The Champions League last 16 fixtures are finally upon us after a two month break since the group stages.
In a very exciting match up the Portuguese champions Sporting CP play host to the tournament favourites and current Premier League champions Man City.
Lets take a look at the tie in more detail and make our predictions to see who will progress into the last eight of Europe’s most prestigious cup competition.
Route to the last 16
In their first appearance in the Champions League for several years, Sporting made their presence felt by finishing as runners-up in the group of hipster teams.
Ruben Amorim’s side started poorly with defeats to Ajax and Dortmund in the opening two games, but back-to-back wins over Besiktas and then a huge home win against Dortmund saw them edge towards qualification.
In the end, it was Dortmund’s poor results against Ajax that cost them as they were eliminated on goal difference.
Man City on the other hand cruised to victory in their group of death, winning five of six games against Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig and Club Brugge.
Their only defeat came to PSG in Paris, when they played brilliantly but were caught out twice by Pochettino’s side.
They scored 18 goals in the group stages, more than everyone else bar Ajax and Bayern Munich, and come into the game in excellent form.
Sporting are likely to be without excellent midfielder Pote this season, who has been one of the best performing players in their team.
Joao Palhinha, Pablo Sarabia and Paulinho are the key men in midfield and attack and should all be available to start the game, while Sebastian Coates will lead the defence as captain.
Amorim’s 3-5-2 formation is likely to be set up to contain City rather than attack them too much, so expect Nuno Santos to play a little bit deeper than usual.
City will be without £100m man Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus, while Kyle Walker is set to start a three-game suspension for his red card on the final match day of the group stages.
Raheem Sterling has been in fine form in recent weeks, bagging a hat-trick at the weekend while Kevin De Bruyne has had his minutes managed and is in peak physical condition for the business end of the season.
Ederson, Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo will know the opposition well having previously played for Benfica and will all likely start the game.
Breakdown and Prediction
This is a game that is due to be really exciting and full of excellent tactical battles across the pitch.
Sporting play a high-intensity system with a big emphasis on scoring goals and controlling the ball, much like Pep Guardiola at City.
The difference here of course is that the quality of player that Guardiola has available to him is far greater than that of the Portuguese outfit.
Because of that, plus the experience at the top level, it’s fair to expect City to be able to dominate the game and implement their game plan on Sporting rather than the other way around.
With that being said, it’s hard to look past a relatively comfortable City win over the course of two legs.
Sporting will cause them problems over the course of the 180 minutes, but ultimately the added quality on the pitch and the touchline will pay dividends and City will progress to the next round.
Sporting CP 0-2 Man City Man City 3-1 Sporting CP (Man City qualify 5-1 on aggregate)
It was announced earlier this week that Barcelona youngster Pedri was the winner of the 19th edition of the coveted ‘Golden Boy’ award.
The award is handed to the best Under-21 player in Europe’s top leagues based on a vote by sports journalists, based on the performances during the calendar year.
Looking through the list of previous winners, there have been some hits and misses as to how their careers ended up. But who is the best? Who is the worst? I’ve ranked them all, starting with the worst.
The Brazilian was one of the most exciting prospects to come out of Brazil when he joined AC Milan but after an impressive couple of years, injuries took their toll and Pato never made the impact he was meant to. It might strike you to realise he is only 32 these days, but plays in the MLS with Orlando.
If you look at Anderson’s CV, there’s an argument that he shouldn’t be this low down. But when you consider that injuries absolutely battered him throughout his career and most of those accolades came due to being part of an amazing squad, he has to be near the bottom.
The Italian broke onto the scene with Inter Milan, but a career that has been clouded in controversy didn’t go without it’s moments. The ‘Why Always Me?’, the fireworks, the fights with the manager are balanced out with the assist for *that* Aguero goal and his Euro 2012 performances get him off the bottom.
The Manchester United man is only 25-years-old as of this writing, but he’s really failed to kick on since winning this award in 2015. He’s lost that X-factor he had when he first moved to Old Trafford and while he’s got time to turn it around still, at his current trajectory he’d be considered a disappointment.
Rafael Van der Vaart
The inaugral winner of the award was a star for Ajax before earning himself a move to Real Madrid via Hamburg. But under the brightest of lights he struggled to really make an impact and the rest of his career was spent as being the best player in relatively mediocre sides.
The star of a young Benfica side who helped Portugal to their first ever international trophy at Euro 2016, Sanches looked destined for greatness. A poor move to Bayern Munich and injuries have stalled his development and while he finally looks to be getting back to a high level, it’s too early to have him above some of these guys in the list.
There may not be a more iconic career moment from anyone on this list than Gotze scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final during extra-time in 2014. Since then though it’s been downhill, with injuries and a loss of form seeing him become a shadow of his former self. He’s only 29 now, but he plays for PSV in the Eredivisie.
