As ever, this represents our estimation of Gareth Southgate’s thoughts. And we feel like we know him well. Numbers in brackets pertain to this ladder from October…

 

1 (2) Harry Kane
Twelve goals and five assists in eight qualifying games. His goal against Kosovo saw him become the first England player to score in every game of a qualifying campaign and it also took him back to the top of this ladder, mostly because he has never grabbed somebody by the throat in a canteen. Or at least he has never been caught grabbing somebody by the throat in a canteen.

 

2 (1) Raheem Sterling
Oh you daft bugger. There is no defending that. He is still England’s second-best source of goals and best source of running really fast and scaring the sh*t out of full-backs, mind.

 

3 (5) Harry Maguire
The only player to feature in all 720 minutes of European qualifying. And yet he still looks about half a second from dropping a bo**ock and a full second slower than most strikers he faces.

 

4 (4) Jordan Pickford
His place is safer than his hands.

 

5 (6) Marcus Rashford
Three goals in his last three England games as part of a really encouraging return to form. We would be astonished if Rashford is not in every England squad for which he is fit until the end of the next decade at least…

 

6 (3) Jordan Henderson
Two victories in his absence have damaged his cause a little, but it still feels like Henderson + 2 in that central midfield.

 

7 (7) Trent Alexander-Arnold
Remarkably, that’s the first time he has started back-to-back England games. Even more remarkably, ‘he’s yet to produce a performance for his country which doesn’t look like this one did – distracted, inaccurate, lacking in the locked-in intensity which seems as standard at Liverpool’ (and I absolutely agree with Seb Stafford-Bloor).

 

8 (10) Ben Chilwell
Perhaps those three assists against Montenegro – and solid defensive performance against Kosovo – will put an end to Gareth Southgate’s lingering and needless flirtation with Danny Rose. Chilwell is and should remain England’s first-choice left-back.

 

9 (18) Harry Winks
Six England caps, six England wins. And a goal and a man-of-the-match performance against Kosovo. It might well be Henderson, Winks + 1 with Declan Rice hopefully sidelined until he learns some of the basics of defensive midfield play.

 

10 (13) John Stones
‘Needs to play football. Absolutely needs to play football,’ is what I wrote last month. Now back in the Manchester City side and an England recall duly followed. 

 

11 (16) Nick Pope
Confirmation that he is England’s No. 2. And a clean sheet is lovely.

 

12 (17) Joe Gomez
What has become very clear is that Southgate has picked his four centre-halves and Gomez is on that list despite not playing a great deal of Premier League football. Luckily for him, Liverpool have an awful lot of games coming up. He might still be the big man.

 

13 (8) Jadon Sancho
His form has dipped for Borussia Dortmund
and he failed to pad his stats against Montenegro; just one assist from 90 minutes on the wing is not a compelling return from a 7-0 victory. Right now, he has slipped some way behind Rashford.

 

14 (15) Tyrone Mings
And there’s centre-half No. 4, who has (slightly awkwardly) claimed another cap and another clean sheet. He is literally the big man.

 

15 (9) Ross Barkley
It’s telling that he has played more minutes in this qualifying campaign than any other midfielder bar Henderson and yet almost nobody thinks he should start for England. Will he eventually be ejected like a stockier Ryan Bertrand? The initials are a clue.

 

16 (11) Declan Rice
As I wrote last month: ‘He is only 20, so there are caveats, but right now he looks far from good enough to anchor that England midfield. Still, we persuaded him not to be Irish anymore, so his squad place is probably safe for the foreseeable.’ We wanted him to be so much better than Eric Dier; he isn’t.

 

17 (12) Mason Mount
He has played a part in England’s last six games so he is clearly integrated into this England squad. Unfortunately for him, he has started twice and struggled twice. Fortunately, he can do this from the bench…

 

18 (14) Kieran Trippier
Called up but then left on the bench. It could be worse; he could be Kyle Walker.

 

19 (20) Tammy Abraham
His first England goal and confirmation – were it needed – that he is Southgate’s first-choice back-up to Kane.

 

20 (22) Fabian Delph
Even grown men need a comfort blanket. Let it go, people, let it go…

 

21 (19) Danny Rose
Clinging onto a place in the squad but for how long? Until Luke Shaw gets and stays fit, you should think. Right now, Rose is holding off Aaron Cresswell and Matt Targett in the battle to be the left-sided fireguard with the thinner chocolate coating.

 

22 (32) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Back-to-back England starts for the first time since March 2018, when he was set to start in England’s World Cup midfield before injury struck. “We’ve a huge belief in him,” said Southgate. “Whether it’s as a midfield player – where he’s excellent with or without the ball, provides a goalscoring threat, works hard for the team and presses well – or a wide player or a forward player, we’ve got huge belief in him.” And that versatility might well be what keeps in this 23 ahead of more vaunted competition.

 

23 (23) Tom Heaton
The old man completes the 23. For now.

 

24 (21) Callum Hudson-Odoi
Reclaimed and then lost his Chelsea place, while his 59 wasteful, hesitant minutes against Kosovo suggested that he might be better getting some more England experience with the Under-21s this season while he searches for his form.

