How will England adapt to Life without Kane in the Nations League?

Harry Kane has been assured by Gareth Southgate that he will be included in the squad for the concluding matches of the Nations League, despite the Spurs striker being almost certain to be well short of full fitness.

Despite his mooted inclusion in the squad, Southgate may feel unable to risk Kane in the semi-final against the Netherlands on June 6. This could open a door for Marcus Rashford or Raheem Sterling to stake their claim as the Three Lions’ lead man.

Kane will feel that the injury came at the worst possible time, with the small matter of Spurs’ Champions League final. However, the striker should take comfort that a Kane-less Spurs just about managed to cling on to a spot in the top four. Despite their utterly remarkable triumphs over Manchester City and Ajax in the Champions League, Spurs have unsurprisingly looked worse without Kane for the most part. Southgate will hope that the same isn’t true for England.

There’s also another unconventional aspect we’re missing here. Harry Kane’s absence has not only been keenly felt by Mauricio Pochettino, but by a plethora of fantasy sports managers across the world. While they can’t quite match the Champions League in terms of finances or prestige, there are often vast prizes and pride at stake for fantasy football bosses.

Kane’s relentless prolificacy in front of goal (apart from in August, of course) made him the cornerstone of many fantasy football teams. We'll just have to wait and see how that will pan out. Kane’s absence at the business end this season forced managers to rethink their reliance on the Spurs striker. Unfortunately for Southgate, few of the potential replacements in fantasy football sides were English. Most turned to Sergio Aguero or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but Southgate has no such luxury. While there are few all-around strikers of Kane’s calibre, Southgate does have some different forwards options at his disposal.

Given Jamie Vardy’s retirement from internationals, the natural replacement appears to be Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford. His England record of six goals in 31 appearances isn’t impressive at face value, but Rashford’s youth and wider position should be factored in. Four goals in 16 appearances for England in 2018 shows that his scoring record is improving as he matures. Three of those goals took England into the lead, revealing that Rashford has Kane’s knack of scoring crucial goals.

However, Rashford’s season has stagnated with Manchester United’s, and he hardly heads to Portugal in a rich vein of form. Someone whose form hasn’t dropped all season is Raheem Sterling, who Southgate could turn to as a more unconventional lead striker. Vardy ended the season as the leading English scorer in the Premier League, but it was Kane and Sterling who were just one behind on 17.

Sterling has shown beyond doubt that he is one of the world’s finest attackers, one that has the intelligence to operate anywhere in the final third. Given that the Netherlands are likely to line up with Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt in central defence, a forward of Sterling’s style could pose the most problems. The Dutch duo are among the world’s best, but they have both shown a mild vulnerability to nimble forwards in recent Champions League matches.

Van Dijk struggled with Luis Suarez’s movement, while de Ligt was unable to contain Lucas Moura. Sterling could play a similar role to Moura in Kane’s absence. While you want your best players in their best positions, Sterling has the ability and the confidence to provide a viable Plan B for when Kane is unfit or misfiring. If it works in the Nations League, it may give Southgate food for thought when competitive internationals swing back round.

Money wasn’t key to Manchester City’s title win over Liverpool- Pep Guardiola was

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Congratulations to Manchester City for winning back to back titles for the first time in the history of the club. They were tested until the very final moments of the season over 9 long months and this title win will be extra special given just how strong Liverpool were.

City needed to win their last 14 games in a row which is a staggering achievement to fend off Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team and finished with 98 points, the records and plaudits will keep on coming for a very special side.

Of course money has changed the club from a side who just a decade ago were struggling in the lower leagues, being the reliable other half of Manchester who would gain promotion only to fight relegation season after season. An odd victory over a top 4 side was deemed as the best it could get once upon a time for City. So since the cash injection earlier this decade, the trophies have followed.

However this season and the way that City won it was down to Pep Guardiola’s guidance. Yes it is easy to criticise him, he seems to only go to the biggest clubs with the largest wallets. But to win this season and take the title from the hands of Liverpool (remember at the turn of the year Liverpool,had a 7 point advantage) to do that was down to skilful man management. This is where Guardiola earned his money this season.

