Scotland missed out on Nations League promotion after falling to a 1-0 defeat in Israel.

Manor Solomon scored on the counter-attack a minute before half-time to allow the Czech Republic to leapfrog Scotland and take top spot in Group B2 following their win over Slovakia.

Scotland had enjoyed a dangerous spell before the goal and looked threatening immediately after the break. But some attacking-minded substitutions failed to transmit into chances as Israel held on.

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Steve Clarke’s side had come into November four points clear at the top but consecutive defeats cost them.

Winning the group would have put Scotland in the running for two World Cup play-off places, if needed.

Promotion to the top tier would also have enhanced chances of making Euro 2024.

Clarke picked the same team that started in Scotland’s Euro 2020 play-off win over Serbia last week.

Ryan Christie hit a free-kick into the wall after being fouled in the act of shooting but there was little else in the way of threats at either end in the opening 15 minutes.

Israel got the first shot on target when Sun Menachem got in behind Stephen O’Donnell. He met a deep cross but shot straight at David Marshall from a tight angle.

Scotland began to exert some pressure and created two good chances around the half-hour mark.

Kieran Tierney played a penetrating ball forward and sharp passes from John McGinn and Ryan Jack set up O’Donnell, but the wing-back drove the ball across the face of goal.

Scott McTominay soon whipped in an excellent cross but Ofir Marciano pushed over a backward header from his former Hibernian team-mate McGinn.

Christie then under-hit a lay-off to McGinn after a long ball put Israel in trouble and Scotland had a let-off when Eran Zahavi took a heavy touch as he checked to shoot.

Callum McGregor’s cutback evaded a Scotland shirt before Lyndon Dykes had a header saved, but the visitors were soon caught on the breakaway.

The skilful Solomon was left one-on-one with McTominay, turned him on the outside and fired inside the far post.

Zahavi and Shon Weissman came close for Israel in the opening stages of the second half but Scotland were attacking with purpose. McGinn had two shots diverted for corners and Declan Gallagher headed over from seven yards after getting a clear run at Christie’s delivery.

Christie then brilliantly sent O’Donnell away on a break but Marciano got down well to save the Motherwell man’s powerful strike.

Clarke made a double switch on the hour mark, sending on strikers Leigh Griffiths and Oli McBurnie for McGinn and Dykes.

But, as Israel sat deeper, the openings dried up for Scotland and Clarke made two more changes in the 73rd minute. Scott McKenna replaced Gallagher in a straight swap and winger Oliver Burke came on for O’Donnell to add more attacking threat.

McBurnie soon did well to get a diving header on target from McTominay’s cross but Marciano got down reasonably comfortably.

Burke quickly got some decent crosses in before Marshall kept Scotland’s hopes alive by blocking a shot from Israel substitute Eyal Golasa after a counter-attack.

Chances eventually arrived in the final three minutes but the frustration continued for Scotland.

McKenna headed Andy Robertson’s cross just wide before a long throw fell invitingly for Griffiths but the striker could not get hold of his half-volley and the ball trundled into Marciano’s hands.

If there was any doubt it was not Scotland’s night then it was confirmed when Israel right-back Eli Dasa handled in his box and saw Marciano stop the ball going straight in.

Marciano then parried a Griffiths free-kick six minutes into stoppage-time.

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

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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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

When is Aston Villa v Chelsea?

Barring any health emergencies, the game is scheduled to take place on Sunday June 21.

What time does Aston Villa v Chelsea kick-off?

The game is the second of three Premier League matches on June 21 and the action gets underway at 4.15pm, right after Newcastle v Sheffield United.

What is at stake?

There is no question that it is a key game for both teams.

Chelsea are battling qualify for the Champions League and will fancy their chances of holding off strong competition from the likes of Manchester United and Wolves.

Aston Villa, meanwhile, are deeply embroiled in a scrap for survival at the bottom and will soon see games start to run out.

Where can I watch Aston Villa v Chelsea?

Sky Sports are broadcasting this one, and indeed all the matches on June 21.

Is Aston Villa v Chelsea free-to-air?

It is not, no. You’re going to need a subscription to Sky Sports Main Event or Sky Sports Premier League to watch this one.

What is the team news?

John McGinn Aston Villa

Key midfielder John McGinn is available again for Aston Villa after believing his season was over before the enforced break. How big a role he will be deemed fit enough to play in the run-in will be entirely down to Villains boss Dean Smith.

Chelsea star Jorginho is certain to miss out for the Blues as he completes a two-match suspension. Other than that, though, Frank Lampard has the luxury of a fully fit squad from which to choose.

What happened in the reverse match?

Homegrown talents Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount scored to give Chelsea a 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge back in December.

What are the odds?

Chelsea are odds on at 8/15 to win at Villa Park with the hosts priced at 9/2. The draw can be backed at 10/3.


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That it took 76 minutes to break down Aston Villa last weekend will not fill Tottenham Hotspur fans with confidence ahead of a trip to Manchester City, who barely had to move out of first gear on Saturday to destroy West Ham. Three years of Pep Guardiola’s tactical training have given City the muscle memory to pass and move in perfect triangles, making them vastly superior to any other team in England.

But Tottenham do tend to raise their game when facing Man City, pressing aggressively to create a tense and oppressive midfield battle. The win won’t come easy for Guardiola’s side, and yet with Tottenham looking vulnerable in the full-back positions and missing both Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli, the hosts should collect the three points.