 

25 (24) Callum Wilson
Nobody takes three strikers for a one-striker system. Especially when the third striker on the list has stopped scoring.

 

26 (26) James Maddison
Most chances created by Englishmen this season:
Trent Alexander-Arnold (42)
Jack Grealish (25)
James Maddison (24)
Mason Mount (23)
Raheem Sterling (22)

Sorry James, but we don’t think Gareth likes the cut of your gib. Or the gib of…

 

27 (35) Jack Grealish
Though at least Southgate hinted that Grealish could be the next cab off the attacking midfielder rank. That’s progress.

 

28 (25) Kyle Walker
Sip sliding away. Slip-sliding a-way.

 

29 (31) Fikayo Tomori
They definitely didn’t bring him on for a few minutes to claim him from Nigeria (oh yes they did). But most importantly for this ladder, he was in the squad ahead of the falling Michael Keane.

 

30 (30) Dean Henderson
England’s…No. 4. England’s, England’s No. 4.

 

31 (29) Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Clearly, Southgate is not a fan of a 90s-style full-back.

 

32 (34) Dele Alli
Back in the Tottenham side at least. Shame it’s a really poor Tottenham side.

 

33 (27) Michael Keane
We may never see him in an England shirt again.

 

34 (28) Jesse Lingard
We may never see him in an England shirt again.

 

35 (33) Eric Dier
We may never see him in an England shirt again.

 

36 (40) Phil Foden
We will surely see him in a (senior) England shirt soon, but first Pep Guardiola needs to give him more than Carabao Cup football.

 

37 (NE) Aaron Ramsdale
The Bournemouth goalkeeper is making a compelling case for a long-term battle with Henderson.

 

38 (36) Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Love the player, hate the injury.

 

39 (37) Luke Shaw
Love the player, hate the injury. And the body type.

 

40 (42) Dwight McNeil

 

41 (41) Rob Holding
42 (38) Angus Gunn
43 (39) Ryan Sessegnon
44 (43) Max Aarons
45 (NE) John Lundstram
46 (NE) Harvey Barnes
47 (44) Reiss Nelson
48 (45) James Tarkowski
49 (47) James Ward-Prowse
50 (50) Phil Neville

 

Sarah Winterburn

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

England suffered their first qualifying defeat in a decade as they were beaten 2-1 by the Czech Republic on Friday night, resulting in some criticism for Gareth Southgate’s team selection.

We’ve taken a look at all the players in and around the national team squad to have featured prominently for their clubs this season, comparing their stats to see who’s in the best form and most worthy of a place in the Three Lions’ starting line-up.

We’re looking at the positions where there’s still seemingly something up for grabs, leaving out the non-negotiable core of Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane.

Read the article at Planet Football.

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Jose Mourinho was hammered for much of what he said and how he went about managing Manchester United. Maybe he was right more often than we all thought…

 

Finishing second was an incredible achievement
“I keep saying and thinking and feeling that the second last season was one of my biggest achievements in the game.”

How we all laughed when serial winner Mourinho declared that leading United to a runners-up finish was up there with the two Champions League titles and four domestic leagues he has conquered. At the time, it reeked of self-preservation.

But Mourinho knew. And he doubled down on that view after he was sacked. “If I tell you, for example, that I consider one of the best jobs of my career was to finish second with Man United in the Premier League, you will say, ‘this guy is crazy,’” Mourinho said a month after being shown the door. “‘He won 25 titles and he is saying that a second position was one of his best achievements?’”

“I keep saying this because people don’t know what is going on behind the scenes.”

In the context of United’s current fortunes, maybe Mourinho deserves a stand to be named after him at Old Trafford after coming 19 points behind Man City, but comfortably ahead of Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea. His squad was very similar to the one currently disgracing themselves, with Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez (the Chilean joined halfway through the season) the only major exits, while Solskjaer has the luxury of the centre-back that Mourinho pleaded for.

 

Mourinho knew Pogba can’t be trusted
Paul Pogba may have been United’s most technically gifted player of the last three seasons, but Mourinho was right. The midfielder is a ‘virus’ in the dressing room.

“You don’t respect players and supporters. And you kill the mentality of the good honest people around you,” Mourinho is reported to have told Pogba after a draw at Southampton last year. “You are like a person with a flu, with a virus in a closed room – you pass that virus to the others.”

By that time, the problems at United had split supporters and pundits into two separate factions: Jose vs Pogba. Shortly after, it was Pogba who claimed victory, and his sudden-but-fleeting upturn in form upon Mourinho’s sacking gave ammunition to those who believed the manager was the problem.

But Pogba hasn’t changed. Yet again he went out of his way to engineer a move out of Old Trafford this summer and his form this season – when fit – has been as hopelessly inconsistent as we came to expect from the Frenchman under Mourinho.

Pogba can’t claim that Mourinho didn’t try. The manager tried a raft of formations and midfield personnel in an effort to get the best out of the record signing, and even after Pogba told United he wanted to leave having returned to work with a World Cup winner’s medal fluffing his ego, Mourinho offered an olive branch in the form of the United vice-captaincy. Pogba (metaphorically we hope) wiped his arse with the armband.

