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Author Archive for Dominic Fifield

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Gareth Southgate commits to back three for England’s World Cup mission

• Southgate says formation will help England play out from back at Russia 2018
• ‘System gives us good stability and easier solutions for our midfield players’

Gareth Southgate has committed England to playing three at the back during next summer’s World Cup having identified the system as “a better option” and will use the friendlies over the next eight months to familiarise his players with the formation.

Although there is a risk to cementing plans around one formation this far from the finals, England did employ the tactic in Sunday’s unconvincing win in Lithuania and for the last few minutes at Wembley last Thursday against Slovenia when qualification was secured for the tournament in Russia. More significantly, the team mustered arguably their most impressive performance under Southgate using the system in the narrow friendly defeat by Germany in Dortmund last season.

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Chelsea expect N’Golo Kanté injury to rule him out of Crystal Palace trip

• Kanté suffered hamstring problem playing for France in Bulgaria
• Striker Álvaro Morata also set to miss Palace game with injury

Chelsea are waiting to assess the severity of a hamstring injury sustained by N’Golo Kanté in France’s World Cup qualifying win in Bulgaria on Saturday but expect to be without the midfielder and Álvaro Morata for Saturday’s trip to Crystal Palace.

Kanté hobbled off in the 34th minute of the game in Sofia, which France won 1-0, and was withdrawn from Didier Deschamps’ squad for Tuesday’s final group game against Belarus. The midfielder, who has been nominated in France Football’s 30 contenders to win this year’s Ballon d’Or, hurt the hamstring in his left leg but has yet to return to Cobham, where he will assessed by Chelsea’s medical staff.

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England players need opportunity to develop, insists Gareth Southgate

• Manager calls for patience and urges supporters to get behind team
• Dele Alli to return in Lithuania; Butland and Lingard likely to be involved

Gareth Southgate will be “realistic” with his expectations for England at the World Cup finals next summer and has called for patience as he seeks to further the development of his young side before the tournament in Russia.

The national team travel to Lithuania on Saturday for their final qualifier with progress having been secured from Group F and Southgate is expected to offer game time to some of his fringe players in Vilnius. England host Germany and Brazil in prestige friendlies next month, elite sides who will pose a very different threat from those encountered in qualification, with the manager acutely aware the team’s relationship with its support has to be rebuilt after recent uninspiring performances.

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England players need opportunity to develop, insists Gareth Southgate

• Manager calls for patience and urges supporters to get behind team
• Dele Alli to return in Lithuania; Butland and Lingard likely to be involved

Gareth Southgate will be “realistic” with his expectations for England at the World Cup finals next summer and has called for patience as he seeks to further the development of his young side before the tournament in Russia.

The national team travel to Lithuania on Saturday for their final qualifier with progress having been secured from Group F and Southgate is expected to offer game time to some of his fringe players in Vilnius. England host Germany and Brazil in prestige friendlies next month, elite sides who will pose a very different threat from those encountered in qualification, with the manager acutely aware the team’s relationship with its support has to be rebuilt after recent uninspiring performances.

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England players need opportunity to develop, insists Gareth Southgate

• Manager calls for patience and urges supporters to get behind team
• Dele Alli to return in Lithuania; Butland and Lingard likely to be involved

Gareth Southgate will be “realistic” with his expectations for England at the World Cup finals next summer and has called for patience as he seeks to further the development of his young side before the tournament in Russia.

The national team travel to Lithuania on Saturday for their final qualifier with progress having been secured from Group F and Southgate is expected to offer game time to some of his fringe players in Vilnius. England host Germany and Brazil in prestige friendlies next month, elite sides who will pose a very different threat from those encountered in qualification, with the manager acutely aware the team’s relationship with its support has to be rebuilt after recent uninspiring performances.

