Jurgen Klopp warns Liverpool stars not to repeat mistake from this time last year

Jurgen Klopp has warned his Liverpool players to not allow their impressive winning mindset to waver as they enter what he calls the “slog” part of the season.

Klopp has been impressed that his team have suffered no hangover from their Champions League triumph in May, hitting the ground running this season with four straight victories to stretch their winning run in the Premier League to a club record 13 games.

But as they start a spell of two games a week until January with today’s lunchtime kick-off against Newcastle, he is well aware that after a similar start last season they went into a 12-match run during which they only won five times, drawing three and losing four games in all competitions, including all three away fixtures in their Champions League group.

Maintaining the aggression and intensity they have shown so far is vital, Klopp insists, because there may be no room for error again in the domestic title race.

‘We have to be 100%’

“It was so important to hit the ground running,” he said. “Our football has no easy start, we don’t ease into a season – we have to be aggressive, that is very important and we did that, so that is really good. We’ve had to work hard. It wasn’t about the best football we could play, but about winning the games.

“We have really to be 100 per cent focused – that’s what brought us to the position we were in last year, and as long as we can keep that mindset alive and going, it will be good, it will be fine. Because we have quality and only with this mindset we can really bring them on the pitch.

“It always felt like we were one step behind until we finally won something, that’s true. Now we won something, it’s a big relief.

“The boys were confident last year, and the boys are confident this year. It’s all about playing the way we want to play. If we do that, we will win football games.

“We have had to deal with a few new things, a lot of talk about winning the Champions League but that’s part of it. But apart from that the boys are still the same bunch of good, hungry football players that they were before, and I am happy about that. This is what we have to show against Newcastle – who will fight like crazy.”

‘Salah and Mane are refreshed’

Klopp has made only a few changes so far but is ready to rotate his squad with the heaving schedule ahead – Liverpool fly to Italy on Monday to open their Champions League defence against Napoli, where they lost 1-0 last season in what Klopp described as “our worst performance in the Champions League campaign.”

Roberto Firmino and Fabinho, who were away in the USA with Brazil during the international break, could be given breathers, while Georgino Wijnaldum and Virgil van Dijk both played twice for the Netherlands as did Jordan Henderson for England.

But there are no concerns for once about Sadio Mane and Mo Salah who were both rested by their countries during the break and have had plenty of time to sort out any lingering differences following Mane’s rant at his team-mate for not passing to him in the win at Burnley.

“They are refreshed and hopefully we can use that,” said Klopp. “In the first four games there was no reason for changes but the players know we are going to need them all now in this most intense period – it’s the slog, absolutely.”

Klopp was impressed by Newcastle’s defensive defiance in their shock win at Tottenham and expects a similar approach from Steve Bruce’s side today. But the Geordies have a dreadful record at Anfield – only three League wins there since 1945. And, of course, Liverpool have not at home for two and half years.

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Steve Bruce reveals he tried to sign Virgil van Dijk for Hull

Steve Bruce isn’t surprised at the impact of Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool – having tried to sign him himself.

Bruce’s Newcastle United side must try to find a way past the £75million defender at Anfield this afternoon.

Van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson transformed Jurgen Klopp’s side into a title-challenging Premier League team, according to Bruce.

“We all know how good they are up front, but I believe the signings of Alisson and Van Dijk made them what they are now,” said Bruce. “Him and the goalkeeper just took them to that next level. They’re unbelievable at the other end, but you need that stability at the back.

“You have to give credit to Klopp, because he’s transformed them, really. They’re just about as good as I’ve ever seen, but whether they are as good as the Liverpool team of the eighties is up for debate.”

‘I went and we tried’

Bruce tried to sign Van Dijk from Celtic while he was in charge of Hull City.

“Yes, I could have taken him to Hull,” said Bruce. “I had dinner with Kenny Dalglish and the owner of Celtic, Dermot Desmond, in Barbados – I’m name-dropping now – and the owner of Celtic was waxing lyrical about the best players he’s had.

“He was saying ‘[Henrik] Larsson is definitely the best player that I’ve seen play for Celtic in my ownership, [but] what I can’t understand is, nobody’s gone for Van Dijk’.

“I thought ‘that’s interesting, he’s seen a lot of football over the last 12 years’, so I went and we tried. I tried to get him before he went to Southampton [for] about £10million, £12million. I was nowhere near getting him. I tried, but I had no chance.”

‘We’ve got to take him’

Bruce, however, did sign Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson from Dundee United while Hull manager.

“Stan Ternent, my chief scout, said ‘I’ve just seen this kid – we’ve got to take him’,” said Bruce. “We did our homework. I went to see him and we took him.

“It was a little bit of a gamble. I remember him arriving with his mum, holding her hand. To be fair to him, we had a couple of injuries and I threw him in. He had an unbelievable debut against QPR. He hasn’t looked back, has he? He’s been quite remarkable.”

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Tottenham news: Mauricio Pochettino warns three Spurs wantaways to knuckle down or be dropped

Mauricio Pochettino has told Tottenham’s unsettled stars to refocus or expect to be dropped.

Spurs host Crystal Palace today for the first time since the European-wide transfer windows closed.

Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen all ended up remaining in north London after a summer of intense speculation.

All three have contracts that expire at the end of the current campaign and manager Pochettino knows that the ‘noise’ that comes with the January window will soon be making itself heard, especially as fringe men Victor Wanyama and Serge Aurier also saw moves abroad fall down over the summer.

England’s Danny Rose is another case in point having been told in July that he could leave, but he too remains at White Hart Lane and likely to face the Eagles.Pochettino made it clear he expected all of the above to put any disappointment out of their minds, or pay the price.

‘I think we talk a lot’

“It is always difficult and I think we are all agreed that Tottenham always have more rumours than other clubs,” he said.

“In one month I think it will start again with the rumours, for sure, because the situation of the squad is going to help those rumours appear. I think we talk a lot.

“Now it is a time to be positive. Victor Wanyama is in my plans. Christian is in my plans. Now they are going to have the same possibility as another player to play.

“Before, I understood that they were in a difficult situation and of course always we try to help them, to help the club, to do their business.

“But it’s not easy. When it’s one player [who wants to leave], OK, but when it’s a few players, who start to make it difficult to create a good dynamic, a positive dynamic it’s difficult.

“But now it’s time to be positive. Now we need to start to win games. That is our objective. Be refocused and who is not refocused is going to be out.”

Speculation to mount again?

Eriksen had declared after the Champions League final in May that he wanted a new challenge – and has already been linked with a January swap deal with Juventus forward Paulo Dybala.

Pochettino insisted he was not worried about the Dane’s commitment. “When you sign the contract, like Christian who signed for five or six years, you need to be committed from day one to the last day,” he said. “He’s still playing and showing his commitment.”

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‘I see no problem’: Frank Lampard addresses criticism of Chelsea veteran Cesar Azpilicueta

Frank Lampard has defended under fire Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta who has faced criticism for his form during the opening weeks of the season.

Chelsea have conceded nine goals in Lampard’s first four games in charge which means they have the second-worst defensive record in the Premier League behind just Norwich City.

The position of Azpilicueta, an ever-present at right-back, has come under scrutiny but the Blues manager insists he will stand by the Spaniard.

“Firstly, I played with Azpilicueta and I know him very well and he is the first player to stand up,” Lampard said. “The reason he’s captain is because of that professionalism and attitude.

“He’s been an incredible player for a club that’s won a lot and he’s been central to winning a lot. He’s not just a bystander. He’s been right in the middle of it all and he will be aware more than anyone of his form and what it means.

“He will be the first one who wants to address it every minute of the day in training. I think he’s a big player for us and a big personality. I see no problem.

“I remember in my career countless times playing with better players than I was that had little moments in their career that whatever reason people want to talk about. The top ones come through it.

“Azpilicueta is a top player and I don’t there are any major issues. In the modern-day all eyes are on and if there’s a bit of a mistake or a moment people want to do that and players have to put up with that. I’ve got no problem. Azpi will comfortably put up with that.”

‘Too early to make predictions’

Lampard’s defensive issues mean he has only one win in his first four games in charge, but he remains defiant ahead of an away trip to Wolves on Saturday.

“If anyone’s jumping to conclusions it is because they are looking at Liverpool and City because they are the dominant teams who have got good results so far, particularly Liverpool,” he added.

“Other than that, I think it’s too easy. We’re on the same points as Manchester United and Tottenham. Other teams that might be less fancied than us are on higher points than us so I think now is certainly too early to make long-term predictions.

“We have conceded more than we would want to. It’s our job to put it right. We will focus on different elements of the game. Sometimes you can sit down and not worry about one part that’s going really well, but of course, if things show themselves, you have to address them.

“We regularly have videos. I don’t like the defending/attacking thing because I think some of the goals that we have conceded have been individual errors or we’ve given away possession and let them score.

“That means that it’s your attacking that’s not so good as your defending, so we always try and look at both sides.”

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Chelsea team news: Injury latest and expected 4-3-3 line-up against Wolves

While it was never going to be easy given the club’s transfer embargo and the loss of their standout performer in Eden Hazard, Frank Lampard’s first season at Chelsea has got off to an underwhelming start.

A 4-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on the opening day was followed by defeat to Liverpool in the Uefa Super Cup. Despite edging out Norwich for their first win of the season, Chelsea’s last game before the international break saw them surrender a 2-0 lead to draw with newly promoted Sheffield United.

Facing a trip to Molineux to face Wolves, there will be no respite for Lampard this weekend. Chelsea only took one point from two meetings with Nuno Espirito Santo’s side last season, succumbing to a 2-1 defeat in the Midlands.

Lampard will be without N’Golo Kante, who missed out on international duty with an ankle injury. Mateo Kovacic and Pedro have passed muster, however, while Antonio Rudiger could return to the matchday squad after a long lay-off with a knee injury.

Wolves come into the game on the back of some mixed results of their own, so Lampard has some cause for optimism. Here’s how he could set up his side.


Emerson in action against Sheffield United at Stamford Bridge
Emerson has been a key performer for Chelsea so far this season (Getty Images)

While there were fears that Emerson might be ruled out of the trip to Molineux after picking up a knock on international duty with Italy, it seems that it was not as serious as first thought. While Lampard could opt to bring in Marcos Alonso in his place, Emerson has started every game so far this season and, as long as he’s fit, he should retain his spot in the starting XI.

He may have scored an unfortunate own goal against Sheffield United, but Kurt Zouma has been another ever-present for Chelsea this term. He should start alongside one of Andreas Christensen and Fikayo Tomori with Cesar Azpilicueta at right-back.

Probable starters: Arrizabalaga; Emerson, Zouma, Christensen, Azpilicueta


N'Golo Kante has been ruled out of the trip to Molineux
N’Golo Kante has been ruled out of the trip to Molineux (Getty Images)

Though Kovacic returned early from international duty owing to an Achilles injury, Lampard has confirmed that he is fit to play this weekend and, as another near-perpetual starter this season, he seems likely to continue in the midfield.

With Kante still sidelined and Ruben Loftus-Cheek a long-term absentee, Lampard has limited options in the middle of the park. Jorginho and Barkley have started alongside Kovacic in Chelsea’s last two matches and Lampard has been nothing if not consistent in his team selection.

Probable starters: Kovacic, Jorginho, Barkley


Tammy Abraham celebrates his second goal against Sheffield United
Tammy Abraham has scored four goals in his last two games (Getty Images)

Though it’s not his most familiar position, Mason Mount has done well on the left of a front three recently. Instructed by Lampard to cut inside where possible, he scored an excellent goal against Norwich, teed up by Christian Pulisic, after doing just that.

Read more: Chelsea are 11th with five points from four games, but this is their most exciting start to a season in years

Pulisic is still growing into his game at Chelsea, but seems likely to feature on the other flank. Tammy Abraham has scored four goals in his last two games and should start up front, while Pedro, Olivier Giroud and Willian should serve as experienced impact subs.

Probable starters: Mount, Abraham, Pulisic

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‘I had to start again’: Nick Pope on his path from public school boy to Premier League star

Nick Pope was not looking forward to the conversation. As a 16-year-old he had already been let go by Ipswich Town, ending an unhappy period in which he had stopped enjoying football. It was, in his view, the chance for a new start: time to take a different direction, forge a new path, one which would, following many twists and turns, eventually lead to him becoming a Premier League goalkeeper with Burnley and vying for England’s No 1 spot.

Up until that point, Pope attended King’s School in Ely, an independent private school in Cambridgeshire – again, a path not well-trodden by most professional footballers – but, after earning “average” GCSE grades (“I got Bs and Cs”) he decided to leave private education, too, and enrol at a college with links to non-league Bury Town.

King’s, where Pope’s mother Bridget worked for four decades as a teacher, is so posh the alumni are known as ‘Old Eleans’ and many of its pupils board, although Pope did not reside there. “I only live 10 minutes away so if I boarded I don’t think my parents would’ve liked me!” he jokes.

To turn away from that, in an education-focused family, was a huge decision. “I decided to leave that bubble,” he tells i. “I just went through a massive change and decided to leave all my friends and whatever else I built up over the years and just start again. I went to a college with a decent football setup built around Bury Town.”

‘A conversation I wasn’t looking forward to’

Pope made his breakthrough with Charlton Athletic (Getty Images)

Three years later, he was on the verge of going to Nottingham Trent to study a degree in sports science until the March before he was due to start Charlton Athletic offered a trial, then a contract.

His father, David, is an Ipswich season ticket holder of several decades, and Pope did not think he would take much convincing, but he was not so certain how his mother, a geography and PE teacher, would take it.

“To tell my family that I wasn’t going to go to university anymore and I’m going to try and do this wasn’t a conversation I was looking forward to. My old man is a massive football fan, he’d’ve been on my side I think. Mum being teacher, she’s big on education.

“It’s a decision that looks easy now but it wasn’t at the time. I was 19 and quite late into football and knew this would be my last chance to make it as a professional.”

‘I’ve banged my head on a few doors’

Pope stands at around 6’6 (Picture: Steve Morgan)

Were they happy with his decision? “I think they’re happier now it’s worked out! They took it really well and realised people in their mid 20s go to university and it’s not a massive thing – that was my main selling point. Even if I played at a good level then got into my 30s, I could still do some studying alongside my football. You picture how your future could be. You plan if things don’t work out.”

It is obvious things have worked out as we stroll towards a pitch at Burnley’s luscious, green Barnfield training ground within the estate of Gawthrope Hall, a National Trust property. It is raining, but — again, setting him apart from plenty of other Premier League players — Pope has no qualms about posing for photographs outside.

I ask Pope how tall he is. “Six-foot-six-inches-ish,” he replies. “The average door is six-foot-six-inches… I’ve banged my head on a few!” He is clearly good at absorbing information and remembering it, and in a footballing world in which off-field analysis and study plays almost as much a part as physical training with a ball or in the gym, Pope’s educational background and propensity to learning serves him well.

