England are back in World Cup qualifying action against Albania on Friday night at Wembley, where a win will confirm their place in Qatar next year.
Gareth Southgate’s side currently sit top of their group with two games remaining, three points ahead of Poland and five ahead of Albania.
Only group winners are guaranteed a place in Qatar 2022, while runners-up will have to go through a play-off to make it. It makes bouncing back from last month’s draw with Hungary all the more important. But who should start the game? This is our England lineup.
GK: Jordan Pickford
England’s number one has been under pressure recently because of the form of Aaron Ramsdale at Arsenal, but he’s been performing worse than this and kept his place so I’d expect him to get the nod once again.
RB: Reece James
No Chelsea player has been involved in more goals directly than James this season and he has proven his worth in both directions with some excellent defensive displays too. He has stiff competition with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kyle Walker, but his performances deserve a start.
CB: John Stones
Stones has been a mainstay for Southgate whenever fit and despite having some fitness issues this season again, when he has played he’s been excellent. He’s claimed his City starting place back too, so should continue for England.
CB: Harry Maguire
Maguire arguably shouldn’t even be in the squad this time around if we’re going based on form, but the fact he is means he’ll start. His competition for places is Tyrone Mings who recently lost his place at Villa and Conor Coady who has never really impressed, so it’s a no-brainer really.
LB: Ben Chilwell
Chilwell lost his place as England’s first-choice left-back last year after Luke Shaw’s resurgence, but this season they’ve reverted to type and Chilwell has been flying. He’s been great going forward and defensively solid, so he deserves the starting spot.
DM: Declan Rice
England’s most in-form central midfielder this season, Rice has become indispensable to West Ham and the national team. His ability to win the ball back is unmatched in the squad, he has become a leader and is constantly improving on the ball so he should start here.
CM: Phil Foden
Southgate has previously featured Foden out wide mostly, but this special footballer should be playing centrally. A magician on the ball with great ball manipulation, a killer pass and an eye for goal, get him in the heart of the game to effect games and watch him shine.
CM: Jude Bellingham
Another superstar youngster, Bellingham has firmly established himself as one of the best young midfielders in the game. A regular starter with Dortmund, Bellingham’s skillset is so diverse that he can play any midfield role with ease and would offer the perfect balance alongside Rice and Foden.
RW: Raheem Sterling
Sterling’s season hasn’t gone to plan after Euro 2020, but his spot with England is pretty much guaranteed. He ended a goal drought for City recently and as a key part of Southgate’s England team, he will start on the right wing.
ST: Harry Kane
Another Harry who can count himself lucky that the England squad isn’t simply decided based on form, because if it was the captain would certainly not be involved. But since he is, and he’s the skipper and his record for England is so good, he’ll start and probably score to help them qualify.
LW: Jack Grealish
Grealish’s move to man City has certainly helped establish him as an England regular, but Marcus Rashford’s injury issues have helped him become a starter too. Rashford has withdrawn from the squad, leaving Grealish as the best and most senior option to play from the left so that’s what he’ll do.
England face a crunch Euro 2020 final group game against Czech Republic tonight, and only a win will see them qualify as group winners.
A win over Croatia was followed up with a draw against Scotland, meaning that they have four points from two games just like the Czech’s. But with the visitors on Tuesday night having a better goal difference following their 2-0 win over the Scots, a draw would see them win the group ahead of England.
Gareth Southgate will be without Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell for the game after they were forced to self-isolate following close contact with Billy Gilmour, who tested positive for COVID-19 after the England-Scotland game on Friday night.
So who should start the game that England must win to get their tournament really kick-started? This would be my team:
Jordan Pickford (GK)
England’s best available goalkeeper so he should start. Yet to really be tested during the tournament but has kept two clean sheets and his passing and claiming of crosses has been good, so no need to change anything there.
Kyle Walker (RB)
Walker was hot and cold against Croatia but without him against Scotland, England looked stale. His pace is a powerful tool in both directions while his ability on the ball is more than adequate to help build from the back, he’s England best option in the position and should start.
John Stones (CB)
The Manchester City centre-back came closest to breaking the deadlock against Scotland when he headed against the post. That aerial ability has been on show throughout the tournament but also his one-on-one defensive qualities and passing have continued to shine through and he should keep his place.
