Opinion – Parker: The pressure will be on Sancho, Varane and Trippier to perform

Paul Parker thinks each of Manchester United’s expected summer signings will need to hit the ground running – they’re all under pressure in their own way.

Take Jadon Sancho. He is expected to join from Borussia Dortmund in the next few days, all being well, and he’ll need to link up quickly with his new teammates.

I haven’t been jumping up and down like others about his arrival because I’m yet to see enough from him to prove he’s what United need. But he should still be putting pressure on Marcus Rashford.

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We need to see if he can play on the left wing – not the right – and consistently be able to go inside and outside his man, because they’ve not been getting enough of that from Rashford. If he can do that, then it’s a step forward for United as an attacking team.

Looking at the cost of the player, United will expect him to be contributing from the start of the season. They’ve also waited long enough for him to arrive, so there may be a lack of patience where he is concerned.

When I’ve seen Sancho play, I’ve often seen him on the left, and that’s where the team’s weakness is. Mason Greenwood deserves to start the first game of the season with his form compared to Rashford’s. The big games need to have Greenwood starting, and Rashford hasn’t done anything near enough to be ahead of him at the moment.

Rashford mentioned a shoulder injury as one of the reasons he’s struggled of late, but you’re either injured or you’re not. If you need to mention it, then you go and get it sorted out. Football is different now, players will be given the time to properly recover with doctors willing to step in and protect them from being rushed back. A shoulder injury seems like an easy out when his form isn’t good.

As for Raphael Varane, I’m not expecting him to wow people. Not because he doesn’t have the talent, but because we all know what he’s done. We’ve seen what he’s won for Real Madrid and that he’s played for France. One thing I’d say is that at Real he has had a great partner to lead him in Sergio Ramos.

But he’s another one who has to start well. Because of his pedigree, people will expect him to slot in and be an immediate upgrade on Victor Lindelof. What he’ll have to show is physical and mental toughness – exactly what Lindelof lacks.

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When you have a poor central defender alongside a better one, it unbalances the side. This United side has been unbalanced for a while. Varane’s arrival would be a chance to build a side on something stead. Something that the fans believe in, but the players behind and in front of him. For the goalkeeper that has been a huge issue for years.

Once you get that, you can compete as Manchester United. Any top side can talk about their central defence. At City you have Ruben Dias, and the form he inspired in John Stones. People might discuss centre forwards, but you have to have quality centre-backs and goalkeepers. You don’t achieve a lot without them.

Kieran Trippier, it’s interesting where he will play, because Aaron Wan-Bissaka will be under pressure. The thing about Wan-Bissaka is that when he isn’t there, people will realise how important he is. As well as Trippier has done at Atletico Madrid, to come back at United is completely different.

The players aren’t as disciplined as they are under Diego Simeone. It will be hard for him to adjust right away at United.

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In defence of Kane… and why can’t Foden and Grealish play together?

After three attempts and zero on target England captain Harry Kane is coming under fire for his performances at Euro 2020 – but doubt the striker at your peril…

In the latest Eurosport x The Beautiful Game show, Buj and Dot are joined by Eurosport’s own Ben Snowball.

A big talking point was England’s 0-0 draw with Scotland on Friday, and with Kane substituted off late on after a lacklustre display, the trio leapt to his defence when backing the Tottenham striker to come good – and soon.

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“When Kane drops deep it’s different because he drags the centre-back with him. Space is created. Previously with Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling in form they’d run into that space,” Ben said.

“The problem is that doesn’t work against Scotland because they sit too deep and now we’ve got Phil Foden who isn’t that same kind of player.

“Kane is getting all this stick but it’s not really his fault. He’s missed one big chance this Euros where he clattered into the post and scuffed it against Croatia. That didn’t matter. The chances aren’t being created.

Kane is always being questioned, but he always answers them wrong. He was a one-season wonder, then a two-season wonder, then three-season. How many more times? The guy won the 2018 World Cup Golden Boot and it’s ‘Oh he only scores penalties’.

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“There’s always questions. He always answers them. I’m sure he will here. He’s going to start against Czech Republic, Southgate confirmed, and surely he’ll bury one soon.”

‘Play Grealish and Foden together’

With Jack Grealish a late substitute and Jadon Sancho left on the bench against Scotland, Dot called questioned Gareth Southgate’s tactics after the England manager opted against going more attacking during the game.

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“Grealish has to play every single game. The biggest problem against Scotland that I had – why did Foden come off for Grealish? Why can’t they play in the same team?” Dot said.

“That’s like for like, but what a proactive top manager would do is say, you know what, I can sacrifice a defensive midfielder and bring on an extra attacker. That could have been the difference.

“The starting XI I don’t have a big issue with – that team has enough to beat Scotland, but the setup was wrong. If you’re playing Kalvin Phillips in an advanced position, you may as well play a Jude Bellingham or Grealish – or Sancho out wide and Foden in the middle.

“Southgate got it wrong if I’m being perfectly honest.”

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‘We don’t know England’s best XI’

Ben went on to suggest that England’s focus was awry when it came to their warm-up games against Austria and Romania – and it has left both Southgate and supporters unsure on what their best XI is going into their final group game.

“England have the squad to win this, or at least make the semi-finals, and my concern is that we spent so long in the warm-ups worrying about who would be the 26th man – Jesse Lingard, James Ward-Prowse, but eventually Ben White – we didn’t actually prepare the players who are actually going to play,” Ben added.