‘There’s so much to talk about’

Pope believes he still has areas of his game to work (Getty Images)

He studies his own position extensively, and discusses expansively the “evolution” of goalkeeping, and his own game, and improving in “percentages”. He is constantly working with analysts, or sitting in a room with the goalkeeper coaches poring over footage of goalkeeping.

“That’s where you can get the next one or two per cent,” he explains. “As a goalkeeper you look at different things to most outfield players in the game, and you can almost make goalkeeping a kind of individual sport within a team sport and really focus on what goalkeepers are doing. You can really take in all sorts of games, there’s so much to talk about, and so much to look at what a goalkeeper does.

“The homework is when you’re at home on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, with the telly on; rather than just watching the game, you’re looking at what the goalkeeper is doing, looking at the different styles that you can be as a goalkeeper.”

‘I want to evolve my own game’

Pope earned a recall to England’s latest squad after a good start to the season (Getty Images)

England manager Gareth Southgate recently highlighted Pope’s shot-stopping ability after recalling him to his squad for the qualifiers with Bulgaria and Kosovo, joking that amongst the demands of modern-day goalkeepers it is now an oft overlooked attribute.

Now, it is on trend to expect goalkeepers to receive and pass the ball under extreme pressing from opposition attackers. Since the approach was popularised by Manuel Neuer, for Bayern Munich and Germany, it has become the prerequisite of goalkeepers at leading clubs. Manchester City and Liverpool, last season’s Premier League winner and runner-up, are the leading examples, with goalkeepers Ederson and Alisson each considered experts.

But Pope is working on that side, too. He is still learning, still striving to improve. “A lot of managers like to do things with goalkeepers that back in the day they didn’t used to do, and more is asked of goalkeepers in different departments,” he says.

“If you’re going back some years, goalkeepers used to save the ball and not a lot else, whereas now there’s a lot more to it and a lot more has been thought about the goalkeeper position. It is great to evolve myself as a goalkeeper and evolve my own game.

“At the moment, goalkeeping’s just become more rounded. Goalkeepers get involved with outfield players more in training, rather than go off by themselves. A goalkeeper is seen as someone who starts attacks now, rather than just stops them.”

‘The World Cup was a massive buzz’

Pope was part of England’s squad at the 2018 World Cup (Getty Images)

Patience also tends to be an essential attribute of the goalkeeper, and one Pope knows well. He went to the Russia World Cup as a backup and after long-term injury had to wait patiently behind Tom Heaton at Burnley, until Heaton moved to Aston Villa in the summer.

Goalkeepers who do not possess that crucial facet can be a disruptive force. For Pope, it is has always been an opportunity to learn more.

Take the World Cup, for example. “For me it was a World Cup off [the back] of the first season I played in the Premier League, so it was a massive buzz to be part of it,” he says. “That opportunity is what you make of it. I thought of it as an opportunity to train with world class players every day for 40 days and take experiences from that, watching the top elite level games from that close.

“You look at how you prepare for games at that level as well and and different things that are done at international level and just take experiences from other players as well. If I wasn’t there I would’ve been on holiday. What would you rather be doing?”

Knowing how close a player can be to making it or not – that fine line between going to uni or giving it a go with a League One club – he is not one to sulk and strop.

“It isn’t going to benefit me to down tools or stop training at the highest level. Your attitude has got to be train at that level and try to get in the team and if you do get in the team then you’re ready to play. You’ve got to use your energy and time wisely.”

Wise words from Pope, although you would not expect anything else.

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Arsenal team news: Injury latest and expected 4-3-3 line-up against Watford

Having dumped Javi Gracia over the international break before rekindling their spicy love affair with the dashing Quique Sanchez Flores, Watford will be hoping for the fabled ‘new manager bounce’ (not intended as a euphemism) this weekend. 

They may have sleepwalked through the first four games of the new Premier League season, but Watford are still a strong, spiky side with a sprinkle of mercurial stardust across the midfield and attack in the form of Abdoulaye Doucoure, Will Hughes and Gerard Deulofeu. Summer signings Ismaila Sarr and Danny Welbeck are now fully integrated into the team, ostensibly leaving them in a stronger position than they were at the start of the campaign.

In his last season as Watford manager Flores masterminded a shock win against Arsenal in the FA Cup quarter-finals, so Unai Emery should be wary of the majestic silver fox in the opposite dugout on Saturday. The two know each other well from their time in La Liga, with Emery winning only once in seven meetings (Flores won three and three ended in draws).

Despite several high-profile defeats during the late Wenger era, Arsenal haven’t lost to Watford since Troy Deeney famously questioned their “cojones” after a particularly grim loss at Vicarage Road two years ago. Last season’s trip to Hertfordshire was a hard slog, however, and Arsenal will have to be on their toes this time around.

Emery at least has relatively few injury worries going into the weekend. Here’s how he could set up at Vicarage Road.


David Luiz in action against Spurs at the Emirates
David Luiz has been erratic in his first few games for Arsenal, but should retain his starting spot (Getty Images)

Though Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin are close to returning to full fitness, neither is expected to feature this weekend. After the departures of Nacho Monreal, Carl Jenkinson and Stephan Lichtsteiner over the summer, that leaves Sead Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles as the only real options at full-back.

Though his contribution to the back line thus far has been only moderately better than what Shkodran Mustafi has to offer, David Luiz will likely reprise his partnership with Sokratis in the centre of defence. Though Rob Holding could return to the squad this weekend, he will need a gentle reintroduction to the first team and being monstered by Watford’s musclebound enforcers in his first appearance for over nine months would not be ideal.

Probable starters: Leno; Kolasinac, Luiz, Sokratis, Maitland-Niles


Granit Xhaka carries the ball forward in the midfield
Granit Xhaka seems to retain the confidence of his manager, if no-one else (Getty Images)

Though Emery started a hard-fighting midfield three of Matteo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira in the north London derby just before the international break, he should be looking to set the tempo against Watford as opposed to entering into a royal rumble with them. 

With Guendouzi registering an assist last time out and Emery bizarrely committed to Xhaka’s brand of bull-in-a-china-shop midfield malcoordination, Torreira could well make way for Dani Ceballos. Arsenal were much improved when Ceballos replaced Torreira in the second half against Tottenham and he has the requisite final ball to unpick Watford’s threadbare back line.

Probable starters: Xhaka, Guendouzi, Ceballos


Nicolas Pepe looks for a pass from one of his teammates
Nicolas Pepe is still waiting for his first goal for Arsenal (Getty Images)

Having finally started Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe together against Spurs, Emery will have been relatively pleased with the results. Lacazette and Aubameyang both scored with Pepe assisting the former, suggesting Arsenal’s all-star front three is more than just an impractical Football Manager fantasy come to life.

Read more: It was a shock’: Marcus McGuane on his sudden fall from Arsenal and Barcelona to the Dutch second division

Against a defence which features the workaday talents of Craig Cathcart and Craig Dawson (there are only so many Craigs a team can field before they start to feel the gravitational pull of the Championship), the Auba-Laca-Pepe axis could be extremely dangerous. Reiss Nelson, still looking to make his mark on the side, could feature from the bench.

Probable starters: Aubameyang, Lacazette, Pepe

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The ‘Manchester City of Spain’? Saudi billions move into Almeria with hopes of joining La Liga elite

Almeria last tasted La Liga action in 2015. Prior to their most recent two-season stint at the top table, the club have only spent four others in Primera under their current guise of UD Almeria – which has been their identity since 1989. New Saudi investor Turki Al-Sheikh is looking to change all that, bankrolling a race to promotion in an attempt to eventually challenge Spain’s giants. Rewards, however, do not come without risks, both financial and those made towards tradition.

Turki paid 15 million euros to take over the Andalusian club this summer after trying his hand at ownership to a degree of success in Africa. Immediately, the aim has been to make a surge for promotion despite Almeria’s modest recent history. Last season saw the club finish 10th, but previously plumbing the depths of 15th and 18th shows how tough it can be for a club to steady themselves after falling from the riches of La Liga.

A new era beckons, armed with new coach Pedro Emanuel and a host of fresh personnel. Almeria have lofty ambitions and the suggestions are that their resources only know the bounds of the Spanish league structure’s rules now that a billionaire is in town.

Who is Almeria’s new owner?

Turki Al-Sheikh pictured at the 2018 World Cup in his role as Saudi sports minister (Getty Images)

Al-Sheikh purchased Egyptian club Alassiouty Sport back in 2018 before changing the club’s name to Pyramids FC and going on an ambitious spending spree to assemble a very expensive set of coaching staff and an equally impressive squad that immediately burst onto the top-flight scene and finished third. A little over a year later, he decided to sell the club on – after previously flip-flopping on doing so back in February.

“Good luck to Pyramids FC in the future,” Turki posted on his Facebook page after deciding to pull the plug on this investments. “It was an enjoyable experiment. I will go into a new experience and I will call it ‘Al Assiouty Part Two’ but at another place and time.” That time and a place has proven to be in southern Spain.

Backed by reported billions, resources are not in question for Almeria. The difficulty comes in how they can invest money without falling foul of the legislation put in place to protect Spanish clubs from irresponsible ownership. Al-Sheikh has experience in a short-term role as Saudi Arabia’s sports minister, while he also has been reported to be a political adviser to his country’s crown prince, as well as being involved in sports as head of the General Authority for Sport, Saudi Olympic Committee and the Union of Arab Football Associations.

While trying to promote the profile of the Saudi league, Al-Sheikh was involved in brokering the deal which saw native players move on loan to La Liga clubs in a strategy which did not have the desired effect either on or off the field. The same aims could apply to purchasing a club in Spain.

Big investments

England youth international Arvin Appiah was Almeria’s most expensive signing of the summer (Getty Images)

This summer, just 37.5 million euros was spent across the entirety of the Spanish second tier. More than half of that total (20.75 million) was shelled out by Almeria. Nottingham Forest’s 18-year-old forward Arvin Appiah joined for 8 million euros, while a transfer policy of recruiting under-23 talent has been roughly adhered to.

Darwin Nunez (4 million euros) signed from Uruguay giants Penarol, while Jonathan (1 million euros) arrived from Botafogo. Former wonderkid Ante Coric has been loaned from Roma during a summer where the club have welcomed 23 new faces – some of whom were deemed surplus to requirements immediately after the takeover was complete.

Their salary cap for the 2019-20 Segunda campaign comes in at a total of 18.12m euros, only bettered by Girona (29.28m euros) and Rayo Vallecano (19.06m euros) who suffered relegation from the Spanish top flight last season. Huesca follow them, who also dropped down a tier over the summer, before recent La Liga participants in the form of Deportivo La Coruna, Sporting Gijon and Malaga.

Last season, Almeria’s salary cap sat at just 6.998m euros, meaning the club have been able to spend more than 11 million euros more on paying their squad for the coming campaign. After the new ownership put a little over 30 million euros of capital into the club, it has freed them up to invest heavily in their playing squad. La Liga’s verdict has been that clubs with Almeria’s financial standing will be able to spend 65 per cent of their incomings on player salaries.

It has been pointed out that the new ownership will not be able to use generous inflated sponsorships from Saudi Arabia in the same manner that Paris Saint-Germain have had success in the past, although new sponsors have invariably got involved with the project owing to the new commercial opportunities at hand. Changing the branding of the club appears to be up for debate too – as shown below – which would be a step down a well-trodden path towards a disillusioned fan base.

‘Manchester City in Spain’

Almeria’s Estadio de Los Juegos Mediterraneos (Getty Images)

More positively, foundations are being laid for the future. New general director of the club Mohamed El Assy has outlined plans for big improvements to be made off the field too. Plans for a stadium renovation and a state-of-the-art training complex are already in the pipeline with discussions underway with the local council to make Turki’s dreams a reality. “The boss doesn’t like to wait, he wants everything now,” explained El Assy in a press conference.

The ambition is to mount an immediate challenge for promotion and to then continue to invest with the intention of becoming a force in La Liga. Interacting with Turki on Twitter Sayed Farouk, the technology expert who has links with Manchester United, suggested his investment could encourage a “similar experience to Manchester City in Spain”. The bar has been set and it doesn’t appear that Turki Al-Sheikh is in the business of building an empire slowly.

Diario de Almeria have reported that the club would like a 200,000 square metre plot to construct their new complex, enough space to ensure that the first team and academy ranks can co-exist.

There are already undertones of a potential online rivalry with Malaga, borne through the fact that their fellow Segunda opponents are under the ownership of Qatar’s Al Thani, while new manager Pedro Emanuel took the managerial reins at the club following a very successful season as coach of Saudi club Al-Taawoun in 2018-19. Getting Almeria into La Liga may be about proving other points away from football.

For now, Almeria have made a record start to the new Segunda campaign. Taking three wins and a draw from their opening four games, conceding just once in the process, things on the field look positive. Following their summer spending spree, new recruits are yet to be blooded into the group, suggesting there is room for plenty of growth yet. The Andalusian club are now well-equipped to make moves towards La Liga, but the scope of Turki Al-Sheikh’s new project is yet to be truly determined.

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Premier League doping tests drop by 10% in first decrease since records began

Premier League players were subjected to almost 10 per cent fewer drug tests last season, i can reveal.

Figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request show that UK Anti-Doping (Ukad), who carry out testing on behalf of the Football Association, conducted 1,770 tests on top-flight players in the 2018-19 season, down from the 1,923 tests of the same period the year before.

The FA point out that they have strict anti-doping measures in place. Players can be tested anywhere at anytime and do not have to be given notice. And if a player is due to miss training, turn up late or leave early, they must notify the FA and provide an hour time-slot that day in which they can be tested at home.

Three missed tests within 12 months is punished with a minimum year-long suspension from football, while testing positive for a substance banned on the World Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited List can result in a four-year suspension, even for a first offence.

First decrease

Although Ukad’s overall drug testing statistics for the 2018-19 makes clear that hundreds more drug tests are being carried out for the FA than other sport governing bodies – including UK Athletics, British Cycling, the Rugby Football Union and England Cricket Board – this is still the first season that testing numbers for the Premier League have dropped since the programme began.

Drug testing in the Premier League has steadily increased in the past six years. In 2013-14 only 497 tests were conducted, rising year-on-year to 679, 799, 1,171 and 1,923 before the decrease last season.

Ukad have refused to reveal how many drug tests take place per season at individual Premier League and Football League clubs, claiming that it would enable clubs, managers and players to know where they were least likely to be caught and not act as the appropriate deterrent it is intended to be.

‘Flexible and responsive’

The FA say they “seek to use all intelligence and research available to identify the areas of highest doping risk and tailors its testing programme accordingly”.

An FA spokesman told i: “The Football Association operates one of the most comprehensive national anti-doping programmes across world sport in partnership with UK Anti-Doping. The Football Association’s anti-doping programme is research- and intelligence-led, which means it can be flexible and responsive to any potential emerging doping risk. So, rather than focusing on the numbers of completed anti-doping tests, it is more important to concentrate on being adaptable and to review anti-doping processes at the end of every season to meet the demands of the growing game.”

