England draw Belgium in World Cup

England have been drawn in Group G for the 2018 World Cup in Russia alongside Roberto Martinez’s Belgium.

They will also face Tunisia and Panama, who are making their first ever appearance at a World Cup.

England’s opening game will be against Tunisia in Volgograd on June 18.

Gareth Southgate’s side will then play Panama on June 24 in Nizhny Novgorod, before finishing the group in Kaliningrad against top seeds Belgium.

Should they make it through the group, England’s possible second round opponents are Japan, Colombia, Senegal and Poland.

Elsewhere, European Champions Portugal will face 2010 winners Spain.

Hosts Russia have been drawn with Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The holders Germany will play Mexico, Sweden and South Korea.

 

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Title race taken to Valencia after Dovi win

Andrea Dovizioso’s win in Malaysia means that the MotoGP title will be decided in the final round at Valencia. Dovizioso is 21 points behind championship leader Marc Marquez, after the Honda rider could only manage fourth at Sepang.

The Spaniard went in to this weekend knowing that the title was in his hands, but he started back on the third row. This did not stop Marquez from making a strong start, and he was already amongst the leaders at the first turn.

Johann Zarco started strongest, but as the race wore on, his soft rear tyre allowed both Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso though on turns nine and fourteen on lap nine.

The Ducatis quickly managed to gap the Frenchman, and soon the question of team orders came up. Would Jorge Lorenzo give up the chance of his first win on a Ducati to aid his teammate’s title chances?

With six laps to go, Lorenzo received a message through on his dashboard saying: “suggested mapping 8”. The next couple of laps saw Dovizioso close the gap on his teammate, but he was unable to get past.

On the final corner of lap 16, Lorenzo lost the front and ran wide, allowing Dovizioso past. From there, the Italian cruised home to take the win, with Lorenzo following him into second.

Johann Zarco completed the podium, nine seconds back, whilst Marquez came fourth, a further eight seconds behind.

Dani Pedrosa finished fifth, and Danilo Petrucci, who started at the back of the grid after breaking down on the sighting lap, came sixth.

After being sucked into the pack at the start of the race, Valentino Rossi recovered to finish ahead of Jack Miller and Maverick Vinales in seventh. Pol Espargaro rounded off the top ten.

It was another disappointing weekend for the British riders, the top of which was Bradley Smith in twelfth. He came in four seconds clear of Scott Redding, whilst Cal Crutchlow gained a single point in fifteenth. Sam Lowes crashed out with 16 laps to go, but got back on to his second bike. Unfortunately for Lowes, he crashed his second bike as well.

The Moto3 championship had already been decided, with Joan Mir being crowned at Phillip Island. Mir celebrated by securing his tenth win of the season, whilst John McPhee managed to climb back up to fifth after he was forced to run off to avoid a collision.

In Moto2, the title race was concluded in anti-climatic fashion. A crash in qualifying left Thomas Luthi with a broken ankle and unable to race. That handed the title to Franco Morbidelli. The Italian was unable to celebrate with a victory though, as Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder completed a KTM 1-2, as in Phillip Island.

Dovi keeps title hopes alive in Motegi

Andrea Dovizioso blew the title race wide open as he snatched a thrilling win at a soaking wet Japanese Grand Prix. The Italian overturned a half-second gap from title rival Marc Marquez to take the win in dramatic fashion, closing the gap in the championship to just 11 points.

Dovi Motegi

Dovizioso now has five wins this season, after having just one victory in MotoGP before the start of this year. Image: dawn.com

Dovizioso had gone fairly under the radar, allowing teammates Jorge Lorenzo and Danilo Petrucci lead early on. As the laps progressed though, the Italian found himself as part of a break-away front three. As Marquez tangled with Petrucci, Dovizioso sat back, before eventually passing Petrucci, who looked to have just run out of steam.

For Dovizioso though, his race was just beginning. After passing his fellow Ducati rider, he was straight on to the back of Marquez.