But United don’t learn. The hierarchy at Old Trafford are reportedly ready to offer Pogba a pay-rise in a vain attempt to persuade him that his future lies with the Red Devils. But Pogba wants out and he could not have made it clearer, with his words or his form.

 

Marcus Rashford isn’t a natural centre-forward
When Mourinho signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku in each of his first two summers in charge at Old Trafford, the worry for many was what their arrival meant for Rashford’s prospects. Their concerns were misplaced.

Rashford ended up making more appearances under Mourinho than any other Manchester United player and played the fourth-highest number of minutes. The problem for some was that Rashford spent most of his time on the pitch shunted out wide.

Around 50 of the academy graduate’s 125 appearances under Mourinho came as a centre-forward, with 32 of those coming from the start. According to Transfermarkt, he averaged a goal every 219 minutes while leading the line. Hardly prolific numbers.

Mourinho recognised that Rashford’s qualities were more suited to a wide forward, a player who can lead breaks rather than one who can receive the ball with his back to goal. But Rashford still saw himself as a No.9. The ex-manager explained his thinking last month.

“I am not going to say he cannot ever be a number nine, he can be a dangerous number nine especially if the opposition is not pragmatic, is not close and is giving spaces to attack. He can be dangerous in transitions,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “But when Manchester United is a team that normally plays against teams who go to Old Trafford, close the door, bring the bus, bring the double bus, he is not a striker to play with his back to the goal.

“He is not the target man, he doesn’t score as many goals as a striker should do. So I think from the side you will get him to numbers of 10-12 goals per season.”

It seems Mourinho was right. Solskjaer immediately placed his faith in Rashford as his leading centre-forward – to Lukaku’s cost – but after an initial burst, the England attacker’s productivity has waned, as has his involvement in matches. Harry Maguire had more touches in the Newcastle box than Rashford – or any other United team-mate – on Sunday. Rashford looks so far off the pace as a leading striker that many people are assuming he is carrying an injury, despite Solskjaer’s insistence that he is 100 per cent fit.

The penny also appeared to have dropped with Solskjaer, who started the season with Martial as his starting centre-forward, with Rashford wide. But with Martial sidelined, Solskjaer has little option to persist with Rashford through the middle.

 

He knew Andreas Pereira wasn’t good enough
Mourinho had Pereira pegged as a continental Cleverley as soon as he got a decent look at the once-capped Brazil midfielder.

The 23-year-old spent the first two years of Mourinho’s United reign in Spain, initially with Granada before he defied the manager to go to Valencia for a season in 2017 – a decision which ‘disappointed’ Mourinho:  “His decision can be considered a young player who wants to play every weekend but also a young player that is not ready to fight for something difficult.”

Mourinho made his peace with Pereira’s choice and the manager offered the midfielder a chance to impress during United’s pre-season tour in 2018 while their World Cup players were still on holiday. In the United States, Pereira played as a No.6 where he eventually made his first Premier League start on the opening weekend. By the end of the following weekend, he was done in Mourinho’s mind. Pereira was hooked at half-time during a defeat which rang alarm bells at Old Trafford.

His next start came almost four months later when Mourinho rested key players for a Champions League group game at Valencia with qualification already assured. Back at the stadium he spent the previous season, Pereira was wretched. He was dropped again from Mourinho’s squad for the fateful trip to Liverpool, as he had been for the previous eight Premier League matches.

Solskjaer came in and having failed to convince Louis van Gaal or Mourinho, he was given a third opportunity. The current boss certainly appears to fancy the Belgium-born Brazilian more than the previous two managers – God only knows why. Pereira is a player without a position; he looks out of his depth wherever he is played. Fred may be the current poster boy for United’s slide but Pereira is equally as inept, as Mourinho quickly learned once he had the chance to see for himself.

 

He saw something in McTominay
When Mourinho brought Scott McTominay into his side and played him on an increasingly regular basis, even some within the club – his former academy team-mates among them – are understood to have been utterly baffled by what the manager saw in the gangly midfielder.

Not only did Mourinho play McTominay, he held the Scotland youngster up as an example to the rest of his high-profile, underperforming squad. Mourinho invented an award for McTominay at the end of the 2017-18 season, when United somehow finished second, so that he could be brought up on stage and paraded in front of the MUTV cameras as the template for his team-mates.

When Mourinho went, so too it was presumed would McTominay chances of regular involvement. Indeed, in his attempt to paint himself as the anti-Jose, Solskjaer used McTominay for a single minute in his first eight Premier League matches in charge.

But the midfielder has shown the kind of attitude and ‘special character’ that Mourinho saw in him to establish himself as one of the first names on Solskjaer’s team-sheet. Unfortunately for McTominay, any praise he receives is so often prefixed with “he’s no Keane/Robson/Scholes/Edwards” but he cannot be held accountable for the decline in standards at Old Trafford, especially while he is one of the few players trying to uphold them.

 

Ian Watson

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Juan Mata admits he has been blown away by Aaron Wan-Bissaka and says he has never seen a player like him.

