EPL Best XI – Aubameyang and Lacazette lead the way

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Unbeaten Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool are only separated by goal difference at the top of the Premier League table after Week 8 of the 2018-19 season. Let’s take a look at which players made our Best XI of the weekend…

GK: Hugo Lloris, Tottenham – seven points
Hugo Lloris started his first Premier League game since August as Tottenham narrowly defeated Cardiff 1-0 on Saturday. The Frenchman earned seven points in the match — no other goalkeeper picked up more over the weekend.

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EPL Player to watch – Harry Kane (Tottenham)

kane8The Premier League ends a seemingly endless summer of waiting this weekend when it returns to action, and with football up and down the country fans are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of another nine months or so of constant matches, stories and controversies. OK, so there has been a World Cup since last season concluded back in May – and what a time to be an England fan – but one of the Three Lions’ key players will set out to end one of the most bizarre existing curses in the English top-flight. Despite scoring a whopping 52 goals in 59 games for club and country last season – a truly exhausting campaign with little respite – Harry Kane will be desperate to find the net against Newcastle in Spurs’ opener.

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Oliver Skipp to break into Tottenham first team this season?

skippFollowing on from Harry Kane‘s success at this summer’s World Cup, while namesake Harry Winks continues to impress domestically there have been rumblings that English football could be ready for the next big breakthrough to emerge from Tottenham’s youth academy. The identity of that player could well be none other than Oliver Skipp, a 17-year-old Hertfordshire-born talent who is thought of very highly in the corridors at Wembley. Skipp has been starring for Tottenham’s U23 side over the last year, and has represented England at U16, U17 and U18 levels. With no first team experience to his name just yet it still seems a gamble to claim he will be a breakout star this season, but Tottenham’s success (or lack thereof) so far in this summer’s transfer market bode well for him.

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Maradona apologises over England “robbery” rant

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Legendary Argentina striker Diego Maradona has apologised for claiming that England committed “monumental robbery” in their World Cup last-16 tie with Colombia on Tuesday evening. The former Napoli star was incensed that American referee Mark Geiger had apparently shown a bias towards England, punishing Colombia more often than the Three Lions. Speaking on a nightly World Cup show on Venezuela-based Telesur, Maradona had said: “Here’s a gentleman who decides, a referee who, if you Google him, shouldn’t be given a match of this magnitude… Geiger, an American, what a coincidence.”

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Gareth Southgate’s big call – Eric Dier or Jordan Henderson?

Generally speaking, Gareth Southgate made good use of the two friendly fixtures he scheduled in the build-up to this summer’s World Cup. England took on Nigeria at Wembley before travelling north to host Costa Rica at Elland Road last week, with the Three Lions registering wins in both matches.

The England manager tested out options in goals, with also giving both Danny Rose and Ashley Young an opportunity to stake a claim at left wing back. Southgate will pick between the two for the opening World Cup group game against Tunisia on June 18, with many now of the opinion that Rose has the edge.

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At the back, Southgate has also experimented over the past few weeks and months, but there is a consensus that the back three will consist of Harry Maguire, John Stones and Kyle Walker. Walker might be a natural right back, but this way Southgate can fit both the Manchester City defender and Kieran Trippier into the same side.

In attack, Harry Kane will lead the line, with Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling all useful options as supporting attackers. It’s not yet known who will start against Tunisia, but all four will surely be utilised throughout the tournament. There may be some rotation.

It’s in central midfield where Southgate is left with his one, last dilemma – Eric Dier or Jordan Henderson. The England manager has made clear that only one of the two will play from the start, pitting the Spurs and Liverpool midfielders directly against each other. The dynamic would have been even more interesting had Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stayed fit to make the flight to Russia.

Henderson has been handed the vice-captaincy for the World Cup this summer, which ordinarily would suggest that he will be given the nod by Southgate. But recent reports claim Dier will in fact be favoured. It’s easy to see why Southgate might prefer to play the Spurs man over Henderson.

England boast a lightning fast attack. They might be one of the quickest teams at this summer’s World Cup and Southgate looks ready to make the most of that quality, if the friendlies against Nigeria and Costa Rica are anything to go by. This approach means Dier would be the better option at the base of the midfield.

Dier is the more defensively adept of the pair, as demonstrated by the fact that he can fill in at centre back. While Henderson is more of a natural number eight, Dier is a number six. He will provide balance to this England team, holding things together while more attacking talents, like Alli, Lingard and Sterling, bomb on into the final third.

Henderson’s game has developed significantly over the past season. As shown by Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final, he is capable of competing at the top of the game. But Dier might be a more natural fit to start in the centre for this England team. This call could come to define England’s World Cup.

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Game of the Week – Newport County 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur

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With a distinct lack of Premier League football this past weekend thanks to the fourth round of the FA Cup taking place, it is only natural to look at that competition to fill in as this week’s “Game of the Week”.