It is obvious that Guardiola sits one on one with his players and has turned many of them from very good players to world class ones. Look at how Raheem Sterling has come on in the past 18 months, the change has been massive. And not only does Guardiola make players better, he shares what Arsene Wenger did when he first came to Arsenal in that he impacts players personal lives too, from dieting to their psychological positive input. It means that when City were under pressure to win games, they just kept on rolling out the wins, whatever Liverpool can do we can do just that little better, that was the message here.

For Liverpool you wonder what will happen next, 29 years for a title now and when you finish on 97 points and have lost just 1 game the whole season which was against City, you wonder what else you have to do to get that title. Most seasons that points haul would have easily have been enough to win the title. Next season how do Liverpool approach it, more of the same, but they have such a great rival to contend with.

The good news for the Reds is that they have the Champions League final against Tottenham as a consolation. Surely it would be unthinkable to have Liverpool end the season with nothing again after their heroics over the past year, but you never know.

King Kompany leads City to glory

Vincent Kompany

Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Now deep into his 11th year at Manchester City and with over 33 years spent on this earth, Vincent Kompany is still able to defy the odds when they are stacked against him.

With 70 minutes on the clock and Leicester City proving to be well-organised and almost a match for the defending league champions, the home team needed some magic.

They needed an inspirational captain to step up and take charge. Kompany didn’t disappoint. City’s number 4 released an unstoppable drive from all of 30 yards. It flew past Kasper Schmeichel’s outstretched arms and into the top corner. Continue reading

Was Andrew Robertson more deserving of the PFA award than van Dijk?

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Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk won the PFA award a few days ago and not many people involved in the game and fans could really disagree with that result. Given that the award is voted by professional players it simply added even more weight to the fact and in the process van Dijk has become the first defender in the Premier League to win the award since Chelsea’s John Terry back in 2005.

Still some were surprised that the award was not given to Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling instead who has grown from a very good player to a World class one. He got bizarrely in the end the Young player of the year, which given he is 24 just seemed odd, and he has been around of course for many years. It felt like a sympathy vote in the second thought- but alas that argument is for another day.

Another argument that we can put to one side is why would an award celebrating the best players of the season be handed out before the season has ended? van Dijk no matter how good he has been may end the season empty handed. An argument could be that the next 2 games will not yield a different and superior player but these voting cards were given out in mid March with still 10 games left to play. Thus a player should not be judged on 75% of the season- again an argument for another day.

But something that should not be overlooked is the fact that van Dijk’s team mate Andrew Robertson was. Robertson has been superb this season and was last season too for the Reds. It is interesting why he was overlooked given how solid he has been and given that fellow ex professionals rank him so highly. Phil Neville once said that Robertson was the best left back in the world. Maybe that was a stretch, but he has arguably been the best defender in the Premier League for this season.

Robertson has had a personally brilliant season and that is reflected also in the Premier League fantasy rankings. In the defenders Robertson is currently in 1st position with 114 points and is beating van Dijk by 3 points. While both players have been rocks in defence it also worth noting that Robertson has yet to score a goal- van Dijk has 3, but at the same time Robertson is not employed to score goals. However he has incredibly assisted 11 times this season to van Dijk’s 2.

One could be cynical and say that van Dijk got the awards nod because of the huge transfer fee involved when Liverpool bought him from Southampton for £75m in January, 2018. That fee attracted instant pressure on both the player to perform and manager Jurgen Klopp- had he for example taken a gamble? In contrast Robertson joined the Reds for under £10m.

Big performances from big fee players have always attracted positivity just like they do in the negative sense when it all goes wrong, and let’s be fair van Dijk has been superb in the Premier League this season. It is also hard to argue with professional footballer players whether a certain player deserves the award or not.

Let’s just say that Robertson was unlucky this season, perhaps in the future he will get even more credit if his performances remain the way they have been.

Manchester City have Sergio Aguero to thank for their Premier League campaign

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Just how important may Sergio Aguero’s goal against Burnley be for Manchester City come the end of the season. The Argentine’s decisive goal has placed Pep Guardiola’s side back to the summit of the Premier League above Liverpool, with just two games remaining. Continue reading

UEFA have got it wrong fining Montenegro just €20,000 after racist chants against Raheem Sterling

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After England international Raheem Sterling was subjected to vile racist abuse in England’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro the Manchester City playmaker said “It sounds harsh, but which fan will risk racist behaviour if it might relegate their team or ruin their title bid? Small fines do no damage to clubs and countries, but one group of people who do have the money to make them take notice are sponsors. The next time that a club or governing body fails to act appropriately against racism, I would love to see that company pull its money out and make a moral stand. I don’t know how long it will take for things to change but we have to start now. I don’t want the next generation of black players to have to put up with this evil.”

