Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 10

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Layla Anna-Lee has a new show and, well, it’s unbiased. At least occasionally…

In the 10th episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, Layla Anna-Lee talks Paul Pogba‘s hairstyles, Harry Maguire‘s tattoo promise, the 2018 World Cup Final, and much more.

[ MORE: World Cup final tactical preview ]

Click play on the video above to watch the ninth episode in full.

England, Belgium still have something to give World Cup fans

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These teams are not favorites, they are not marquee names, and they are not giants. Therefore, as Saturday’s much criticized third-place match comes our way, two dejected teams meet in a meaningless match still with something to earn, something to gain, something to work for.

At its core, the third-place match is utterly pointless. Two teams who saw their chance at glory derailed just days earlier are trudged back out onto the pitch to play for a shadow trophy, something with hollow meaning and provides little consolation for players who are still in the process of moving on from the heart-wrenching result days before.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

However, given pre-tournament expectations, these teams can still be happy to have reached this point, and could find motivation in leaving on a high note, especially given the alternative of capping such a promising showing in Russia with a pair of losses.

England, especially, will have plenty to prove. The Three Lions’ performance in Russia has been hailed as a smashing success despite falling just short to Cinderella story Croatia in the semifinals, and Gareth Southgate can put a feather in his cap by taking down one of the strongest rosters in the field. While they won’t publicly admit it, many of the England players will also hope to strengthen their cases for individual awards, with Harry Kane hoping to secure the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer, while Kane, Jesse Lingard, Harry Maguire, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, and Jordan Henderson all have a shot at earning a place on the World Cup Best XI. Finally, they will also be looking to avenge their group stage loss to the Red Devils in a game that had little meaning to either side.

[ MORE: Pre-Final PST World Cup roundtable ]

Gareth Southgate himself has some growing to do as well, and this match presents the perfect opportunity. He was out-managed in the semifinal against Croatia, failing to adjust while his midfield was stretched by great full-back play from the opposition. Against a star-studded Belgian squad, Southgate can prove he is no newbie, and has a fantastic chance to right the ship and earn player trust on the tactics board. Winning this match would give the players, the fans, and most importantly the front office confidence that Southgate’s success in the 2018 World Cup was more than a flash in the pan, and that he is ultimately the right man for the job not just in the immediate future but long-term through the next World Cup cycle.

For Belgium, Roberto Martinez will hope to find a silver lining in a tournament full of what-ifs. Belgium was not listed among the Brazil, Germany, France favorites contingent, but did find itself just beneath that upper echelon of giants, a roster bursting with Golden Generation talent. While a trophy won’t be hoisted, Martinez can prove to the world that this tournament was not wasted, and coming so close was a performance worthy of praise. Like the English, there are Belgian players who have something to prove on an individual basis. While the Golden Ball will likely be awarded to a player in the France Croatia final, players like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, and Thomas Meunier could be part of the tournament’s Best XI, while Thibaut Courtois has a serious chance at earning the Golden Glove as the best goalkeeper in the field.

[ MORE: PST’s World Cup Best XI ]

Four years is an eternity in this realm of soccer, and while that’s how long these players will have to wait at true redemption, a win on Saturday provides them with a way of coping with the disappointment, an avenue to channel that frustration and morph some of it into appreciation for the opportunity they received and the achievement they attained, even if the ultimate goal failed to fully manifest. Both these sides have germinated strong futures thanks to the results over the last four weeks, and they have taken the next step in becoming a force both on the European and World stage.

So while the third-place match will continue to be the butt of jokes all over the world – most of them warranted – there is still something left to earn, something left on the line in Moscow on Saturday. It won’t have nearly the audience that Sunday will draw, and that will be understandable.

Projected World Cup final lineups

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With less than 48 hours to go until the 2018 World Cup final, the focus is switching to who will line up for France and Croatia in Moscow with the biggest prize in world soccer on the line.

[ MORE: Key battles in WC final ]

Both Didier Deschamps and Zlatko Dalic have fielded very settled teams throughout this competition and after gruelling runs to the final, both look set to leave their teams as settled as possible. Dalic will go with his “golden generation” as they’re almost at the end of their international careers, while Deschamps will put faith in his young squad to get them over the line.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Croatia have a few more injury problems than France with Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Strinic coming off in the semifinal win against England with knocks, while Blaise Matuidi is expected to recover.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Below we project the starting lineup for both teams and provide some analysis as to why Messrs Deschamps and Dalic will choose these 11 players.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App. 


France (4-3-2-1 formation)

—– Lloris —–

—- Pavard —- Varane —- Umtiti —- Lucas —-

—- Pogba —- Kante —- Matuidi —-

—– Griezmann —– Mbappe —–

—– Giroud —–

France have a very settled back four as young full backs Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez have been revelations at this tournament, plus Hugo Lloris is well and truly back to his best. The midfield trio picks itself, as long as Matudi is fit, as Tolisso is ready to come in if the PSG midfielder doesn’t recover from his knock against Belgium. Up top Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann will look to wreck havoc underneath targetman Olivier Giroud, with Ousmane Dembele ready to come off the bench when needed.