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How England can find World Cup spark and repair disconnect with fans | Dominic Fifield

A fit and firing Adam Lallana, successful Champions League runs and clarity on a plan to get the best from the squad could be key to England’s Russia 2018 hopes

The sense of anticlimax was inescapable. Gareth Southgate had spent his evening on the touchline dodging paper aeroplanes, tedium-induced origami, and blocking out occasional spasms of booing from the home support, and was left to plead for patience after the match. It matters not that plenty of nations would love to be in England’s position. Argentina are in real danger of missing out on a World Cup for the first time since 1970 after drawing with Peru in Buenos Aires. Holland are third in their group and in peril, while even the European champions, Portugal, are facing up to the likelihood of a play-off. The same fate almost certainly awaits Italy. England, in contrast, have emerged unbeaten through another qualification campaign and yet the mood was almost apologetic.

Now Southgate has Sunday’s qualifier in Lithuania and, at best, four friendly fixtures before he must select a squad for the tournament in Russia. So what areas must England address most urgently if they are to repair the disconnect between team and support?

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Harry Kane turns to kitchen rather than training ground for England recipe

The England captain hopes the ‘marginal gains’ he has made by taking nutrition even more seriously will continue to benefit player, club and country

Harry Kane was striving for marginal gains. Those little tweaks to his daily preparations that would assist recovery time amid a cluttered fixture schedule, and always with the fatigue he had endured back in the summer of 2016, after a year where football had hauled him from postseason tours of Australia to the European Championship in France via the shlep of Premier League and Europa League campaigns, still foremost in his mind. If he was to retain his edge, particularly with a daughter on the way, then something had to change.

Yet even Kane, a model professional who will captain his country against Slovenia on Thursday, probably never appreciated those improvements would be made not on the training pitch but in the kitchen. “It clicked in my head a football career goes so quickly, so you have to make every day count,” said the striker.

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Raheem Sterling given No10 role on England return for Slovenia qualifier

• Oxlade-Chamberlain expected to play off right flank against Slovenia
• Sterling, Rashford and Kane to start together for England for first time

Raheem Sterling will return to England’s starting lineup for the qualifier against Slovenia on Thursday, operating in the No10 position, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain retaining his place on the right flank.

Sterling endured a difficult time with the national team last month and suffered the ignominy of being substituted at half-time in Malta with the game goalless and frustration mounting among the travelling support. Sterling played only the last seven minutes of the subsequent win over Slovakia but though it is almost two years since he scored for his country, he will earn his 35th cap at Wembley at the age of only 22.

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Manchester United expect England to ease Marcus Rashford’s workload

• Striker could be excused World Cup duty against Lithuania
• Rashford’s absence dependent on England beating Slovenia

Manchester United are hopeful Marcus Rashford will be spared involvement in England’s match against Lithuania on Sunday if World Cup qualification has already been secured.

Victory over Slovenia at Wembley on Thursday will book England’s place at the tournament in Russia next summer, with Rashford expected to line up on the left of an attack-minded selection which could also see Raheem Sterling recalled after recent impressive performances for Manchester City. A win will render the final qualifier in Vilnius meaningless and in that scenario José Mourinho is understood to be keen to see Rashford rested.

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Joe Hart: ‘Playing for England was what other people did, I just supported’

England’s goalkeeper will surpass Gordon Banks’ 73 caps when he lines up against Slovenia on Thursday and still dreams of achieving that ‘special moment’

Joe Hart has first-hand experience of that sickening sense of helplessness, the one that grips any opponent whenever the ball veers towards Harry Kane alone inside the penalty area. He endured it a little over a week ago at the London Stadium. He would have been aware out of the corner of his eye of the forward loitering menacingly in the centre as he watched Dele Alli break beyond West Ham United’s defence and sprint down the left side of his box. Hart was still chuntering at that concession when, moments later, he blocked Alli’s shot with his right thigh only to see the loose ball dribble inexorably onto the striker’s left foot.

There was an inevitability about everything that followed, the goalkeeper’s desperate dive, with Hart left lowering his head to the turf in frustration. Everything Kane touches at present is flying in. The only consolation for the Manchester City loanee is that for the next few days at least, Kane is a team-mate rather than an adversary.