So it seems a slap in the face that UEFA have announced that Montenegro will face a fine of just 20,000 euros, a figure that is totally affordable to the nation. But wait there’s more they will also play their next match against Kosovo on June 7th behind closed doors. And that is that. Case closed.

UEFA have ended up handing out a very standard fine, something we have seen for the past 15-20 years in European football. If racist chants against black players were happening years ago and these type of fines were applied, why is it that nothing has changed in 2019?

UEFA’s decision to hand such a small fine and a one match behind closed doors is simply mindboggling, it makes absolutely no sense. It also takes Sterling’s words and throws it in the nearest bin- it feels as though himself and other countless black players have been silenced. The small fine will not stop racist chanting happening again. And Sterling was right to pick out sponsors that is UEFA’s life blood. Could you imagine McDonald’s pulling out of football- now that would make UEFA think.

So what should UEFA have done? They had two choices. The first would have been to  keep to a fine but instead make it 10 times more and get the national side to play half of their remaining games behind closed doors, but let away fans in.

The second would be simply to have kicked the team out of the competition. This seems incredibly harsh because at the end of the day it isn’t the players fault, but it would have set such a brutal barrier as to have a zero tolerance attitude on racism.

Instead and sadly Montenegro have been fined just like other clubs and nations over the years, a small amount that feels like a slap on the wrist- and an open letter to make racism boil over once again in the future.

 

This weekend’s predicted lineups for all EPL games

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With just a couple of weeks left in this Premier League season, it’s time for you to start making that final fantasy EPL push up the table.

Here are our predicted lineups for those EPL fixtures so have a read in preparation for another EPL fantasy football round.

Liverpool v Huddersfield Town

Liverpool XI: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Wijnaldum, Henderson, Keita, Salah, Firmino, Mane

Huddersfield XI: Lossl, Smith, Schindler, Kongolo, Durm, Hadergjonaj, Mooy, Stankovic, Bacuna, Lowe, Mounie Continue reading

Why Van Dijk deserves PFA Player of the Year Award

Virgil Van Dijk Liverpool

In any other year, Virgil van Dijk would be walking away with the Player of the Year awards. Unfortunately for him this season, Raheem Sterling has gone the extra mile.

While Sterling has had a sensational season on the pitch, playing a pivotal role for Manchester City and becoming their star man under Pep Guardiola, he has also shone off of it. In the face of virulent racism and horrendous abuse, Sterling has stood up and made himself be counted.

He has sparked a fierce and long overdue debate surrounding racism in this country and what needs to be done about it. He is now the poster boy for the movement for change, speaking sense and shaming those who deserve to be. Continue reading

Tottenham reach their Mount Everest in stunning Champions League win over Manchester City

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Admit it, who really thought that Tottenham would see a way past Manchester City- a club who have poured hundreds of millions of English pounds into their team to win the Champions League- but that is what Tottenham did. The very same Tottenham who bought no players in either transfer window this season and then lost Harry Kane to injury.

This week which saw the fall of Juventus and their £100m Ronaldo gamble to the youth of Ajax and the grace and sheer class of Lionel Messi’s one man show for Barcelona against Manchester United, there was an even bigger story that will live on in the hearts of football fans everywhere.

Tottenham playing Manchester City was always going to be a big draw- indeed any two teams from the same country playing each other in the latter stage knock outs of the Champions League means the football world will pay attention. Unfortunately though there is an uncanny way for these games to play out with very few goals and a cagey nervous affair where each team cancels out each other- the 2003 Champions League final anyone? When Milan only seized victory over Juventus in a penalty shoot out after spending 120 minutes consoling over a 0-0 result.

In some ways this is how the first leg of this match did play out. City remained the favourites but it was Tottenham who got a 1-0 victory- their first European game at their new stadium no less, through a Son Heung-Min goal. Ever the darer and the saviour for Tottenham this season, the South Korean player has stepped up in the past 12 months. For City they played an unusual game, desperate for clear cut chances and perhaps some of the blame could have gone to coach Pep Guardiola with his tactics and starting choices. Those decisions looked like it would be made up for the 2nd leg, but let’s face it nobody was prepared for what would happen at the Etihad.