The governing body are unable to say whether drug testing will increase this season.

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Tom Davies’s Everton plight shows the fragility of Premier League player pathway

This week, Tom Davies captained England’s Under-21 team during their 3-2 victory over Turkey and was their best player during the 2-0 victory over Kosovo at Hull City’s KCOM stadium. In between the two games, Davies spoke of his happiness at getting positive feedback from Everton about his performance.

“Everton stay in touch. I got a text after the Turkey game from one of the staff so it’s all good,” said Davies.

The Liverpool Echo headlined his quotes: “The lengths Marco Silva went to monitor Everton starlet Tom Davies as midfielder thrives in new England role.”

It says something about the dampened expectations of both player and media that they professed to be so impressed by a text message sent by a member of Everton’s support staff to indicate that they had watched a first-team player in a match streamed for free on social media.

“The lengths Marco Silva went” did not appear to include contacting his player directly.

Crumbs of comfort

But then that is Davies’s lot, reduced to crumbs of comfort and the vague hope of good news. On 9 February, Davies, then 20 years old, captained Everton for the second time in four days in the Premier League. Since then, he has played 21 minutes in all competitions. It is a remarkable loss of status for such a popular and talented midfielder.

If being left out of the team in the Premier League is one thing, Davies’s omission from the Everton squad that travelled to Lincoln City in August is another entirely. Silva described it as a “tactical decision” and noted that both Bernard and Seamus Coleman were also omitted. But Coleman and Bernard both played against Wolves the following weekend; Davies, again, was not in the squad.

Against Aston Villa, Everton had a central midfield crisis. Idrissa Gueye had been sold, Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Fabian Delph were injured, Morgan Schneiderlin had been sent off on the opening day and Andre Gomes was dismal. With Everton desperate for some intensity and drive in the centre of the pitch, Davies remained on the bench throughout.

Steady decline

This has been coming. Davies played 33 league matches under Ronald Koeman and Sam Allardyce in 2017-18, but only 16 last season.

He spoke on the eve of the season about Silva wanting him to press, get forward and be a box-to-box midfielder, but Everton’s 4-2-3-1 doesn’t really accommodate that role. A front four of Moise Kean, Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bernard requires two holding midfielders or deep-lying passers rather than a box-to-box player. Davies is not attacking enough for one role; not defensive enough for the other.

But then this is the lot of the academy graduate, immediately disposable when fancier or shinier options come along and afforded so little patience when suffering an inevitable dip in performance that it can curb their career. It is easy to blame managers and their clubs for the lack of continued faith placed in young players, but supporters share the blame.

When Davies’s form dropped away slightly – at the age of 19 – a section of Everton fans criticised him and concluded that he was below the level required. He became one of the emblems of the club’s stagnation. Impatience is rampant, hardwired into the modern supporters who clamour for more signings and flounce when their team goes three games without a win. During a crisis we inevitably err on the side of experience. In the Premier League, you are never more than three matches away from a crisis.

Would a loan move have helped?

As a teenager, Davies had the world at his feet as often as the ball. He was Everton’s most exciting academy graduate since Wayne Rooney, predicted to eclipse even Ross Barkley. Two years on, his biggest regret this season should be failing to secure a loan move to the Championship during which he could have at least gained the regular starts that are so crucial to his development.

No longer can a young player afford to stumble, or even plateau. Clubs have too many alternative options to justify extended faith. It becomes an impossible catch-22: The more performances slip, the more a youngster needs patience and second chances. But the more performances slip, the more likely they are to lose their status within prodigious squads.

That is true anywhere, but it is particularly salient here.

It would be hard to design a better model of young English player to make the grade in English football.  Davies was born in Liverpool, was a boyhood Evertonian and the club retain strong links with the local community.

He is a socks-rolled-down, demand-the-ball, drop-the-shoulder central midfielder, one whose turning cogs are visible from Goodison’s old stands.

Davies is slowly being eaten up by the uniquely testing demands of the Premier League.

Boy wonder and man of the moment has become persona non grata.

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Mauricio Pochettino tells a different story of Kieran Trippier’s Tottenham exit

Mauricio Pochettino says Kieran Trippier was mistaken to assume he had no future at Tottenham this season.

The England right-back, 28, is embarking on a new chapter in his career at Atletico Madrid following a £20million switch during the summer.

Trippier struggled in his final season in London to replicate the form that made him a stand-out for his country during the 2018 World Cup finals. So much so that he sought clarification on his future from his manager and chairman Daniel Levy after months of fretting.

“I had a conversation with the manager, a meeting with the chairman to see what my future was and I didn’t get the impression that they wanted to keep me,” Trippier said during the international break. “It is football, it happens.​”

Poch hits back

That was not how Pochettino remembered his conversations with a player he had chosen to start in the Champions League final last season however.

“He asked me for a meeting and said ‘Gaffer, I think I have a good possibility and for different reasons I would like to accept the offer from Atletico Madrid’,” Pochettino said.

“He didn’t ask me anything. He only communicated whether the club were going to accept the offer. Nothing more. It wasn’t a conversation – ‘you want me? Or you don’t want me?’

“He played the final of the Champions League, when I had plenty of different options. My actions talk more than my mouth.

“There’s no point to talk. But I keep very good memories of him. We signed him from Burnley when they were relegated, for £4m. He was worried about whether he would play or not – I said to him ‘don’t worry we are going to provide the best platform for performance’ and one-and-a-half years later he was in the starting XI, reached the national team, played in the World Cup and now he’s with Atletico Madrid.

“We all feel proud to have helped him to achieve his dream and to reach a level that he wasn’t at before he arrived at Tottenham.”

Aurier’s absence

Trippier’s departure left Kyle Walker-Peters and Serge Aurier as Tottenham’s senior right-backs. Walker-Peters has established himself as the first-choice, with Davinson Sanchez switched from central defence for the north London derby earlier in the month when the youngster was absent injured.

Aurier, on the other hand, hasn’t been picked by Pochettino since March but has now claimed he was denied a summer move of his own.

Asked whether he feared remaining on the bench because of such competition he replied: “What competition? There isn’t any. I’d simply decided to leave, which was normal for me. In the end, I wasn’t able to leave. It proves the club trust me on a lot of points, and we’ll see.”

Tottenham host Crystal Palace tomorrow with Walker-Peters back in contention following a hamstring injury.

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Tottenham team news: The expected 4-2-3-1 line-up against Crystal Palace

It’s been an inconsistent start to the season for Tottenham, not helped by an unfortunate succession of injuries to some of Mauricio Pochettino’s star performers.

Giovani Lo Celso is the latest player to suffer a setback after picking up a hip problem on international duty with Argentina, an injury which looks likely to keep him out until early November. He joins Juan Foyth on the sidelines, while Davinson Sanchez, Tanguy Ndombele, Ryan Sessegnon, Kyle Walker-Peters and Eric Dier are all being assessed ahead of Crystal Palace’s visit to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday.

“Always it’s a sad situation, [I’m] very disappointed,” Pochettino said about Lo Celso’s injury in his press conference on Thursday. “For Giovani, the first months here was to adapt to a new club and new football… we are so disappointed because now we need to wait for him.”

Palace have made a flying start to the season and went into the international break on the back of wins against Manchester United and Aston Villa. They are currently fourth in the incipient Premier League table, five places and two points ahead of Spurs whose last two games resulted in a shock 1-0 defeat to Newcastle and a 2-2 draw in the north London derby in which they blew a two-goal lead.

With Palace in the better form, Pochettino will have to hope he doesn’t have to wait any longer for Ndombele and co to return to full fitness. Here’s how he could set up on Saturday, presuming there are no further injury mishaps.


Kyle Walker-Peters nurses the injury he sustained against Newcastle last month
It is hoped that Kyle Walker-Peters will return at right-back this weekend (Getty Images)

Read more: Kieran Trippier feels a man reborn in the warm embrace of Diego Simeone

While neither Sanchez and Walker-Peters are guaranteed to be fit in time to face Palace, the latter seems likeliest to find himself in the starting line-up. Sanchez complained about irritation in his ankle following the international break and it would make sense to rest him even if he passes muster, while Walker-Peters has returned to training and should be ready to play.

With Foyth out of action, Pochettino has limited options in defence. Jan Vertonghen, curiously omitted for the first few games of the season, should retain his place alongside Toby Alderweireld after his return in the north London derby, while Danny Rose has started every game so far at left-back. Ryan Sessegnon could make his Spurs debut either at left-back or further forward, though he’s likely to come off the bench. 

Probable starters: Lloris; Rose, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Walker-Peters


Tanguy Ndombele signals to a teammate during Spurs' season opener against Aston Villa
Tanguy Ndombele was left out of the France squad for their latest round of Euro 2020 qualifiers (Getty Images)

Read more: Jan Vertonghen warns that Premier League clubs at disadvantage to European rivals

Ndombele has also returned to training this week after recovering from the thigh injury which saw him miss the Newcastle and Arsenal games as well as the international break. Pairing Moussa Sissoko alongside Harry Winks in the deeper midfield positions has yielded modest returns, so Pochettino may well opt to give his £55m summer signing an immediate recall. 

Winks has been ever present for Tottenham so far this season, so Sissoko seems likely to drop to the bench. The other option is for Pochettino to play all of them in a midfield three like he did against Aston Villa in their Premier League opener, though that was hardly a resounding success.

Probable starters: Winks, Ndombele


Harry Kane applauds the travelling fans at the Emirates after the north London derby
Harry Kane has been on fire for England over the last couple of weeks (Getty Images)

Read more: Fantasy Premier League tips: 5 players to sign in Gameweek 4

After making his first appearance of the season against Arsenal having recovered from a recurring hamstring injury, Dele Alli should be in contention to start against Palace. Spurs have plenty of options in attack, with Pochettino able to fill the other attacking slots with any combination of Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-min, Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela.

Up front, there is no such selection dilemma. Harry Kane scored four goals on international duty and Pochettino will be looking for him to carry that white-hot form into the weekend.

Probable starters: Son, Alli, Lucas; Kane

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Manchester United team news: The expected 4-2-3-1 line-up to face Leicester

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has often bemoaned the international break, but this time it arrived at the optimal time for Manchester United’s under-pressure coach. After opening the season with a commanding 4-0 win over Chelsea, things became inconsistent quite quickly and United looked like they could do with time to regroup and reorganise.

Draws against Wolves and Southampton, as well as a 2-1 home defeat against Crystal Palace, have left the Red Devils in a difficult position in terms of form and confidence. Injuries had already begun to mount up for Solskjaer and it was hoped that the international break would give the players the time to recover, though that has not worked out with Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial among his most high-profile absentees.

Leicester are much-fancied this campaign as the frontrunners to disrupt the top six, a reputation that Brendan Rodgers‘ side will be hoping to add to this weekend. Jamie Vardy has been in sharp form in the early weeks of the season, helping the Foxes to third in the table after taking eight points from a possible twelve. As tests go for United, this will be a big one.


Luke Shaw will miss another game owing to a nagging thigh problem (Getty Images)

Eric Bailly is still sidelined for the long term after picking up a serious knee injury last season. The Ivorian central defender is expected to be available around Christmas. Diogo Dalot was absent for the first few weeks of the season due to injury and it looks like he will remain sidelined, while Luke Shaw has been struggling with a thigh problem and has been definitively ruled out once again.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka has a minor back problem which he should hopefully be able to shake off to start. Ashley Young is expected to continue at left back for the home side this weekend, while Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof will continue to try and forge a solid partnership at centre back.

Probable starters: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Young


Paul Pogba limped off with an ankle problem against Southampton (Getty Images)

Paul Pogba missed out on international duty with France after twisting his ankle, leading to Arsenal’s Matteo Guendouzi taking his place in the squad. Man United’s star midfielder has now been ruled out against Leicester as well, which has come as an unpleasant surprise. Scott McTominay will now most likely be partnered with Nemanja Matic.

Juan Mata and Andreas Pereira were given starts against Southampton and could be in contention for further minutes owing to Jesse Lingard‘s recent illness. The England international is expected to be prepared for the weekend and could slot in behind the striker in Mata’s role.

Probable starters: McTominay, Matic, Lingard


Anthony Martial has also been ruled out, compounding United’s injury crisis  (Getty Images)

Anthony Martial was meant to be fit after sitting out for a while with a thigh problem, but he too has been ruled out of contention. Marcus Rashford got some minutes for England while on international duty and should have got some of the misfiring streak out of his system after a stint away from Manchester.

Daniel James received the club’s Player of the Month award after a blistering start to the campaign and continued his good form by scoring for Wales in a recent friendly against Belarus. The former Swansea youngster has taken to the English top flight well and will be on the hunt for another goal to add to his burgeoning collection.

Probable starters: James, Martial, Rashford

Expecting Man United line-up against Leicester (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Shaw; McTominay, Matic; James, Lingard, Rashford, Martial

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Why did Valencia sack Marcelino? Chaos at Mestalla ahead of Barcelona and Chelsea fixtures

Two fourth-placed finishes and a Copa del Rey trophy, Valencia‘s first title in a decade, made for a very successful two seasons in charge for Marcelino.

But just three games into the 2019-20 La Liga season, the 54-year-old was unceremoniously sacked a month after disagreements between himself, general manager Mateu Alemany and owner Peter Lim.

It was believed just weeks ago that both Marcelino and Alemany would resign as a result of their ambitions not being understood by those in positions of power – and those bubbling forces of discontent proved to be enough to result in a messy sacking this week. A lack of investment in the playing squad has been cited as the main reason behind the frustrations at Mestalla despite the club building impressively on the pitch from back-to-back 12th-placed league finishes in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Marcelino’s ability to take a flailing squad from mid-table mediocrity and turn them into organised, disciplined winners after the disappointing appointments of Gary Neville and Nuno Espirito Santo has been one of the quickest transformations in top-level world football over the last couple of years. Although the success on the field has been clear, Lim’s issues with his manager’s public outbursts – implying further disagreements beyond the things seen by the media – outweighed the obvious value that Marcelino brought to Mestalla.

A terrible start to last season left Valencia in 15th place after 12 games, just four points and three places above the relegation zone. Then, many fans were calling for their coach’s head. After the club’s upturn in form, fourth-placed finish and cup triumph, the idea of not appreciating what you have until it’s gone could hit hard this season after the hiring of Albert Celades as Marcelino’s successor. An assistant for Julen Lopetegui at both Real Madrid and Spain, as well as a national youth coach with three different age groups, Celades has no senior management experience.

Frustrations in the transfer market

Valencia snapped up Maxi Gomez for an estimated £13 million this summer (Getty Images)

Despite the late signing of proven La Liga striker Maxi Gomez this summer, Marcelino showed little hesitancy in airing his personal grievances in public. It mirrors a past situation from 2016 where the coach found himself sacked by Villarreal just days before a Champions League play-off against Monaco, a case of getting on the wrong side of those above him in the club’s hierarchy and, in their opinion, biting the hand that feeds him.

