Michael Keane

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.

Toffees get Jagielka goal to beat Arsenal

Leave a comment
  • Jagielka scores early
  • Everton moves ninth
  • Toffees out-attempt Gunners 22-7

Phil Jagielka wasn’t even supposed to start yet scored the game’s only goal as Everton beat Arsenal 1-0 at Goodison Park on Sunday.

Everton were the better team on the day and missed several chances to buttress their advantage, but came out on top and move to within a point of seventh.

Arsenal remains fourth with 63 points.

Jordan Pickford recorded his third-straight clean sheet for the Gunners, and first since an off-field altercation.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Only in the lineup because Michael Keane came down with a virus, Jagielka darted onto a loose ball to open the scoring with an 11th minute goal. A long throw was nodded to the back post by Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jagielka poked it home.

Lucas Digne had his foot on the line when he launched the throw, which was not spotted by officials.

The Toffees were better money for the next goal, too, and Gylfi Sigurdsson put a ball into the gloves of Bernd Leno in the 38th minute to give the Toffees five of the game’s six total attempts and the only two on target.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Ramsey volleyed over the cross bar from inside the 18 when Jordan Pickford weakly punched a 48th minute chance to the Welshman.

Leno made a few more prime stops, including chances for Richarlison and Bernard, as the Gunners stayed alive for the point which could take them ahead of rivals Spurs.

Premier League Preview: West Ham United v. Everton

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Irons won 3-1 at Goodison Park
  • 9th, 11th place sides separated by 2 points
  • Everton dominates all-time series 69W-31D-39L

West Ham United and Everton can still rescue European treasure from their disappointing seasons, and will meet Saturday at the London Stadium (Watch live at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The host Irons have won three-straight at home, and can move into seventh place with a win and help from hosts Manchester United versus Watford and desperate Burnley versus Wolves.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Everton can climb over West Ham with an away win on Saturday.

Both sides have been inconsistent, both over long stretches and of course over a single game. Everton rebounded from a loss to Newcastle to blank Chelsea, while West Ham came back from a 3-0 deficit in its last Premier League outing to beat Huddersfield Town 4-3.

What they’re saying

West Ham’s Manuel Pellegrini on winning at home“Fans were enjoying the game, they were all involved, supporting the team and not thinking or talking or acting like what happened last season. [The atmosphere] depends on the performance of the team, that’s why it was so important to win those three games in a row, and now it’s more important to win the fourth game.”

Everton’s Michael Keane on finding his groove“I’ve always had the belief in myself but when things aren’t going well for you on the pitch you sort of lose a bit of confidence. But I’ve always had the belief that I’m good enough to play at Everton. It’s obviously a top-class club and you have to play well week in week out to prove that to the fans and to people at the Club and I think I’ve managed to do that this season.”

Prediction

This is a difficult one to figure, with both teams having a bevy of players coming off international breaks and neither being particularly predictable in the first place. We expect goals, and we’ll call it 2-2.

EURO qualifying: France tops Iceland; England win marred by racism

AP Photo/Michel Euler
1 Comment

England and France made sure their EURO 2020 qualifying stayed on script, completing 6-point starts to the campaign on Monday.

[ MORE: USMNT-Chile preview ]

Montenegro 1-5 England

Sloppy English defending allowed Legia Warsaw man Marko Vesovic to put Montenegro ahead at Podgorica City Stadium, but the Three Lions sound found their footing.

Michael Keane scored his first England goal before Ross Barkley redirected a Callum Hudson-Odoi strike eight minutes later to give Gareth Southgate‘s men a 2-1 lead at the break.

Barkley completed his brace when Montenegro keeper Stefan Savic pushed a clearance of a Raheem Sterling cross back toward the Chelsea man. Harry Kane and Sterling also scored for the Three Lions.

Unfortunately, Danny Rose and several of his black England teammates were targeted by racists.

France 2-0 Iceland

Samuel Umtiti was the surprise goal scorer, heading home a Kylian Mbappe cross as hosts France were only able to break down Iceland on one occasion until the 68th minute.

That’s when Olivier Giroud moved into third place all-time on the French goal scoring list, behind only Michel Platini and Thierry Henry. The Chelsea man was in position to score when goalkeeper Hannes Thor Halldórsson made a mess of Benjamin Pavard’s cross.

Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann would also score in the win.

Giroud has six fewer goals than Platini, and is 16 behind Henry’s 51.

Elsewhere
Portugal 1-1 Serbia — Ronaldo hurt
Kosovo 1-1 Bulgaria
Luxembourg 1-2 Ukraine
Andorra 0-3 Albania
Turkey 4-0 Moldova

Vardy pushes Leicester City past Everton

Leave a comment
  • First PL match of 2019
  • Everton out shoots Foxes 17-8
  • Keane error lets Vardy score
  • One win in eight for Everton

Jamie Vardy‘s second half goal was all Leicester City needed to move past Everton and into seventh place with a 1-0 win at Goodison Park on Tuesday.

Marco Silva‘s seat will be feeling hotter with Everton a possibility to finish the match day in the bottom half of the table. The Toffees have 27 points.

Leicester has 31 points, four back of sixth place Manchester United.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

After a sleepy 45 minutes highlighted by Jonjoe Kenny striking the bar for Everton, the second half at least provided a goal.

A Michael Keane mistake gave the ball away to Ricardo Pereira deep in Everton territory, and Pereira quickly found Jamie Vardy.

Vardy did what he tends to do when given a terrific chance, beating Sergio Rico and celebrating the first Premier League goal of 2019 with an acrobatic celebration.

Keane’s rough day could’ve gotten worse if referee Martin Atkinson had a quick whistle, but was rightly let off the hook when a Leicester header struck his arm later in the frame.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]