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Chelsea optimistic Álvaro Morata injury is not as severe as Spain fear

• Morata withdrew from the Spain qualifiers against Albania and Israel
• But striker targets return against Crystal Palace

Chelsea’s medical department intend to conduct their own scans on Álvaro Morata’s hamstring injury later this week, and are hopeful their diagnosis will reveal the damage is not as extensive as that suggested in tests undertaken by the Spanish Football Federation over the weekend.

Morata withdrew from the Spain squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Albania and Israel after pulling up in Saturday’s Premier League defeat to Manchester City complaining of discomfort in his left thigh. Chelsea initially substituted him as a precaution, hoping they had averted a serious injury, but the forward travelled to Madrid the following day and underwent an MRI scan at the city’s Sanitas University hospital of La Moraleja which apparently revealed a grade two myofascial injury to his hamstring muscles.

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England’s Ryan Bertrand aims to expand help to Grenfell Tower survivors

• Southampton and England defender to go beyond cash donations
• Bertrand says fire struck a nerve because he grew up in tower blocks

Ryan Bertrand has followed up his pledge to help those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire by making it clear his involvement will extend beyond financial donations to the victims’ fund.

The Southampton and England left-back, who will start for his country against Slovenia on Thursday, visited the site in June having posted a series of messages on social media expressing a desire to help. Up to 80 people are believed to have died in the fire at the tower block in Kensington, with Bertrand having initially hoped to assist efforts to rehouse the victims locally.

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Harry Winks earns England call-up after Fabian Delph and Phil Jones withdraw

• 21-year-old Tottenham midfielder called into squad for first time
• FA: Thursday’s qualifer at Wembley will go ahead despite tube strike

Gareth Southgate has called up Harry Winks for the first time after losing Fabian Delph and Phil Jones to injury for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Slovenia and Lithuania.

The Tottenham midfielder, who has made only one Premier League start so far this season, will take part in his first training session with the senior squad on Tuesday at St George’s Park, stepping up from Aidy Boothroyd’s Under-21 squad after just one cap.

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Chelsea striker Álvaro Morata facing up to six weeks out with hamstring injury

• £60m striker was withdrawn early in Chelsea’s defeat to Manchester City
• Morata out of World Cup squad after scan in Spain reveals extent of injury

Chelsea have been dealt a blow after the Spanish Football Federation said Álvaro Morata had sustained a myofascial injury to his hamstring muscles, an injury which could keep the forward out for more than a month.

Morata, who has scored six goals in seven Premier League games for his new club, pulled up 10 minutes before half‑time in the 1-0 defeat by Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, complaining of discomfort in his left thigh.

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Kevin De Bruyne has no regrets at leaving Chelsea and ‘doesn’t think they have’

• Manchester City midfielder has thrived since 2014 sale to Wolfsburg
• ‘There’s no bad feeling at all, it’s part of life. It’s a business’

Kevin De Bruyne did his best to insist all parties had moved on and, in truth, it was hardly an opportune moment to reveal any lingering bitterness. After all it was barely an hour since he had rasped in a glorious winning goal for the current league leaders at the reigning champions and, back in the stadium’s media room, Pep Guardiola was still busy lauding the Belgian’s natural talent and eager work rate, declaring him one of the team’s “captains” who can “do absolutely everything”.

Yet there had to be some mention of that stunted spell as a Chelsea player, a period that yielded as many loans away as Premier League starts – two – before a sale to Wolfsburg in 2014 from which he has never looked back. The sight of De Bruyne dictating occasions such as that on Saturday will always prompt thoughts of what might have been in a corner of south-west London. “But I’ve no regrets over anything that happened,” the playmaker said. “I don’t think they have regrets: they’ve won two league titles since I’ve been gone, so they’ve done fairly well. That’s the way it goes, it’s a business. At that point it was a good decision for me to go and maybe for them it was also good to let me go. There’s no bad feeling at all. It’s just part of life and you need to grow up.”