Marcelino wanted to bring in Denis Suarez and Rafinha, two players he had worked with in the past, but both opted to return to Celta Vigo. Rodrigo Moreno, meanwhile, one of the players to make the biggest improvements in their game under the Spaniard, even spent time away from the group’s pre-season preparations as talks rumbled on with Atletico Madrid.

“The club have told me that Rafinha will not be coming, the squad is still a bit shallow,” Marcelino complained in a recent press conference. “If Rodrigo ends up leaving we will have to change our objectives. We are seeing the investments made by Sevilla and Betis, next season will be tough.”

Though Rodrigo stayed put in the end, the only extra player signed by the club was 20-year-old right back Thierry Correia from Portuguese giants Sporting. Even then, the deal was made as a reactionary move in a key area, given that Cristiano Piccini picked up a serious injury in training that will see the Italy international sit on the sidelines until at least January. Ever since the sale of Joao Cancelo to Juventus in 2018, Valencia have needed to strengthen in that very same position – an example of where Marcelino would feel frustrated with the club’s transfer strategy.

A distraught dressing room

Marcelino and Dani Parejo formed a strong bond at Mestalla (Getty Images)

Valencia players took to Twitter and Instagram to share their own opinions on Marcelino’s departure. The likes of Piccini and Denis Cheryshev thanked their former boss for his faith in them despite injury problems, while Carlos Soler, Jaume Costa and Rodrigo wished him the best for the future. Ezequiel Garay and Dani Parejo, however, two key leaders in the squad and key pillars of Marcelino’s successes over the last two years had far more stronger words to say.

“Whoever took this decision not only trampled over you, but dragged down a whole fanbase and team, something that I will say loudly and clearly: IS NOT FAIR,” Garay wrote on his Instagram account.

“Boss, I wish you the best,” wrote club captain Parejo. “I am sure that things will go well for you wherever you go and they will let you work. Thank you for making the club bigger and me a better footballer.” The inclusion of “they will let you work” lends itself to suggesting that there has been some perceived meddling in the football side of things at Mestalla that should be left to the manager alone.

It is clear that while Marcelino might have been removed for non-footballing reasons, there are plenty of internal factors at play which could see his departure affect Celades’ start at the club. Rodrigo Moreno and Dani Parejo re-energised their careers under his tutelage, while the likes of Geoffrey Kondogbia and Goncalo Guedes shone in 2017-18.

What will Celades bring to Mestalla?

Albert Celades has worked as Julen Lopetegui’s number two at Real Madrid and with Spain (Getty Images)

Club president Anil Murthy detailed that trusting in young players was the motivation behind bringing in Celades, yet Marcelino gave plenty of opportunity to the likes of Carlos Soler (22), Toni Lato (21), Ferran Torres (19) and Kangin Lee (18) over the last 12 months. The aforementioned names owe their former boss for kicking off their fledgling careers, while the older heads in the group have stepped up to a very impressive level after floundering in mid-table obscurity up until the summer of 2017.

Valencia face Barcelona this weekend in La Liga, before a midweek trip to England to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. In terms of timing, there could be no worse time to pull the rug out from underneath their squad. Under Marcelino, Los Che became a demanding, intense and organised opponent whose solid defending and vertical counter-attacking approach posed a big threat for any club. Take away the man responsible for implementing that style and guiding the club back to the continent’s top table and suddenly Valencia look like a banana skin that is far easier to dodge.

Marcelino is known to be a demanding and, at times, abrasive personality, but the rough must be taken with the smooth. His intense approach got the best out of an underachieving group, while his softer side with his players showed that any rough words were only a result of needing to have the competitive edge required to keep on progressing. This isn’t the first time that he has faced the sack for his own frustrations getting the best of him, but it also won’t be the last time that he immeasurably improves a football club.

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Newcastle haven’t won at Anfield in 25 years – but this rivalry still deserves a place on our TV screens

The September international break is the cruellest of them all, snatching Premier League football away from us just as we’ve settled back into the comfortable routine of falling asleep in front of Match of the Day after a night in the pub and afternoons given over to Super Sunday.

But it’s back with a bang on Saturday. Liverpool vs Newcastle at Anfield. The return of a classic Premier League rivalry. A fixture made for television. Or is it?

Newcastle have not beaten Liverpool at Anfield since 1994. Twenty-five years. A quarter of a century. Hardly the makings of a classic. They couldn’t best them during the golden years of the mid-’90s, or the return to form over the early ’00s. Even Rafael Benitez, with all his history on Merseyside, couldn’t prevent Newcastle from being thumped 4-0 in front of the Kop last season.

Gulf in class

Newcastle’s record against Liverpool in the Premier League era as a whole is pretty dire. They have won just 10 of 46 meetings, a win percentage of 21.7. The Magpies have only come out on top three times this decade, and the gulf in quality between the two sides today is arguably bigger than ever. There were 52 points between them in the league last season. Newcastle could have doubled their total and still not caught up.

Divock Origi scored the winner for Liverpool against Newcastle last season (Photo: Getty)

Steve Bruce’s team have struggled for goals so far this campaign. Their three in the opening four games mark the worst return in the Premier League. Liverpool have bagged four times as many with 12 – second only to Manchester City. Based on both on past results and current form, this appears to be a colossal mismatch.

So why is it seemingly always on TV? Every season Sky and BT fall over themselves to air a game they know is unlikely to be competitive.

1996 humdinger

It all stems back to 1996, when both sides were trying – and ultimately failing – to chase down Manchester United in the title race. It was 3 April, and Newcastle travelled to Anfield having surrendered a 10-point lead at the top of the table, and knowing another defeat may leave them out of reach. Liverpool, conversely, were on a hot streak, and had a chance of stealing the title.

What came next has come to be one of the most famous games in Premier League history. It started frantically, with Robbie Fowler opening the scoring for Liverpool inside two minutes, before Les Ferdinand and David Ginola hit back, putting the Toon 2-1 up at the quarter-hour mark.

Liverpool celebrations
The Liverpool bench celebrates Collymore’s late winner in 1996 (Photo: Getty)

Fowler struck again to level the scores 10 minutes after half-time, but Faustino Asprilla restored Newcastle’s lead almost immediately with the outside of his boot. Still, the story of the game had yet to be written.

Stan Collymore got Liverpool back on terms in the 68th, and after a series of missed chances by both sides popped up again two minutes into injury time to send the Liverpool fans wild. Instant history, even if United did go on to lift the trophy anyway.

More than results

To many football fans, Liverpool vs Newcastle will always bring back memories of this famous game, but even without it this fixture feels worthy of our televisions and worth of our time, because sometimes football is about more than just what happens on the pitch.

You’d be hard pressed to find two more passionate fanbases in English football, or two cities where the game means quite so much. That’s why Liverpool vs Newcastle still feels big today, 23 years since that game and 25 after the Magpies last managed a win.

Anyway, we’ve not had any Premier League football for the last two weeks – don’t act like you won’t be watching.

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Liverpool team news: The expected 4-3-3 line-up to face Newcastle

The Premier League is back after an unwelcome hiatus (why do they always schedule an international break just a few weeks into the season?), and Liverpool will get us back underway, looking to extend their lead at the top of the table to five points, at least for a few hours.

Jurgen Klopp’s side will welcome Steve Bruce’s Newcastle to Anfield, with the Magpies in desperate need of goals. They’ve scored a league-low three in their opening four games.

Liverpool, by contrast, have 12, and are the only team who still boast a 100 per cent record. Their recent form against Newcastle at home – the Toon haven’t won at Anfield in 25 years – suggests that may not change.

Here’s how Liverpool could line up on Saturday afternoon:


Virgil van Dijk is Liverpool’s centre-back maestro (Photo: Getty)

Liverpool have still not put a time frame on Alisson’s recovery from the calf injury he picked up on the opening day of the season, meaning Adrian will continue to deputise in goal.

Read more: Premier League injuries: Martial, Wan-Bissaka and Laporte – all the players at risk for Fantasy football Gameweek 5

Reds goalkeeping coach John Achterberg said of Adrian: “He has done really well. Obviously he needed to adapt to the way we play, with wanting him to play out, but he’s done good and picked everything up. We couldn’t be any happier with how it’s gone.”

The good news is that the back four in front of Adrian is fairly settled. Virgil van Dijk is the first name on the team sheet, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson will continue on the flanks, and Joel Matip is likely to be preferred to Joe Gomez as Van Dijk’s centre-back partner, despite Gomez not featuring while on England duty over the last week.

Possible starters: Adrian; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson


Gini Wijnaldum should get the nod in midfield (Photo: Getty)

Naby Keita is not far from being fit to play after a groin strain, but the game against Newcastle has likely come a little bit too soon.

Jordan Henderson should start after playing well for England, with Fabinho alongside him. The Brazilian midfielder only played a few minutes in his team’s defeat to Peru on Tuesday night.

Gini Wijnaldum, who has been in good form so far this season, will provide the goal threat from the midfield three. James Milner provides depth if Klopp wants to shore things up late on.

Possible starters: Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum


Mohamed Salah scores a penalty against Arsenal (Photo: Getty)

Liverpool have no reason to mess with a front three that is the lifeblood of their team, with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino all expected to start.

Xherdan Shaqiri will be an option from the bench, as will Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, both of whom could also be deployed in midfield if Klopp requires some attacking impetus. Divock Origi will be the true striking option as a substitute.

Possible starters: Salah, Firmino, Mane

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Raheem Sterling’s true greatness will be measured in England’s must-win games

For those of a certain vintage watching an England team with eye-watering attacking thrust, full of imagination and ambition is revelatory. It is part of the national psyche to cry woe over the defensive mistakes that took the gloss from a display that was astonishing at times, to end an uplifting night with an ominous “but”, understandably after generations of miserable failure.

Moan away, people, talk down the experience if you must. Others have seen the light. Gareth Southgate wasn’t happy with the goals conceded either. Since they resulted from crass individual errors not systemic failure, he maintained a sense of perspective, and one conditioned by the far more significant emergence of an English player that might be regarded as properly, significantly, substantially world class. If this is a term that we attached to English footballers a tad too quickly in the past, largely out of desperation to belong among the elite, it seems apt in this case.

The transformation of Raheem Sterling from the “hated one”, as he once tweeted, to national treasure is among the most spectacular and rewarding in English sport. Not only has he developed into a majestic player, he is also an impactful voice in the community, an “influencer” to use the lingua franca of the millennial age, a figure capable of shifting the public mood in a powerful way.

This new acceptance has come straight from the pitch, from the staggering improvement in output first at Manchester City and latterly with England. As Southgate noted, Sterling returned from the World Cup a disappointed, subdued figure. And then came the Nations League win in Spain, with England three up in 37 minutes and Sterling utterly to the fore. The goal he scored in Seville night might be seen as the point at which he took real ownership of his gifts, a moment that told him he was capable of truly extraordinary things.

Mentoring Sancho

Jadon Sancho fires home England’s fourth against Kosovo (Reuters)

By increments he teased England out of the mortification of falling behind in 34 seconds against Kosovo at St Mary’s. First he brought the scores level with a header, then the magic started. The ransacking of the Kosovo centre-back on the half way line and subsequent drive into the box to feed Harry Kane was Messi-esque. A bit of Jadon Sancho wizardry led to the third before two rapid breaks of arresting quality took England out of sight. Though Sancho was the beneficiary on each occasion, the spotlight fell entirely on Sterling.

Read more: SSK? Jadon Sancho shows he can be final part of England’s exciting attacking trio

This ability to change things out of nothing, to take the game away from opponents in moments of unanswerable force makes Southgate a lucky yet appreciative coach. “At key moments he has just grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. When there was no space at Wembley (against Bulgaria) he was the one able to open things up. He is a player full of confidence who wants to be involved in everything and showing real maturity about the camp.”

Southgate recognises, too, Sterling’s influence on the younger players, particularly Sancho. “I noticed over the last 24 hours he spent a lot of time with Jadon. I can speak as coach but there will be more depth to that, a fellow winger who has been at the same club and been through what you have, that’s far more powerful. You can’t quantify what that will have meant to Jadon, helping him to settle in the game.” We beg to differ, Gareth. The outcome was measured in goals.

Sancho is clearly a lad with ravishing potential. Sterling’s approval gives him permission, if you like, to express himself so early in the international piece. And not just Sancho. Sterling’s growing stature at club and country is lifting the output of those around him, creating a can-do atmosphere that we have glimpsed only rarely in the England setting. Kosovo manager Bernard Challendes placed Sterling among the world’s best claiming he was impossible to stop.

Better than Messi and CR7?

Raheem Sterling was in unstoppable form against Kosovo (Reuters)

The question begged is how far up the food chain can he go and what might he achieve with England? It was put to him that the ageing limbs of Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is about to create a vacancy at the top of the world game. Might he be the marquee player to step up, football’s ultimate reference point? He said he was minded to give it a crack. Southgate believes anything is possible for his talisman, but ultimately trophies will determine his standing in the game.

Read more: Raheem Sterling is England’s alchemist, turning this flawed construct into a team of gold

“It is lovely to see a young man establish himself. We feel very lucky as a group to have him as one of ours. He will give himself every chance of filling that [Messi/Ronaldo void]. There are obviously some outstanding players around, the Hazards and De Bruynes, plus the two you have mentioned. But he has the drive, the professionalism, the ability, and he is physically and mentally strong. He is so hard to knock off the ball.

“How do we benchmark players? Winning trophies is important. It will come down to performances in the biggest matches, in the championships and latter stages of the Champions League. No matter how much we think about outstanding players, in the end they have to have made a difference in the biggest games. He has the ability to influence those games. We have to get him to those games in order to do that. It looks like he is going to have those opportunities with his club. We have to make sure we help him have those opportunities with England.”

Jordan Henderson believes this group can do just that, defensive brain fades notwithstanding. “We’re scoring some brilliant goals and creating some brilliant chances and we look so dangerous on the break. When we turn over the ball in the transitions we break with pace and look frightening at times. We can hurt a lot of teams with that. But football is about defending at times and you need to keep clean sheets.That’s important if you want to win things. That’s one thing we need to address. We need to make sure we’re keeping clean sheets and defending properly and then the forward play will look after itself. We’re still confident and feel we’re going in the right direction, but we’re far from being the perfect team. We want to improve. We want to be even better.”

England travel to the Czech Republic and Bulgaria next month having scored 19 goals in four qualifying matches. Hardly fixtures to get the heart racing, except in this new phase of England euphoria we can’t wait. England are turning into the Manchester City of international football, hallmarked by Sterling, the new mark of exceptional quality in the English game.

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‘It was a shock’: Marcus McGuane on his sudden fall from Arsenal and Barcelona to the Dutch second division

BARCELONA — Marcus McGuane looks up from his pasta, a glint in his eye as he remembers the night he became the first Englishman to play for Barcelona’s senior side since Gary Lineker.