Harry Maguire (CB)
Manchester United’s captain has yet to kick a ball at this tournament so far and England haven’t conceded a goal yet, but he should come into the side for this one. Defensively he is excellent aerially and as a leader, while also being far better on the ball than Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady. Must start.
Luke Shaw (LB)
Shaw was called into the side for the Scotland game but struggled to make an impact as he wasn’t really allowed to push on too much. That must change in this game if England are to have success and he is the best attacking left-back in the squad. With Chilwell out due to COVID protocols, he must start.
Declan Rice (CM)
Rice is a solid defensive outlet when it comes his midfield role but progressing the ball against a low block defence is not his strongest attribute. With that said, England can’t afford to lose the game and he is comfortably the best defensive midfielder in the squad. He should be in there for added protection but his role should be simple – win the ball back and give it to the more talented players.
Jude Bellingham (CM)
The last thing England need to do in this game is play with two holding midfielders, so it’s the perfect chance for young Bellingham to make his mark on the tournament. More than comfortable in every role as a central midfielder, the 18-year-old would offer terrific balance and some added attacking quality in the final third where needed.
Jadon Sancho (RW)
He’s yet to get his boots dirty in this tournament but Sancho is more than deserving of some action in this tournament now. England have really struggled creatively so far and only Harry Kane had more goal involvements during the last campaign. Sancho has pace, skill, great combination play with passing and has a killer pass and eye for goal so would be the perfect man to bring in to a struggling side.
Jack Grealish (CAM)
It was a surprise that he didn’t start against Croatia and during the 27 minutes he got against Scotland he wasn’t able to do much, but Grealish deserves the nod here. He has the flair and playing style perfectly suited to international football and has shown time and again in an England shirt that he can perform. With Mount unavailable, he’s the obvious choice to step in to the number ten position.
Marcus Rashford (LW)
Raheem Sterling remains the only man to score for England so far in this tournament but his performances have been far from excellent. Marcus Rashford was second in the entire England squad for goal contributions last season (tied with Sancho) and has come on in both games but struggled to get into them. A start here would give him that chance, with his eye for goal and direct style precisely what England have been lacking.
Harry Kane (ST)
As if it was ever in doubt, Southgate has already confirmed that his captain and star striker will start this game. The Tottenham man is yet to even have a shot on target in the tournament but he’s always been a man for the big occasion and there is no bigger stage than now, so expect him to finally make his arrival with a goal in this one.
England look to secure qualification into the round of 16 at the first attempt at Euro 2020 with a win over Scotland in match day 2.
Raheem Sterling’s goal in the second half gave the Three Lions a well deserved 1-0 win over Croatia in their opening game, in a performance that did the country proud.
Manager Gareth Southgate will now need to make some tough decisions in the team against Scotland, with England expected to control possession more and their home nation rivals likely to line up in a very defensive manner.
Does Southgate stick to a winning formula or make some changes to keep everyone in the 26-man squad on their toes and in rhythm? This is the England team that should start against Scotland for us.
Jordan Pickford (GK)
The Everton stopper’s number one shirt was in doubt before the original tournament in 2020 but he kept his shirt for the opener when Nick Pope went down injured and was ruled out of the tournament before the squad was picked.
His position is even further cemented now with Dean Henderson’s withdrawal from the squad, so he is now comfortably the best keeper available and should start.
Kyle Walker (RB)
Walker had a good performance against Croatia in the opening game and with Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson being deployed in a wing-back role, Walker’s pace and strength will be needed to ensure he doesn’t get a free ride out wide all night.
He’s good in possession against low block sides too, with his experience playing for Manchester City and as the best full-back in the squad he deserves to start again.
John Stones (CB)
He was the best fit centre-back England had in the first game and he turned in a performance to back it up too. Great ability on the ball, fantastic aerially in both boxes and a very good one-on-one defender, barring the odd brain fart he gets he’s got the tools to be one of the best England have.
His ability on the ball will see him be key to England building up play from the back and he’ll be a threat at set-pieces too, so he starts again.
Harry Maguire (CB)
He’s missed around a month of action with an ankle ligament injury, but after training for the last week since the Croatia game Maguire is available to play and therefore should start.
Southgate says he will play a part but is unsure of if he’ll start yet, but he’d be better off starting when the intensity is higher to really see if he is fit enough to play. Mings was excellent against Croatia in the opening game so England can trust that they have a solid deputy if needed but it’s the perfect game to give Maguire a start in.
