Chelsea defender Thiago Silva has become the first player to react to the sacking of Frank Lampard earlier today.

The Englishman had been under fire at Stamford Bridge following a poor run of form.

The Blues sit ninth in the Premier League table on 29 points, 11 points behind leaders Man Utd.


FEATURE: Top seven managers out of work and available now


Silva has now responded to the sacking of his manager, thanking Lampard for his time at the club.

The Brazilian posted the following statement on social media: “I would like to thank you for everything you and your committee have done for me since the day I arrived. As I told you, it seemed like we had been working together for ten years! Thank you very much for everything legend.”

Chelsea are reportedly lining up Thomas Tuchel as his replacement. The German manager is a free agent after being sacked by PSG in December.

Here’s the statement Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich released to announce the news: “This was a very difficult decision for the club, not least because I have an excellent personal relationship with Frank and I have the utmost respect for him.

“He is a man of great integrity and has the highest of work ethics. However, under current circumstances we believe it is best to change managers.

“On behalf of everyone at the club, the board and personally, I would like to thank Frank for his work as Head Coach and wish him every success in the future.

“He is an important icon of this great club and his status here remains undiminished. He will always be warmly welcomed back at Stamford Bridge.”

Lampard was appointed as Chelsea manager in July 2019 after a season managing Championship side Derby County.

His lack of managing experience was an obvious risk, but most Chelsea fans were happy to have a club legend in charge.

Lampard guided the Blues to fourth in his first and only full season in charge.

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Footballers should not be held responsible for fuelling coronavirus infections because of how they celebrate, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has said.

City’s players, among others, faced criticism this week after they came together to celebrate Phil Foden’s goal against Brighton, despite renewed warnings from the Premier League to avoid hugging and kissing.

Julian Knight, the Conservative MP who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, called their antics “brainless”, while another committee member, Labour MP Clive Efford, described them as an “insult to the NHS”.


BIG WEEKEND: Liverpool v Man Utd, Big Sam, Chelsea, Euro derbies


Guardiola, whose mother died in April after contracting coronavirus, said everyone at the club is doing all they can to follow the protocols at a time when many areas of life are hugely restricted due to the latest national lockdown. But he insisted the behaviour of footballers would not have any influence on the progression of the pandemic.

“A lot of people are dying, unfortunately, every day and a lot of people are being infected,” he said.

“We are going to do our best to follow the new rules from the Government. The scientists, (they) inform us what we have to do – but please, the situation that is happening in the UK is not due to football players.”

While the protocols exist to prevent the spread of the virus among Premier League players and staff, which ensures their safety and in turn keeps the season on track, much of the criticism has centred around the optics of the celebrations, and the example they set to society at large.

However, Guardiola’s Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp believes people are intelligent enough to understand that just because footballers, who are tested two or three times a week, hug each other after a goal is scored, it does not give them the licence to do the same.

“I think people are smart enough to make the difference between people who are constantly tested and not tested, it makes a massive difference,” the German said.

“If we thought we threatened one or two of our team-mates we would not do it, it would just not happen. This is the only safe place we have out there on the pitch, outside it is not as infectious. Inside, nothing like this happens.”

 

Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho said perhaps it was possible for a goalscorer to “express the emotion of the team by himself, alone” but his fellow Portuguese, Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo, was less confident.

“We speak with the players saying (about the protocols) – but I don’t see it coming. It’s too emotional not to touch your team-mate when he scores a goal. I don’t see it happening.”

Premier League and FA Cup matches postponed due to the pandemic which do not involve sides playing in Europe could be played on Champions League nights.

Article 3.8 of the 2017 memorandum of understanding between the European Leagues umbrella group and European football’s governing body UEFA calls on domestic leagues to abstain from scheduling games on UEFA club competition dates.

However, Article 3.9 of the same agreement sets out some of the circumstances where play may be possible – including “postponement due to force majeure or to other reasons beyond the reasonable control of the concerned league”.

UEFA told PA last year the level of co-operation between it and Europe’s domestic leagues would be “even closer in the difficult situation we are experiencing” and that “all examples of calendar hardship are analysed on a case-by-case basis”.

The Aston Villa v Everton game is one which could be played on a European week if no other suitable date is available, as could the Leeds v Southampton match.

Villa requested a postponement earlier this week due to a coronavirus outbreak at the club which forced them to call off Wednesday’s match against Tottenham and field a youth team in the FA Cup third round against Liverpool.

Leeds v Southampton has been postponed to allow Saints to play Shrewsbury in the FA Cup third round. The League One team were unable to play the date on the original date of January 9 due to positive Covid-19 test results among players and staff.

Shrewsbury have confirmed manager Steve Cotterill will not be at the re-arranged tie as he continues to recover.

