Euro Fantasy League Podcast – #21 – Lee Stobbs on England


The lads are back with a catch up of all the goings-on during the World Cup so far. Dave reveals his true colours (anything but the white shirt of England) while Jamie and guest Lee Stobbs happily agree on Gareth Southgate’s standing as England boss.

All the groups are given the usual treatment, and a roundup of Dave and Jamie’s predictions ahead of the tournament show that one of the two seems to confuse himself when it comes to points scoring.

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We won’t know how good England are until last 16

There was never any real doubt that England will beat Panama to secure their place in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup. The Central Americans are among the weakest at this summer’s tournament and put up little fight as Gareth Southgate’s men walked all over them, registering their biggest ever World Cup victory with a 6-1 win.

Now, England can look forward to the next round of the competition before they have even faced Belgium in their final group game. Ordinarily, that fixture would be used as a gauge to measure where the Three Lions are as a team right now, but such is the nature of the group, and the way the fixtures have fallen, there might not be too much to be drawn from the clash against the Red Devils. They too have qualified for the last 16 already.


Southgate has already hinted that he might make changes for Thursday’s game against Roberto Martinez’s Belgium. He has options on the bench, after all, and this match presents him with the rare opportunity to experiment and test out new methods midway through a major tournament. That doesn’t happen often, particularly in the case of England.

“We’ve got to think that through,” Southgate said when asked whether he would make changes to his team for the fixture. “We’ve got momentum and we’ve had good consistency in our performances. Equally, I trust all the squad. Some of them haven’t played in a couple of weeks and we are going to need players that haven’t played so far as this tournament progresses. So we’ve got to balance these things over the next few days really.”

From a Belgian perspective, Martinez has also admitted that changes could be made to his starting lineup. What we could see on Thursday is a clash between two sides who have their sights on the next game rather than the one being played. That doesn’t bode well for the match’s entertainment value.

But in terms of England’s mentality, this will serve them well. The Three Lions have scored eight goals in their opening two games, with captain Harry Kane leading the Golden Boot standings. In other circumstances, this would have raised expectations to new heights. But the scenario means their feet are being kept on the ground.

Equally, they are playing with confidence garnered by those opening group game wins over Tunisia and Panama. Wins breed self-assurance regardless of who they are recorded against. England are playing with a certain swagger at the moment and that could carry them deep into the tournament.

Belgium and England will test each other, but not even this game will provide a defining judgment on the qualities of the two teams. Particularly in the latter’s case, we won’t find out just how good they are until the round of 16. That might be a good thing from their standpoint.

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World Cup Weekly Preview


The second round will end today with England looking to secure the qualification against Panama. Japan and Senegal will square off in the afternoon, trying to maintain the momentum they obtained after the surprise wins in their respective debuts. The main event will be Poland versus Colombia, where both teams need a win to bounce back to stay alive.

Let’s recap the already sealed verdicts ahead of the third and final match. Four squads have gained access to the elimination stage: Russia and Uruguay in the group A, France and Croatia in C and D one. Continue reading

England show promise – but there are improvements to be made


England’s performance against Tunisia will have given England manager Gareth Southgate plenty to be pleased about, as well as highlight to him some of the apparent issues if the country are to finally make good on their obvious talents in a major tournament.

Here are three main take away points that he will have to consider from a thrilling game in Russia.

Attacking threat and dogged determination

Harry Kane’s last-minute goal also highlighted a team that were willing to keep going until the very end in search of victory. Continue reading

Ruben Loftus-Cheek should start for England against Panama

With 10 minutes left to play, Gareth Southgate recognised the need for his England team to be more cutting through the lines of midfield and attack against Tunisia. And so he threw on Ruben Loftus-Cheek. It was Harry Kane who would go on to head home a stoppage time winner for England in their World Cup opener, but Loftus-Cheek more than played his part.

The midfielder, who spent last season on loan at Crystal Palace from Chelsea, gave England an additional dimension through the centre when they needed it. Loftus-Cheek was key in keeping the pressure on the Tunisians as the clock wound down, breaking forward and opening up space for others in the final third of the pitch.


England might face a similar sort of challenge against Panama. Belgium found a way to break down the Central Americans in their opening group game on Monday, but they were made to be patience, with their 2-0 win coming as a result of the brilliance of players like Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.