Luke Shaw (LB)
Kieran Trippier got the shock nod at left-back in the opening game, but against a side likely to play a low block stretching the pitch will be key.
That means a natural left footer should play at left-back and Shaw was the best left-back in the country last season and therefore deserves his shot at starting in a major tournament. His partnership at club level with Maguire will be helpful too but his pace and passing going forward will help England unlock the Scottish defence.
Declan Rice (CM)
Gary Neville described Rice as one of the two undroppable players in the England team along with Harry Kane and while I don’t necessarily agree, he is hard to replace.
Quite comfortably the best defensive midfielder England have, Rice’s positioning and tackling go hand-in-hand with his reading of the game and make him a key part of the jigsaw of a Southgate team. He’ll need to be better on the ball in a game like this, with more progressive passes and bravery, but his reliability defensively adds some protection to an otherwise attacking team.
Jude Bellingham (CM)
This will seem harsh to many because of just how good Kalvin Phillips was against Croatia, but this is the type of game where I want someone in a deeper midfield role with more of a natural attacking burst.
Bellingham has the ability to help out defensively where needed but also has a killer pass on him, ability to drive past players and can score goals too. Getting players into a rhythm in case they’re called upon is key for a tournament and Bellingham is good enough to get a start and make a difference.
Raheem Sterling (RW)
Most people didn’t have Sterling starting the opener, but he turned in a great performance where he was the most dangerous attacker and got the only goal of the game.
The confidence he’ll take from that game will be big for the rest of the tournament and he should be allowed to ride that momentum into this game too. Pace, direct running, a great dribbler and excellent movement from out-to-in make him the perfect outlet for England against the Scotland back five and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him score once again.
Mason Mount (CAM)
Ideally I probably wouldn’t play Mount in this game and certainly not in this position, but it’s pretty obvious that he’s going to start so I’ve included him.
He’s a top player, with an excellent touch and lots of intelligence around the way he moves around the pitch with and without the ball but against Croatia he looked quite flat after a bright start. In a game like this he will need to be at his brilliant best (which is more likely than not to be fair) and his combination play with the front three around him will be key to opening Scotland up.
Jack Grealish (LW)
There was general shock around the exclusion of Grealish from the starting team against Croatia after his performances in the warm-up games, but I expect him to come back into the side here.
Phil Foden got the nod in that game but aside from hitting the post early on he was quite ineffective in the opening game. Grealish’s direct running and ability to slow a game down then flick a switch to up the tempo is exactly what England need in a game such like this, where Scotland will set up deep and look to frustrate them.
Harry Kane (ST)
He starts when he’s fit and available and rightly so. England’s best striker in a long time but also arguably one of the best in the world, he has every type of finish in his arsenal and is also one of the best creators in the squad so you’d be silly to have a team without him in the starting lineup.
Today is the day that Gareth Southgate makes half the nation absolutely ecstatic and the other half furious as he names his England squad for this summer’s European Championships.
UEFA agreed to allow an extra three places in the squad for managers to add following a full campaign of a hectic schedule owing to the COVID-19 pandemic over the last 18 months or so.
That should make it a little bit easier to select a squad but there will still be some big names who miss out. While Southgate will name a provisional squad today, I wanted to see just how difficult it is to do and how different people will react, so this is my 26-man England squad for Euro 2020.
Jordan Pickford: The Everton stopper’s place as number one for the national team had come under doubt this season but Southgate has stuck by him for the most part and he will 100% be in the squad.
Dean Henderson: He’s always had great ability and has come through the youth ranks with England. Now as Manchester United’s number one, he has earned his place in the senior England team too.
Sam Johnstone: The third spot was sure to be Nick Pope’s, but the Burnley keeper needs knee surgery and is almost certain to be ruled out of the tournament. That means West Brom keeper Johnstone will get the chance to be part of the squad as the third choice.
Kyle Walker: Quite comfortably the best performing English right-back this season, Walker won the Premier League and is in the Champions League with Manchester City and deserves his spot. He also offers some flexibility if needed, having played as a centre-back at the 2018 World Cup too.
Reece James: A young right-back, James’ season started impeccably and while he didn’t keep that level throughout the season he wasn’t bad. Good going forward and excellent in a one-on-one situation with a great delivery, he deserves a chance.