Earlier on Friday, Wycombe’s Championship match against QPR became the latest EFL match to be called off after the Chairboys reported positive tests.

Wycombe are due to face Tottenham – a club who already have a fixture against Villa to make up – in the FA Cup fourth round on January 25.

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Frank Lampard insists Fikayo Tomori’s long-term future remains at Chelsea.

England defender Tomori has been earmarked for a loan switch away from Stamford Bridge this month, with AC Milan, Leeds and Newcastle all interested.

Tomori has made just four first-team appearances this season, with Chelsea eyeing a loan move to help the 23-year-old realise his full potential.


READ MORE: Five academy graduates that would benefit from a January move


He made 22 appearances last term en route to his England debut – but only featured three times after December.

Lampard’s sparse use of Tomori had led to suggestions of a permanent switch, but the Blues boss insists the coveted defender can still flourish in west London.

“Fikayo Tomori absolutely has a long-term future at this club, and we’ll see if and when he goes on loan,” said Lampard.

“The moment I got close to Fikayo was when I took him to Derby with me and he was player of the year there and one of the best players in the Championship that year in my opinion.

“And then he came back and played 20-plus games for us at a very young age last year and got in the England squad.

“There’s an absolute long-term plan for Fikayo in my head about his career here.

“And if it’s to go and play games it’s to absolutely enhance his personal development.

“Hopefully help whatever team he goes to, because that will come hand in hand, and then come back to us a better player.”

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

John Barnes has urged Liverpool to make an offer to bring Watford winger Ismaila Sarr to Anfield in the future but wants them to sign a centre-back first.

The Senegal international has contributed four goals and two assists in the Championship for the Hornets this season, with the winger still attracting interest from Premier League clubs.

West Ham have been linked as recently as Sunday, while Liverpool and Manchester United have been credited with interest.


FEATURE: How long since every Premier League club has topped the table


When asked if Liverpool should make a move for Sarr, Barnes replied to BonusCodeBets: “Yes, if he wanted to be one of the front three, but, and I’ve said this before, we need a centre-back.

“Although a great player and looking forward he’d be fantastic player to have as part of the team, it’s not what we need at this very moment in time.

“If they want to sign him as a long-term investment, then I think that’s great. But right now, this very season, we need to strengthen our defence so to find suitable players for this should be the priority.”

On the Premier League title race, Barnes added: “Although this season is much more unpredictable than the previous one, Man City is most definitely Liverpool’s biggest threat.

“At the moment, Man United can go on top of us if they get a point, but I think over the season, and of course we’re not even halfway yet, a lot can happen and I do think it’ll end up being Liverpool and Man City battling it out.

“Liverpool still terrify teams when they pour forward and they very much got that winning mentality in mind.

“And if you go to the bookies, they’re not going to tell you that Man United are favourites. They’re going to say Liverpool and City are still the two favourites and, in my opinion, they very much are.”

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Get your mails into theeditor@football365.com…

 

FA Cup Chelsea thoughts…
Through to the next round after a routine win against League 2 opposition, has Frank Lampard finally found his level?

Okay all jokes aside, you can never take a result in the FA Cup to quickly to heart when you are playing much lower down the football pyramid side, but my takeaway from the game was Callum Hudson-Odoi must play ahead of Christian Pulisic based on form, the question now is can he sustain this form and take advantage?

Also what on earth does Fikayo Tomori need to do to earn a first team start? A player who was decent last season for us, as well as a reliable defender for Derby during Lampard’s tenure, can see him being sold this month which I’d be gutted about, It is hard to judge where in the pecking order his talent is based on lack of games but surely he is a much better player than Andreas Christensen who can remain on the ground, cost the team a goal and yet still be seen as the better player by Frank.
Mikey, CFC

 

So what’s the point in football?
Oh good. We’ve got the slew of “it’s better to be out of the cup and focus on the league” emails.

Which raises a question for me. What’s the point of football? Is it to have a consistent team that’s ticking over in the middle of the top division, diving out of the cups at the earliest opportunity, avoiding the poisoned chalice of the Europa League?

Or is it to, you know, have fun?

Andrew from Canada posits that we’d be better off not winning anything and finishing midtable every year, holding up Wigan as some sort of dark fable. Well, I live close to Wigan. I speak to Wigan fans. And I can’t think of any of them who celebrate their midtable finishes with the joy and gusto that they remember beating City in a Cup Final. Yes, it’s a bit rubbish now, but it was fantastic then.

My favourite season as a Leeds fan was our first year in League One. Why? What joy could there be in beating Hartlepool at Elland Road while we were bottom of the table?