Here are five tactical questions ahead of Man City v Spurs:


1) Will Pochettino go three at the back to sure up Rose and Walker-Peters?
Tottenham lined up in a 3-5-2 formation the last time these sides met, a 1-0 victory for Man City at the Etihad in April, and Mauricio Pochettino could deploy the same formation to provide additional support to Danny Rose and Kyle Walker-Peters. Both full-backs have an error in them, Rose having been beaten too easily by John McGinn in Spurs’ opener and 22-year-old Walker-Peters still raw. Playing with three centre-backs also has its advantages in helping to close out the inside-forward spaces in which Raheem Sterling tends to occupy.

However, it is more likely that Pochettino will use the diamond 4-4-2 that began the Aston Villa match, not least because Juan Foyth’s injury and apparent fitness concerns over Jan Vertonghen leaves the Tottenham manager with limited options at the back. In a diamond, Spurs can pack the midfield with bodies while giving Christian Eriksen the creative freedom he enjoyed against Villa from an advanced role – as well as pick Harry Kane and Lucas Moura to counter-attack together up front.


2) Will Ndombele be able to prevent De Bruyne from running the right channel?
The diamond formation, essentially using four central midfielders, should create a claustrophobic and compact game at the Etihad, more reminiscent of the three 1-0s between the sides last year than City’s 4-3 win in the Champions League. In such a cluttered midfield battle, the key head-to-head is between Tanguy Ndombele and Kevin de Bruyne.

De Bruyne’s role has changed slightly this season. The Belgian alternates between dropping alongside Rodri to help out his new team-mate defensively and drifting out into the right half-space to collaborate with Riyad Mahrez in attack. These two overloaded West Ham left-back Aaron Cresswell last weekend to devastating effect, and should be able to similarly trouble Rose on Saturday – particularly if Spurs play with such a narrow midfield.

Moussa Sissoko is likely to be the midfielder closest to Rose, but it is Ndombele’s presence at both ends that should either force De Bruyne alongside Rodri or allow him to roam up the pitch. Should the Frenchman burst forward in possession and seek to support Eriksen, then De Bruyne’s influence will be limited; theirs is a territorial battle that will go some way to deciding which side is on top.


3) Can Kane put pressure on Rodri?
Against both Liverpool and West Ham, Rodri was caught in possession on a couple of occasions in the opening 20 minutes, a typical sign of teething problems after arriving in such a fast and physical division. The mainstream narrative is that Rodri managed to adapt as each game wore on, but in reality it’s just that both of City’s opponents lowered the intensity of their pressing and tackling at around the half-hour mark.

Spurs are unlikely to similarly let up. Harry Kane in particular has a big role to play dropping into his favoured number ten position and nicking possession from Rodri, but it would be naïve to pinpoint just one player looking to harass the Spaniard off the ball. The only times West Ham looked close to scoring at London Stadium last Saturday was when Rodri was pickpocketed and space suddenly opened up in the final third. Pochettino will most definitely instruct his players to swarm Rodri.


4) How can Spurs target Zinchenko?
The obvious weak point in the Man City team is Oleksandr Zinchenko, who always looks a bit shaky and positionally unsure when playing left-back. However, Tottenham’s probable formation doesn’t provide a clear pathway to target the Ukrainian, particularly given that Walker-Peters will be instructed to play cautiously with Sterling lurking on the left.

Lucas Moura, peeling off to the right, is the only quick attacker in the Spurs team while Heung-Min Son serves his suspension, and so he is their best option to run in behind Zinchenko when Tottenham launch counters. Long balls into the channels from Toby Alderweireld would be a good idea in such a restrictive, high-pressing game.

But such is the complexity and efficiency of Guardiola’s tactic,s Zinchenko is unlikely to be exposed. In fact, he will pop up in central midfield just as often as left-back, providing cover for when Rodri strides into the Spurs half and making himself available for the connecting ball between Kyle Walker and Sterling. Chinks in City’s armour are so minute Spurs probably won’t discover them.


5) Will Sterling versus Walker-Peters settle the contest?
The machine-like efficiency of Sterling at the moment should strike fear into Spurs fans, particularly as the game wears on and gaps begin to open up. That he faces Walker-Peters is problematic. The right-back has the athleticism to stand Sterling up when one on one, but the bigger risk is during moments when City counter-attack on the outside of Tottenham’s narrow midfield, with Sterling particularly threatening making runs on the inside of the opposition full-back.

In all probability City’s superiority across the pitch will bring them victory, but should Spurs manage to restrict the hosts then Guardiola will look to Sterling’s one-on-one with Walker-Peters as the main source of a late goal.


Alex Keble

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Tottenham avoided an embarrassing opening day defeat to Aston Villa thanks to a late second half comeback. 

Harry Kane’s last gasp brace sealed the 3-1 win for Tottenham. That’s despite Villa taking a surprise lead in the first half courtesy of John McGinn.

Mauricio Pochettino felt his side lost their shape in the first half. The Tottenham boss accepted the blame for that but was pleased with the response after the break.

He told Sky Sports: “We started the game well but the first goal – long ball, crazy goal – that we conceded started to change everything. I think we were a little bit confused and that is my fault because I am the manager.

“In the second half we fixed this problem and everyone saw our positions were completely different. That helped the team to control the 45 minutes.

“I was more relaxed because we had the time to score and create chances, and win the game. It was very important for us to start the season with a victory.”

Jan Vertonghen Tottenham

One man who didn’t take part in Tottenham’s opener was Jan Vertonghen. Pochettino admitted that there was nothing untoward about the absence of the defender who is in the final 12 months of his contract.

Spurs boss said: “We have plenty of very good players in all positions. Of course we are only going to play with 11 in each game. We cannot play with 12 or 13.

“This is my sixth season, I think everyone knows me. I am going to play the players who I believe deserve to play. There is not any issue, only my decision was to play with Toby (Alderweireld) and Davinson.”

Next up for Tottenham is a repeat of last season’s Champions League quarter-final as they clash with Manchester City at the Etihad stadium.

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