Trent Alexander-Arnold: The fact his spot in the squad is so in question is bonkers to me. He had a really tough first half of the season and was rightly left out of the last England squad, but since then he has been back to his brilliant best. He’s improved defensively and has an X-factor when going forward that should make him a shoe-in.
Ben Chilwell: Southgate’s first choice left-back for the most part has had a good debut campaign with Chelsea this season and could top it off by winning the Champions League. He’s decent at both ends of the pitch and this is one of the positions where the choices are pretty clear.
Luke Shaw: Quite comfortably the best left-back in the country this season, Shaw has seen an incredible resurgence in his career this season. He’s been fantastic going forward, with a career high of assists this season but also solid defensively and can even fill in as a third centre-back in a back three too so he’s in.
Harry Maguire: England’s best centre-back and a leader at the back, he’s had a very good season for Manchester United. Aerially he is dominant and while he has got a lack of pace, he knows how to play without it for the most part and shines for Southgate so will start so long as he recovers from his ankle injury.
John Stones:Another player who has seen a huge resurgence in their career this season, Man City have a lot to thank Stones for. While Ruben Dias picked up much of the plaudits (and rightly so), Stones shone next to him and his passing ability from the back should see him as a starter alongside Maguire with fitness permitting.
Ezri Konsa: While I don’t expect him to go, Konsa is more than deserving of a spot in the squad after the season he has had. Alongside Tyrone Mings, he has shown a fantastic ability in all aspects of defending as well as playing out from the back and in my eyes has outshone his centre-back partner. He has great pace to cover round and is good on the ball to build from the back too, meaning he’d fit into the squad brilliantly.
Fikayo Tomori: For sure a wildcard pick, but Tomori’s form since his January loan move to AC Milan can’t be ignored. He was brilliant in Serie A and the Europa League and caught the eye of everyone who paid any sort of attention. That means if Southgate was doing his job properly he’d have spotted him too, and he deserves an inclusion based on form and ability over Wolves captain Conor Coady.
Jordan Henderson: Arguably the biggest character in the camp, Henderson is an automatic pick if he’s fit. Great energy, leadership, solid defensively and a decent passing range too, he starts never mind gets included in the squad.
Declan Rice: Potentially the most important piece of the jigsaw in Southgate’s midfield, the West Ham man’s defensive qualities are something that only he brings to the squad. A fantastic tackler with great awareness, he will be key if England get into the latter stages to take on the better teams.
Jude Bellingham: Not many people will have had him down as getting into this squad at the start of the season, but the 17-year-old has been sensational for Borussia Dortmund and earned himself senior minutes earlier in this campaign. He has the ability to fulfil every midfield role and that fearlessness he brings to his game could be huge.
Kalvin Phillips: A fantastic ball playing defensive midfielder, Phillips has been a big part of Southgate’s plans in squads over the last year and he deserves his place in the side as the insurance policy in the centre.
Mason Mount: A real breakthrough campaign this season for Mount, who made himself indispensable for Chelsea and forced his way into the England setup too. Whether it be deeper or slightly more advanced, Mount is almost certain to start and will be included.
Bukayo Saka: The Arsenal man was one of very few bright sparks in a shocking season for the Gunners and his versatility could be absolutely vital for the squad. Able to play as a full-back, wing-back, winger or even central midfielder, he should find that gets him into the squad above anything else.
Jack Grealish: One of the stand-out performers in the Premier League this season prior to his shin injury, Grealish more than deserves his place in the squad. Brilliant ball retention and manipulation, as well as a ball carrier, eye for a pass and top performances for Villa, he has to be in.
Jadon Sancho: Strangely enough there are squads that don’t have Sancho involved and that just makes zero sense to me. A dazzling winger with pace, agility, a brilliant change of direction, goals and assists, he’s performed brilliantly for Dortmund after a slow start and deserves his spot.
Raheem Sterling: After Harry Kane, Sterling is probably the first attacker on the squad list for Southgate and he’s one of them for me too. While his season for Man City was somewhat underwhelming in comparison to previous campaigns, he has goals, assists and brilliant wing play and can play on either side. His quality is high and he’s a must-pick.
Marcus Rashford: The best season of his club career was slowed somewhat by injuries towards the end, but 20+ goals and 15+ assists in all competitions make him a sure-fire pick. He has that X-factor in one on one situations, has brilliant pace and skill, can play across the entire front three and is a good impact sub if he doesn’t start too.