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Andreas Christensen hoping to show Chelsea he has learned his trade | Dominic Fifield

Danish defender has plenty of big-game experience after a long loan spell in Germany and will start in the heart of the backline against Manchester City

Andreas Christensen may still be forging a reputation in the Premier League but, when it comes to confrontations with Manchester City, he can at least call upon personal experience in preparation. During a two-season spell on loan at Borussia Mönchengladbach there were four collisions with these opponents, contests decorated by Sergio Agüero’s goals, with each an education for the Dane. “They were Champions League matches, big games against the best players,” said the centre-half. “It was what I wanted and good for me. But will it help me for this match? I don’t know because, now, they know more about me as well.”

That was said with a smile, but it is a measure of Christensen’s underlying quality that it does not feel risky that a key member of a Mönchengladbach team who shipped 11 goals in those four group games to City will start at the heart of the Chelsea defence against the same opponents on Saturday. A centre-back who was guided through his first Premier League start, a daunting trip to Tottenham Hotspur in August, by David Luiz in central midfield and César Azpilicueta at his side has long since demonstrated his quality to his team-mates. The 21-year-old, sitting in the middle of the back three as David Luiz completes a suspension, is a youngster living up to immense potential.

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Álvaro Morata says Eden Hazard is ‘one of the three best players in the world’

• Chelsea striker linked up with Belgian well during win at Atlético
• ‘It’s easy for me to play with him. My own start at this club does not seem real’

Álvaro Morata has expressed his delight at playing alongside Eden Hazard, describing the Belgian as “one of the three best players in the world”, after maintaining his own eye-catching start to life at Chelsea with a seventh goal in as many games in the hugely impressive victory over Atlético Madrid.

The Spain forward was subjected to constant abuse from the stands on Wednesday night as he returned to Madrid, where he had previously enjoyed two spells at Real, but silenced the home support with Chelsea’s equaliser on the hour-mark. His header was guided home from Hazard’s pinpoint cross with the players, who had only played alongside each other for 49 minutes previously, enjoying an instant understanding out on the pitch.

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Roy Hodgson looks to his past for Crystal Palace’s survival inspiration

• Palace manager aims to echo Fulham’s great escape of 2008
• Hodgson backs striker Christian Benteke to end goal drought

Roy Hodgson will oversee Crystal Palace’s daunting trip to Manchester City clinging to Fulham’s unlikely survival under his stewardship nine years ago as inspiration.

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There is irony in Diego Costa’s deal with Atlético but Chelsea saw the best of him | Dominic Fifield

In their last league game, Antonio Conte’s side missed how the forward would have driven Arsenal to distraction and the 28-year-old will depart Stamford Bridge having more than played his part in the successes

There is an irony that Diego Costa’s tortuous departure from Chelsea should be finalised, pending the results of a stringent medical, just after a fixture when his absence had been so keenly felt.

Not the Champions League stroll beyond Qarabag or even the midweek saunter past Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup. But, last Sunday, Arsenal ventured across the capital and earned a point, with Shkodran Mustafi, in most people’s eyes, emerging from the stalemate as man of the match. Even accepting that the centre-half is a Germany international and clearly a player of pedigree, it is hard to envisage he would have been quite so unruffled had Costa lined up for the hosts at Stamford Bridge.

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Antonio Conte rings changes at Chelsea with Ethan Ampadu set for Carabao Cup

• Teenager from Exeter City called up to face Nottingham Forest
• Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck sidelined for at least a month

Antonio Conte has promoted Ethan Ampadu, the teenager signed from Exeter City over the summer, to his senior squad for Wednesday’s Carabao Cup third-round tie against Nottingham Forest, with Chelsea set to make a host of changes for the game at Stamford Bridge.

The Premier League champions are expected to field an all-Belgian front line of Eden Hazard, Michy Batshuayi and Charly Musonda, a 20-year-old forward whose previous involvement has been limited to cameos from the bench in the Community Shield and in the opening-day loss against Burnley. Dujon Sterling, a two-times FA Youth Cup winner, may also be in the squad, with Ampadu likely to start among the substitutes.

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