Because it was fun. We won most weeks, we overturned a 15 points deduction to stay up – and to make the playoffs. Those two playoff semi finals against Carlisle were as fun and dramatic and fantastic as the CL quarter finals against Deportivo. Oldham away might not be the San Siro, but a day out with your mates and a dramatic last minute winner is completely venue-agnostic. I enjoyed that season – and huge chunks of our time out of the Premier League – as much as I’ve enjoyed anything I’ve seen Leeds do in the top flight.

I’d ask my Canadian counterpart whether he’d swap the ups and downs of the past 16 years for the serene solidity of being an Everton fan during the same time period. Never really challenging for honours, never threatened with relegation. Just finishing round about half way, forever, and ever, and ever. Great for shareholders, but maybe lacking in drama for the fans?

So yes. Given the choice of seeing my team win the FA Cup for the first time in half a century at the expense of a few more years in a division I quite enjoyed, I’d take the glory thanks. Because I’d remember winning at Wembley for the rest of my life.

Although good on Bielsa for saving the cup run for a season when fans will be allowed in to enjoy it. Proper deep thinker, that man.
Andy (Leeds fan in Salford)

PS: If football is about having fun, I suggest Jonny Nic finds a new hobby. He’s bloody miserable at the moment.

 

Johnny’s latest piece…
Johnny’s latest piece
about the money gap being bigger than the talent gap in football was a fascinating one but I would argue it’s somewhat flawed.

Johnny suggests that the biggest gap between the top flight and the lower levels is a fitness one rather than a skill one. I’d counter that by saying neither is the case and it’s actually consistency that’s the difference.

We saw in the massively one-sided Marine vs. Spurs game that there’s a world of difference between a professional and a part-timer, despite Marine’s tremendous efforts. But in reality, even Marine are a side who play in the eighth tier, are part-time, and would probably wipe the floor with a strong pub side. The strong pub side in turn would wipe the floor with a weaker pub side.

Basically what Johnny seems to forget is that there’s literally thousands of blokes who play football (in a pre-Covid era anyway) every single weekend and so the cream of the crop aren’t just Premier League players, they’re actually anyone who’s professional, i.e. Championship, League One and League Two players. Realistically, if you dropped an experienced League One player into a pub side, they’d look just as out of place as a top PL player.

So what’s the difference between a top PL player and a solid League One player? Consistency. The PL player more often than not is going to do his job competently if not excellently against fellow consistently good players. PL players can make mistakes and misplace passes but that’s because they’re human.

Compare a PL game to a League One game and you’d probably see a similar amount of errors. But if you compared a massive sample, there’d be far more errors in the League One games – hence why the PL players are where they are. It’s all about the consistency. And that’s how the *real* greats like Ronaldo and Messi are then able to set themselves apart from even the best. If it were all about skill, someone like Dimitri Payet would be revered above Ronaldo, but it’s not and he isn’t that consistent despite all of his skills.

And in turn, of course a League One side can raise their game against a PL side in the FA Cup as its a one-off game, perhaps the most important fixture in a season for the lower side, and that means that the team’s players are always going to try to perform at their best rather than their average.

Not everything in football is tainted by money like Johnny suggests. A lot of it is, but in this instance, he’s talking a lot of nonsense.
Scott

 

 

 

VAR and ref seniority
One thing about VAR that doesn’t get much attention is the psychology of the overruling of decisions by one ref over another. On judgement calls (penalties/red cards, not offsides), it’s a bit like contradicting a colleague at work. In fact, it’s that but also in front of your customers – and most people wouldn’t be that comfortable doing that to someone more senior at work. That’s why it seems a bit strange that there is often a big gap between the experience/seniority of the onfield ref and the VAR. Maybe it’s a small sample, but two of the games where Liverpool have felt most aggrieved at the VAR were Everton (Pickford on VVD) and Southampton (a couple of penalty decisions and a possible red for Walcott). The referees in those games were two of the most experienced – Michael Oliver and Andre Marriner. But the VARs were two of the least experienced – David Coote and Andy Madley. Maybe it’s not surprising that they wouldn’t overrule their more illustrious colleagues on anything but 100% certainty (at least Michael Oliver seems to be owning the Everton mistake now).

By contrast, there were two red card decisions overturned by VAR at the weekend – Jon Moss’s red card for Keogh at MK Dons and Chris Kavanagh’s for Emile Smith Rowe at Arsenal. In both cases the VAR’s were more experienced (Anthony Taylor and Andre Marriner). Marriner has 13 years more experience in the PL than Kavanagh – would Kavanagh be as likely to tell Marriner he got it wrong if the roles had been reversed?