Harry Kane: Well, duh. England’s best player by a distance, Kane is in the squad and I reckon he’ll play every minute of the tournament too.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin: Since Kane will likely play in every game and play most minutes, the secondary striker role is one that likely won’t be used much. Despite that, you need someone who is a presence on the pitch if they are needed and can score a variety of different goals, so the Everton man is the best pick.
Mason Greenwood: A wildcard pick again, but it’s rare that as a manager you have so much quality to choose from and have to leave someone out. But Greenwood’s quality with both feet, whether through the middle or out wide means he absolutely has to be in. There’s nobody I’d rather a chance fell to when I needed a goal outside of Kane and that’s enough to sway me.
England made it three wins from three heading into the European Championships this summer as they top their World Cup qualifying group following a 2-1 win over Poland at Wembley.
After beating San Marino and then Albania, Gareth Southgate’s men came back to their home to take on the Robert Lewandowski-less Poles. Harry Kane’s penalty gave them the lead too, making the Spurs man the player to score the most penalties in national team history with ten so far.
Poland fought back well in the second half and applied lots of pressure, forcing an error from John Stones to equalise through Jakub Moder with a fine strike into the top corner. England struggled to really create any chances but did find a late winner, when Stones headed a corner back across goal and found Harry Maguire who emphatically volleyed the ball into the roof of the net.
The result means with just 71 days to go until the Euros kick off, England are five points clear of Poland at the top of their World Cup qualifying group for the following year.
Southgate made it clear during this international break that he knows his starting lineup for the Euro’s and although a few players were missing, the lineup seems pretty obvious now.
In goal, Jordan Pickford will be the man. The Everton stopper undoubtedly has is flaws, but he has earned the trust of the England gaffer and with Nick Pope not having much to do to be able to impress, he’ll return to understudy duties if Pickford is fit.
In defence, Harry Maguire and John Stones have cemented their places. Maguire has had his place guaranteed for a while but Stones had lost his place following some inconsistent seasons with Man City. With Joe Gomez emerging with Liverpool, he seemed most likely until his injury ruled him out of the tournament. With Tyrone Mings the next most likely to get a starting spot, Maguire and Stones’ performances will have convinced Southgate.
Full-back is probably the positions most up for grabs currently. Reece James and Kyle Walker got plenty of game time each, while Trent Alexander-Arnold didn’t make the cut this time around. The way they end their individual seasons could have a big say, but as it stands I think the pace and versatility of Walker will get him the nod. On the left, Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell are competing for a spot and currently I think the Chelsea man has the advantage having started two of the three games. Shaw was given a chance to impress and did, yet Chilwell still got the nod in the next game and that leads me to believe he will get the nod a the Euros too.
Midfield seems pretty set in stone at this point too. Despite an abundance of attacking talent, Southgate seems intent on lining up with two defensive minded central midfield players – even doing so against San Marino.
Jordan Henderson will almost certainly start alongside Declan Rice if he is fit, but there are doubts about whether or not he will be available. That should leave opportunities for the likes of James Ward-Prowse, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden and others to make an appearance but Kalvin Phillips started all three games during this break and that tells me he will be the man to get the nod once more.
Mason Mount is another who could start in central midfield but Southgate seems to prefer him in a more advanced number ten role. He has started each of the last eight international games and is regularly on the receiving end of praise from the manager, so his inclusion is near certain now.
Harry Kane is an obvious pick up front as he continues to score goals and perform well for England, while also being the man selected to wear the captain’s armband. Flanking him, Raheem Sterling is just as sure of his place.
The Man City man started on the left wing for this international break but has regularly been used on the right for the national team and is more likely to return there for the Euros. England have most of their depth in the left-wing position but the position is likely sewn up, fitness permitting.
Despite the fantastic form of Jack Grealish this season and his excellent performances for England, as well as Foden’s ability to perform in wide positions too and Jadon Sancho’s obvious quality, it’s Marcus Rashford who will get the starting berth.
His direct running, skill and goal threat are things he has over his opposition for the position but most importantly it’s the pace he possesses that sets him apart from the all. He has earned the trust of Southgate and his performances for both club and country mean it can’t be argued about too much either.
It’s been coming for a while now, but Manchester United’s defensive problems are about to boil over.
