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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Real Madrid want Van de Beek to agree Varane deal – Paper Round

Real want Van der Beek as part of Varane deal

The Sun suggests that Manchester United are willing to let Donny van de Beek join Real Madrid on loan, with an option to buy the 24-year-old Dutch international at the end of the season. The paper says that Real were keen on the midfielder before he switched to United, and would be willing to pay a small initial fee. In return they would be willing to compromise on a fee for 28-year-old defender Raphael Varane.

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Paper Round’s view: It seems to be a waste that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not ready to give Van de Beek a proper chance at United, especially as Paul Pogba’s inconsistency means it is hard to rely on the Frenchman, however brilliant he can be. But pragmatically, they need a defender much more than they do a midfielder the manager refuses to use, so it would be a sensible use of resources.

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‘We haven’t done anything yet’ – Kane after England make semis

Pogba future unclear

The Mail writes that Paul Pogba’s future at Manchester United remains unclear. The 28-year-old Frenhh midfielder was one of the standout performers for Didier Deschamps’ team at the Euro 2020 finals, but could not prevent the team from going out at the hands of the Swiss. He has just one year left on his current deal at United and could leave for nothing next summer.

Paper Round’s view: Pogba is a brilliant player on some occasions, and a middling presence on other days. If United do manage to bring in Jadon Sancho as well as Varane, then his performances with Juventus and the French team suggest that he will raise his game to match theirs. However he might be tempted to move to a more glamorous team and secure a raise in the process.

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Atletico close in on Paulo

Marcos Paulo has arrived in Spain to sign a contract with Atletico Madrid, reports Spanish newspaper Marca. The 20-year-old winger is out of contract at Fluminese and can sign for Diego Simeone’s side on a free transfer, with a deal until 2026 reported. The arrival of the Brazilian means that Atletico may send Vitolo out on loan, with Cadiz and Celta Vigo keen.

Paper Round’s view: Atletico tend to operate more effectively in the market on a budget, so this could prove to be another bargain. Given their success in La Liga last year, this may give Simeone more flexibility in the market, but Spanish clubs appear to have universally been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, so moving on Vitolo at the same time will balance the books.

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Arsenal target Berge

Arsenal are continuing their transfer spending plans as they are linked with the signing of Sheffield United midfielder Sander Berge. The 23-year-old Norwegian international joined Sheffield United two seasons ago for around £20 million but struggled with injuries last season as the club were relegated. Arsenal need a new midfielder as Granit Xhaka is expected to join Roma.

Paper Round’s view: There were high expectations for Berge when he arrived in the Premier League, and his first season offered enough impressive displays to expect that he would improve for the second. United’s poor form and his own problems with injuries meant he didn’t get the chance to contribute much, but if he is sold at a fair place then he could be a decent gamble for Mikel Arteta.

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Euro 2020

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Southgate challenges England to go ‘two steps further’ after Ukraine win

England manager Gareth Southgate has tasked his charges with going two steps further to win Euro 2020 after they produced a scintillating display to beat Ukraine 4-0.

The Three Lions will face Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday for a spot in the showpiece final against either Italy or Spain.

Harry Kane (2), Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson got the goals as the Three Lions produced a statement performance at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

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However, Southgate, while delighted has challenged his players to win the whole tournament.

“It’s fabulous. I suppose it’s still sinking in that it’s another semi-final – three in three years,” he told the BBC.

We want to go two steps further. I know what will be happening at home. It’s lovely to see everyone on a Saturday night, beer in hand. They should enjoy it.

“It’s been a long year for everyone. I’m chuffed the two performances have brought so much happiness to people.

“We’ve known we had players we needed to look after physically. We’ve been able to introduce them. We know across seven games the squad is so important, trying to give people a breather at the right time. We learned a lot from Russia in that instance.

“We were trying to balance players with knocks and yellow cards. ‘Do we take the centre-back off? Because we’ve the game sown up he won’t need to make a tackle.’

“It’s fabulous for our country – a semi-final at Wembley. Everyone can really look forward to that – it’s brilliant.”

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger expects England to make the final as a minimum.

“It was the perfect night for English football, a perfect night for England,” Wenger told beIN Sports.