These are only the ones I’ve noticed and maybe they’re the exception, but it makes sense to me from a workplace psychology perspective. So any time you say to yourself ‘how has the VAR not intervened there?’, check if the VAR is a scary top dog or a trembling newbie too scared to say boo to Mike Dean.
Shappo

 

Covid postponements
Like many, I find managerial moaning an irritating and pointless by product of the football world. So the arrival of the Moaner Lisa himself at my beloved Spurs was hardly welcome. But even I must concede he’s right to be miffed with our current situation.

Spurs are the busiest team in the league, having played 3-12 games more than any of our league opponents already. And with the cups we can expect that gap to grow. Needing to pack in 3 rescheduled matches in the run-in would be ridiculous.

I’m not in favour of forfeits, especially in the league, as it distorts the competition. And Villa and Fulham, whilst having outbreaks, weren’t the ones with 3 players flaunting an illegal Christmas party. And we can expect the Covid wheel of fortune to land on most clubs eventually.

But the league must still do everything to minimise disruption. Decisions must be made days, not hours in advance, with clubs given a clear deadline. And schedules must be shifted, starting with us facing Fulham this week.
Damien, THFC

 

So instead of cancelling or suspending either cup competitions or, if sanity prevails, football entirely until thousands of people aren’t dying every day from an infectious disease spread through close contact.. the FA are considering telling Fulham and Tottenham they are now playing each other, at 48 hours notice.

Fulham, after 2 weeks of C19 in their squad spreading faster than my lockdown waistline and ruining conditioning and training, have just played 120 minutes of a cup tie expecting not to have to play again until Friday. We still have players isolating, and personally I would not want to be anywhere near our players or staff currently.

Tottenham were expecting to play Aston Villa on Wednesday and so at least made team selections in the cup that took account of 48 hour turnaround to their next game.

But their preparations, selections, tactical training and individual assignments were based on playing Aston Villa, not Fulham.

This is just.. stupid. How is this remotely fair on either club, or on every other club in the league? There can be no equal levels of competition if the barriers clubs need to get over to win a game are so utterly random.

It’s crap, and while I’m definitely more angry because I’m a Fulham fan, it will still be crap if we manage to get a point or a win against a Spurs side who had no chance to properly prepare.

Stop the fucking season, it’s ridiculous
Tim Sutton 

 

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

I wonder what it is like being Sam Allardyce as once again he is employed to be the large compacted stool that blocks the toilet of relegation and once again, fans of the club groan at his arrival and say they’d rather get relegated than have to witness the Dudley dude’s brand of defensive, attritional football and equally defensive self-regard.

While picking up a large amount of cash once again must ameliorate the situation for him, even so it must be galling to always be so poorly regarded by the people who, one way or another, are paying your wages. Not that he makes any attempt to be loved.

To be looked upon as little more than a grunting beast who will drink a pint of wine and generally resemble a wild boar with a wet adenoidal snuffle, rooting for truffles, cannot be good for your self-esteem. Clearly, he’s got a well-developed and well-fed chip on his shoulder and a deep sense that he is an unappreciated star in his own land. Whether you think he is or isn’t, it’s not hard to see how he has grown this psychological tumour after all these years of being disliked or at best disregarded. When it comes to fans holding their head in their hands and saying “oh no, not him, anyone but him”, he has no equal.

As he drags that big vibrating plate into the Hawthorns, possibly with Kev Nolan still balancing upon it, a picture of Kevin Davies’ buttocks on his desk, along with his Pentium 133 computer with ProZone 1.0 locked and loaded, a small, perhaps diminishing coterie in the press will once again aggrandise his basic managerial approach as though he is building a new hadron collider merely out of cheese and sheep droppings.

But if he once again keeps the club up, will he get any praise from the majority of fans? It doesn’t seem likely. And that’s because staying up at any price is no longer overly desired by fans. The very concept of Allardyce as the defensive knight in shining armour arriving to save the day is out-moded and old-fashioned. Okay the owners want to sell the club and will get more if it’s in the top flight, but that’s of little concern to supporters.


Aston Villa p*ss all over firefighter Allardyce’s chips


Now more than ever, relegation doesn’t seem that bad, especially with huge parachute payments (surely well overdue for reform). While it may be financially terrible for owners who have bet the farm on the delusion that staying in the supposed land of milk and honey is somehow all that matters, fans are increasingly less bothered. Many certainly hate just hanging on in the Premier League, trying to win seven or eight games and draw enough times to not get relegated.

The once-great prize upon which Allardyce could trade – staying up – has lost its shine for supporters. It is routine to see and hear fans of clubs in danger of going down say that they’d rather the team have a go and get relegated than have to pay to watch boring games. The fact that in recent years the Championship has become considered by many to be the pinnacle of football competition only makes the top-flight grip weaker.