After crashing out of the FA Cup to Leicester in a 3-1 win, news has come out that centre-back Eric Bailly is unhappy at the club over his lack of game time and could look to leave the club this summer.
Bailly is in his fifth season as Old Trafford but has played just 100 times after a string of injury problems and being overlooked as first choice under both Jose Mourinho and now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Ivorian has been fit for a while now though but is deemed as second choice behind both Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof by the manager, limiting his play time.
Bailly has played 15 times this season but has reportedly become angry at the fact he was overlooked for the Europa League last 16 second leg against AC Milan at the San Siro.
Manchester United won the game 1-0, with Lindelof and Maguire partnered together at the back to see them progress into the quarter-finals thanks to a Paul Pogba goal. It was job done as far as United were concerned, with Solskjaer explaining Bailly’s absence as an injury.
He then missed the weekend game against Leicester as they lost in the FA Cup and sources have now come out to say he is unhappy – but does he have reason to be?
This is a player who despite being a great central defender, is unavailable more than he is available. The greatest ability of all is availability, and if he’s rarely able to play then how can any top team rely on him to be a key part of their starting lineup.
When you look strictly at attributes, then he is probably the best centre-back at the club. He is quick, strong, reads the game well, good on the ball, great in the air and athletic meaning he can cope when left one on one with attackers.
But when you look at the reasons behind him not playing so much, they make sense.
Solskjaer said when he first joined the club that he wanted to form partnerships and build rapport within the club and it’s fair to say that central defence is one of the most important positions that this is needed in. How do you build a partnership with someone who has only played more than 18 times in a season three times in his entire career? The answer is you can’t.
The need for a new centre-back with similar attributes to Bailly is needed, but they need to not have the injury issues that the 26-year-old has.
Bailly is right to think he deserves more playing time, because he’s good enough to start at plenty of clubs – including Manchester United. But he isn’t good enough to be thrown into the side he is representing willy nilly just because he’s now fit again.
He’s managed to work up a reputation that has many rating his ability at much higher than it actually is because of his popularity and injury issues, much like Abou Diaby did at Arsenal.
If Bailly wants to leave for more regular minutes, he should sort his fitness issues out first.
Manchester United progressed into the Europa League quarter-finals with a 1-0 win at the San Siro over AC Milan, thanks to substitute Paul Pogba’s goal after returning from injury.
The Frenchman has been missing for almost two months with a hamstring injury picked up in the 3-3 draw with Everton in January, but returned to the substitutes bench in this must-win game for the Reds.
He came on at half-time for Marcus Rashford, who suffered a reoccurrence of his ankle problem, and scored just three minutes later with a fine dummy and strike at the near post as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side held on for a huge win in Milan.
It was a tough first half, where the visitors were very sloppy in possession and struggled to create clear-cut chances once again. Bruno Fernandes had arguably his worst performance in a Manchester United shirt, completing just 54% of his passes in the first 45 minutes.
Enter Pogba, who’s presence in the team immediately seemed to settle the team as the rest of the team looked to him and gave him the ball as much as possible.
His goal was a well taken strike and meant the game opened up even more in United’s favour and a stellar defensive performance from both Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire meant a fifth clean sheet in six games.
Lindelof turned in a man of the match performance on the night, winning headers, clearing crosses and stopping a few counter attacks when left exposed when his full-back was caught out high too. Maguire was dominant aerially once again, even once Zlatan Ibrahimovic came off the bench, and his passing was good from the back to link Luke Shaw into attacks well too.
Pogba’s return to the team was the boost the team have needed with the added quality in midfield. His ball retention was excellent and exactly what the team was missing during this most recent period of bad results, with his intelligence and quality on the ball a huge ingredient in how good a player he is.
It’s not a coincidence that United crumbled when he went off injured and struggled for form while he was away, but now as they welcome him back into the side for the business end of the season they will be hopeful that he can pick up exactly where he left off.
It’s a swift and timely reminder of how important the 28-year-old is to this side and just how difficult he will be to replace should he leave in the summer as he enters the final 12 months of his contract.
United now will look ahead to the last eight of the Europa League, knowing they are likely to be favourites against whoever they draw and are now the favourites to win the entire competition for the first time since 2017.