With three laps to go, Dovizioso made his move, hitting the front and looking the more comfortable in the wet conditions. But in true Marquez fashion he fought his way back past the Ducati. Marquez extended his lead to just under half a second going into the last lap, but a mistake by the world champion allowed Dovizioso to catch him in the final sector.

As in Austria, Marquez went for broke, diving down the inside of Dovizioso on the final corner. It was almost as if Dovi knew that he was coming, however, allowing the Honda to dart through on the inside and run wide before the Ducati was able to power back past on the drag to the line.

Danilo Petrucci completed the podium, whilst Suzuki riders Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins finished fourth and fifth.

After initially leading the race, Jorge Lorenzo fell back into the middle of the pack, but rallied late on to rise to sixth. He overtook Aleix Espargaro in the final few laps, who had previously had a quiet race before falling to seventh.

Johann Zarco, who had also started brightly, dropped down to eighth, whilst Maverick Vinales and Loris Baz completed the top ten.

Valentino Rossi compounded his misery after a poor weekend all round, crashing out of the race early on.

It was a poor weekend for the British riders on the whole, except for Sam Lowes. Lowes just missed out on twelfth, running out of fuel on the last corner and just being overtaken by wildcard Katsuyuki Nakasuga. Scott Redding finished just outside the points in sixteenth, whilst Bradley Smith was unable to capitalise on his impressive qualifying performance, finishing eighteenth. Cal Crutchlow crashed out early on, and although he did re-enter the race, he crashed again later on.

In Moto2, it was a better afternoon for the Marquez family, as Alex Marquez took the victory by over a second. Championship leader Franco Morbedelli finished eighth, but still managed to extend his lead over Thomas Luthi to 24 points, after the Swiss rider finished 11th.

Romano Fenati managed to keep the Moto3 title race alive as he took the chequered flag. Championship leader Joan Mir, by contrast, failed to finish in the points after starting from 20th after a grid penalty. The result leaves Mir 56 points ahead of Fenati with three rounds remaining. John McPhee finished tenth, leaving him sixth in the championship.

Premier League 2017/18 Preview – Southampton

saints

Image: eurosport.co.uk

Southampton drastically underperformed last season, but still managed an eighth place finish and reached the League Cup final. However, despite this seemingly good performance on paper, the Saints finished six points above seventeenth place Watford, and were 17 points worse off than the season before. Only the bottom five teams scored less goals than the Saints (41), and their top scorer was Nathan Redmond with just seven goals. Claude Puel’s sacking was largely accredited to Southampton’s poor home form, as only Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough and Sunderland had worse home records. New boss Mauricio Pellegrino guided newly-promoted Alaves to ninth in La Liga and the Copa del Rey final last season. The Saints have so far kept hold of star players, with Virgil van Dijk and Ryan Bertrand linked with moves away from the club. If they want to close the gap on Everton, it is vital that Saints retain their stars, as well as adding quality to the squad. Jan Bednarek, a Polish Under-21 international centre-back has joined the club, and the Saints have also broken their transfer record for midfielder Mario Lemina from Juventus for around £18m. Lemina will slot in alongside last season’s top performer Oriel Romeu at the base of the midfield, allowing Steven Davis to occupy a more natural number ten role. Dusan Tadic underperformed last season, scoring 3 goals and providing 7 assists, whilst record-signing Sofiane Boufal struggled to make an impact. Both will have to step up their game or face being replaced if Saints are going to push for a Europa League place again. However, creating chances was not Southampton’s main problem last season, as they finished seventh for chances created last season, but finished in the bottom five for shot conversion rates (7.45 chances per goal). The Saints have a favourable set of fixtures, facing only Manchester United out of last season’s top seven before November. This should allow new boss Pellegrino to ease himself in to the job and get some points on the board early on, winning over the fans in a way that Claude Puel never managed to.