“It was quite a big thing,” he tells i, days before completing a surprise loan move to Dutch second division side Telstar last week. “Back home it was on the six o’clock news. I got so many messages. So many. My Whatsapp, my Instagram, you can imagine. It was crazy.”

McGuane, 20, made his Barça debut in the Catalan Super Cup in March 2018. Just 36 days had passed since he had signed from Arsenal, who he made two appearances for in the Europa League. Things weren’t supposed to move so quickly. The idea was that he would spend six months adapting to his new surroundings and learning the language. That blueprint was ripped up when Gerard Lopez handed him his B team bow three days after he arrived.

Ernesto Valverde then called him up to train with the first team, before including him in the squad for the Super Cup game against Espanyol, bringing him on as a second-half substitute as Barca won on penalties.

‘I felt the impact straight away’

“Everything was going smoothly,” McGuane adds, before turning his mind back to the moment when things started to deteriorate. “I still hadn’t gone anywhere near my peak but I felt good. I was playing in my natural position and I felt I was getting better. Then Lopez got sacked and [Garcia Pimienta] replaced him.

“I felt the impact straight away. It happened on a Thursday before a game. We were travelling on the Saturday and I wasn’t even in the squad. It was a bit of a shock. After that it was tough. I never had the same feeling that I had during those first few months.”

McGuane was gutted by the departure of Lopez, a coach that he had struck up a rapport with. The change in management was just one of a succession of incidents which would knock the England youth international’s confidence and eventually see him turn down a number of attractive this offers this summer in favour of relative wilderness in Holland.

Under Pimienta, Barca B were relegated. They went from playing in front of crowds of 20,000 at Osasuna to being lucky to hit 1,000 at Cornella in the regionalised third division. There was then an untimely trip back to England for personal reasons after an impressive pre-season in which he had trained alongside Lionel Messi, who was absent from the first team’s tour of the United States. When he returned, after starring in a central midfield position in two friendlies, he found himself out of the team. He wouldn’t play his favoured role again.

‘Once in a lifetime opportunities’

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When he finally broke back into the team it was a right winger. Then he was ruled out with an injury in October. His season might as well have ended there. When it did end, he’d made just 16 appearances.

McGuane admits there’s frustration at being played out of position — “maybe as a kid I played there, when I was nine or 10, but I am not a right winger” — but he’s not seeking excuses. He’s not bitter about how things turned out as he looks to get his career back on track with Telstar.

“I didn’t play as much as I would have liked, but the training and the level of the boys was good and I had opportunities with the first team,” he reflected. “There have been some once in a lifetime opportunities.

“It’s been good to get away from the distractions you have in London, too. In London everything is so accessible, it’s so easy. For a footballer, it’s so easy to get caught up in the London bubble. Being away from that has been good for me. I’ve matured as a person. You find out the things you like, the things you don’t like. It’s helped me grow in so many ways and come closer to family members. It makes you realise the most important things in life when you don’t always have them around you.

“There have been times when it’s been really hard, but I am strong. I don’t give up easily. I wouldn’t have been in Barcelona for any reason other than football. It didn’t work out with the game time that I wanted, but there are no regrets.”

Familiar face in the Netherlands

Former Arsenal youth team coach Andries Jonker is now in charge of Telstar (Getty Images)

Hadjuk Split, Besiktas and Sassuolo all put together attractive packages this summer but they couldn’t offer what Telstar could: Andries Jonker, Louis van Gaal’s former No 2 and McGuane’s one-time youth coach at Arsenal. The Dutchman had been texting McGuane all summer and convinced him he could offer him what he wants: the chance to enjoy his football again, feel valued and play minutes in his best position.

“The most important thing for me now is feeling comfortable,” McGuane explained. “Being happy where I am, in a good environment with family and friends and the people that I love around me.

“Choosing a club this summer has felt like such a big decision. I’m still young, but it feels like a big point in my career. I have just got to get some experience playing. Coming to Barcelona was an easy decision. It felt like the right time. I felt like I was going to have the opportunity to show what I can do.”

His food now finished, McGuane admitted any long-term goals he had of returning to the Premier League or representing England have had to be put on the back-burner.

“With the way football is going, everything is more short-term,” he said. “My mind is just on this season. I just want to play and enjoy football again. Play. I want to get back to the level that I can perform at.”

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SSK? Jadon Sancho shows he can be final part of England’s exciting attacking trio

ST MARY’S STADIUM — MSN, BBC, SSK – can England’s latest front three join the great modern-day attacking trio acronyms?

The greatness of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, who from 2014 to 2018 scored a phenomenal 270 goals. The sheer phenomenon of Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, combining to score 442 goals in five seasons.

On Tuesday night, Gareth Southgate watched as Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Harry Kane netted five in 45 minutes, a haul eventually needed by the end of an astonishing match in which they conceded three against Kosovo.

A quick Google search reveals there are no major media companies sharing their initials, so Sterling, Sancho, Kane will have to make do with the knitting acronym Slip, Slip, Knit. It makes a decrease that slants to the left, according to expert knitters. It was either that or a dedicated key and lock supplier (SKS) or the architecture and design company KSS… Perhaps it won’t catch on, after all. Nonetheless, they captured the world’s attention last night.

The future?

They will, of course, not reach the highs of those Barcelona and Real triplets, who enjoyed the advantage of far more games in club football, working almost every day of the week with each other in training and honing that near subliminal understanding.

But for England what fun it could be over the next five years: Kane the oldest of the bunch at 26, Sterling only 24, and Sancho, the Borussia Dortmund teenager, not yet 20.

Could this performance have cemented Sancho’s place for Euro 2020 and – potentially – beyond? There was previously no doubt about Sterling and Kane. They are world leading players for their clubs, and are bringing that now to international football.

But England’s manager is not so convinced of Marcus Rashford and handed Sancho this opportunity, a player he has recently admitted he is struggling to hold back. Admittedly, it did not start as planned: Sancho was a ghost for the first half-hour, drifting aimlessly out on the right while everything went down the left and centre, driven mainly by Sterling with the help of Kane. Sancho’s only contribution of note some quick-footed skills before laying off to Ross Barkley to shoot over.

Itching for chances

Much has been made of Sancho’s decision to shun Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and venture abroad to Germany – a bold decision, one that particularly impressed Southgate and prompted him to send assistant Steve Holland on a scouting mission; in a fake glasses and moustache, Southgate joked at the time.

On either flank last night, then, was one player – Sterling – who had benefited from Guardiola arriving at City and another who benefitted from leaving the Spaniard’s tutelage.

Southgate has been itching to give Sancho chances, and has not held back to protect Rashford, revealing after the routine thumping of Bulgaria in England’s previous match that the United man had not quite impressed him enough, despite England’s four goals.

For a while, it did not look as though it was coming together for Sancho. But then he came alive. More skills, on 38 minutes, and a low drive through Kosovo’s penalty area that Mergim Vojvoda turned into his own net.

Final piece in the jigsaw

Read more: Raheem Sterling is England-s alchemist, turning this flawed construct of a team into gold

Then his first goal for England, followed by a second a couple of minutes later. A driving run from Sterling from halfway ended with an inch-perfect diagonal pass for Sancho to control and finish.

An even easier one created by Sterling again, dribbling from the left and clipping the ball past Kosovo goalkeeper Arijanet Muric. Sancho timed his run to stay onside well and tapped in.

It made him the youngest player to score twice for England since Wayne Rooney, who was 18 when he netted a double against Croatia in June 2004. The very best players begin being talked about in these kinds of ways when they are young.

By the time Barkley won a penalty, 20 minutes into the second half, after England had conceded two more in a quite bonkers game, Sancho had grown in confidence so much he was lurking next to Kane, clearly with the desire to take the penalty and complete his hat trick, and even seeming to politely ask. Captain Kane, understandably, was having none of it. Then missed.

So perhaps the final piece in the attacking trio did not quite get his treble, but SSK could be here to stay.

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Raheem Sterling is England’s alchemist, turning this flawed construct of a team into gold

ST MARY’S STADIUM — We have long since accepted Raheem Sterling as a great footballer. The challenge for England was to unlock his gifts in the service of his country. If he was impressive against Bulgaria, this was the full Sterling, the twisting, snake-hipped ball of nitroglycerin that explodes all over the pitch routinely in the colours of Manchester City.

Yes England shipped three goals, each a pantomime classic of towering incompetence, and missed a penalty via the agency of Harry Kane, yet this was not a night for glasses half empty. The flowering of Sterling into a player of global measure forbids any negative interpretations.

It would be reaching too far to classify Sterling as England’s Messi. However, in his diminutive shimmies and rapid acceleration, in his ability to find space in defended areas he at least approximates to the genie from Rosario. Messi would have approved of the header he planted to equalise, a much under-rated move from the Leo playbook. As for the turn that rinsed the defender on the edge of the centre circle and subsequent drive at the Kosovo defence to set up Kane, well, that was pure alchemy. Ditto the imperious moves that put Jadon Sancho on the map.

When a team has a player that can bend a game to his will they are entitled to think big. This is the territory into which England are beginning to move, the calamitous errors notwithstanding. You might say this was “only” Kosovo, a team barely three years old, and you would be right. Forget the longest unbeaten record in Europe. That anomaly was more hindrance than help at St Mary’s despite the goals for column.

Making gold

Raheem Sterling rises above the Kosovo defence to nod home England’s equaliser (PA)

This is more about how England see themselves regardless of the opposition. Once you reach the transcendent state of absolute belief, anything is possible. Watching this England go forward with Sterling hitting such a rare peak it feels very much like that.

Sterling’s excellence shone an interesting light on Sancho, who was given a start on the right side of the attacking trident in place of Marcus Rashford, which on the evidence of Wembley was harsh on the Manchester United rapier. Sancho is saddled with a reputation that does not yet match outcomes. Few would have been minded to press the £100m release clause on his Dortmund contract on the basis of the opening half hour.

Sancho was a circumspect, safety-first traveller in the early stages. It was not until the 38th minute that he blazed into the picture, his quick feet too much for the Kosovo left-back as he crossed for England’s third goal. He would score the next two himself in the space of a minute before the break, tapping in after the uncontainable Sterling had shredded the overmatched Kosovo defence with rapier breaks down the left.

Defensive concerns

Amir Rrahmani celebrates with Aro Muric after Harry Kane’s penalty miss (Reuters)

St Mary’s proved an excellent host 17 years after last staging an England match, and a generous one, all three Kosovo goals heavily dependent on English chapter of the Keystone Cops. There are few chapters in the coaching manual about how to respond to adversity 30 seconds into a match. Michael Keane will never play a better weighted pass, first time into the path of Fidan Aliti, who responded in kind with a cushioned pass to Valon Berisha. The instinct to laugh must have been strong. Berisha resisted until he had stroked his team in front.

He was celebrating again four minutes into the second half, converting a move begun by Declan Rice, who emulated Keane in the accuracy of his pass to an advanced Kosovo player. The penalty that followed six minutes later might be seen by fans of United as a tribute to Phil Jones, his club-mate Harry Maguire tripping over his own clearance to fell Vedat Muriqi, who exacted the maximum sanction from the spot.

Kane had the chance to atone only to see his spot-kick saved by Manchester City keeper Aro Muric, who won’t be on loan at Nottingham Forest for long. Sterling also hit a post as England continued the cavalier pursuit of goals.

The unleashing of Rashford for Sancho and Mason Mount for Ross Barkley in late cameos served only to underline the eager, young core straining to be part of Gareth Southgate’s thrilling if flawed construct.

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England vs Kosovo: Strikes from Sterling, Sancho and Kane in eight-goal thriller

Good evening and welcome to i‘s live coverage of England’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Kosovo at St Mary’s.

Here’s how the game unfolded plus post-match reaction from Southampton.

Please hit refresh for updates

‘SSK? Sancho can be final part of England’s attacking trio’

Jadon Sancho is still only 19 and has many exciting years ahead of him (Getty Images)

Analysis by Sam Cunningham at St Mary’s

Could this performance have cemented Sancho’s place for Euro 2020 and – potentially – beyond? There was previously no doubt about Sterling and Kane. They are world leading players for their clubs, and are bringing that now to international football.

But England’s manager is not so convinced of Marcus Rashford and handed Sancho this opportunity, a player he has recently admitted he is struggling to hold back.

For a while, it did not look as though it was coming together for Sancho. But then he came alive.

Read Sam’s full analysis here

‘Sterling is England’s alchemist’

Raheem Sterling levels the scores against Kosovo (AFP)

Analysis by Kevin Garside at St Mary’s

We have long since accepted Raheem Sterling as a great footballer. The challenge for England was to unlock his gifts in the service of his country. If he was impressive against Bulgaria, this was the full Sterling, the twisting, snake-hipped ball of nitroglycerin that explodes all over the pitch routinely in the colours of Manchester City.

Yes England shipped three goals, each a pantomime classic of towering incompetence, and missed a penalty via the agency of Harry Kane, yet this was not a night for glasses half empty. The flowering of Sterling into a player of global measure forbids any negative interpretations.

It would be reaching too far to classify Sterling as England’s Messi. However, in his diminutive shimmies and rapid acceleration, in his ability to find space in defended areas he at least approximates to the genie from Rosario. Messi would have approved of the header he planted to equalise, a much under-rated move from the Leo playbook. As for the turn that rinsed the defender on the edge of the centre circle and subsequent drive at the Kosovo defence to set up Kane, well, that was pure alchemy. Ditto the imperious moves that put Jadon Sancho on the map.

When a team has a player that can bend a game to his will they are entitled to think big.

Read Kevin’s full analysis here


90+5 mins: That’s the full-time whistle. It’s another three points for England but hardly the most convincing performance. Blistering in attack at times but defending and concentration will be a concern for Gareth Southgate.


86 mins: Glorious chance for Raheem Sterling to make it six for England but he fires over the bar from no distance. Looks like he was just offside anyway. Albania then break down the other end and Bersant Celina cuts inside onto his right and shoots narrowly wide. Great effort from the Swansea midfielder.


75 mins: Jordan Henderson shows great tenacity to win the ball down the right and swing a cross towards the near post where Michael Keane can’t quite get his header on target from a tight angle. It’s end to end stuff now but still no goal for England in this second-half.


Amir Rrahmani looks pleased with his goalkeeper – and rightly so (Reuters)

65 mins: Well, well, well. Harry Kane never misses penalties… but he misses this one. After some time-wasting by his teammates on the edge of the box makes Kane wait forever, Aro Muric dives to his right and gets a big solid glove to the ball. It was a nice height for the keeper.

Penalty to England!

64 mins: Ross Barkley earns a penalty after going down near the edge of the box. That looked soft.

GOAL! England 5-3 Kosovo (Muriqi)

Vedat Muriqi consoles Valon Berisha after stealing his chance of a hat-trick (Getty Images)

55 mins: Valon Berisha may be on a hat-trick but Vedat Muriqi does not look like the kind of man you want to argue with. The hulking, pony-tailed centre-forward steps up and pings the ball towards Jordan Pickford’s left. The England goalkeeper gets a hand to it but not enough to stop the powerful shot. Game on?