2021’s winner gets into this list at this height simply because it’s far too early to put him any higher or lower. His career has been strictly high points thus far, becoming a key member of the Barcelona team and putting in amazing performances during Euro 2020 to help Spain to the semi-finals. If he continues at this level, he will be one of the best in the world without a doubt.
Matthijs De Ligt
The only defender to win the award, De Ligt is still considered one of the best young defenders in the world. After helping Ajax to the Champions League semi-finals as their teenage captain, he earned a move to Juventus where he’s failed to rip up any trees but has maintained a steady level of performances. There’s definitely more to come from the Dutchman.
Felix blew up with his performances for Benfica in the Europa League and earned a nine-figure move to Atletico Madrid. Since moving though, injuries and a style of play that doesn’t really suit him have seen him stagnate. We’ve seen some top level performances in that time though, so we know the talent is still there.
The Spanish playmaker was a superstar in the making and was a key member of the Spain and Real Madrid side for years, with his brilliant guile and technical ability on show regularly. He’s won it all but the last few years have seen him barely touch the pitch and that will affect his legacy somewhat. A top player though, without doubt.
2020’s winner is currently regarded as one of the best strikers in the world despite being just the tender age of 21. His phenomenal goalscoring record has got everyone’s attention and the ease with which he’s taken to top level football is a sight to behold. He has got a long and successful career ahead of him, without a doubt.
The Manchester City and England winger won the award during his time at Anfield as a Liverpool player and hasn’t looked back since. He is the City player with the most goals under Pep Guardiola, has won everything at club level except the Champions League and even helped England to their best tournament finish since 1966 at Euro 2020. A superstar.
Despite his time in England since returning to Manchester United splitting opinions on him, Pogba’s talent is and always has been undeniable. He broke into a title winning Juventus team, is a leader at international level and scored in a World Cup final. His United stint may be up for debate, but his career is not.
Fabregas has had success everywhere he has been until he moved to Monaco, but the levels he reached during his prime have him down as one of the best midfielders of his generation. He won everything there is to win at club level and international level, while being a key player in every success and will be remembered greatly despite the winding down of his career at a relatively young age.
The man with the most iconic moment in Premier League history, Aguero’s legacy as a world class footballer is undeniable. He is the player with the most hat-tricks in Premier League history, the most goals in Man City history, the most goals by a foreign player in Premier League history and he’s top three goalscorers in Argentinian national team history. Unfortunately forced to retire early due to heart problems, but he will go down as a great.
Mbappe is only 22-years-old at the time of writing this, but his legacy is already solidified. He won the league with Monaco as a teenager against a dominant PSG side, then switched to Paris to become a cornerstone of their recent success. He’s won golden boots, trophies and even became the youngest player since Pele to score in a World Cup final. The scary thing is, he’s only getting better too.
It’s crazy to think that some people believe Wayne Rooney never fulfilled his potential despite ending his career as the all-time top goalscorer for Manchester United and England. He won it all at club level, playing several positions and is the owner of several iconic moments. A world class footballer and one of the best his country has ever produced, he was a true golden boy.
There was no other option for the number one ranking of this award, because the greatest player of all-time won it back in 2005. The only ‘Golden Boy’ to go on to win the Ballon d’Or, he has gone on to do everything except win a World Cup and his legacy will transcend generations. Without a doubt the greatest I’ve ever seen, it’s a no brainer that he sits at number one on this list.
After Euro 2020, it seemed as though Raheem Sterling had got his career back on track after a stellar tournament for England.
The winger chipped in with three goals in the first four games, then assisted Harry Kane’s first goal in the quarter-final against Ukraine before winning a penalty in extra-time of the semi-final against Denmark to help England to their first final since 1966.
But despite that form and level of performance, Sterling has found himself on the periphery at Manchester City once again this season.
After losing his place to Phil Foden in the second half of last season, Sterling was named as a starter in the Champions League final defeat to Chelsea which gave many some hope that he would be involved going forward.
Fast forward to the start of the season though and Pep Guardiola had signed Jack Grealish from Aston Villa for £100m and only Sergio Aguero had left the club. Sterling’s place was under more threat than ever before.
As we approach the mid-point of November, Sterling has started just four games in the Premier League and Champions League combined. With one goal in each, plus an assist in Europe, it’s not a surprise that he is struggling to get game time.
But for England, it’s a totally different story. Gareth Southgate continues to select him as a key member of the attack and he is performing to a high level still, albeit against lesser opposition.
With his contract due to expire in June 2023, it’s crunch time for his Manchester City future now.