Key Player: Manolo Gabbiadini. The Italian took the Premier League by storm after his surprise arrival in January, scoring six goals in his first four games, including two in the League Cup final. If the Saints are looking to improve on last season, Gabbiadini will be vital in offering a more clinical option up front than Shane Long or the recently sold Jay Rodriguez. Pellegrino has favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation in pre-season and Gabbiadini could feature either as the lone striker or as a part of the three in attacking midfield, which would be more akin to his position at Napoli.

One to Watch: Alfie Jones. The centre back has been a mainstay of the Under 23s side, captaining the side despite being only 19. After the emergence of Jack Stephens in the first team last season, Jones will be looking to emulate that with the future of Virgil van Dijk still uncertain. At 19, it is unlikely that the club’s Young Player of the Year for 2016 will feature much this season, but expect to see him around the first team squad, especially in the cup competitions.

Last Season: 8th

Predicted Finish: 8th

Premier League 2017/18 Preview – Newcastle United

Newcastle-United

Image: mirror.co.uk

Newcastle were expected to walk the Championship last season, but stuttered on their way to the title, only just edging out Brighton. Credit must go to Rafa Benitez for sticking with the club in the Championship, and if he stays, which is not a certainty at the moment, he will be the reason that Newcastle won’t go down this season. Christian Atsu has made his loan move permanent, and £6.2m could prove a bargain. The Magpies’ strength is out wide, with Atsu joining the hugely influential Matt Richie, who impressed in his previous Premier League season with Bournemouth, and another new signing Jacob Murphy. Murphy was a key player for Norwich last season, netting nine goals and providing six assists. Florian Lejeune has joined from Eibar, and will likely partner Ciaran Clark at centre-back. Javier Manquillo, who spent last season on loan at rivals Sunderland, will also bolster the defence, as Benitez has looked to strengthen the best defence in the Championship last season. It’s been a frustrating summer for Magpies fans, as the club have missed out on a number of transfer targets and owner Mike Ashley appears to have gone back on his promise that boss Rafa Benitez would be given the money to strengthen his squad. Newcastle have the squad to avoid a relegation scrap and push for mid-table, but ultimately where they finish will depend on whether Benitez stays.

Key Player: Matt Ritchie. The Scottish winger has one of the best left foots in the division, and was a key player in the Magpies’ promotion season. He chipped in with 12 goals, making him Newcastle’s second top scorer, and this goal threat will be vital to support Dwight Gayle, who does not guarantee goals in the top division. Almost half of Ritchie’s assists last season were to Gayle, so this partnership could again bear fruit.

One to Watch: Freddie Woodman. The goalkeeping position is a competitive one for Newcastle this season, but Woodman has proved that he has the ability to step up to the plate. Like Jordan Pickford did last season, Woodman has the chance to assert himself as a potential first choice ‘keeper, as the club has no stand-out number one. Despite never playing for Newcastle, Woodman has experience of playing under pressure, winning the 2014 Under-17 European Championship and the 2017 Under-20 World Cup with England, winning the golden glove and saving a penalty in the final of the latter.

Last Season: 1st (Championship)

Predicted Finish: 15th

Premier League 2017/18 Preview – Manchester United

Man united

Image: BBC.co.uk

Last season was a bit strange for Manchester United, as they seemed to underperform but still came out of the season with two trophies and a place in this year’s Champions League. Jose Mourinho has taken his squad and strengthened through the spine. Victor Lindelof has come in from Benfica, and the highly-rated centre-back, who can also deputise at right-back, should form a solid partnership with one of last season’s stand outs, Eric Bailly. After the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United needed a statement signing up front. Romelu Lukaku is a goal-scorer and will easily hit 20 goals this season, but his streakiness at Everton maybe a slight worry for United fans. Despite his goal in the European Super Cup, the Belgian did miss a couple of sitters. However, the morale effect of signing Lukaku ahead of title rivals Chelsea could be even bigger than his on-field impact. United’s signing of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea could be one of the best signings of the summer. Although the defensive midfielder is not one of the most glamourous signings, his presence in midfield will allow Paul Pogba to roam more freely, instead of being bogged down having to focus on the defensive work. A midfield trio of Matic, Pogba and Herrera will get the best out of all three, with Pogba occupying a role similar to the one that he starred in for Juventus. United’s side is beginning to look like a title-challenging squad, but there is still some concerns that Antonio Valencia is their best option at right-back, whilst their plan B of hitting it long to Fellaini is also cause for concern given the presence of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in the squad. As mentioned in my preview for Manchester City, the Manchester derby in early April will be a key game in determining the final position of both sides, and in United’s case could be the determining factor between mounting a title challenge and settling for a top four finish.