The right-back has been an ever-present since moving to Manchester United from Crystal Palace in a £50million deal during the summer.

Veteran midfielder Mata has been particularly by Wan-Bissaka’s one-on-one defending in training and has backed the 21-year-old to get even better.

“He’s very, very good in defensive duties, very good in tackling,” Mata told The Times.

“I’ve never seen any player like him, he’s unbelievable. Even in training you think you’re past him and then he comes and takes the ball straight.

“He has very long legs! I can only see him improving. Like Anthony (Martial), he’s a shy, reserved guy but confident on the pitch.”

Wan-Bissaka was one of three new additions at Old Trafford this summer, with Harry Maguire and Daniel James also joining the Red Devils.

“They’ve had a positive impact,’ Mata added, before insisting Maguire has the potential to become a future United captain. ‘Why not?

“He has experience, his physical presence is important, centre back is a good position to be a commanding personality in the team and he has international experience.

“He’s come to a big club, really having a chance to make that next step towards to even more. Daniel also has made a very good start of the campaign, and everyone can see how quick he is.”

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Harry Maguire will find it “sh*t” playing against former club Leicester on Saturday, according to Dimitar Berbatov.

Maguire faces the club that shaped him into the world’s most expensive defender for the first time since leaving at the weekend.

The England international has had an indifferent start at Old Trafford, with the opening-day clean sheet proving a false dawn.

United have since drawn with both Wolves and Southampton, losing to Crystal Palace in a below-par start – although Maguire has been one of their better players.

Former United striker Berbatov still believes the centre-half will endure “a particularly difficult” match against his old club.

“United have a tough match against Leicester at Old Trafford on Saturday,” Berbatov told Betfair.

“It could be a particularly difficult one for Harry Maguire who joined them from Leicester in August.

“Playing against your old club is sh*t. It’s very difficult to spend two seasons somewhere – as Maguire did at Leicester and I did at Spurs – showing what you can do then get a big move and have to play against your old teammates with whom you’re probably still in touch.

“As hard as you try to be professional, friendships can sometimes get in the way.

“United’s performance against Southampton last time out was not what I want to see from United. They need a win but that can make for a tense atmosphere and prevent you playing good football.

“It will be interesting to see which United players go looking for the ball on Saturday. I really hope they start as if they’re desperate to win. An early goal would ease the tension but Maguire and his team-mates will need to keep it tight at the back, as they failed to hold on to the lead at Southampton.

“I’m backing United to win a close match and, as they’ve only kept one clean sheet so far, will go with 2-1 as the score.”

 

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Why wouldn’t you want to watch this one? It is without doubt the biggest fixture of the opening weekend and Sky Sports have saved it until last.

Chelsea have been less active in the summer than usual due to a transfer ban, and have lost both their manager, Maurizio Sarri, and star player, Eden Hazard. Christian Pulisic arrived before the ban to replace the latter, and club legend Frank Lampard has stepped into the managerial breach.

They may also be more reliant on younger talent than previous years, which makes for an exciting prospect.

Man Utd have had a mixed summer. They have failed to land top attacking targets and haven’t been able to off-load expensive wantaway duo Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku.

They have, though, acquired Harry Maguire – from Leicester City – making him the most expensive defender in history in the process. Daniel James, an £18million signing from Swansea, looks an exciting talent too, and they have managed to prise Aaron Wan-Bisska away from Crystal Palace to hopefully solve their right-back struggles.

The 4pm kick-off is a blockbuster way to end the first weekend of the season, and it’s one you’re unlikely going to want to miss.

Why wouldn’t you want to watch this one? It is without doubt the biggest fixture of the opening weekend and Sky Sports have saved it until last.

Chelsea have been less active in the summer than usual due to a transfer ban, and have lost both their manager, Maurizio Sarri, and star player, Eden Hazard. Christian Pulisic arrived before the ban to replace the latter, and club legend Frank Lampard has stepped into the managerial breach.

They may also be more reliant on younger talent than previous years, which makes for an exciting prospect.

Man Utd have had a mixed summer. They have failed to land top attacking targets and haven’t been able to off-load expensive wantaway duo Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku.

They have, though, acquired Harry Maguire – from Leicester City – making him the most expensive defender in history in the process. Daniel James, an £18million signing from Swansea, looks an exciting talent too, and they have managed to prise Aaron Wan-Bisska away from Crystal Palace to hopefully solve their right-back struggles.

The 4pm kick-off is a blockbuster way to end the first weekend of the season, and it’s one you’re unlikely going to want to miss.

 

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The vast majority of them – no. Clubs must register new signings with the FA by 12noon on the day before a match to be eligible to play in that match.

So it the clock ticks past noon on deadline day and your club still hasn’t announced their signing, you’re likely going to have to wait until August 17 to see them play.

What about players signed after the transfer deadline passes?

Anyone to have seen a transfer deadline day knows full well that a huge amount of deals get done after the window ‘slams shut’.

That is because something called the ‘deal sheet’ exists, which allows for more time to complete a deal that has passed a certain point in the process. The Premier League explains:

“Clubs sometimes conclude deals at the last minute and it is not always easy for them to get everything completed and sent over by the deadline.