This isn’t a fact yet well enough appreciated by those in the business of football and I include ex-player pundits in that. I listened last week to the always-entertaining Micah Richards on 5live saying surely it was always better to play games in the top flight and play all the top clubs, rather than playing a tier down at smaller clubs (insert ‘no disrespect’ caveat here). He didn’t phrase it quite like that, but that was the essence. He didn’t see how wide of the mark this view is now. Many of us do not buy into this hegemony in the slightest and indeed, totally reject it.

Just to illustrate, Middlesbrough played Birmingham City on Saturday and won 4-1. That is not worse in any way, or on any level, than any game they could have played in the Premier League and the idea it might be is actually quite offensive, dismissive and derogatory. It is snooty, elitist and just uneducated. Football, wherever it is played, can be massively entertaining, can provide tension, excitement and thrills. To put it down as though it is shopping in Poundstretcher for an imitation of the Premier League’s expensive designer handbag is insulting and out of touch.

There are many fans of clubs in the lower leagues that would like to be promoted into the Premier League for the money, but only for the money. They have little or no interest in being there per se and don’t find the idea of playing the big clubs such a privilege. They know being hammered most weeks gets boring. They know trying to hang onto 17th is boring. They know they can’t compete with the rich clubs. They want more out of their football life than grim attrition.

That’s why if Allardyce keeps Albion up, he will get little or no thanks. All he’ll have done is keep the club in a kind of jail. After all, the prize for staying up is merely to have the struggle all over again next season with him in charge. If that’s a prize, it is the wooden spoon.

It is only their belief in the Premier League’s exceptionalism that drives the likes of Micah to keep on pushing the notion that a club must do everything it can to both get into it and to try and stay in it. It’s just not that special. It’s only the First Division, it isn’t premier at all, it’s not some holy land where players walk on air and perform miracles. It is still just football: sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes very boring, occasionally fantastic, mostly just alright. Same as all football at all levels. Many fans know this, even if Allardyce and his employers don’t. If you see fans crying on the last day of the season now, it may well be because they haven’t gone down and will have to put up with being thrashed 7-0 by Liverpool et al again next year.

Pundits often unintentionally, perhaps subconsciously, put down clubs like WBA when criticising the sacking of a manager with the exasperated rhetorical question “what do they expect? What position did they think they’d be in?”. In other words, you’re only making up the numbers, shut up and know your place. That is precisely what is so dispiriting and exactly why, for fans of clubs that are struggling at the bottom, staying up hardly seems like a great prize. If you feel like you are mere fodder for the big clubs, it feels very much like this is not home. Being sold the idea that 17th is a glorious achievement is very hollow.

Surely the ideal situation in any division is to be a yo-yo club. Up one season, down the next, back up again the following etc etc. Norwich City fans must be the most entertained in the land on this basis. Two seasons at the top of the Championship, winning loads of games, then one in between getting hammered in the top flight.

If they’d finished 17th last season, would it have been more fun this year for their fans? Of course not. And there’s your proof, right there, of the lack of glitter the top flight holds for supporters. Norwich are the great argument for relegation being life-enhancing and are proof that clinging onto your Premier League status is merely worshipping a false god.

And that’s Allardyce: king of the false gods, a man they don’t want, charged with delivering something they’re not that bothered about, in a style they don’t like. Welcome back to the Premier League, Sam.

John Nicholson

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Game to watch – Man United v Leeds United
We’ve waited a while, haven’t we? These two old rivals haven’t met in a league game since February 2004. And there are plenty of reasons to think this should be worth the wait. Leeds are a force of nature, winning and losing 4-3 within their first two games on return to the Premier League. They’ve won 3-0 and 5-2 since then, as well as losing 4-1 twice. Man United are a more predictable but equally oddball side, whose season has comprised thrilling wins on the road but humiliations and disappointment at home.

At the moment, it’s hard to predict which will break first: the excellent if high-wire away wins or the drabness of those home performances. There’s absolutely no way you’re going to catch me out trying to predict this one beyond saying it is definitely going to be more interesting than the 0-0 draws against Chelsea and City and probably closer than the 6-1 against Tottenham. You should absolutely definitely watch this football match.

 

Team to watch – Tottenham
There’s been a curious reaction to Spurs’ 2-1 defeat at Liverpool this week. Seems to me that most of the criticism about Joseball and bus-parking would actually apply far more accurately to the previous weekend’s game against Crystal Palace. That day, Spurs played eye-catching progressive football right up until they scored the opening goal after 20 minutes, and again for the 10 minutes after Palace’s equaliser. They spent the hour in between trying to sit on that 1-0 lead.