Key Player: Paul Pogba. The Frenchman had an okay first season back at Old Trafford, performing well but just lacking that bit of luck. Only Kevin de Bruyne struck the woodwork more often than Pogba last season, whilst only Jordan Henderson averaged more passes per game. With the addition of Matic, Pogba will be free to focus more on the offensive side of his game, which will inevitably lead to a rise in both goals and assists. There will also be less of a spotlight on the midfielder after the arrival of Romelu Lukaku, as he did suffer from close scrutiny and unrealistic expectations due to his then world record transfer fee.

One to Watch: Axel Tuanzebe. The centre-back made his debut back in January in the FA Cup win over Wigan, and went on to appear in five games last season. He was awarded United’s Young Player of the Year award in 2015, as well as the 2017 Reserve Player of the Year award, and now looks ready to step up and make more of an impact on the first team. With fellow youngster Timothy Fosu-Mensah heading out on loan this season, Tuanzebe remaining at Old Trafford indicates that he will feature more often.

Last Season: 6th

Predicted Finish: 3rd

Premier League 2017/18 Preview – Manchester City

Man city

Image: Premier League

City have been the biggest spenders of the summer so far, with Pep Guardiola looking to mould the squad more in his image. Out have gone squad players such as Jesus Navas and Nolito, whilst Aleksandar Kolarov is their only surviving full back. In their place have come Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy for a combined fee of around £100m, whilst Danilo has joined from Real Madrid. Pep’s experiment with Claudio Bravo failed miserably last year, with the ‘keeper only managing a 54% save percentage. To combat this, City have splashed a record £34.7m for a goalkeeper, as Ederson arrives from Benfica. Another signing from Monaco bolsters City’s attacking ranks, as Bernardo Silva has joined with a view to becoming David Silva’s long term successor. Going forward will be City’s strength this season, with Sergio Aguero and fit again Gabriel Jesus, who hit the ground running after his January move to the Etihad. With both Silvas, Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Ilkay Gundogan and their host of new attacking full backs, City’s strikers will have a wealth of chances put on a plate for them this year. Last season was Pep’s first trophy-less season in his managerial career, and with the amount that he has spent this summer in addition to the already expensively assembled squad at his disposal, he will be under pressure to deliver either Premier League or Champions League success. City host rivals Manchester United in early April, and this could be the key game that determines whether Pep’s side are title winners, or are just in the running.

Key Player: Kevin de Bruyne. The Belgian topped the Premier League’s assist charts last season, providing 18 goals. As proved with City’s slump the season before last, the whole side struggles when de Bruyne is not in the side. With the addition of Bernardo Silva, the burden on de Bruyne to produce is lessened, but he will still be the key to anything City create going forward.

One to Watch: Phil Foden. The 17-year-old midfielder has been promoted to the first team this summer after impressing Pep Guardiola, and has featured in their US tour. Foden was named on the bench in City’s final Champions League group game last against Celtic, and scored for England in their European Under-17s final defeat by Spain. Predominantly playing in the number ten role, Foden has some tough competition if he is to feature in the first team, but this also means that he will be learning from some of the best attacking midfielders in world football.

Last Season: 3rd

Predicted Finish: 1st