“The deal sheet allows a club to confirm that a deal has been reached in order to allow for additional time to submit the remaining documentation.

“For a deadline of 17:00 BST, the deal sheet cannot be used before 15:00 and needs to arrive fully completed before the transfer window closes.

“Once the sheet arrives, clubs have got until 19:00 in which to submit the full paperwork.”

One point of note here is that international transfers working under ‘deal sheet’ principles have until midnight to complete.

Harry Maguire TEAMtalk

Can we expect many deals on transfer deadline day?

Probably not as many as in years gone by, in truth. It’s fair to say that the top clubs have figured out transfer windows much better in recent years and generally avoid the last-minute frenzy now.

Last summer, spending dropped by £100m on deadline day to £110m.

Indeed, should a deadline day frenzy not materialise, we will probably be looking at a record low number of total Premier League summer deals since the transfer window was introduced in 2002.

Can we expect the big clubs to be active on transfer deadline day?

It’s probably unlikely. The bigger the club the more transfer-savvy they seem to be this year and they get deals done earlier and on their terms.

They have all splashed the cash already, with Manchester United spending £130million on Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Manchester City paying Atletico Madrid £62.8million for Rodri, and Tottenham capturing Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon for £55million.

Man Utd may still be in the market for more and Liverpool may have a little look, but I’d not expect too many signings for the bigger clubs. Traditionally, they have focused more on offloading unwanted contracts on deadline day.

Chelsea certainly won’t be signing anyone, as they are currently under a transfer ban.

 

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is considering Paul Pogba for the captaincy, despite the Manchester United’s midfielder desire to leave this summer.

Marcus Rashford’s fine strike was followed by an impressive James Garner effort as the Red Devils opened pre-season with a victory far more comfortable than the 2-0 scoreline against Perth Glory suggests.

Pogba came on at half-time as Solskjaer completely rotated his side at the huge Optus Stadium, where the World Cup winner received a largely warm reception despite publicly admitting his openness to “a new challenge somewhere else”.

Agent Mino Raiola compounded matters by talking about how he is working to get his client a move, but Solskjaer says he would still consider the midfielder for a leadership role this season.

“No, it hasn’t (been decided),” the United boss said of the captaincy, having seen Antonio Valencia depart in the summer

“So we’ve got quite a few possibilities there and when the season starts we’ll announce.

“Of course we’ll have a good assessment, see how pre-season goes, so there we go.

“But, as you saw, Ashley (Young) will wear it when he’s playing until we decide on someone, yeah.”

Asked if Pogba is under consideration for the role, Solskjaer said: “Yeah.”

The France midfielder regularly captained United at the start of the 2018-19 season, only for Jose Mourinho to swiftly take away any vice-captain responsibilities as their relationship deteriorated.

Pushed further on Pogba’s resuming a captaincy position, Solskjaer added: “Well, I don’t think that needs explaining. We’ll discuss that later on.”

The club-record signing was asked for an interview as he made his way out of Optus Stadium, but simply responded: “No need”. Pogba said similar to another reporter.

Speculation about outgoings will continue throughout the tour, while Solskjaer kept his cards close to his chest when it came to signings.

PA understands that United are still trying to sign Leicester centre-back Harry Maguire, while they are scouring the market for a midfielder.

“I think you need to speak to Ed (Woodward, executive vice-chairman) or others,” the United boss said about transfers.

“At the moment, I can’t give you any updates, no.

“Well, timing is obviously an issue but we’re working, as I’ve said before, so of course we’re optimistic.”

Solskjaer was more forthcoming when it came to the performance of his squad in their pre-season opener, with Daniel James impressing and Aaron Wan-Bissaka showing signs of promise in their first match in a United shirt.

“Both the new lads did well, both Dan and Aaron,” he said, having confirmed Luke Shaw went off with a hamstring issue.

“You had Mason (Greenwood), Angel (Gomes), Jimmy (Garner), you know the young lads, Chongy [Tahith Chong].

“I think they also showed that they can make it as a Man United player and the more experienced ones did a job because we got 45 minutes out of most and it was a professional workout from everyone.”

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

SHAMBLES
Mediawatch assumed that Manchester United releasing the full footage of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard’s supposed ‘public spat’ on the pre-season tour of Perth would bring an end to this tiresome line of reporting.

After all, does this really look like the furious bust-up it was framed as?

There they are, at each other’s throats, smiling, laughing and generally being unable to stand one another’s company.

Mediawatch is, of course, stupid. Why would The Sun see the above and admit they made about 427 mountains out of a single molehill when they can duly double down on this emergency?

‘Land Down Blunders’ is the headline to a double-page spread on Wednesday, with the tagline of ‘UNITED OZ TOUR SHAMBLES’. Have we missed something?

The sub-headlines offer yet more misery:

‘JESSE TRIES TO SHRUG OFF POGBA ROW’ – because there wasn’t one.

‘LINDELOF’S READY TO GO, CLAIMS AGENT’ – who says nothing of the sort.

All of this accompanies an article from Neil Custis which gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘artistic license’.

