Southgate Names Experimental Squad

Gareth Southgate today named his first squad as the permanent England boss. With the injuries of Harry Kane, Wayne Rooney and Danny Rose, Southgate has been forced in to naming an experimental squad for the friendly in Germany on 22 March and the World Cup qualifier at home to Lithuania on 26 March.

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Image: The Guardian

The main headline has to be the recall of in-form Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe, who is in line to earn his first cap since November 2013. The 34 year old has 14 goals in his 27 Premier League appearances so far this term, with Harry Kane being the only Englishman to find the net more often (19).

Elsewhere, there are call ups for a number of players who featured for Southgate in the Under 21s. Southampton duo James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond earn their first call ups to the full side, whilst Michael Keane and Marcus Rashford also make the cut.

Michail Antonio’s impressive season with West Ham has seen the uncapped 26 year old selected over Arsenal’s Theo Walcott, who misses out. Jake Livermore will have the chance to add to his sole cap, picked up in 2012. Luke Shaw takes the place of the injured Danny Rose, despite playing just 2 games since November.

Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck and West Ham’s Andy Carroll had been tipped for a return to the squad after Harry Kane’s injury, but Southgate has deemed them both to have not played enough regular football. Jack Wilshere also doesn’t feature as he looks to concentrate on building up his match fitness.

England Squad:

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Torino, on loan from Manchester City), Fraser Forster (Southampton), Tom Heaton (Burnley).

Defenders: Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Kyle Walker (Tottenham), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), Phil Jones (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Michael Keane (Burnley).

Midfielders: Eric Dier (Tottenham), Jake Livermore (West Brom), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Dele Alli (Tottenham), Ross Barkley (Everton), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Michail Antonio (West Ham), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Nathan Redmond (Southampton), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City).

Strikers: Jermain Defoe (Sunderland), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Jamie Vardy (Leicester).

EFL Trophy faces further setback

This season’s EFL Trophy has proved controversial before a ball has been kicked. Earlier this week it was confirmed that 15 Premier League Under-21 sides would enter the competition alongside Newcastle Under-21s and the 48 League One and Two sides. But the revamp, which was aimed at giving young English players more competitive game time, has suffered another setback, with Manchester United and Tottenham declining their invitations, and many of the other ‘invited’ teams considering their participation.

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Barnsley celebrate winning last season’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in front of almost 60,000 fans. Image: Mirror Football

 

So far, only Everton and Stoke have accepted their invitations, and it is being reported that Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea will also turn down their invitations. It is thought that the Football League’s solution to these withdrawals would be to offer their places to Championship sides with a category one academies.

If, as expected, the bigger Premier League sides do decline their invitations, it takes away one of the key selling points for their inclusion. The possibility of a trip to Old Trafford or Anfield may have been enough for some fans to entertain the idea of this revamp, but trips to Fulham and Blackburn hardly capture your imagination.

Although the inclusion of the academy sides would bring in extra prize money for the Football League sides, any extra income from ticket sales will be minimal at best. Crowds are hardly going to be flocking to see West Brom or Stoke’s development sides. There is even talk of some fans boycotting the tournament due to the changes made.

The new format had already come under fire from fans of lower league clubs, as it would signal the Premier League’s interference throughout English football. The Football League Trophy has always served as the best chance for lower league supporters to experience a day out at Wembley, and the chances of this are reduced with the addition of 16 well-funded academy sides. Only once in the last ten years has the final seen an attendance of under 40,000, and over 59,000 witnessed Barnsley’s triumph last season. It’s hard to imagine anywhere near that many fans will show up for a final between two under-21 sides.

The revamp of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is the latest attempt to undermine the lower leagues of English football in the hope of improving the England national team. You can read about the FA’s previous proposal for adding B teams to the Football League here.