As we move past the half way point of the current Premier League campaign, discussion among the Manchester United fanbase has shifted to how United can improve over the summer and kick on to the next level under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still having an impact on the sporting world, there will most likely be a limited transfer budget once again. While there will always be talk of attack minded players joining a club of United’s stature and tradition, with the likes of Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland being linked again recently, there is a more important position to fill at Old Trafford.
The Reds have scored 49 goals in the Premier League this season, the highest so far, which is impressive given the attacking talent and options that are available to the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.
Edinson Cavani has proven to be a shrewd piece of business from United, with his energy and experience proving vital on and off the pitch, while also helping the the likes of Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood on the training ground.
However Solskjaer’s side have also let in 30 league goals this campaign, the most in the top nine. This has led to a few games where what should have been three points for United has become a point or even a defeat.
If United want to fulfil their ambitions of returning to the summit of the English game once again then these costly errors have to be cut out.
David De Gea has been in decline this season which has led to understandable calls that he should be left out for the time being, with Dean Henderson be given a chance between the sticks. It’s also worth noting that De Gea’s form may not be helped by how unstable and unreliable his defenders in front of him have been.
United have looked at their most solid at the back when Eric Bailly has partnered Harry Maguire in central defence, but the Ivorian cannot be relied upon due to his injury prone record and his combative style has only exacerbated that issue.
Victor Lindelof has remained unconvincing when called upon and should be considered a squad player rather than first choice at the club, while Maguire has had a poor campaign so far as questions mounted not only of his quality but his leadership skills as well.
The defence this season has been caught napping on many occasions and have been far too reactive instead of anticipating the danger and snuffing it out. Whether it’s opposition attackers being played onside or failing to compete for that 50/50 in the air, it’s clear to see that United are in need of reinforcements in that area.
Last summer they were linked with RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano, who at only 22-years-old is emerging as one of the most talented defenders in Europe. He would be an ideal acquisition as his playmaking sensibilities from the back and decent passing accuracy suit United’s style of play.
Upamecano also has the ability read the game well and recover on the counter and protect the space in behind when playing in a high line. With his release clause down to just €42m this summer after signing a contract extension, United may not get a better opportunity to add the Frenchman to their ranks.
Sergio Ramos should be another name United consider for a more experienced hand, with the Real Madrid captain’s contract running out at the end of this season.
Ramos has been linked with a move to Old Trafford in the past, mainly in 2015 when Louis van Gaal was in charge. It is thought that Ramos used The Reds’ interest in him to leverage a better contract with Real Madrid so it would be understandable if United are reluctant to be led down the garden path again.
If Ramos genuinely does want a different challenge, then it’s an opportunity United can’t afford to waste. To be able to call upon a proven winner and a player that knows how to win ugly doesn’t come around often and could prove invaluable in passing on some of that knowledge and experience in the same way Cavani has done for the likes of Rashford, Martial and Greenwood.
Solskjaer has been in the job for over two years now and while doubts still remain about his overall suitability to the job, the club has made genuine progress this season. Most United fans would have taken a Champions League spot a few months ago, so few would have expected to have been in the conversation about winning the league.
In recent weeks United’s achilles heel at the back has led to them falling away from the likes of Manchester City at the top of the table, meaning that a title win this season may one step too far.
Should they address this issue in the summer then there can be no doubts that United will be up there once again.
Manchester United’s summer was dominated by transfer speculation surrounding their right winger position, but many believed they needed a central defender even more than that.
Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Axel Tuanzebe are all the senior central defenders in the squad and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been very settled on his starting pair.
Lindelof and Maguire have been the manager’s preferred pairing since he arrived, but they have come under criticism several times for poor individual performances.
Stylistically they don’t really compliment each other too well either. Neither are particularly quick, neither are strong one on one and both would prosper from having a different partner alongside them.
The initial thought whenever the discussion arises of a new centre-back joining the club is always about whether they will take Lindelof out of the lineup. For me however, he is the better defender of the two.
Lindelof has shown in the last six months or so that he is a good defender. It’s taken him a while, but he has seemingly grown and adapted to the league now. He is winning aerial duels, he is coping better in one on one situations and has grown to be the leader of the defence, despite playing alongside the club captain.
Meanwhile when Maguire featured without Lindelof, Manchester United were hammered 6-1 at home by Tottenham Hotspur with the skipper arguably the worst performer on the pitch.