‘Just as one player tried to make peace, another was throwing a spanner in the works,’ he begins.

‘In fact, there are so many spanners being tossed around at Manchester United right now,’ he continues, resisting the obvious gag, ‘it is a wonder the big red machine is moving at all.’

‘Well, it has been moving – but unfortunately in the wrong direction. And the build-up to the new season does not suggest that is going to be reversed.’

Yep, they’re absolutely sh*te. Although Custis did say ‘United have been made into a team to be feared again’ in February. Still, carry on.

‘Shortly after the team landed here in Perth on Monday and went for a walk to stretch their legs following the 16-hour flight, the video of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard arguing and being separated by Victor Lindelof emerged.’

It did not ’emerge’; it was literally posted by Manchester United’s official Twitter account. And it was not a video of them arguing; it was a video of the squad walking around that potentially showed a couple of seconds of two players having a heated discussion – a theory which has since been disproved.

Oh, and the claim that Lindelof ‘separated’ them is a load of b*llocks and you know it. They weren’t squaring up outside Wetherspoons in Manchester city centre at 2am on Saturday morning.

‘Twenty four hours later, United did not feel they needed to delete the footage from their social media accounts.’

Because that would have been the most stupid idea possible, giving rise to suggestions that there had been some sort of altercation. They ‘did not feel they needed to delete the footage from their social media accounts’ because they released an extended version that proved there was no problem.

‘Lingard was quick to post a picture on Twitter yesterday of him training next to Pogba, as if to say they were still pals.’

It’s almost as if they’re still…ah, forget it. There are two pictures on this article alone showing them both next to each other. Pogba is doing kick-ups as Lingard watches on in one, and we are told that ‘Pog shows off’. The flashy get.

‘Soon there was more trouble as peacemaker Lindelof’s agent Hasan Cetinkaya said: “Lindelof is on the radar of a great European club, but leaving United depends on the English club.”

‘It could be pointed out that he is already at a great European club but the agent is clearly stoking the fire of rumours that Barcelona are interested in signing the Swede, who moved to Old Trafford from Benfica in 2017.’

Can a pot tell a kettle that they’re ‘stoking the fire’?

But enough about Lindelof, who is ‘just another unwanted distraction’. This is about Pogba, whose ‘demeanour’ before the tour ‘suggested he was less than keen’ on heading to Australia to get annoyed by Jesse Lingard.

‘Indeed, it was reported he had told team-mates last week that he was not coming at all.’

That’s nice. You do realise he’s there though, don’t you?

‘Coaching staff were holding their breath on Sunday as to whether the club’s record £89m signing would turn up. That is some way to treat a club that pays you £290,000 a week.’

Neil, he’s there. He’s on the tour. He’s with the club. What are you on about?

Of course, the Frenchman ‘does not seem to be alone in wanting out of United’. David de Gea ‘has still not signed a new contract’, Romelu Lukaku ‘is looking to move to Italy’, Ander Herrera ‘has already gone to Paris Saint-Germain’ and ‘the club are keeping their fingers crossed on’ someone coming along to pay Alexis Sanchez’s ridiculous wages.

So that’s one player United want to keep, two players United want to sell and one player United did not show enough intent to keep before he left. Along with Pogba, who is apparently staying, this is clearly a ‘mass exodus’.

The problems really do ‘just seem to mount up’. Particularly when you invent at least half of them, Neil.

 

Wheeler dealer
Let Chris Wheeler show Custis how it’s done (in the Daily Mail‘s solitary page of football coverage).

‘There was uncertainty that Pogba would even show up for the tour but he reported for duty on Sunday.’

Making it clear Pogba has not actually done anything wrong. Lovely.

‘He was then involved in a supposed spat with team-mate Jesse Lingard that transpired to be nothing more than friendly banter when the United players went on a walkabout following their arrival.’

Pointing out that the ‘supposed spat’ actually ‘transpired to be nothing more than friendly banter’. Delightful.

‘Victor Lindelof was the third player involved in the video clip and the Sweden defender’s own future at United was called into question when his agent confirmed interest from a top European club – believed to Barcelona if they lose out to Juventus over Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt.’

But ‘LINDELOF’S READY TO GO’,  yeah?

‘”Lindelof is in the orbit of a great European club, but leaving United depends on the English club,” said agent Hasan Cetinkaya, presumably a reference to United’s pursuit of Leicester’s Harry Maguire.’

Suggesting that the quote is likely more to do with United signing someone else than Lindelof wanting to leave? Wonderful.

Three huge issues worthy of a double-page spread in one desperate newspaper, and clarified as absolutely nothing by another happy to simply report on other sports instead of pretending something is happening. Textbook.

 

Mirror, Mirror
But here is David McDonnell of the Daily Mirror to prove that more than one newspaper is willing to completely ignore context and fact to pretend that Manchester United are in crisis.

‘Victor Lindelof has piled more misery on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after his agent claimed he is being targeted by Barcelona.’

‘Agent says really big club wants to sign a player he represents’ really is a miserable state of affairs.

‘With Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku already trying to quit Old Trafford this summer, and David de Gea so far refusing to sign a new deal, the Manchester United boss is fighting to hold his squad together.’