Going into the crucial next match, City knew that they had to score two goals or they would be out. It took them less than 250 seconds to get the first goal through the irreplaceable Raheem Sterling. And then something quite wonderful (if you’re not a City fan happened) because it was at the stage when ball left Son and hit the back of the net for Tottenham’s equaliser that Spurs, the team that play great football, but the pretenders to titles did not read the script.

When Son struck again to put the Londoners 2-1 up three minutes later all of a sudden all of the hard work behind the scenes, rooted in the tiresome work of Mauricio Pochettino and his coaching staff and the vision of club owner Daniel Levy came to the forefront, and we could embrace the fact that this club, Spurs, have stepped up to another level, one not seen in a generation.

That didn’t mean that Guardiola’s side were dead on their feet, no team at home that plays such beautiful attacking football was suddenly going to give up, with 80 minutes still to play City had time on their side. They needed to score 3 goals and one was pulled back 60 seconds after Son had roared away with a semi final and Ajax in his sights. Bernardo Silva was the man to give City hope and ten minutes after that Sterling struck again- this was madness. We had witnessed 5 goals in 21 barnstorming moments of English football, played mostly by wonderful continental footballers in a European Cup setting. There had been a goal every 4 mins and 20 seconds, and it felt too much even, you didn’t know what was going to happen next. And it got better.

The first half ended 3-2 to City who now only needed one more goal to go through. As the second half got underway it was apparent that the Goliath which is City was steadily taking the game away from the David which was Spurs. City were playing their game and most notably the Belgian Kevin De Bruyne so cruelly not picked by Guardiola to start in the first leg was playing one of his best matches this season, and when it mattered, underlining just how important he is to the side.

Just before the hour mark Tottenham’s dream inevitably caved in when Sergio Aguero (who else)? made it 4-2 to City, and now City were going through to only their second semi final. Tottenham had to score but it was City controlling the pace of the game. And yet as crazy as the match was playing out, you knew Tottenham would get their chance and 14 minutes later the ball fell to Fernando Llorente who with a hip, elbow? and force- got the ball in the net. If any doubts persisted on the legality of the goal then VAR crushed it and Tottenham got their goal. Now they were going through and City were going out.

City attacked, Spurs stayed firm and the minutes closed in- neutral football fans couldn’t breathe, to be a fan of either club defined a new term in squeaky bum syndrome and yet the drama was not over. City needed another goal and as the 90th minute came and went all looked lost until Sterling scored again- it was in, the goal sent Sterling, the fans and Guardiola into euphoria, until VAR flagged up an incident. Was Sergio Aguero offside when the ball was played back in? Hearts in mouths, and what drama, the time ticked by in the real world but stood still for the 53,000 fans inside the stadium. The verdict came back…. Goal denied- City were out of the Champions League and Tottenham had reached their first European Cup semi final in 57 years and their first ever Champions League one.

It was an incredible night of football- with the players as much as VAR in the end playing its role. City could feel hard done by- without VAR they would most probably have squeezed through, but with justice intended they didn’t. And one would have to criticise a team at this stage of the competition for conceding 4 goals over 2 games. Yes Tottenham did the same, but for City the Champions League was supposed to be the one endearing trophy that the club have been wanting to win.

As for Tottenham they have a new role, as the remaining last 4 team. They will play Ajax- unfortunate for them it is an Ajax who look back to their best, they have already knocked out Real Madrid and Juventus from this competition. If they get past that test it is Liverpool or Barcelona in the final.

As for this game it will be remembered as one of the most exciting Champions League matches and will be talked about for some time. And there will be no love lost between the clubs who in less than 72 hours will do this all over again in the Premier League in the same stadium, one can only imagine what will happen….

 

 

 

Predicted lineups for this weekend’s EPL games

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After all the midweek Champions League drama, it’s a return to English Premier League action this weekend with all 20 teams involved.

Here are our predicted lineups for those EPL fixtures so have a read in preparation for another EPL fantasy football round.

Manchester City v Spurs

Manchester City XI: Ederson, Walker, Kompany, Laporte, Mendy, De Bruyne, Fernandinho, D. Silva, B. Silva, Aguero, Sterling

Spurs XI: Lloris, Trippier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies, Winks, Wanyama, Alli, Eriksen, Moura, Son Continue reading