We’ve seen Lindelof’s improvements since he first broke into the side but his good form has gone largely under the radar in recent times, mainly because fans will surely be waiting for a mistake to come in. But he’s been the most reliable central defender at the club for a while now.
Defensive partnerships like Wes Morgan and Robert Huth have been successful in the past, so there is no reason that Lindelof can’t be part of a successful defensive partnership. He has qualities that are excellent and others that can be improved. At 26 years of age, he’s not even near prime defensive years yet.
The likelihood of Maguire being dropped if the club sign a top new defender is low, if not least because he is the club captain and cost £80m, but the club should 100% look closely before making a final decision.
Victor Lindelof is the best central defender at the club and Manchester United can be successful with him.
Another international break, another dodgy team selection from Gareth Southgate, another not-so great performance from England as they were beaten 2-0 by Belgium in Brussels.
First half strikes from Youri Tielemans and Dries Mertens put the number one ranked team in the world into a comfortable lead as they cruised to victory with England struggling once again overall to turn in the type of performance that should be expected with the squad they have at their disposal.
As criticism came in post-game about Southgate’s team selection the obvious options the squad has are coming to light more and more. So what is his best XI right now?
Goalkeeper and Defenders
Dean Henderson (GK): The Manchester United stopper isn’t getting regular first-team football right now, but he is the best goalkeeper they have. He’s much better and more reliable than Jordan Pickford and his distribution is a big edge he has over Nick Pope. He shouldn’t be punished for not starting over David De Gea yet.
Reece James (RB): The Chelsea youngster has forced his way into the England squad following great performances for Frank Lampard’s side this season. He’s excellent on the ball, good going forward and defensively and is versatile enough to play in different positions too if needed. He fits the system that little bit better than Trent Alexander-Arnold and the other right-back options for me.
Harry Maguire (CB): If you know me, you know I’m not his biggest fan. England however are bereft of quality options at the back so experience is needed. Maguire is good in the air, decent on the ball and organises relatively well. He’s arguably the best of a bad bunch, so should start.
Joe Gomez (CB): His place in the side is up for grabs right now after a knee injury ruled him out for the next few months but when fit he should be an automatic starter. The 23 year old is quick, good on the ball, strong in the air and has all the attributes needed to help form a partnership with Maguire at the back.
Ben Chilwell (LB): Much like at centre back, England aren’t loaded with quality options at left-back right now. The Chelsea man‘s greatest competition is arguably Bukayo Saka, a natural winger, or Luke Shaw who hasn’t been in an England squad since 2018. He’s got good attributes but isn’t quite at the top level with any of them. Still, good enough to be starting for England.
Jordan Henderson (DM): He’s arguably at his best in a box-to-box role but Henderson has shown with Liverpool that he is capable of holding the fort defensively too. With his experience and leadership qualities as well as his ability to read the game means he can do that job for the national team too. Henderson can win the ball back and pass it off to the better, more technically tidy players in the team and let them focus on attacking.
Phil Foden (CM): Foden hasn’t broken into the England squad on a permanent basis just yet, but on ability he should be one of the first names on the team sheet. Foden is knocking on the door to be a regular in the Man City tea and his creativity is exactly what England are missing in midfield. He adds technical quality, goals, a killer pass and a little bit of x-factor to the centre of the pitch and would be a shining light.
Jack Grealish (CM): While his best form has come out on the left wing, Grealish is most dangerous when drifting into central positions. His dribbling and willingness to always show for the ball and create is much needed if England are to dominate games in the way they want to. He showed in the defeat to Belgium that he is more than ready for this level of football and he is one of England’s best players. He must start.
Raheem Sterling (RW): Sterling has spent the last 18 months playing primarily as a left-winger for Man City but prior to that he was just as effective from the right hand side. His pace, directness, ability to beat a defender one on one and eye for goal make him a world class attacker and one that must start for England.
Marcus Rashford (LW): The Manchester United poster boy has established himself as an England regular since making his debut as a striker back in 2016. Much like Sterling, he has untold amounts of ability out wide. Pace, strength, vision, passing ability, ball-striking technique and skill mean he is the best option out on the left right now.
Harry Kane (ST): England’s best player. A world class striker and the captain of the side, Kane has proven time and time again that when he plays he scores goals. He’s showed for Tottenham recently that having lethal runners either side of him brings out a new side to his game too so the potential of that front three is frightening, especially with Foden and Grealish supplying and creating in behind them too.