Losing three players from a 28-man squad – and receiving plenty of money to reinvest in replacements – really would be cataclysmic.

‘The Sweden star’s agent, Hassan Cetinkaya, claimed Lindelof could move on this summer, suggesting the 24-year-old is keen to make the switch.’

He suggested no such thing.

‘A spat between Pogba and Jesse Lingard – filmed and posted on the club’s official social media feeds – hinted at further tensions.’

For fu…

 

Stay with me
Pogba even makes The Sun‘s back page because, well, obviously.

‘STAY!’ is the headline as we are told that ‘Paul Pogba will be asked to wait a year before quitting Manchester United.’

Fair enough. It worked with Cristiano Ronaldo a decade ago and with countless other players. It will show that they’re in control of the situation as they get another year out of a clearly talented player, whose ambition to leave will be realised eventually. There have been worse ideas.

‘Right now the midfielder, who is unhappy at being on United’s summer tour to Australia, is going nowhere.’

Yep, he’s miserable. So very, very miserable. And nice one. This is United’s and Solskjaer’s decision, then?

‘Italian giants Juve do not have the cash to fund a deal for the player they sold back to United three years ago.

‘Real boss Zinedine Zidane is also on record as being an admirer of his fellow Frenchman. But he has already blown most of his £300m transfer budget since returning to the Bernabeu.

‘And United have not had an approach from either Real or Juventus for Pogba – who was filmed having a spat with team-mate Jesse Lingard after they landed in Perth (No he f***ing wasn’t).’

So United are deciding to keep a player for one year…because they’ve had no offers for him and his two potential suitors can’t afford it? A rare victory for this absolute SHAMBLES of a club.

 

You’re kidding?
The efforts of the MailOnline in not pretending Manchester United are about to fold is appreciated. Their definition of ‘kids’ needs some work, mind.

‘The 25-goal hot-shot, a rampaging right-back, classy midfielders and a dreadlocked defender – meet the kids looking to break into Chelsea’s first team as Lampard plans his assault on the Premier League’ is the rather wordy headline to an article that puts forward the cases of Ian Maatsen (17), Ethan Ampadu (18), Marc Guehi (18), Billy Gilmour (18), Dujon Sterling (19), Jamie Cumming (19) and Conor Gallagher (19), among many others. They are hardly ‘kids’ in a traditional sense, but football logic dictates that any teenager is basically still a child.

Mediawatch can even let Mason Mount (20), Ike Ugbo (20) and Trevoh Chalobah (20) go; they are certainly young. But a line surely has to be drawn at Lewis Baker, the 24-year-old ‘kid’ who made his debut five and a half years ago.

 

Roll the Dyche
The following is presented to you entirely without comment. Good lord:

 

Recommended reading of the day
Caitlin Murray on Jill Ellis.

Melissa Reddy on Tottenham.

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

These are the 12 most expensive players who were uncapped when they made their big move…

 

12) Alex Pritchard (Norwich to Huddersfield, £12m)
The midfielder joined Town in January 2018 for anything between £10million and £14million, depending on who you believe. So we have split the difference. “I think it will be the right club for me,” Pritchard said at the time. “Just the way they play football and the togetherness of the team is a perfect fit for me.” Less than a season and a half later, the 26-year-old is heading back to the Championship – passing his former club on the way down – with a different manager who is clearly yet to be convinced by the midfielder.

Pritchard was an inconsistent presence in Town’s XI last season and Jan Siewert shifted him into a wide position for Town’s last few matches in the top flight as part of his experimentation for their next campaign. Pritchard did well on the right against Manchester United but, in fairness, this was his opposition…

 

11) Lloyd Kelly (Bristol City to Bournemouth, £13m)
The England Under-21 full-back became the sixth £10million-plus signing in the space of a year for little Bournemouth, who apparently fended off interest from Liverpool and Arsenal for the Bristol City academy graduate.

That’s presumably because Kelly has been promised a regular place in Eddie Howe’s first XI next season, either on the left or in the centre of the Cherries’ defence. City boss Lee Johnson, who has been very vocal in his praise for a ‘Rolls Royce of a player’ reckons the 20-year-old will become a centre-back in the long term but, initially, Kelly will fight with Charlie Daniels and Diego Rico for the left-back spot. “I genuinely think he’ll play for England at senior level,” said Johnson, though many thought that about Jordon Ibe. Speaking of whom…

 

10) Jordon Ibe (Liverpool to Bournemouth, £15m)
“It was a tough one but I needed to think what was best for me, which is playing, and when you scale it up, Liverpool and Bournemouth are fighting for the same things,” Ibe told The Times in 2016 in an interview which has not stood the test of time at all well. “Liverpool are not in the Europa League so would it really make a difference? And I would have more chances to play at Bournemouth than Liverpool so it doesn’t really matter.”

