titles wins.

Speaking about his new deal at the Etihad Stadium, Walker was delighted to extend his time playing under Pep Guardiola.

“I’m thrilled to have signed a new deal. Playing for City has been everything I’d hoped it would be and more,” Walker said. “It was an easy decision. I want to be competing for trophies, playing at the highest level, and I feel I have improved hugely as a player during my time here. The Club’s vision – both on and off the pitch – matches mine perfectly and I’m looking forward to spending the new five years here, hopefully winning more silverware.”

Walker has had his critics for some of his defensive work, but there’s no doubt he has improved on the ball under Guardiola and he is now versatile enough to play at center back if needed too.

His power and pace down the right flank gives City an extra option in attack and he has fulfilled his wish of winning trophies following his $63 million transfer from Tottenham in the summer of 2017 with two PL titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup to his name.

Walker has seen off the challenge from Danilo to his right back slot but it is believed City Joao Cancelo will arrive from Juventus this summer to push Walker further at right back. If he does lose his slot to Cancelo he can also play at left back at a push and at center back, so that versatility will be hugely important for Guardiola moving forward.


Everyone says you should never go back, but Mats Hummels has.

The German defender, 30, has returned to Borussia Dortmund after a three-year spell at Bayern Munich, as he heads back to the club where he won back-to-back Bundesliga titles from 2010-12.

Hummels returns to Dortmund on a three-year contract for a transfer fee in the region of $35 million, as that is only $4 million less than Bayern bought him for in 2016. Since then he has won four-straight league titles with Bayern Munich, his boyhood club, but couldn’t help them get any closer to winning the UEFA Champions League title again.

Even though he hasn’t played as well as he would have liked for Bayern and Germany over the past season or so, Hummels is still a very reliable center back and is also capable of playing out of the back. Given Dortmund’s raft of young defenders he could also be key in their development and the fact he left Dortmund in the right way and was a hero in their back-to-back league titles means he will be welcomed back with open arms.

Dortmund have now added Thorgan Hazard, Julian Brandt and Hummels during the offseason as head coach Lucien Favre has also signed a new contract. The second-place Bundesliga team from last season have certainly got their business done early as they look to jump ahead of Bayern who just pipped them to the title in 2018-19.

Hummels’ influence on and off the pitch at the Westfalenstadion will be hugely important for Dortmund.

Sterling, Walker joke about bad misses in hilarious Twitter banter

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker have been both club and international teammates for nearly two years now, since the latter joined Manchester City back in the summer of 2017. That’s plenty of time for the two to build a strong friendship, and often that includes some good-natured banter.

Manchester City topped Leicester City 1-0 on Monday to put the Citizens back in the pole position for the Premier League title with just one game to go, a massive result that has left Pep Guardiola with just one more 90-minute battle to navigate to see this tense title challenge through. Still, the match was nervy until Vincent Kompany‘s absolute belter to win it, as City dominated the second half but found it difficult to break Leicester City down inside the penalty area.

Until Kompany’s thunderous strike, Man City’s finishing left much to be desired, kept out by Kasper Schmeichel on a number of occasions and leaving City fans nervous they would be held to a draw that would see Liverpool take over as title favorites. Once the result was secured and the pressure was lifted, Sterling and Walker had a little fun at each other’s expense, poking fun at each other’s poor finishes earlier in the match. Sterling first retweeted a fan who sent him a Walker shot from distance in the 17th minute that flew miles over the bar. Walker responded with a 52nd minute Sterling header that also found the seats high over the bar, joking that it looked more like a defender sending the ball out for a corner.

Now now fellas, all in good fun.

The two deserve to enjoy themselves after the season and stretch Manchester City has put together. The club has won a stunning 13 matches in a row, without dropped points since late January. Both Sterling and Walker have missed just one match during that stretch, otherwise both proving vital to the side. The two have often combined on the right flank, although recently Sterling has been moved to the left to accommodate Bernardo Silva.

To pile on the jokes, Sterling mentioned Walker’s skied effort on Instagram as well, adding to his Instagram post about Kompany’s winning blast, “And if anyone has updates for the one @kylewalker2 hit in 1st half, please let us know.” Sterling then posted on Twitter that “legend says we still looking for that ball #nowheretobefound.”

Palace eliminates Spurs from FA Cup

AP Photo/Tim Ireland
1 Comment

Tottenham Hotspur’s miserable January continued Sunday with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace in the FA Cup.

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino had targeted cup success and was flummoxed when Chelsea avenged a first leg deficit by knocking the North Londoners out of the League Cup at the semifinal stage at midweek.

[ MORE: Giovinco leaving TFC? ]

Now nine points adrift of leaders Liverpool in the Premier League and facing Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League’s Round of 16, Spurs’ avenues toward a first trophy since the 2008 League Cup.

Having conceded a ninth minute tap-in goal to Connor Wickham and a penalty to Andros Townsend for a handball on Kyle Walker-Peters, Spurs were handed a chance to jump back into the game when Patrick Van Aanholt caught Juan Foyth in the box.

Enter Kieran Trippier and exit music for a wide effort.

Spurs host Watford at 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

Make sure to tune-in for our special Transfer Deadline Day show on NBCSN on Thursday, Jan. 31 from 5 p.m. ET as we focus on all of the moves across the Premier League in the January window. You can stream the show live online right here.