Reports suggest that clubs such as Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain are keen on recruiting the former QPR and Liverpool man, but while Man City won’t stand in his way should he look to move thy will demand a relatively high fee for their asset.
That leaves Sterling in a predicament, as he risks isolating himself by asking for a move and then not getting one.
But as it stands, asking for a move is the best thing he could possibly do. Sterling is 26-years-old and will turn 27 by the time the January transfer window opens, meaning he is in the absolute peak years of his career.
He has done most things at City, winning three Premier League titles with the club, an FA Cup, four Carabao Cups and reaching a Champions League final. He is also the player who has scored the most goals under Pep Guardiola for the club.
But you need to know when to cut your losses, and it seems as this point that Guardiola has moved away from needing Sterling in the team and is taking his squad in a different direction.
Instead of fighting a losing battle, Sterling should cash in on the fact his contract is running down and get the big-money move that is inevitable should he depart.
A move to Barcelona would be great from a status point of view, playing for one of the biggest and most prestigious clubs in the world on a weekly basis and trying to help them re-find their former glory.
But a better option would be a move to the French capital to another mega-rich team in Paris Saint-Germain, who look certain to lose star-man Kylian Mbappe to Real Madrid on a free transfer in the summer.
They will surely look to make a statement signing to replace him and with Lionel Messi, Neymar and Angel Di Maria in their ranks already, Sterling would add some youth and more top level experience to an already star-studded squad.
PSG would likely be able to afford any fee that City would demand for him and he would be an excellent addition. For Sterling, he almost guarantees more trophies for his own personal cabinet, gets to play for one of the best teams in the world with some of the best players and ultimately get back to competing at the highest level week in and week out.
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.
Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling has admitted that he is willing to leave the club for more regular game time and says that he would be open to moving abroad.
The England international signed for Man City in a £50m deal from Liverpool back in 2015 and has gone on to make 302 appearances for the club, scoring 115 goals in the process.
He had been a regular in the first-team until midway through last season when he lost his place to Phil Foden and now with Jack Grealish joining in the summer he has found himself struggling for starts once again.
After an excellent Euro 2020 tournament with England in the summer, where Sterling scored three times en route to a penalty shootout defeat to Italy in the final, it was hoped by he and many that he would be able to earn himself more regular minutes once again.
However so far Sterling has started just twice in the Premier League this season and once in the Champions League, with one goal to his name.
The lack of regular game time has seen his future come into question again, with his current contract set to expire in 2023 and discussions paused due to a lack of playing.
Sterling was speaking at the FT Business of Sport US summit when he opened up about his future, revealing that he has always dreamed of playing abroad.
“If there was the opportunity to go somewhere else, I would be open to it.At this moment in time, football is the most important thing to me.
“I have always had something that maybe one day I would love to play abroad and see how I meet that challenge.
“I am not someone who complains. I have not tried to make it a bigger deal than it is. I am just raring to go, play football and score regularly.”
Sterling has been linked with moves to Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Barcelona in the past and with a deal seemingly more possible than ever before, those clubs will likely take an interest again in January or next summer.
The European Championships have reached the business end of the competition as the quarter-finals loom large.
Belgium, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Denmark and Czech Republic will do battle for their spot in the top four, while England will also be part of the run-in when they take on Ukraine on Saturday night.
In a big clash in Rome, Gareth Southgate’s side will go head-to-head with Andriy Shevchenko’s underdogs as they look to set up a clash against the winners of the Denmark vs Czech tie in the final four at Wembley
Route to the final:
Ukraine were the plucky underdogs in their group but they were able to come through as one of the best third-placed teams in the competition.
An opening game defeat to the Oranje saw an entertaining 3-2 game go against them, but they bounced back with a comfortable win over North Macedonia before losing again to Austria. They made it through to the last eight thanks to a 120th minute winner against Sweden in a 2-1 victory.
England on the other hand are unbeaten and the only team in the tournament yet to concede a goal. They got a win against Croatia in the opening game, before a 0-0 draw against Scotland. They then topped the group with a win over the Czech Republic, before a fantastic performance saw them despatch of Germany 2-0, with Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane getting their third and first goals of the tournament respectively.
Ukraine will be hopeful that their captain and star man Andriy Yarmolenko is fit to play after he limped off with an injury in the round of 16 tie. Denys Popov and Artem Besedin are ruled out while Oleksandr Zubov is a doubt.
England have a fully fit squad to choose from but must be careful as Harry Maguire, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips and Phil Foden a yellow card away from missing the semi-final. Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell are available to start after their isolation period ended on the day of the Germany game.
Andriy Shevchenko has made his team incredibly difficult to beat despite them losing half their games in the tournament so far. They defend well, counter attack even better and have a fantastic spirit and level of togetherness in the squad.