There’s no doubt that England have the talent to see off Panama with ease, but they must learn lessons from their struggle against Tunisia. They must find a way to break down a deep defensive line before they face another one against Panama. Loftus-Cheek, with his direct nature and capacity for driving the ball forward, could be key to that.

Of course, had Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain not suffered a serious injury towards the end of the 2017/18 campaign, it’s unlikely Loftus-Cheek would have been included in England’s squad for this World Cup. The two players are of a similar mould having been used as wingers earlier in the careers before their conversion into central midfielders.

It’s possible that Southgate might keep Loftus-Cheek on the bench, keeping the 22-year-old as an option in the second half of games when opposition sides, particularly ones sitting deep, might tire. But with his display against Tunisia, Loftus-Cheek has surely won the trust of his manager and his teammate.

“He is very good at screening, keeping the ball. He’s very good at beating players. His work-rate has been very good,” Roy Hodgson, who coached Loftus-Cheek at Crystal Palace last season, outlined before the start of the World Cup. “That’s something he has worked on. He has all the qualities you are looking for in a central midfielder. He doesn’t have any weaknesses and he will get better.”

While this might be the inexperienced England team to have travelled to a major tournament in a generation, Southgate has options. He has Jordan Henderson, an orthodox number eight, and Eric Dier, a number six who can provide protection in front of the back four. But he also has Loftus-Cheek and all that he brings to the equation. What happened on Monday night against Tunisia could prove to be a watershed in his career.

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England passed their first mental test

All throughout England’s preparations for the 2018 World Cup, there had been talk of a new, healthier, stronger mindset in the camp. This is a country that has suffered more than its fair share of footballing indignities at major tournaments over the years, but Gareth Southgate, at least on the face of things, had started to heal those scars.

With 90 minutes played of their group opener against Tunisia, though, England faced the first test of their new supposedly strengthened mindset. Things had started so well, with Harry Kane giving the Three Lions the lead in a first half dominated by Southgate’s side. But the award of a penalty for a foul by Kyle Walker returned a familiar sense of dread to proceedings.

Switzerland U21 v England U21 - European Under 21 Qualifier

England toiled for much of the second half as they searched for another breakthrough, although it should be noted that Tunisia rarely threatened. While England might have been largely passive from the restart until around the hour mark, they never looked likely to concede again.

Nonetheless, a 1-1 draw in their opening group game wouldn’t have represented a good start for England at this World Cup. A point against Tunisia could have placed added importance on the final group game against Belgium, a scenario which Southgate and his players set out to avoid right from the moment the draw was made.

They could have panicked. England of old surely would have lumped long ball after long ball into the Tunisian penalty box in the hope of a lucky knock-down or a ricochet. Instead, England persisted with their game plan until the very last moment. In the end, that decision paid off as Kane headed home the winner at the back post from a corner kick.

This might not have been the most comprehensive of victories, but it could provide England with the springboard they needed at this World Cup. Before Monday night’s game in Volgograd, England had won just five of their last 23 opening fixtures at major tournaments. Therein lies some of the problems they have faced at previous World Cup and European Championships – they often leave themselves chasing the game, chasing the tournament.

Now, Southgate and his players can relax somewhat in the knowledge that a win over Panama, surely one of the worst teams in the tournament, will all but secure their place in the round of 16. Everything hinged on that opening game against Tunisia and now England’s World Cup can truly begin.

“We talked about this with the players at St George’s Park over the last few weeks before coming to Russia,” Southgate explained afterwards, highlighting how he preparing his players for such an event. “The way we’ll change the game is by bringing on a different profile of players, who carry a different sort of threat.”

Indeed, there are a number of reasons for England to be positive after their win over Tunisia. Players like Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek made a real difference off the bench, with Jesse Lingard and, of course, Kane shining. But most positive of all was England’s new mental strength.

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Euro Fantasy League Podcast – #20 – World Cup 2018: Groups G & H Preview


In our last of group previews for World Cup 2018 hosted by Russia, Dave and Jamie reveal their opinion of England’s World Cup squad, and disagree with each other (9:52), look forward to seeing Senegal at the tournament (19:32) and highlight James Rodriguez’s rise in the game since the previous World Cup (20:24).

Topics covered also include holidays and the importance of Dave keeping his pants on.

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