Penalty to Kosovo!

54 mins: Harry Maguire slides in the box and takes down Vedat Muriqi and the ref points to the spot.

GOAL! England 5-2 Kosovo (Berisha)

49 mins: The ball is floated towards the back post by Florent Muslija. Jordan Henderson jumps but can’t get to it and it falls to the feet of Valon Berisha who side steps back past the Liverpool man and curls the it into the top corner past Jordan Pickford for his second of the night.


47 mins: Trent Alexander-Arnold finds himself in an advanced position from right-back and fires a volley towards goal with his left foot but Aro Muric parries away.


46 mins: England get us back under way in the second-half.


GOAL! England 5-1 Kosovo (Sancho)

45+1 mins: This is too easy for England. Ben Chilwell plays it through to Raheem Sterling who knocks it past Rrahmani and sprints into the penalty area before squaring it to Jadon Sancho who just manages to keep himself onside for the easiest of tap-ins.

GOAL! England 4-1 Kosovo (Sancho)

Jadon Sancho puts England four up (Reuters)

44 mins: England are full of confidence now… and Kosovo are anything but. Declan Rice wins the ball in midfield and lays it off to Raheem Sterling who picks the ball up down the left, drives towards the heart of the visitors’ defence and finds Jadon Sancho in acres of space at the back post. Sancho takes one touch, lifts his head and then buries it.

GOAL! England 3-1 Kosovo (OG Vojvoda)

37 mins: Kosovo are angered because Fidan Aliti goes down injured before England score. Harry Kane picks up the loose ball and plays it through to Jadon Sancho who jinks his way towards the byline and fires the ball across goal where a hapless Mergim Vojvoda turns into his own net.


22 mins: Great work from Jadon Sancho down the right. The Dortmund winger twists and turns and twists the other way before setting up Ross Barkley for a shot from the edge of the box but the Chelsea man fires over.

GOAL! England 2-1 Kosovo (Kane)

19 mins: It’s brilliant work again from Raheem Sterling who turns on the spot to take three defenders out of the game, surges forward and lays it off to Harry Kane who shifts it onto his left foot and fires straight through the goalkeeper’s legs.

England tighten up

12 mins: England have looked more solid at the back after conceding that shock early goal. Harry Maguire and Michael Keane keeping it simple and not overplaying the passes.

GOAL! England 1-1 Kosovo (Sterling)

Raheem Sterling rises above the Kosovo defence to nod home England’s equaliser (PA)

7 mins: Who else? Ross Barkley swings a corner in from the right. Michael Keane jumps at the back post and heads it back across goal where Raheem Sterling finds himself in the right place at the right time to equalise.

That’s six goals in four qualifiers for the Manchester City man.

England settling

4 mins: England’s midfield are dominating possession and look to be just trying to settle the game down after that shock early goal. Kosovo are up for this though and are harrying their opponents whenever they can.

GOAL! England 0-1 Kosovo (Berisha)

What a start for the visitors! Valon Berisha capitalises on Michael Keane’s poor, poor pass across the penalty box and fires past Jordan Pickford.


1 min: We’re under way at St Mary’s as Kosovo kick off.

The teams are in…

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Chilwell come into the full-back positions for England while Jadon Sancho replaces Marcus Rashford in the front three.

England subs: Heaton, Gomez, Mount, Wilson, Mings, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Pope, Trippier, Maddison, Winks, Rashford, Rose

Kosovo subs: Kryeziu, Zhegrova, Rashani, Nuhiu, Ujkani, Dresevic, Bernard Berisha, Raskaj, Bekaj, Leart Paqarada, Hasani

Southgate laments lack of danger in qualifiers

Competition is fiercer than ever in Gareth Southgate's England team
Competition is fiercer than ever in Gareth Southgate’s England team (Getty)

By Sam Cunningham

England manager Gareth Southgate does not believe there is “enough jeopardy” in World Cup and European Championship qualifiers and that increases in the number of teams in finals has taken away some of the excitement of international football.

England have not lost a qualifier in 10 years and 42 matches, since losing 1-0 to Ukraine in October 2009. The European Championship finals were increased by Uefa from 16 to 24 teams in 2016 and Southgate is concerned that it actually has a detrimental affect on the whole process.

While not wanting to denigrate tonight’s opponents Kosovo, who he considers a side England could drop points against following a 100 per cent start to qualifying for Euro 2020, Southgate said: “If I look across Europe in general, you’d have to say there isn’t enough jeopardy in the qualification process to make all of the groups as exciting as they could be. We saw the difference that the Nations League presented in terms of excitement for fans and the thrill of that.

“There are a lot of games, when I look across Europe, you’re going through the fixture list and there’s maybe a couple each night that you really might want to tune in to. I just think we have to be careful that we don’t devalue [the competition].”

Forged in the heat of war

Vedat Muriqi celebrates Kosovo’s first goal against the Czech Republic (Reuters)

By Robert O’Connor

When Kosovo defender Mergim Vojvoda stuck out a hopeful boot to poke home his team’s deciding goal in their 2-1 win against the Czech Republic on Saturday, 13,000 supporters in Pristina rose to their feet in joy, but not surprise.

Three months ago, Kosovo had never won a tournament qualifier. Now, off the back of a 15-game unbeaten run and back-to-back victories they stand in pole position to claim one of Group A’s Euro 2020 qualifying spots and seal a place at next summer’s finals.

The team were only accepted as Uefa members in 2016. This is just their second attempt to reach a major tournament, but already they have put their dire World Cup campaign from two years ago – where they lost nine of their 10 games – behind them. Win or lose against England on Tuesday, the hard part is already done.

You can read about the bloody history of Kosovo’s football team in this fascinating article here.

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David Wagner: ‘It’s really sad to see Huddersfield struggling – but they have everything in place to build something’

David Wagner has happy memories of his time as a Schalke player. “I had two amazing seasons even if I wasn’t a starter,” he tells i, recalling the club’s third-place finish in the Bundesliga in his debut campaign – their highest in almost 20 years – and their Uefa Cup win the season after. “It was a great time for me as a player and this was an important point for Schalke to create the football club as it is now.

That Uefa Cup triumph, secured over two legs against Inter Milan in May 1997, represents Schalke’s greatest European honour to date. Wagner, then a baby-faced forward, made several cameo appearances in the preceding rounds but was ultimately an unused substitute in the final before he left to see out the rest of his playing career in the German lower leagues. Wagner is no longer a bit-part player in Gelsenkirchen, however, having agreed to join Schalke as manager back in May. 

He is now in charge of a side often billed as the Bundesliga’s greatest underachievers, one which finished runners-up to Bayern Munich two seasons ago and then flirted with relegation last term. “At the end of the day, listen, you know what a giant Schalke is in Germany,” he says. “It’s the third biggest club in Germany after Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. They finished 14th last season after they were second the season before, so there’s a huge amount of pressure and there’s a huge amount of expectation in this football club as well.”

‘We had no chance to react’

Wagner faces the press for the first time as Schalke manager
Wagner faces the press for the first time as Schalke manager (Getty Images)

It has not all been plain sailing for Wagner so far, even though it’s still early days for his tenure. Schalke’s form has been mixed, with their first three Bundesliga games yielding one draw, one defeat and one win against Borussia Monchengladbach, Bayern and Hertha Berlin respectively. “I think we couldn’t be much more satisfied than we are at the minute,” he says, when asked how he rates his side’s start to the season. “We have had to deal with a lot of problems because of some injured players which we got from last season, serious injuries, which came back very late in the pre-season, while we had some players at the Gold Cup in America who couldn’t play as well.

“Our first few league games, we played against teams which want to finish in the top four and play in the Champions League next year: Borussia Monchengladbach away, Bayern Munich at home and Hertha at home as well, a team which tries to finish in the top six this season. We ended up with four points from these performances so we think it is okay – not perfect, but okay – and we have made a few steps in the right direction.”

Wagner faces a difficult quest to turn things around at Schalke, with things unravelling last season under predecessor Domenico Tedesco. Despite spending over €100m on transfer fees over the last couple of seasons, the club’s recruitment has been hit and miss and several recent signings – including Sebastian Rudy, Yevhen Konoplyanka, Cedric Teuchert and Pablo Insua – have already departed either on loan or permanently. Sporting director Christian Heidel announced his resignation last February, saying: “Even though a few things haven’t gone our way this season, I certainly hold the responsibility.” Tedesco was sacked in March after Schalke lost 7-0 to Manchester City in the Champions League.

Schalke also lost several young stars in Thilo Kehrer, Leon Goretzka and Max Meyer before the start of last season, which no doubt contributed to their ensuing struggles. Goretzka and Meyer left on free transfers, something which has happened far too often at the club. “We are financially anything but good because we have done a lot of big business in the last couple of years and the result was 14th last season,” says Wagner. “We had no chance to really react in this [transfer] window. This doesn’t make it easier, but it is the challenge which we have in front of us and I’m more than happy to be part of it.”

Though Schalke have added some highly rated youngsters including defender Ozan Kabak, forward Benito Raman and Everton loanee Jonjoe Kenny, they were much quieter in the transfer market this summer. Last season they had the Bundesliga’s third-worst goalscoring record and with three goals from their first three league games – two of which were own goals, one of which was scored by Kenny and all of which were against Hertha Berlin – they may well find that the attack is an area which needs to be bolstered come January.

Congratulations from Klopp

Wagner and Jurgen Klopp after Huddersfield's 3-0 defeat to Liverpool in January 2018
Wagner and Jurgen Klopp after Huddersfield’s 3-0 defeat to Liverpool in January 2018 (Getty Images)

Despite all that, Wagner seems to be enjoying his first senior job in the Bundesliga. “Managing expectations will always be a problem in a club like Schalke,” he says. “On the other hand, they are very sensible in terms of the way they support the team and the passion they show for the team, which is why we got a standing ovation after we lost against Bayern Munich.

“The atmosphere when we beat [Hertha] Berlin was amazing. It was the first home win for over eight months – the last home win was in January – so you can imagine how great the feeling was.”

Wagner learned his trade as a coach working with Borussia Dortmund reserves under the auspices of close friend Jurgen Klopp. Did he have any reservations about the reception he would receive on his return to Schalke, Dortmund’s great rivals in the tough former coalmining region of the Ruhr? “This isn’t and never was since I arrived a problem for anyone here,” he laughs. “It was a problem for the guys at Dortmund, when I started to work there as second team manager, that I had the Schalke history. They called me ‘Schalke’ in the period that I was at Dortmund, but it was never a problem when I came back here.”

Back when Wagner was appointed in May, Klopp was quoted as saying: “I can only congratulate Schalke, even if my Dortmund friends do not like to hear that.” Rivalries aside, Klopp remains supportive from afar. “He congratulated me for joining this football club, he said he thought it would suit me perfectly because it’s a very emotional club, it’s a very hard-working area, so it’s a perfect fit for me and for the football club as well,” says Wagner. “He is really looking forward to seeing what we can do here, like I am really looking forward to what he is doing at Liverpool. It is amazing what he has done, what he has achieved.”

‘They have everything in place to build something’

Huddersfield players look dejected after confirmation of their relegation from the Premier League last season
Huddersfield were relegated after finishing rock bottom of the Premier League last season (Getty Images)

Wagner would not have got the Schalke job had it not been for his work at Huddersfield, where he not only masterminded the Terriers’ first promotion to the top tier since 1970 but also retained their Premier League status in their first season on a slender budget. Last season, however, reality caught up with the club, with Wagner leaving by mutual consent in January after they tallied only two wins from their first 22 league games. 

Under his successor, Jan Siewert, Huddersfield only won one more match all season. Siewert was sacked in August after a grim start to the new campaign, while Huddersfield are currently 23rd in the Championship with one point from six games.

Asked whether he is surprised to see them floundering so badly in the Championship, Wagner says: “I always check the results and I’m in touch with one or the other person at the football club. It’s really sad for me to see how poor their recent form is and that they are struggling as much as they are at the moment.

“There are so many people who work behind the scenes very hard day-in, day-out. Especially, as well, for all the supporters who had an amazing time with us, it’s very sad to see what’s going on there at the minute.”

Reflecting on his departure from the cub, Wagner is philosophical. “It makes no sense for all of us to be focused on the end,” he says. “We have to be focused on the whole story, as well as the beginning, the starting point, and the unbelievable journey that we all had together. 

“Obviously, at the end, everything came together as it will for a small football club like Huddersfield in the biggest and the strongest league in the world. We had a lot of issues which we wanted to solve last season and maybe, at the end of the day, it only happened as everyone thought it would happen the year before for us. It was a season in which we saw what happened when we tried to compete against the big guys in the football world.”

With Huddersfield replacing Siewert with Danny Cowley and brother Nicky, a pair who have made a huge impression as coaches at Lincoln City over the last few seasons, there is reason for cautious optimism at the John Smith’s Stadium. Speaking before their appointment is announced, Wagner points to the long-term legacy of Huddersfield’s Premier League adventure as another reason for hope. 

“For me personally, to be totally honest, the most important thing is that this football club is in a much, much better position financially and in terms of stability as well, compared to when I joined,” he says. “They have everything in place to build something, every financial power to create something, and now it is up to them to decide which way they would like to go. 

“You need to have a few good seasons and you have to have luck at one or the other moment as well. But the most important thing is that you stick together and that you create a plan and a vision of where you would like to go to, and you follow it.” Now, Wagner is tasked with shaping his own vision of where he would like to go with Schalke. If he can take them on a journey comparable to that which he went on with Huddersfield, his tenure will live long in the memory in Gelsenkirchen.

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David Wagner on Everton loanee Jonjoe Kenny: ‘He is already close to becoming a fan favourite at Schalke’

Schalke boss David Wagner has said that Jonjoe Kenny “is already close to becoming a fan favourite” at the Veltins Arena after joining on loan from Everton in the summer.

The 22-year-old has started all three of Schalke’s games in the Bundesliga so far and, despite a slow start with a goalless draw against Borussia Monchengladbach and a 3-0 defeat to Bayern Munich, has received high praise for his performances. He scored against Hertha Berlin in Schalke’s last outing before the international break, a thumping drive from the edge of the area sealing a 3-0 win for Die Knappen.

Wagner has kept tabs on Kenny since he was in charge at Huddersfield Town, the club he departed back in January. “He played against us when we played Everton, I followed the England under-21s for a long period as well, the England under-19s and under-20s too when he played for them,” Wagner told i

“I had a good picture of Jonjoe and, after I joined Schalke, we all together agreed that we had to sign a right-back. As soon as I found that we were not able to afford someone to buy because of our financial restrictions, Jonjoe was one of the first names I put on the table when I discussed with our board. Luckily, they agreed to try to sign him and luckily he decided to join our football club.