Now Southgate doesn’t know his best team. He was hamstrung by the Champions League final with players arriving late and now we have no idea what his best team is.

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England ratings: Phillips makes midfield his own as Sterling rewards loyal Southgate

England have taken just 10 players to the Euros that were at the 2018 World Cup. Yet Gareth Southgate is nothing if not loyal. Raheem Sterling probably did not – all things considered – warrant a starting spot for England. Yet, it was the Manchester City man who delivered the crucial goal against a subdued Croatia to seal England a 1-0 opening win at the Euros.

Further, Southgate selected no fewer than five – John Stones, Kyle Walker, Phil Foden, Mason Mount and Sterling – of the seven Champions League final-participating contingent that missed the warm-up matches. The two players that missed out were Ben Chilwell and Reece James.

It was a gamble. And one that nearly paid dividends immediately when Foden hit the post following smart work from Sterling with six minutes gone. However, just as in the semi-final of three years ago, England faded as the first half and then the game wore on as, perhaps, early game adrenaline wore off and a lack of chemistry came to the fore.

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Yet, while England have grown in the three years since that semi-final, Croatia have wilted and are a now a weaker proposition. Zlatko Dalic’s side asked few questions of the Three Lions and have now won just two of their last 10 games – against Cyprus (1-0) and Malta (3-0) – and the Three Lions will be given far greater examinations of their credentials.

Croatia punished English hesitancy at the Luzhniki Stadium but they no longer seem to have the tools to do so.

FORMATION

Nominally a 4-2-3-1 but often it morphed into a 4-3-3 with Mount dropping in alongside Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips, with the responsibility of cutting supply lines to Luka Modric falling on Rice and Mount.

With Rice and Mount tasked with Modric duties, it was left to Phillips to parole the rest of the midfield area and the Leeds star was excellent. Further forward, Sterling picked up the player of the match award but this clash was won in midfield and Phillips was central to that.

BIG WINNER – Kalvin Phillips

No question here. There has been clamour for the excellent Jude Bellingham to start but Phillips was exceptional for much of the match. He disrupted Croatia’s tempo, set England’s and laid on the winner.

He should be the first name on the teamsheet come Friday.

BIG LOSER – England’s left side

Kieran Trippier is a fine ball-playing right-back. However, he can’t replicate that efficiency on the left because, put simply, he is not a left-back and not left-footed.

England struggled to progress the ball on the left at any sort of pace and it was of little surprise that Sterling grabbed his goal when he came away from his berth on that side. Sterling was able to benefit from England’s more efficient work on the right, where the ball was progressed forward with far greater speed.

England need to replicate that on the left and the easiest and quickest way to do so is to station a left-footer on that side.

PLAYER RATINGS

Pickford 6 – The Everton keeper dealt with Croatia’s only shot on target with ease. He was rarely troubled and distributed the ball well throughout.

Walker 6 – Perisic remains one of Croatia’s most potent attacking threats but was marshalled extremely well by the Manchester City right-back. However, Walker, who steps into midfield at club level, offered little as a threat moving forward.

Stones 6 – It is difficult to evaluate the performance of a centre-half when the opposition posed so few questions. However, Stones was solid on the ball and composed when called upon.

Mings 6 – The same applies to Mings, who, bar the odd occasion, was rarely called upon to perform more than modest defensive duties. However, that side of the England defence remains a problem. Harry Maguire’s reputation grows with every passing game.

Trippier 5 – He stole the ball from Atleti colleague Sime Vrsaljko early in the second-half before charging away down the left. However, his inability to whip a ball either down the channel or into Kane at centre-forward crystallised the folly of playing a right-footer at left-back.

Phillips 9 – After an average showing in the final warm-up game against Romania, the Leeds player exerted far more influence here. He was excellent – diligent in his pressing, resolute in his positioning and displayed a full range of passing. His excellence was epitomised by the England goal as he broke free from the attention of three Croatia defenders before slipping in Sterling.

Rice 7 – The West Ham midfielder has developed a more rounded game over the last year and a half but he excelled here in the basics, operating as a protective shield ahead of the England defence.

Sterling 8 – The argument that Sterling did not warrant a starting spot was not without merit, However, he set up Foden early on and there were flashes of his class throughout. He scored the crucial goal that secured a winning start for England and also offered Kieran Trippier excellent cover. A performance full of industry and class.

Mount 6 – A typically scurrying performance best exemplified by a ferocious challenge early in the second half that saw Kovacic booked. However, there was little of the creative garnish that’s seen in a Chelsea shirt. England needed a focal point in midfield and Mount was unable to provide it.

Foden 6 – A couple of flashes of excellence – most notably an early effort that came back off the post – but was unable to exert much influence over the game and was subbed.

Kane 6 – The England captain led the line well and produced a wonderful decoy run for the winner. However, he failed to fashion a clear sight of goal over the course of the game and was subbed late on.

Subs:

Rashford 6 – When he moved up front, he offered a threat in behind that Kane could not – a great outlet.

Bellingham 6 – Exudes calm. Incredible he is just 17.

Calvert-Lewin – N/A

VERDICT

This was a promising start against a team who are on the wane. There are issues to be worked through – namely on the left side of the defence. However, Croatia remain a collection of players – if not a team – that are able to punish profligacy. England were comfortable without dominating, and bigger tests will come.

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