Now that was Mourinho going too far and getting it wrong. What happened at Anfield was Mourinho getting it right; he thrives on taking games like that to the finest margins. It was clearly Spurs’ best chance of getting a result. Inevitably, especially against a team as good as Liverpool – who haven’t lost at home in three years – those fine margins will not always fall your way. That was the width of a post or one uncharacteristically shonky Kane header away from being a masterclass.

The second half was as good as Spurs have looked in quite a while. Against a team far more potent than Palace, they did not retreat into total one-note defence-and-counter. They had three very good chances to go 2-1 up. Mourinho took his stripped-down tactics too far at Palace and got burned; the Liverpool game was actually progress.

And this weekend could provide more. Spurs face Leicester, which is a dangerous but potentially perfect fixture. Leicester are big enough and good enough that beating them would represent a necessary statement after a couple of setbacks. But they are also a perfect fit for Spurs’ counter-attacking low-block. You don’t have to enjoy the aesthetics, but it does bring results. The blueprint for Spurs already exists from as recently as Wednesday night; not only in their own performance against Liverpool but Everton’s 2-0 win over the Foxes. Leicester struggle to break down a disciplined deep-lying defence, preferring space in behind for Jamie Vardy to explore. They also concede extremely silly and soft goals. Ah.

 

Manager to watch – Sam Allardyce
Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in. Time for another patented Big Sam Rescue Mission, and he’s got every chance. West Brom have only seven points from 13 games, but are only three adrift of safety and, more to the point, are not all that far away from being a side who can get themselves out of this.

Late heartbreakers have been the order of the day, but they hung on gamely for an unlikely point at Man City and now have the master of Premier League survival in charge.

He gets thrown straight in to a Midlands derby against Villa, who are a curious side themselves. Before Thursday’s drab goalless draw at Burnley, Villa had won four and lost four of their previous eight games. The wins included that 7-2 silliness against Liverpool and tremendous away victories at Leicester, Arsenal and Wolves. The defeats included a home twatting against Leeds and another damaging home loss to Brighton. Villa’s inconsistency plus West Brom’s new manager bounce could make for an interesting evening

 

Player to watch – Curtis Jones
Magnificent against Tottenham in midweek. It really isn’t normal for a 19-year-old to look that good, that at ease, in a game like that in a team like this. He made more successful passes than any other player on the pitch against Spurs – and his 81 passes in the opposition half was more than the entire Spurs team managed.

It’s been clear for some time that Jones has outrageous ability. In the last few weeks, a couple more things have been clear. One, he has learned how best to harness it. And two, he is now capable of not just matching but even outshining the dazzling stars around him at Anfield. On Wednesday he turned in a man-of-the-match display in the biggest game of the season so far. Now the next test. Back that up just a few days later. Totally unreasonable, of course. Absolutely no way we should expect him to be that good again. And yet we do.

 

European game to watch – Lille v PSG
A top-of-the-table clash in Ligue Un played out under the shadow of this week’s collapse of the too-good-to-be-true Mediapro rights deal. Lille owner Gerard Lopez is negotiating the sale of the club, inevitably raising concerns about their future. The timing couldn’t be worse, with Lille currently holding a slender lead over France’s biggest clubs. PSG are a point behind, Lyon a further one behind and Marseille three more back.

Lille are once again punching above their weight, but in the short-term must make sure off-field concerns don’t bleed into the on-field efforts. Long term, the picture is even less clear, even for the big boys.

 

Football League game to watch – Norwich v Cardiff
Norwich had the look of a relegated team you really feared for, the meekness of their Premier League surrender precisely the sort that looked liable to spill over into the following campaign. Especially given the truncated pre-season. But having lost their last 10 Premier League games – and scoring just a single goal in the process – they have set about the Championship in fine style and have opened up a three-point lead over Bournemouth. Indeed, the top three places in the Championship are currently occupied by last season’s relegated clubs which could mean something tremendously important and significant or just be a coincidence.

Anyway, up next for the leaders it’s Cardiff, who have hauled themselves up to mid-table with a run of five wins in six games.

Dave Tickner

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England’s Nations League ambitions were extinguished in Belgium as the world’s top-ranked team punished Gareth Southgate’s side in Sunday’s crunch group clash.

The penultimate match of a challenging year was always going to provide the Three Lions’ toughest test – and acted as a reminder of the work required before the rearranged European Championship.

Southgate’s absentee-hit side could not find a way past another of the favourites for next summer’s tournament, with Youri Tielemans’ deflected strike and a fine Dries Mertens free-kick seeing Belgium run out 2-0 victors.


READ MORE: Grealish great, Dier dire and more England player ratings


The defeat ends England’s hopes of reaching a second successive Nations League finals and means Wednesday’s final Group A2 match against relegated Iceland will only offer the chance to fine-tune ahead of the Euros.