“I can tell you what, he is already close to becoming a fan favourite here in our stadium. He has done an amazing job so far and scored a wonderful goal against [Hertha] Berlin. He is, for sure, one of the best signings which we have made this summer.”

‘Exactly how I like my full-backs to play’

David Wagner applauds from the sidelines during Schalke's win against Hertha Berlin
David Wagner applauds from the sidelines during Schalke’s win against Hertha Berlin (Getty Images)

Kenny’s thunderous strike against Hertha sparked wild celebrations in Gelsenkirchen, not least because it sealed Schalke’s first home win since January. Wagner was delighted with the goal, assisted by Kenny’s opposite full-back Bastian Oczipka.

That’s exactly what I like – my full-backs high up the pitch and if possible in the opponents’ box,” he said. 

“The one full-back gave the cross and the other full-back scored, this in the 85th minute, which shows how fit the guys are as well to make that run into the opponents’ half. This is how exactly how I like my game and exactly how I like my full-backs to play.”

‘You have to be very brave’

Kenny attempts to rally his teammates during their 3-0 defeat to Bayern Munich
Kenny attempts to rally his teammates during their 3-0 defeat to Bayern Munich (Getty Images)

Wagner also hailed Kenny for having the bravery to move to Germany and strike out on his own this season, with his previous forays away from his native Liverpool only taking him as far as Wigan Athletic and Oxford United on loan.

Asked what makes the Bundesliga such a productive place for young players looking to make a breakthrough, Wagner said: “I think it is a very competitive division, with a high standard, a high quality. You have very good facilities and stadiums as well which are more or less always sold out, so you have a great platform as well. 

“I think it’s one of the best moves a young British player can make in Europe if he is not able to break through in his own team in the Premiership. To go to the Bundesliga, you have to be – and luckily Jonjoe is – very brave, because when you leave your home country and you leave your comfort zone you have to have a very strong character. 

“Not every player is brave enough to make this decision and sometimes they are more keen on playing in the Championship, or even League One, because they can stay near [to home]. 

“For sure, from my point of view, if you have the chance to play in the Bundesliga for one or two seasons to develop your strengths – and to work on your weaknesses as well – it is one of the best places you can be.”

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PES 2020: release date, demo, new Master League, why it’s called ‘eFootball’ and everything else

Hot on the studded heals of the E3 2019 reveal of FIFA 20, Konami have announced the latest iteration of their footballing video game rival, Pro Evolution Soccer.

The PES games have essentially been FIFA‘s only competition for years now, and PES 2020 will be looking to take an even bigger slice of the pie than it has in previous years.

This year sees a slight name change for PES, which is now going under the moniker, ‘eFootball PES’, and brings with it brand new modes and iconic players.

Here’s everything you need to know about it:

Why is it now called ‘eFootball’?

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PES’ name change is quite jarring, especially considering that Pro Evolution Soccer is a name synonymous with video game football. Why change it?

The decision to stick ‘eFootball’ in front of the famous acronym was taken in an effort to reflect the game’s increased focus on eSports, the competitive playing of video games in high-profile events and tournaments.

So, the game’s official full title now features two words for the same sport, and is quite the mouthful: eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020.

“PES 2020 ushers in a new decade of industry-leading football simulation with a bold promise to revolutionise eFootball and introduce the sport to a global audience,” said Konami.

“The PES series continues its dedicated pursuit of realism, taking consideration of fan feedback to bring several impactful changes that instils every moment of play with a sense of complete freedom and control.”

How does the new Master League work?

The Master League mode has been a fan favourite of the PES series for a few years now, but with this year’s installment, Konami are making a few changes.

Often described as a ‘must play’, Master League is PES’ own managerial career mode, letting players create and manage their own teams with the aim of becoming the strongest squad in the league.

You’ll be able to manage as Diego Maradona in this year’s revamped Master League mode (Image: Konami)

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Konami are promising “huge” changes with this year’s release, “headlined by a powerful new interactive dialogue system that puts the reins firmly in players hands when it comes to controlling story progression.”

“This will enable players to choose responses that suit their personality,” they said, “to drive progression and create their own personal Master League story. ”

The game’s transfer market is also getting a brand-new algorithm, ensuring that transfers, fees, salaries and other elements are “in close alignment with reality.”

Players will also be able to create and customise sponsorship logos for their teams’ kits, create their own manager model (you can make “individuals of varying body shapes and sizes” according to Konami), or play through the mode using a legendary manager like Zico, Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona.

What is Matchday mode?

Debuting in this year’s game is new mode Matchday,  which “lifts players out of the spectator stands and puts them onto the pitch”, according to Konami.

“Matchday distils the essence of football culture into a competitive format,” they said. At the start of each weekly event, players will align themselves with one of two different sides, and will then work together with other players to build an advantage for their side ahead of the Grand Final.

Points are accumulated through the playing of matches, where every perfectly placed pass and show-stopping goal unleashed contributes towards victory.

The new Matchday mode sees players working together for their chosen side (Image: Konami)

As the week comes to an end, the results from all of the Group Matches played are analysed to find the best performing user from each side, who are then selected as Representatives and given the right to compete in the Grand Final on behalf of their team.

This game will be fully viewable via a livestream feed in the mode. No pressure then.

What else is new?

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As is the case with previous year’s instalments, PES 2020 brings a number of new tweaks and improvements to the beautiful game.

“Numerous significant changes have been made to PES 2020 as a direct result of fan feedback,” said Konami, including upgraded trapping mechanics and techniques, context-sensitive kick accuracy, more realistic defence, and the addition of the intentional foul.

The developers have this year implemented an “adaptive player interaction system” that recreates player personalities on the pitch, and introduced enhanced lighting and improved player models to make the game of football just that little bit more beautiful.

Who’s on the cover?

The cover star of this year’s game will be Lionel Messi, who appears on the front of the Standard Edition of the game for the first time since 2011.

(Image: Konami)

“I am very happy to be on the cover of eFootball PES 2020,” said the Barcelona forward. “Since I was a little kid, I have always looked forward to seeing who was going to be on the cover. Now my son plays the game, he’s even asked me several times why I was not on it, so I’m really happy now that I am.”

Brazilian icon Ronaldinho feature on the cover of the game’s Legend Edition, which comes with in-game bonuses like an exclusive 3D-scanned 2019 version of Ronaldinho, and Messi on a 10-match loan for myClub mode.

Will there be a demo?

Previous years’ titles have all seen demos a few weeks ahead of release, allowing players to try out the game with a select few teams, and this year’s game is no different.

A free, trial version of PES 2020 is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC via Steam.

It features Arsenal, Barcelona and Boca Juniors in a line up of 14 licensed teams.

It also includes online gameplay and the edit mode that allows you to tweak the teams as you see fit.

When can I play it?

eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 is out now.

It is available for Windows PC, Xbox consoles and PlayStation 4.

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Sergio Ramos wants you to change your mind about him – to the backdrop of one of his ‘worst years’ at Real Madrid

If there is one thing you will learn from new Amazon Prime documentary El Corazon de Sergio Ramos, it is that perceptions of the titular hero here and in Spain are worlds apart.

Here, were you to ask a group of football fans to think of the first word they associate with Ramos nine out of 10 of them would probably say ‘shithouse’ (though it should be stated for any Spanish speakers that the term ‘shithouse’ in England is often said with grudging respect). In Spain, or at least much of the old Castilian Spain which has Madrid at its heart, he seems to be treated with the almost transcendent reverence usually reserved for saints, miracle workers and kings.

Ramos has been a miracle worker, in fairness, for both the Spanish national team and Real Madrid. Sometimes even referred to as ‘El Rey’ by Real fans, he has helped to bring four La Liga titles, four Champions League winners’ medals and a host of other honours to the Bernabeu, as well as securing the World Cup and consecutive triumphs in the European Championships for Spain in 2008 and 2012. Among the best defenders in the world for well over a decade, at 33, he has won everything there is to win with both club and country.

Speak to fans outside Spain, however, and they are more likely to recall his fouls, his amateur dramatics, his off-the-ball shenanigans, his fabled number of red cards or his infamous body slam on Mohamed Salah in the 2018 Champions League final than they are to reel off his career honours. He was relentlessly booed when England met Spain in the Uefa Nations League last autumn only a few months after the incident which saw Salah tearfully leave the field in Kiev with a nasty shoulder injury. 

Ramos is not universally loved in his home country either and, World Cup hero as he may be, he is a red flag to a bull for fans of Sevilla, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in particular. To his critics, he may be a serial winner but he is also someone who has pushed the boundaries of sportsmanship so far that the term may as well have been struck from the dictionary.

‘One of the worst years’

Ramos speaking at the London screening of his new docuseries
Ramos speaking at the London screening of his new docuseries (Photo via Amazon Prime)

Now, though, it seems that Ramos wants to clean up his image as a pantomime villain and one of the most ruthless defenders in world football. That’s where El Corazon de Sergio Ramos comes in, with its gentle fly-on-the-wall look at his home life and interests away from football. 

Married to Spanish TV presenter Pilar Rubio with three small children at home, Ramos is shown making dad jokes, playing with his kids, tending to his beloved horses on his ranch, strumming soulfully on acoustic guitars – there is a mild ‘guy ruining a house party’ vibe to this – and generally being a human being as opposed to living his on-pitch persona as a cross between a Muay Thai instructional DVD and high-strength itching powder. Ramos and Rubio were married in June and there is a vague ‘Spanish Beckhams’ overtone to all this, with El Corazon de Sergio Ramos a careful combination of sweet and slick.

At an early screening of the first episode in London, Ramos stresses that there are “no limits” to the level of access in the series and that he has “opened my heart and the doors of my home”, but the result has clearly been closely cultivated. The dialogue is badly stilted at times – not least when Ramos and his brother Rene, also his agent, are on screen together – even if the impression of Ramos the man is still weirdly endearing (which is, after all, the whole idea).

Read more: Sergio Ramos on Gareth Bale: ‘It’s up to each person to go home with a clear conscience or not’

Where things get interesting is in the concurrent narrative on the pitch, which neither Ramos nor Amazon could have predicted at the time the series was commissioned. “In the series you are going to have the chance to see everything, not just the good times of a football player, because there are good parts but also when you hit the bottom,” he says. “We actually started the shooting in one of the worst professional years for my team and I think that’s something people will be able to see – that football is not just victories and joys. Sometimes you go home very sad because things don’t go the way you expect and you go home sad because maybe you weren’t able to make your fans, the Madridistas, happy.”

‘Suffering and pain’

Ramos in action for Real Madrid last month
After the highs of three Champions League triumphs in a row, Real Madrid struggled badly last season (Getty Images)

If Ramos could have picked one season to showcase his legacy as a footballer, last season would surely not have been his first choice. It’s pointed out that, had El Corazon de Sergio Ramos been filmed in any of the three seasons previous, it would have ended with him lifting the Champions League trophy. “You never know when the best time is to start filming a documentary,” he says ruefully. “If I had known, maybe I would have started three years ago to show all the trophies, but I think it’s good to see the suffering and the pain behind being a footballer and also the effort and sacrifice it entails.

“I think from here we [Real Madrid] can only go upwards. But I think they [the viewers] will see a side that maybe can be more moving, they can see more pureness and it will be more entertaining than if it had been just the successful part.”

Instead of showing him basking in the golden glow of European triumph, the series will show Ramos amidst the chaos of a season in which Real had three permanent managers, were knocked out of the Champions League in spectacular fashion by Ajax and failed to win a major trophy (unless we’re counting the Fifa Club World Cup, which we’re not). That should add some tension and a sense of jeopardy to a series which will otherwise appeal mainly to Ramos devotees.

Listening to Ramos speak, he comes across as someone who is sensitive to his image and, far from revelling in the darker side of his footballing persona, maybe even someone who wants to be liked. “Football players are regular people with a family, with feelings and that part is going to be seen from the inside… people will have much more content to have an opinion or make a judgement,” he says when asked why he agreed to make the series. “I think it will come as a big surprise for many people who have a perspective or an opinion of a person just because of what they see in a training session, advertising, on a single game or on TV,” he adds. “You cannot judge a person just by that.”

Read more: Real Sociedad give Martin Odegaard the chance to prove what he could not at Real Madrid

Asked after the screening what exactly it is he doesn’t like about his image, Ramos doesn’t want to go into specifics but says, tellingly: “I like to compete in anything I do in my life, [from when] I wake up until I go to bed.” There is an almost competitive normality to the behind-the-scenes insight of El Corazon de Sergio Ramos, when we all know that the life of a footballer is, in fact, anything but ordinary.

While the production is a little too slick to make Ramos seem like an everyman (he also appears to have two giant ceramic gnomes outside his pristine mansion, which is fairly avant-garde), the series does its best to suggest that he is, deep down, a big, soulful softie. As much as anything else, it’s an interesting insight into how one of the world’s most divisive footballers wants – and doesn’t want – to be perceived.

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Sergio Ramos says Gareth Bale must consult conscience on Real Madrid commitment

Sergio Ramos has said it is up to Gareth Bale “to go home with a clear conscience” over his commitment to Real Madrid.

Bale is still dogged by his unfortunate caricature in the press, with criticism over his competency at speaking Spanish, his supposed diffidence in the dressing room and his love of golf all contributing to his status as something between heroic outsider and outright outcast at the Bernabeu.

Asked about Bale at the London screening of his new fly-on-the-wall docuseries, El Corazon de Sergio Ramos, in August, however, his club captain hardly gave him the most resounding endorsement.

‘Time puts everything in place’

Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos and co walk off the pitch at the Bernabeu
Real Madrid are currently 5th in La Liga (Getty Images)

“I think Bale’s a great player and he’s been really important for the club in the years he’s been with us. You find many things in the press. Some are true, some are not,” Ramos said.

“We live in this world and we have to try to be above all that. Regarding what has been said about Gareth, I think time puts everything in place. 

“Regardless of what each player does in his personal life, I think it should be respected and not even talked about. We’re free to do what we want with our free time. 

“Of course, professionally, you owe yourself to a team, to a club, and you try to be as honest as possible. Afterwards, it’s up to each person to go home with a clear conscience or not.”

‘I am going to count on him’

Zinedine Zidane and Bale in happier times
Zinedine Zidane and Bale in happier times (Getty Images)

After six years at Real in which he has scored 104 goals, won four Champions League titles and still somehow ended up as an unloved misfit wandering in the footballing wilderness, this could be Bale’s strangest season yet. Back in July it looked as if there was irreparable rift between Bale and the club, with Zinedine Zidane saying at one point: “If he can go tomorrow, it would be better.”

After a move to the Chinese Super League with Jiangsu Suning collapsed, however, Bale was reintegrated into Real’s pre-season preparations and he has now started their first three La Liga matches. In his last outing against Villarreal, he scored twice and was then sent off in a fickle microcosm of his time with Los Blancos.

Despite the difficult relationship with his manager, Bale seems to have settled into an uneasy truce with Zidane which, given there is nothing either of them can do about the situation until January at the earliest, seems expedient.