Three years later, Ibe has three Premier League goals while starting only nine Premier League matches last season. Liverpool are faring rather better…

 

9) Sam Clucas (Hull City to Swansea City, £15m)
The Swans signed Clucas for an eye-watering figure without really having an idea of where they might play him. The former Mansfield, Chesterfield and Hull utility player was a victim of his own versatility to a certain extent but justification of his fee was barely evident in his performances – unless Arsenal were the opponents – during one miserable season at the Liberty Stadium.

Upon relegation, it seemed like Clucas might stay in the Premier League with a move to Burnley on the cards until the Clarets refused to budge over personal terms. Swansea eventually clawed back £6million of their investment when Stoke took the 28-year-old off their hands. Once he recovered from knee surgery – by which time a third of the season had passed – Clucas became a Potters regular in the Championship, but he seems to have most to lose should Nathan Jones sign Nick Powell from Wigan.

 

8) Ben Gibson (Middlesbrough to Burnley, £15m)
Joe Hart was Burnley’s headline signing last summer but Gibson was the most expensive. Neither worked. Hart is desperate for another move this summer while Gibson just wants a taste of the action.

The centre-back, once called up for the England senior squad in 2017, currently has a goal-a-game record with Burnley owing to his strike in a 5-1 defeat at Everton on Boxing Day, his only Premier League appearance so far for Burnley. A hernia problem at the start of the season didn’t help but Dyche obviously saw nothing in training from his joint-record signing to tempt him to break up the Ben Mee-James Tarkowski partnership.

 

7) Calum Chambers (Southampton to Arsenal, £16m)
Half a decade after the then-19-year-old joined Arsenal, we still don’t know if he fits into the Gunners’ plans. Probably not. For two of the last three seasons, he has been shipped out on loan to Middlesbrough and Fulham with both sides being relegated. Which is probably just a coincidence.

Moving to Arsenal was enough to earn Chambers an England cap – three in fact – under Roy Hodgson. Three years after his senior debut, Chambers was playing for the Under-21s at the 2017 Euros.

 

6) Harry Maguire (Hull City to Leicester City, £17m)
It seemed steep at the time but, two years later, Leicester are set to make close to a five-fold return on Craig Shakespeare’s investment. That is if they sell Maguire, which they should only do if they receive an offer too good to turn down. And if that comes from Manchester United, would the 20-cap England defender be better off staying where he is?

The Foxes could finish above United next term…

 

5) Andre Gray (Burnley to Watford, £18.5m)
‘If you want a striker to score some – but not many – goals against bad defences but look worrying blunt against other sides, Gray’s your man. For £18.5m.’ we wrote upon the striker’s big move to Watford in 2017.

Two seasons on, not much has changed. Gray netted five goals in his first season at Vicarage Road and seven last term, most of which he watched from the bench amid only 13 starts. Troy Deeney is more likely to win a full cap than the former England C striker.

 

4) Alfie Mawson (Swansea to Fulham, £20m)
The centre-back was considered something of a bargain when the Cottagers won the race for a 24-year-old who four months previously had been called up by Gareth Southgate without getting on the pitch against Italy. But like the rest of his Fulham team-mates, Mawson had a stinking 2018-19.

Injuries offer the former Barnsley and Swansea defender some mitigation. But the fact Mawson has had surgery on the same knee twice in the space of a year, the last occasion after injuring himself while changing his boots, will caution some Premier League clubs who might be looking to rescue him from Fulham’s sinking ship.

 

3) James Maddison (Norwich to Leicester, £22.5m)
Leicester are pretty good at this. Maddison might not fetch quite as much as Maguire but the attacking midfielder would still earn the Foxes a three-fold return. Not that they want to sell or that he wants to leave after only a year at the King Power Stadium.

But what a year! The 22-year-old was the only player in the Premier League to create 100 chances so it is no wonder half of the Big Six are sniffing. Gareth Southgate is rather harder to impress, evidently.

 

2) Jordan Pickford (Sunderland to Everton, £25m)
Everton’s record signing had yet to win a senior cap when Everton made him their record signing in 2017 but two years later, Pickford has 19 of them, having established himself as Southgate’s undisputed No.1.

That doesn’t mean he’s everyone’s cup of tea. ‘There’s just too much going on,’ wrote Winty last week. ‘While Gareth Southgate is trying to engender an era of calm, smooth, possession football – and failing, because of various reasons outlined below – Pickford is getting his rave on. Every game. All game.’

But Everton would still double their money if they took Pickford to market and the England gloves look to be his for the foreseeable future.

 

1) Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace to Manchester United, £50m)
Here comes Wan-Bissaka, blowing everyone out of the water with his big move to Old Trafford.

When a young player moves to United or any big club, a first cap rarely follows far behind. But Wan-Bissaka has a lot of competition for the right-back spot in Gareth Southgate’s senior squad, with Kieran Trippier being squeezed out by Kyle Walker and Trent Alexander-Arnold this summer.

Wan-Bissaka went instead with the Under-21s to the European Championships, where he did his cause little good on Aidy Boothroyd’s watch. A 95th-minute own goal in the opening defeat to France led to Boothroyd dropping the 21-year-old, claiming the United target had “had his head turned”. Which the manager apparently didn’t spot before the defeat… just another thing to add to Boothroyd’s charge sheet.

Ian Watson

 

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