Southgate was without Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford in attack and the likes of Harry Maguire, Joe Gomez and Conor Coady at the back at Den Dreef, where the Three Lions could not quite get to grips with Belgium.

The hosts ruthlessly exploited lax play when Leicester’s Tielemans scored in the 10th minute and they extended their lead after Romelu Lukaku’s goal-line clearance stopped Harry Kane capping his 50th appearance with a goal.

Declan Rice was adjudged to have fouled Kevin De Bruyne and Mertens bent home superbly as England went into half-time facing a two-goal deficit for the first time since August 2009.

Southgate’s men penned Belgium back in the second half as Jack Grealish shone on his first competitive start, but the home side held firm to win Roberto Martinez’s 50th match in charge.

England wore black armbands in Leuven following the death of Ray Clemence on Sunday at the age of 72, with the Football Association planning a larger tribute to the former goalkeeper against Iceland.

The Three Lions had hoped to be going into Wednesday’s match with a chance of reaching the Nations League finals, but they failed to heed Southgate’s pre-match demand to be switched on from the outset.

While Kane dragged wide and Grealish proved a handful in the early stages, such positive work was undone when Jan Vertonghen got ahead of Mason Mount to intercept a pass by Eric Dier.

The ball was moved on quickly and Tielemans got away a shot that the outstretched Jordan Pickford could only tip onto the inside of the post following a slight deflection off Tyrone Mings.

England responded well to Belgium’s 10th-minute opener. Grealish was thwarted when meeting a cross from Kieran Trippier, whose resulting corner was met by a Kane header bound for the net until Lukaku cleared off the line.

Grealish had a shot blocked as the visitors looked to stage another comeback against Belgium, only for their uphill battle to steepen when Rice was adjudged to have fouled De Bruyne as he attempted to take a shot.

The Belgium star stood over the tantalisingly-placed free-kick, but it was Mertens that swept in to bend a superb right-footed effort over the wall and into the top left-hand corner midway through the first half.

Mount tried his luck either side of a Kane shot denied by Thibaut Courtois towards the end of a first half that saw England’s defensive troubles worsen as Ben Chilwell limped off.

Harry Winks replaced Jordan Henderson for a second period that started with poor free-kick attempts by Mount and Trippier.

The visitors were, though, looking improved and Kane scuffed a shot after being found by a fine Mount flick, with treatment for Trippier giving Belgium a break from mounting pressure.

Jadon Sancho and Dominic Calvert-Lewin were introduced to change the dynamics, with England continuing to push forwards against a side that seemed happy to sit back.

Pickford stopped Lukaku adding gloss to the scoreline after a move involving De Bruyne and Mertens on a rare Belgium attack, while a sumptuous Grealish flick led to a Kane cross-shot that landed on the roof of the net.

The England skipper continued to lead the visitors’ attempts but there was no finishing touch, with Lukaku bending wide at the end.

 

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Wayne Rooney will help Derby prepare for their next Sky Bet Championship fixture after the international break following the departure of manager Phillip Cocu.

Dutchman Cocu took over as Rams boss during the summer of 2019, when Frank Lampard had left for Chelsea.

However, Derby have managed just six points this season, and sit bottom of the table.

Assistant manager Chris Van Der Weerden and specialist first-team coach Twan Scheepers have also left their roles.

Following confirmation of Cocu’s departure by mutual consent, former England captain Rooney revealed he had been asked to help the squad prepare for the trip to Bristol City on November 21.

Former Everton and Manchester United forward Rooney joined the Rams during the January transfer window as the 35-year-old looked to take his first steps into coaching while also continuing his playing career.

“I am sorry that Phillip and his staff have left the club and want to thank him personally for all his help and encouragement as part of his coaching staff,” Rooney said in a statement.

“The most important thing now is to stabilise the club and start moving up the table. I have been asked to be part of the coaching staff to help the team’s preparations for next Saturday’s vital match against Bristol City.

“The coaches and I will speak with the players on Monday.”

Derby thanked Cocu for his contribution to the club, on and off the pitch.

“Phillip and his staff helped develop and establish a considerable number of academy players in to the first-team squad and Phillip made significant financial contributions and personal efforts towards the club’s community projects during the Covid-19 pandemic, which the club are extremely grateful for,” a statement on the club’s official website read.

“Derby County wishes to thank Phillip, Chris and Twan for their hard work and dedication over the last 16 months and wish them every success in their future careers.

“The club will provide further updates when appropriate and will be making no further comment in the meantime.”


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Earlier in November, Derby confirmed a deal had been agreed “in principle” for the sale of the club to Derventio Holdings, which is owned by Sheikh Khaled Zayed Bin Saquer Zayed Al Nayhan, a member of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family.

Sheikh Khaled is the cousin of Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the deal to buy Derby is reported to be in the region of £60million.