With that said, England have been excellent despite not being spectacular. Defensively they’ve barely been tested and while they’ve not exactly created a host of chances in their games so far, they’re taking the ones that do fall to them.
Gareth Southgate’s side are the favourites but they have got far more quality in the squad, better options off the bench, more tactical flexibility and the idea of a home semi-final and final to work towards. They should come away with a convincing win after a nervy period somewhere in the middle of the game.
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.
It’s Champions League time once again as the last 16 is back and the second round of fixtures commences.
Last week we saw the first eight teams compete, with some thrilling fixtures to take us through to the second leg and this week we’ll be hoping for more of the same – as Premier League leaders Manchester City take on Germany’s surprise package Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Pep Guardiola’s side are currently riding a 17 game win streak in all competitions and have pulled away at the top of the Premier League with a ten point lead over Manchester United and Leicester behind them. Gladbach are fighting for a return to Europe’s premier competition next season, with Marco Rose’s side currently in eighth and nine points off the top four.
After plenty of speculation is was confirmed last week that Rose will leave Gladbach at the end of the season to join Borussia Dortmund, but he has promised to fight to leave his current side in the best position possible. They face probably the toughest task in Europe right now though to stop a Manchester City side who are in cruise control and beating everyone that steps in their path.
City have found themselves not only as a free-flowing attacking outfit, but now also one that can hold on to a 1-0 lead and not even think of letting it slip since the addition of Ruben Dias in the summer and the resurgence of John Stones into the starting lineup.
Ilkay Gundogan has found some incredible goalscoring form since December to lead their scoring charts while Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva all stepped up massively in the absence of Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian is now back from injury too, as is Sergio Aguero, so Guardiola has a near fully-fit squad to choose from.
As for Gladbach, they have won just twice in their last six in all competitions and look open defensively. Going forward they’ve struggled too, with just 38 goals scored in their 22 fixtures domestically. In the Champions League group stages earlier this season they were a different kettle of fish though, scoring 16 times in their six games to pip Inter Milan to a place in this round.
Marcus Thuram, Alessane Plea and Lars Stindl will lead the line and will all need to be on top form if they are to cause City any sort of problems in the form they are currently in.
For City, they’ll be looking to keep it business as usual. They’ve been at their brilliant best over the last few months and it’s probably fair to say they’re the best team in the world right now. Guardiola has managed his squad exceptionally well, to the point where they have scored 83 goals in all competitions so far and Sergio Aguero doesn’t have a single one.
Their lineup currently picks itself for the most part, which says a lot considering the manager’s love for rotation. All in all, it’s hard to see anything but a comfortable win for City over the two legs.
PREDICTIONS: Gladbach 0-2 Man City Man City 3-0 Gladbach (Man City to progress 5-0 on aggregate)
Always praised for his attention to detail and the tweaks he makes so often depending on the opposition, this season has seen a much more reserved version of ‘Pep Ball’.
Manchester City this year have been much slower in possession, much less ruthless in front of goal and nowhere near as intense off the ball.
Originally it was thought this was down to the lack of pre-season that the club had and they were just taking a while to get back up to speed. Then it was down to injuries, then as mentioned, staleness and a need for change. Now though, it’s clear it is all deliberate.
Guardiola has set his team up in a more conservative way in order to be able to play his best players more often. City will often start games quickly, looking for an early goal, and then retreat into themselves as the game goes on.
This is seen in the fact that of their 21 goals in the Premier League this season, only six have come in the second half. They’re also the lowest scorers in the top half of the division, level with West Ham United.
Guardiola has gone with a 4-2-3-1 system more often than not so far, using Rodri and one one of Fernandinho or Ilkay Gundogan in the double pivot with Kevin De Bruyne more advanced. That lessens the running of the three midfielders, but also allows the team to keep the ball higher up the field and keep a strong base defensively.
The Blues have got the best defence in the Premier League so far this season, conceding just 12 goals in 14 games which is even more impressive considering they conceded five of those in the game against Leicester.
While it’s not the entertaining, free-flowing football that we’re used to seeing from a Guardiola team it is getting results to an extent. They’ve lost just twice this season in the league but the lack of firepower early on has seen them draw five times.
Currently they sit just outside the top four, but have a game in hand which could potentially allow them to move into those places.
City seem to be undergoing a bit of a rebuild currently and this is Guardiola’s way of stemming the flow and maintaining results while not hanging the team out to dry for the gap in quality.
Expect somewhat of a title challenge this season but not a genuine one as we’ve seen in recent years, followed by a spending spree in the summer.
One thing is for sure, it’s highly unlikely that we will see them return to their high-scoring, free flowing ways of days gone by any time soon.