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VIDEO: Sanchez speculation amid ‘the worst’ Arsenal team

The Premier LeagueLa Liga and Serie A are all back up and running this weekend so to talk you through some of the news and fixtures from across the three leagues, Nicholas Carroll provides this week’s Euro Fantasy League preview.

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EPL Weekend Picks – Week 23

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With the return of the English Premier League after a brief hiatus for FA Cup action, it’s now time to look ahead to this weekend’s fixtures and find 11 players worth keeping an eye on. Continue reading

English Stars Continue to Shine in Build-Up to Euro ‘16

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There has long been an argument in English football that the influx of international stars to the Premier League has harmed the potential for success of the national team. This is codswallop – as we will discuss later in this piece, but the good news for these naysayers is that domestic talents are shining brighter than ever at the moment.

Eleven of the twenty two players that started the Everton vs Spurs battle on Sunday were English, while five of Crystal Palace’s starting eleven against Chelsea were from domestic shores.

Andy Carroll gave a timely reminder of his talents as he netted for West Ham in their 2-0 win over Liverpool in a match where Aaron Cresswell again caught the eye for the Hammers with a stylish display, while even Arsenal – perhaps the most continental of all Premier League teams – started with Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and introduced Kieran Gibbs late on.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Wayne Rooney reminded us all of just how good he can be with a fantastic winner for Manchester United against Swansea (a game in which Ashley Young was voted man of the match), while Norwich had stopper Declan Rudd to thank for a number of fine saves in their 1-0 triumph over Southampton. Even Jermain Defoe, a multi-capped player for his country, bagged a brace for Sunderland as they overcame Aston Villa.

So what is the point to all this? Well, the good news for England fans is that their country’s key players are performing week in, week out in one of Europe’s toughest leagues. This stands them in good stead heading into the European Championships in the summer, and perhaps dispels the myth that ‘foreigners’ are taking over the domestic game.

Think about it: the reason that these Englishmen took to the field at the weekend is because they are good enough to do so. There is no favouritism, no hometown bias in football; if you’re good enough you will play. It is this crucial tenet that is often forgotten by armchair pundits clamouring for quotas of international players in the Premier League.

Take a look at Barcelona, for example. The core of their team is South American (Bravo, Alves, Mascherano, Neymar, Suarez and Messi), with the reason being that these players can generally be picked up cheaper when purchased from their domestic clubs and because they are well suited to the Spanish climate. And yet Spain continues to thrive in international competitions.

Only four of Bayern’s starting eleven in their 1-0 win over Hannover 96 were German; and yet they continue to dominate World Cups and European Championships. The notion that an absence of natives in a country’s top club sides affects them internationally is hokum; it s often that the players in question simply aren’t good enough.

The good news for England fans is that their domestic talent is enjoying something of a purple patch at the moment. Exciting times indeed.

Could Calum Chambers shine for Arsenal as a holding midfielder?

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger recently admitted he’s considering giving out-of-favour defender Calum Chambers more game time in the midfield following an injury crisis in the side this season, adding that the England international was experienced in the role from his time with former club Southampton. Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino enjoyed success converting Eric Dier from a defender into an effective holding-midfielder this campaign, and it seems his French counterpart has similar plans for Chambers.

The 20-year-old has hardly featured for the Gunners this season, amassing just 141 minutes of Premier League football, but could present Wenger with a solution to the growing injury list. Francis Coquelin has been ruled out of action for 12 weeks, while Mikel Arteta has a calf injury keeping him out the team for their next handful of matches. Mathieu Flamini is in the frame to deputise, but Chambers might be providing competition in the coming weeks.

“Calum Chambers has been educated as a central midfielder. He has a big stature, good technique, good vision as well. He has played in defensive positions so I think he can develop in the future in a position like defensive midfield. It is very important to balance our team, so the defensive role and the efficiency in this position is very important, because we are a team who like to go forward. All teams needs a strong, reliable player in every defensive aspect,” said Arsene Wenger.

Tottenham’s Eric Dier has undergone such a transformation very successfully this season, and his form in the midfield has even led to him representing England recently. The 21-year-old was a right-back for Spurs who was regarded as a very able footballer in possession, and has since shown a new side of his game that now sees him as an effective combative central midfielder. Chambers could find himself in a similar situation for Arsenal.

The Gunners are very short in midfield, with Flamini and Cazorla the only viable partnership ahead of this weekend’s Premier League clash with Norwich City. Aaron Ramsey is not quite match fit, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is only recently returning, so converting Chambers to a midfielder is the only option short of spending that Wenger really has. He’s shown himself to be an excellent ball player, comfortable in possession, and with great tactical awareness.

The Londoners don’t have many combative players in the team, and it’s an area many believe will see Arsenal really challenge for the league title. So could Calum Chambers become an effective midfielder for Arsenal?