Read more: Real Sociedad gives Martin Odegaard the chance to prove what he could not at Real Madrid

“It looked like he was leaving but now he is here and now I’m going to count on him, just like all the other players that are in the squad,” Zidane said last month.

“He has a contract, he’s an important player and I hope all the players want to make it difficult for me to pick the team.”

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Why Twitter won’t listen to Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford when it comes to racists

The solution made perfect sense.

Odd, though, that it would take a Premier League footballer nicknamed ‘Slab Head’ to come up with it. Yet, as with seemingly all of the fight against racism on social media, it is being left to footballers to lead the way: speak out, demand action, offer straightforward answers.

Harry Maguire, who the aforementioned nickname belongs to, first proffered the idea on Twitter, suggesting every account should be verified with a form of identification, in response to his team-mate Paul Pogba being subjected to torrents of racist abuse for missing a penalty.

It was echoed a few weeks later by Marcus Rashford, last Friday. The image of the young Manchester United striker holding court in an England pre-Bulgaria press conference in which almost the entire 20 minutes involved him calmly, coherently and eloquently discussing the issue of racism in the game and on social media is at complete odds to the way social media companies have placed their fingers in their ears, shut their eyes and screamed “WAAAAAA!!!!” over the past couple of years, hoping that a deeply damaging rift they have opened in society will miraculously disappear.

Online racism worse than ever

Twitter’s response to footballers speaking out was to say they would monitor the accounts of 50 prominent black players. Then they took some action against hateful comments from users. It is the equivalent of saying they have stopped the incoming tide by building a couple of sandcastles, dusting off their hands satisfactorily then – job done – heading off for some fish and chips.

Last year, Twitter posted blogs about changes and improvements they had made to tackle harmful content on their site, including buying an entire company that specialises in “safety, spam, and security issues”. They documented the tireless work they were doing to stop fake accounts and spam and curb abuse. More than a year on, racism is worse than ever on there.

But, as it took a Manchester United defender pointed out, there is a glaringly obvious solution. So why have a group footballers under the age of 30 seemingly managed to outsmart some of the brightest minds of the modern day? Obviously, they haven’t. This idea will not be new to Twitter.

Why Twitter won’t act

A mandatory verification process would involve large scale administration and new staff. Take, for example, the fact that Kodak, a similarly-sized company at its peak, employed 145,000 people, whereas Twitter has less than 4,000. Eradicating racism on their platform would come at a cost they do not want to pay.

Additionally, Twitter’s user figures would undoubtedly plummet if they cut away the sea of fake accounts, bots, spam accounts and random accounts made up by people to let off their racist steam anonymously.

Research by social media publishing experts Media Chain claimed that, in April, the amount of fake Twitter followers of every Premier League club ranged from 27.9 per cent to 43.1 per cent. Using the Fake Followers Audit tool on SparkToro, they identified the top three as Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal.

There’s nothing to suggest these clubs have deliberately attained fake followings to artificially boost their popularity but what the statistics suggest are that millions upon millions of fake accounts exist today.

No accountability

And there are countless more which come and go. One Twitter account popped up after Kurt Zouma’s own goal prompted horrific racist abuse online. It was called ‘Zouma the Ape’ and then used the N-word in a post about Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly. It’s handle – @fhjigibuhibhg – was clearly created by someone – probably a sad middle-aged white guy sat in his boxer shorts on his parents’ computer on a Saturday afternoon – who had wildly stabbed at their keyboard. The account has now disappeared.

Currently, there is no accountability, no comeback, no deterrent. Verification would be all of those things, and stop social media being a safe space for racists.

The naysayers argue that enforcing verification and removing anonymity would harm people who are part of communities that do not accept homosexuality, for example, and need that cloak to interact with the service. There is a simple solution to that, also: Twitter users could still not have to identify themselves publicly on the platform, but had they logged a passport or driving licence or whatever form of suitable ID then should they choose to post hateful comments then Twitter can notify the authorities. The police can be at their door and knocking half-an-hour later.

Don’t trust Twitter to hold onto that data for you? Don’t use it! You have to provide the same verification to open a bank account. Are the banks any more trustworthy?

Problem solved, now onto global warming, Harry…

More from Sam Cunningham:

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From war to Wembley: the bloody history of Kosovo’s football team

When Kosovo defender Mergim Vojvoda stuck out a hopeful boot to poke home his team’s deciding goal in their 2-1 win against the Czech Republic on Saturday, 13,000 supporters in Pristina rose to their feet in joy, but not surprise.

Three months ago, Kosovo had never won a tournament qualifier. Now, off the back of a 15-game unbeaten run and back-to-back victories they stand in pole position to claim one of Group A’s Euro 2020 qualifying spots and seal a place at next summer’s finals.

The team were only accepted as Uefa members in 2016. This is just their second attempt to reach a major tournament, but already they have put their dire World Cup campaign from two years ago – where they lost nine of their 10 games – behind them. Win or lose against England on Tuesday, the hard part is already done.

This is no fairytale. Kosovo, an ex-Yugoslav republic in the southern Balkans, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, though the Serbian capital Belgrade still claims sovereignty. Before that, a brutal civil war between 1998-99 brought the country to its knees, with more than 13,000 people killed and thousands more displaced as an ethnic Albanian resistance fought against the oppressive Serb-led regime.

A truly international team

Kosovo players pose at the start of a training session in Obilic in March 2014, one day ahead of their first international friendly match against Haiti (AFP/Getty Images)

Since emerging from the bloodshed, the country’s football team is mostly drawn from the diaspora. Saturday’s match-winner Vojvoda was raised in Belgium after his family fled from the conflict, whilst the team’s star, the Swansea City forward Bersant Celina, grew up in Norway. In fact the majority of Swiss coach Bernard Challandes’ squad were once refugees. None of them play domestic football in Kosovo.

Internationalism is the key to this team – ironically, after so many years spent outside of Uefa in the football wilderness. The winning goal in June’s 3-2 win over Bulgaria was scored by another adopted Norwegian, Elba Rashani. The present could have looked even brighter – Premier League stars Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka, both from Kosovo, declared for Switzerland before the team were accepted into Uefa.

Kosovan football is nothing if not a product of the country’s violent past. Back in 1991, when the Albanian majority suffered under a punitive regime desperate to suppress Albanian nationalism, the Kosovan league was outlawed by the regional authorities. Matches were frequently broken up by Serb militia and the players arrested or beaten, and clubs were thrown out of stadiums owned by the Serb municipal authorities.

“The whole trick was not getting caught,” says Kushtrim Munishi, a former striker for the republic’s top club FC Pristina who played in the first season of the rebel league. “As soon as they had you, you were done.”

‘People would disappear overnight’

Organised football was suppressed in Kosovo during the 1990s (Getty Images)

Football survived in the mud and marshes. Players were chased and attacked by Serb police and armed volunteers, and those supporters who weren’t able to get away suffered ritual humiliation at the hands of the militia.

“This was a time when people were being dragged out of their homes, people would disappear overnight sometimes,” says Edmond Rugova, another former Pristina striker. “You would hear the most horrendous stories – so and so was beaten up or he is nowhere to be found.

“I saw one teammate dragged away during a game still wearing his Pristina kit. We waited three hours until he was released from the police station. His face was beaten and bruised.”

“The league officials were beaten up and arrested too,” says Munishi. “But both sides kept pushing. They’d play the game again and the police would come again.”

Football played a role in the toughening of the Serb attitude to Kosovo’s Albanians. In 1981, FC Pristina appointed as manager a Serb named Bela Palfi. As well as being a tactical master, he recognised how to manipulate the city’s complex ethnic situation to the team’s advantage.

“Palfi realised very quickly that this wasn’t going to work unless the club had a make-up where local kids, Kosovar-Albanian kids, made up the bulk of the starting line-up,” says Rugova.

Here to stay

Kosovo are on a 15-game unbeaten run before their match against England (Getty Images)

With the country gripped by street protests and terrorist violence, Palfi created a team in the image of the city’s people – tough, resourceful and overwhelmingly Albanian.

“We were being pushed around as a people and everything had begun to deteriorate,” says Rugova. “There was a huge political connotation to what we as a football club were doing.” When Pristina won 3-1 at the fortress home of Serb giants Red Star in 1983, Belgrade’s determination to crush Kosovo hardened, culminating in the brutal oppression of the nineties.

Today, the country’s unresolved status still causes problems. In June, Montenegro sacked their Serbian manager Ljubisa Tumbakovic a day after he refused to lead the team out against Kosovo in a Euro 2020 qualifier in Podgorica, the Montenegrin capital. It was a protest against Kosovo’s Uefa membership.

Two players, both Serb-born, also refused to play. Filip Stojkovic and Mirko Ivanic play club football for Red Star Belgrade, and the Montenegro football federation said they had “come under pressure from certain circles” to withdraw.

The problem has divided Europe. On Saturday, eight Czech football fans were arrested in Pristina for planning to fly a drone over the Fadil Vokrri Stadium carrying a banner reading ‘Kosovo is Serbia’ during the game against the Czechs. And in 2016, the team were made to play a World Cup qualifier against Ukraine on neutral territory in Poland, after Ukraine refused to recognise the players’ travel documents.

But Kosovo have shown they are here to stay. Whatever happens against England, they have already written the brightest chapter in their story.

More football:

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When is Euro 2020? Dates, schedule, host stadiums and everything else about the Uefa tournament

The European Championship is one of the most esteemed competitions in all of football, having showcased some of the greatest talents in the game’s history and provided countless classic showdowns. 

With European sides having dominated last summer’s World Cup, Euro 2020 looks set to continue this tradition.

With that in mind, now is a good time for a refresher on exactly how it all works. 

What are the Euros?

First established in 1958, the Uefa European Championship sees teams from across the continent battling it out once every four years. 

Germany have won the tournament more times than anyone else, with three titles (1972, 1980 and 1996) and three lots of runners-up medals (1976, 1992 and 2008). 

Read more: England’s Euro 2020 qualifiers group and fixture schedule – in full

Scotland and Northern Ireland have never made it out of the competition’s group stage, while the Republic of Ireland have made it to the following round.

England and Wales have both progressed as far as the semi-finals. 

When is Euro 2020 taking place?

The 16th Uefa European Championships kick off on Friday 12 June, with the group stage running until 24 June. 

The knockout rounds then start on 27 June with the final taking place at 8pm on Sunday 12 July. 

Where is the tournament being held?

To celebrate the tournament’s 60th birthday, Uefa have decided to break with tradition and, in lieu of having one or two host nations, to spread the 2020 competition across the continent. 

All told, 12 different cities from 12 European countries will help play host to next summer’s games. 

Read more: Euro 2020 qualifiers draw: Groups and fixtures in full

An added wrinkle to this is that, with no host nation to be gifted automatic qualification, every single spot in the tournament is up for grabs. 

The competition kicks off in Rome and ends in London:

Euro 2020 host cities

Saint Petersburg

How many countries will take part this year?

55 teams will face-off in the qualifying stages between now and November. 

Between those qualifying from the initial process and those sneaking in via the Nations League side-door, there will be a total of 20 teams participating in next year’s Euros. 

How can I watch it? 

While the summer round of ticket sales has now closed, tickets will become available for purchase again in December, after the tournament draw has been made. 

All the ticket information can be found on Uefa’s website.

Beyond that, every single game will be broadcast live in the UK, with the BBC and ITV dividing the fixtures between them.

More on Euro 2020:

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Marcus Rashford struggling for a place to call his own with England

You’ve got to feel for Marcus Rashford, sometimes. Last week, it was Michael Owen accusing him of not having the same hunger to score goals as the great strikers, that he lacked the “killer instinct” of a Sergio Aguero or Harry Kane, as the former Liverpool striker flogged his latest book.

Next, after a selfless performance for England which helped two of the forward trio – Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling – share four goals against Bulgaria, manager Gareth Southgate was pointing out that Rashford was not playing to his strengths and giving defenders an easy ride.

Not to forget, also, the way Jose Mourinho tore him from pillar to post when the Portuguese was Manchester United manager and Rashford a teenager trying to force his way into one of the biggest football clubs in the world.

Late Saturday afternoon, as the England game kicked off, “Sancho” was trending on Twitter in the UK, the internet of football fans unable to comprehend that teenager Jadon Sancho was sitting on the bench at the expense of the Manchester United man.

Will anyone give Rashford a break?

Read more: Gareth Southgate tells ‘work in progress’ Marcus Rashford to stick to his strengths

All the while, Rashford remains calm and considered, safe in the knowledge that his vital statistics are not incredibly far off Kane or even Cristiano Ronaldo at the same age.

You got the sense that Southgate’s criticism was intentionally motivated to drive Rashford on to be the player he feels so close to becoming. While Southgate suggested that “Harry and Raheem have proven now season after season” that they are world leading players, Rashford, he said, is still “a work in progress”.

Rashford, at 21 years old, is still some years behind Kane, 26, and Sterling, 24. Switching position for club and country probably does not help. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Manchester United manager, has entrusted him with the responsibility as United’s main striker this season, after not signing a replacement when Romelu Lukaku left for Inter Milan, although after a promising start with two goals in the opening Premier League game against Chelsea, Rashford has not added more. Southgate, meanwhile, is not convinced that Rashford is entirely suited as a No 9, that he is better playing off a striker, using that sprinter’s pace like Owen used to when Southgate played with him for England.

For England, Rashford and Southgate have little choice; Kane is one of the best natural strikers in the world, his hat trick against Bulgaria bringing up his 25th goal in 40 appearances, and injury-permitting the Spurs No9 will not budge as he hunts down Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 England goals.

What is Rashford’s best position?

Marcus Rashford has spent time as a No 9 and out on the wing for club and country (Getty Images)

Southgate recalls Kevin Keegan trying to persuade Owen to come shorter and get on the ball more, but the Liverpool forward struggled.

“Although we’ve for a long time almost wanted Marcus to be that option as a nine, I’m still not certain that that is where he is happiest and where he does his best work,” Southgate explained.

“A lot of his development at United was as a ‘wide raider’ and I think he isn’t as strong as Harry with his back to goal and holding play up, so if he plays as a nine, he will play it differently to Harry, but a lot of his best work is in that inside left channel coming in off the line.

“I don’t think that’s a problem, we just have to be aware that that’s probably his profile to get the best out of him, they’re the areas on the pitch that he needs to get in.”

Rashford’s spot still up for grabs

While Southgate described Saturday’s front three “as exciting as anything” — picking out their “balance of speed and intelligent movement” — in comparison to strike forces around the world, his intimation was that Kane and Sterling are virtually guaranteed their places, but Rashford’s is still up for grabs.

Again, it does not strengthen Rashford’s standing in the starting XI that Sancho’s brave decision to leave Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund two years ago has propelled him onto the world stage so early, and Southgate has said he is struggling to hold the 19-year-old back.

Rashford, too, has his work cutout to keep Sancho at bay.

More football:

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