Premier League Season Review: Part 4

Part four of this season review looks at the sides that avoided a relegation battle. Watford and Crystal Palace started the season strongly before falling away, whilst Tony Pulis delivered what he does with West Brom. Bournemouth’s first season in the Premier League saw them avoid the relegation scrap in a fantastic season for them.

Watford – Final Position: 13th – Prediction: 19th

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Image: talksport

It was a season of two halves for Watford, who started very strongly. Going in to the new year they were still in the hunt for the European places, but their form fell off drastically as they dropped down to 13th. Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo both hit double figures, but other than that there were very few goalscorers. Many will see Quique Sanchez Flores’ dismissal as harsh, as the newly promoted team established themselves in the Premier League without having to worry about relegation. However, you have to trust the Watford owners here, as Flores himself was brought in on the back of Slavisa Jokanovic guiding them to promotion. A 4-2 loss to relegated Norwich has to be one of the lowlights for Watford, but the 3-0 humbling of Liverpool will live long in the memory.

West Brom – Final Position: 14th – Prediction: 13th

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Image: Sky Sports

West Brom’s season can be described in one word: Pulis. The Baggies averaged less than a goal a game as they scraped and drew their way to comfortable finish. Despite only finishing six points clear of the drop, West Brom never looked likely to go down. No player in the squad reached double figures in the league, a real sign of their lack of adventure going forward. One of the moments to forget for West Brom fans will be Saido Berahino’s two penalty misses in the 1-0 loss to Watford, but the wins at home to Arsenal and Manchester United stood out.

Crystal Palace – Final Position: 15th – Prediction: 12th

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Image: irishmirror.ie

Much like Watford, Crystal Palace had a season of two halves. Fifth on New Years Day, Palace won just two more games all season in the league as they plummeted down in to a potential relegation battle. An FA Cup final will probably excuse a slight under-performance in the league, but it is clear that Palace need a goalscorer to be anything more than a team that just makes up the numbers. I thought that Patrick Bamford would be that man this season, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out for him this year. A 5-1 hammering of Newcastle in November was a particular highlight of their league campaign, but they also suffer the igmony of being one of the only sides to lose to Aston Villa.

Bournemouth – Final Position: 16th – Prediction: 16th

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Image: The Guardian

Bournemouth couldn’t have hoped for a better first season in the Premier League. After spending big in the summer, it all appeared to go wrong with Max Gradel, Tyrone Mings and Callum Wilson all picking up long term injuries. But the Cherries never looked like going down, hanging steadily in lower-mid-table. Bournemouth were certainly one of the more entertaining sides to watch, with only Everton and Sunderland scoring more out of the bottom ten, whilst only Aston Villa conceded more. A win over south coast neighbours Southampton will be a highlight for Bournemouth, while their – at the time plucky – 2-1 loss to Villa on the opening day now looks a poor result.

Premier League Season Review: Part 3

The third part of this season review will focus on the middle of the Premier League. Stoke topped the middle pack, whilst Chelsea and Everton drastically underperformed. Swansea escaped any relegation worries that they had at Christmas to climb to 12th.

Stoke – Final Position: 9th – Prediction: 10th

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Image: BBC Sport

Stoke had a good year, securing yet another top 10 finish. After losing Asmir Begovic, Robert Huth and Steven N’Zonzi, it could have been a difficult season. The emergence of Jack Butland as the club’s first choice keeper will be a highlight of the season. The Potters started the year slowly, but after the new signings bedded in they hit form, beating Chelsea and both Manchester clubs. Their season died out fairly early, with the realisation that European football was out of their reach and an injury to Butland coinciding. This resulted in a limp to the end of the season, seeing them concede 4 goals in three consecutive games.

Chelsea – Final Position: 10th – Prediction: 1st

Mourinho sacked

Source: The Guardian

Chelsea’s season was horrendous. There is no other way to describe it. Jose Mourinho lost the support of the players after a number of deluded outbursts and a number of big players just didn’t show up. Guus Hiddink brought the club back to the top half of the table, going undefeated in the league until April. For a side that were tipped to win the title, only Willian can come out of this season with any credit. A lot of improvement is needed under Antonio Conte next season.