Croatia (4-3-3 formation)

—– Subasic —–

—- Vrsaljko —- Lovren —- Vida —- Strinic —-

—- Modric —- Brozovic —- Rakitic —-

—- Rebic —- Mandzukic —- Perisic —-

Following Sime Vrsaljko’s incredible recovery from injury to face England, Dalic’s two main injury concerns are Mandzukic and Strinic who both limped off in the semifinal. Lovren and Vida have been solid at center back, while the midfield has stolen the show for Croatia. Yes, we all know and love Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic for their silky passing and incredible workrate (Modric has covered 63 km during the tournament, more than any other player) but Marcelo Brozovic has been brilliant in winning the ball back and feeding his midfield partners. Up top Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic have worked tirelessly out wide and Mandzukic should be fit to lead the line after his game-winner against England. If he isn’t, expect Andrej Kramaric to come in with the Hoffenheim forward a handy attacking option off the bench too.

2018 World Cup – Best XI’s

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There have been some sensational individual displays throughout the 2018 World Cup, with a mixture of young stars arriving on the big stage and experienced pros leading the way.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

With that in mind, and given the fact that there are only two games remaining in the tournament (deep sigh), we asked our writers to select their best XI’s of the tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Below you will see our selections of the players who shone brightest in Russia,

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


Joe Prince-Wright (3-4-3 formation)
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris
Defenders: Benjamin Pavard, Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane
Midfielders: Kevin De Bruyne, Luka Modric, N'Golo Kante, Ivan Perisic
Strikers: Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane, Kylian Mbappe


Nick Mendola (3-4-3 formation)
Goalkeeper: Igor Akinfeev
Defenders: Harry Maguire, Andreas Grandqvist, Domagoj Vida
Midfielders: Paul Pogba, Luka Modric, N’Golo Kante, Eden Hazard
Forwards: Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane, Kylian Mbappe


Kyle Bonn (4-3-3 formation)
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois
Defenders: Mario Fernandes, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Lucas Hernandez
Midfielders: Luka Modric, N’Golo Kante, Kevin De Bruyne
Forwards: Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Kylian Mbappe


Daniel Karell (3-4-3 Formation)
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris
Defenders: Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane, Domagoj Vida
Midfielders: Kieran Trippier, Luka Modric, N’Golo Kante, Ivan Rakitic
Forwards: Kylian Mbappe, Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku

Mahrez, Man City share No. 1 goal: Win Champions League

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After winning the Premier League in historically dominant fashion last season — Pep Guardiola‘s second at the club — every new signing Manchester City make from here on out will be made, and judged, with one goal in mind: winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Southgate “the backbone of this team; the man’s a gentleman” ]

Guardiola and Co., won’t be splashing out $80 million for a player with the lowly intent of consolidating domestic power and merely hanging on to the PL title, Riyad Mahrez, who completed his transfer from Leicester City for that very fee on Tuesday, knows it. It’s why he’s at the club.

Having already led the Foxes to the unlikeliest of PL titles two seasons ago, Mahrez has bigger fish to fry, and his targets are perfectly aligned with those of his new employer — quotes from the BBC and the Guardian:

“The Champions League is for big clubs, they’re a big club, they have everything to try to win it.

“City have ambition to go further than the Champions League quarterfinals like they did last season. I made the decision to come here because I want to be part of that.

“Pep [Guardiola] is a big manager, he’s won a lot of things and made history with this club. I’ll give my best to achieve for the club.”

“I haven’t talked about my precise position with the manager yet, but City wanted me and that means a lot. The price tag doesn’t affect me — fees for players have got very big in the last couple of years. I am very happy to be here and will try to give my best for the club. I thought what City did last year was amazing, it was unbelievable to break all those Premier League records, but I am confident about myself. I want to help this team improve and I believe that is what the manager wants.”

“Players at top clubs always have to face competition for places, it is normal for big clubs to have a lot of great players and City are a big club with a big manager.”

Mahrez is an ideal signing for a side with Man City’s ambitions and embarrassment of mega-bucks talent. Sure, he cost the club $80 million — a club-record fee — and you can say that he won’t get enough games with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, David Silva and Bernardo Silva also in the team, but injuries will inevitably rear their ugly heads, and Mahrez’s presence will make City two-deep at three positions behind strikers Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero.

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

The goal is to win the Champions League while retaining the PL title as an absolute bare minimum expectation. They made it look easy in 2017-18, but their pursuit of all-time records likely played a part in coming up short in European competition. City have an unfair advantage in terms of resources and weapons, but winning a treble (or a quadruple) would amount to a massively unfair achievement.