Former PSV boss Cocu, meanwhile, said it had been agreed it was “in the best interests of all parties” for him to leave the club.

In a statement on Instagram, the former Barcelona midfielder said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at the club including the board, staff and all of the players for their fantastic support for me since arriving at Pride Park.

“Although this season has not gone as we all would have liked so far on the pitch, I believe passionately in the project that we started to build and I have no doubt that the future is bright for the club.

“I wish everyone associated with the club the very best both on and off the pitch, particularly with the ‘Stay Safe, Stay Fit, Stay Connected’ project that I am very proud of to have initiated.

“Finally, I’d like to say a huge thank you to the most important people of the club, the fans.

“Thank you for welcoming me to your club and for all of the support you’ve shown to me and the team. I wish you all the very best.”

Mark Smith and Sarah Winterburn look ahead to the international break, everyone’s favourite time of the year. Jude Bellingham, then…

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Aleksandar Mitrovic missed Serbia’s all-important penalty to send Scotland through the European Championship finals.

Scotland, of course, did it the hard way as they reached their first major tournament since 1998 after a 1-1 draw.

Ryan Christie’s strike appeared to have sent Steve Clarke’s dominant side to their first major tournament since 1998 but Serbia scored with their first effort on target in the 90th minute.

However, the blow proved to be fleeting as Marshall saved from Aleksandar Mitrovic in the 10th penalty of the shoot-out.

Christie gave Scotland a deserved 52nd-minute lead with an excellent strike from outside the box and Steve Clarke’s side had chances to give themselves an extra cushion.

They would regret not getting a second goal, despite looking comfortable for the vast majority of normal time.

Marshall was rarely troubled, the Scotland defence were resolute when they needed to be, the midfield composed and confident and Christie, John McGinn and Lyndon Dykes gave the home defence serious problems.

But Serbia put Scotland under some late aerial pressure and Luka Jovic headed home unchallenged following a corner 20 seconds before the 90-minute mark.

However, Scotland secured a 5-4 penalties triumph to set themselves up for two Hampden encounters against Croatia and Czech Republic and a Wembley clash with England at next summer’s delayed finals.

The signs were good coming into the clash in Red Star’s Rajko Mitic Stadium.

Scotland were eight matches unbeaten and had recorded four wins and three clean sheets on the trot.

Clarke went with the bulk of the team that had won three matches in October but Kieran Tierney and Christie returned, the latter for the injured Ryan Fraser, after the pair were instructed to self-isolate last month.

There was more encouragement from the early stages as Scotland dominated possession and territory in the opening 10 minutes, getting several crosses into the box without finding a blue shirt, before Christie drew a save from an ambitious free-kick.

Serbia were barely seen as an attacking force until coming close midway through the half. Aleksandar Mitrovic laid the ball back for Sasa Lukic who steered the ball a yard wide from the edge of the box.

Scotland came closer when Christie fed McGinn after a long ball, the latter’s shot gathered at the second attempt.

Scotland continued to threaten and skipper Andy Robertson spurned a glorious chance five minutes after the break after Lyndon Dykes had seen off three defenders to roll the ball into his path. The Liverpool player sliced his shot well over.

The Scots were ahead 90 seconds later. Callum McGregor intercepted and fed his Celtic team-mate, Christie, who swivelled and fired the ball in off the post from 22 yards.

Christie soon had a volley saved following a Dykes head-on and Scotland remained in control.

Serbia had to step up a gear and did so in the final 20 minutes. Headers from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Mitrovic were not far wide but Scotland were still creating chances.

McGregor saw a long-range effort swerve just wide and Christie came close after running on to a long ball.

The home pressure increased and Jovic headed wide from a good chance but Scotland looked to be riding it out until the substitute evaded marker Scott McTominay amid a crowd of bodies to head home unchallenged from Filip Mladenovic’s corner.

Clarke had taken off his most advanced three players in the final seven minutes of normal time with Oli McBurnie, Callum Paterson and Kenny McLean now finding themselves leading the charge after being brought on to help shore up a lead.

Stephen O’Donnell and Ryan Jack came close from long range in the opening moments but Scotland were soon under pressure again and Marshall produced a brilliant fingertips save to divert Nemanja Gudelj’s long-range effort away from the top corner.

Scotland had lost their attacking rhythm and Clarke threw on Leigh Griffiths in the 117th minute for his first cap in more than two years.

Griffiths’ first involvement was to fire home the opening penalty of the shoot-out. McGregor, McTominay, McBurnie and McLean also netted before Marshall denied Mitrovic.

Mark Smith and Sarah Winterburn look ahead to the international break, everyone’s favourite time of the year. Jude Bellingham, then…

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