Everton – Final Position: 11th – Prediction: 9th

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Image: ITV

It is safe to say that Everton also underperformed this season. A team boasting the likes of Baines, Coleman, Stones, McCarthy, Barkley, Deulofeu and Lukaku should really be challenging for at least a Europa League spot. The defence was drastically affected by injuries, and Martinez’s style of play often leaves them exposed at the back, so perhaps this failure to reach the top 10 should not come as a surprise. An early 3-1 win against Chelsea would probably be Everton’s moment of the season, but a 3-0 loss to Sunderland and a 4-0 derby drubbing will leave fans looking forward to Ronald Koeman taking over this summer.

Swansea – Final Position: 12th – Prediction: 8th

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Image: Wales Online

Many thought that Swansea would carry on last season’s challenge for the Europa League, but after the season just gone a 12th place finish seems like a good year. At Christmas Swansea were in very real danger of being relegated, and although the sacking of Garry Monk seemed a little harsh after his incredible first season, the appointment of Francesco Guidolin proved an absolute masterstroke. Wins over Chelsea and Arsenal delighted Swans fans, but their need for a striker was highlighted as they scored less goals than relegated Newcastle, and only 3 more than Norwich.

Premier League Season Review: Part 2

The second part of this season review will focus on the teams that were competing for the Europa League places. Manchester United narrowly missed out on Champions League football, while Southampton and West Ham’s excellent seasons will see them join United in the Europa League. Liverpool managed to play their way out of the Europa League places, finishing 8th.

Manchester United – Final Position: 5th – Prediction: 3rd

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Image: Daily Mail

Manchester United have had a season to forget in the league. The football that they have played has been, at times, abysmal. United only scored one more goal than 17th placed Sunderland, with only Anthony Martial reaching double figures in the league. To make matters worse, United’s big summer signings, Depay, Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger, all failed to live up to expectations. The only real positives for United fans will be the strength of the young players that stepped in this season, with Rashford, Fosu-Mensah, and Borthwick-Jackson all impressing.

United failed to kick on this season as I had expected, instead dropping out of the Champions League. Wayne Rooney failed to step up as the key goalscorer, partly down to the role that Louis Van Gaal was playing him. Jose Mourinho will have a tough job on his hands next season.

Southampton – Final Position: 6th – Prediction: 7th

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Image: The Guardian

Southampton’s season can be summed up by one word: inconsistent. A dodgy start was followed by a good run, before the Saints fell away around Christmas. But only Leicester picked up more points in 2016 than Ronald Koeman’s side. Their early exit from the Europa League possibly aided their league form, as Saints’ small squad was rarely stretched. The return Fraser Forster was one of the main positives of the season, Whilst comeback wins against Liverpool and Spurs will live long in the fans’ memories. It will be interesting to see whether Saints can replicate this season with a new manager next season, whilst it will remain to be seen whether the Europa League group stages will be enough to keep hold of the likes of Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama.

Southampton surpassed all expectations in recording a club record sixth place. Instead of battling with the other higher mid-table teams, as predicted, a place in the Europa League looked fairly comfortable for the Saints.

West Ham – Final Position: 7th – Prediction: 14th

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Image: Sky Sports

West Ham have had an amazing season this year, only falling out of the race for the Champions League places very late in the season. Dimitri Payet really set the Premier League alight with his remarkable free kicks and 12 assists, whilst Andy Carroll managed 9 goals despite an injury hit season. Draws turned out to be West Ham’s undoing, as they picked up the joint highest amount of draws, 14, in the Premier League.

Slavan Bilic and West Ham were an unknown quantity going in to this season, and they have pleasantly surprised everyone. Following ‘Big Sam’ was always going to be a tough job, but the future is looking bright for the Hammers.

Liverpool – Final Position: 8th – Prediction: 6th

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Image: Sky Sports

It is difficult to judge Liverpool’s season this year, as very early on it became clear that the focus had switched to next year. The appointment of Jurgen Klopp in October showed a real sign of ambition, and it would not be right to judge him until he has brought in his own players and had a full pre-season with the club. Only Roberto Firmino hit double figures this season, and this really demonstrates how poor Liverpool were. A 4-0 derby win over Everton will be a highlight of this season, as well as beating Manchester City 4-1 and 3-0. Eighth place will probably be what Liverpool fans will be most happy with this season, as it means that they will be able to play without any European distractions next season, but they will be disappointed that their ‘Europa League or bust’ strategy was thwarted by Sevilla in the final.

In my pre-season predictions, I highlighted the importance of October on the course of their season, and this proved to be the case. On paper, Eighth will not look good for a side with the expectations of Liverpool, but you can expect them to challenge for the Champions League places next season.

Hodgson names Euros squad

Roy Hodgson has named his provisional 26 man squad for Euro 2016, with the inclusion of Marcus Rashford proving the biggest talking point. Jack Wilshere has also made the squad after making just one Premier League start this season.

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Rashford was supposed to be on Under 21 duty this summer. Image: Manchester Evening News.

Rashford has scored 7 goals in 16 since breaking in to the Manchester United first team, but his inclusion has surprised many due to his lack of experience. Fabian Delph is another surprise call up, alongside Newcastle’s Andros Townsend.

Leicester have two representatives in the squad, Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater, whilst there are five players from both Spurs and Liverpool.

Theo Walcott is perhaps the biggest name to miss out, with Hodgson citing lack of first team football for his omission, whilst Jermain Defoe also misses out despite his 15 league goals for Sunderland. West Ham’s Mark Noble and Aaron Cresswell have also missed out after good seasons.

The final 23 man squad has to be named by 31st May, meaning that 3 players will face an agonising cut.

England roar back from 2-0 down

An inexperienced England side battled back from two goals down to beat world champions Germany 3-2 in Berlin. An injury time header from Eric Dier sealed the victory after Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy had cancelled out goals from Toni Kroos and Mario Gomez.

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Image: BBC Sport

England started the brighter of the two teams, but failed to really test Manuel Neuer. The bright Deli Alli had the best chance, latching on to a lobbed through ball only to see his tame long-distance header pick out the German keeper. Germany should have taken the lead, as the experienced Gomez took advantage of an unfamiliar England defence and finished well, only for the linesman to rule it out for offside. However, replays showed that Nathaniel Clyne was actually playing Gomez onside.

It didn’t take long for the Germans to take the lead though, capitalising on a poor clearance by Butland. The ball was worked through to Toni Kroos, who, lacking any other options, tried his luck from 25 yards. Somehow the ball squeezed past Butland at his near post, and to make matters worse, the England stopper was forced off with an injury that he picked up clearing the ball.

It could have been 2-0 early in the second half, as Marco Reus’ long range free kick deceived everyone and had to be helped over by Fraser Forster. Gomez made up for his earlier disallowed goal with a perfectly placed header just before the hour, converting Emre Can’s deep cross.

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Image: Daily Mail

It seemed that conceding spurred England on though, as Harry Kane turned his man in the box after Germany failed to clear a corner and finished just inside the post. Just minutes after coming on Jamie Vardy scored his first international goal, audaciously flicking Clyne’s low cross past Neuer.

England were now truly in the ascendency, and should have wrapped the game up earlier. Jordan Henderson saw a long-range effort curl just wide, and Deli Alli somehow blazed over from ten yards after Vardy stole possession on the edge of the German box.

But the winner did come in stoppage time, with Eric Dier beating his man to nod home a Henderson corner. The result gives confidence to a young and inexperienced England who showed none of the traits of the side who were embarrassed in Brazil two years ago.