“They didn’t concede a goal, they qualified easily and they could rest important players.

They scored three goals from crosses and sometimes small things cause big impacts, and that was certainly the case when Ukraine lost a centre back in the first half. They were free headers and that is not expected at this level.

“Ukraine conceded three poor goals and the second goal killed the game. It became an easy game for England but they did it well and what was important for them tonight is that they didn’t concede a goal.

“That will be an important quality to go to the final and win it. They look more stable, defensively.

“They are still looking for the perfect solution going forward I think but I’m convinced now they will be difficult to stop.

“They go home to London now for the semi-final so it will be difficult to stop them getting to the final.”

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Hayward: England on the cusp of their greatest transformation

Denmark and Spain or Italy stand between England and the greatest transformation in their history, from the excruciating defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016 to the restoration of faith in a new, stellar crop of players.

Gareth Southgate’s men are through to their second consecutive tournament semi-final – their third, if you count the Nations League – with a dismissive 4-0 win over Ukraine, a fifth clean sheet in this competition and a dazzling display of depth. Five years after they imploded against Iceland, England made mass substitutions at 4-0 up in a European Championship quarter-final.

Denmark and the southern superpowers, Spain or Italy, will expose Southgate’s side to a much hotter test, but they have improved rapidly, through the Germany and Ukraine matches, and now return to Wembley for the climax of this far-flung jamboree. Southgate’s supposedly “cautious” gameplan has been vindicated. An infectious confidence now runs through this squad.

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The dream of international football is that players can live out their childhood fantasies in the most sacred jersey they can ever wear. No England player has felt the full thrill of that calling since 1966. It won’t be easy for Southgate’s lot to make that final jump. Already, though, his 2021 team are achieving personal highs on this cobbled-together tournament stage.

Harry Kane had still not scored 84 minutes into his fourth match – against Germany in the round of 16. Then he scored twice in nine minutes – once in London, and again in Rome, 3m 34 secs into the Ukraine game. Then he added another to end the evening one behind Gary Lineker’s England tournament record of 10.

Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson came into Euro 2020 in recovery mode, with many grumbling that they shouldn’t be here. Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Bryan Robson and Ledley King were haunting examples of the dangers of picking players coming back from injury. Maguire missed the Croatia and Scotland games but stepped back in against the Czech Republic as if his ankle had never been hurt. A minute into the second-half in Rome, Maguire rose to meet a perfect Luke Shaw free-kick and headed England’s second.

And consider Shaw, who’s keeping a Champions League winning left-back (Ben Chilwell) out of Southgate’s team and was in the wilderness at Manchester United under Jose Mourinho. Hostilities between Shaw and Mourinho flared again, with Shaw calling out, in the England camp, Mourinho’s apparent obsession with him. He crossed the ball beautifully in Rome. Next season he will be playing at United with Jadon Sancho, another who has had to fight his way into Southgate’s starting XI but was assured from the start in Italy.

Quick feet, elusive running and a reliable end product are measures of Sancho’s talent and maturity. His first tournament start completed a spectacular 48 hours for one of the stars of the Bundesliga. His £73m move to Manchester United was agreed shortly before Bukayo Saka picked up an injury on the training ground and had to drop out of Southgate’s starting XI.

As for Raheem Sterling, his pass to Kane for England’s first goal consolidated his status as the team’s most influential player. From the start it was Sterling making the clearest statement of intent to Andrei Shevchenko’s side, whose defending fell apart and allowed England to score almost at will after a troublesome period of Ukrainian pressure before the interval.

Incredibly, England rattled off a 4-0 win without needing to call on Phil Foden or Jack Grealish, and were able to protect Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips from second bookings by replacing them with Henderson and Jude Bellingham. So much of the selection hoohaa before this tournament was about Grealish and Foden. Many were adamant both should play. Now each faces another struggle to make the team-sheet against Denmark and perhaps beyond.

For the team spirit to hold up so well with so much competition for places is unprecedented. Somehow Southgate has pulled off the trick of managing expectations through sheer decency, and by proving his plan is working. England are shifting easily between systems from five defenders (with wing-backs) against Germany to a back-four in Rome. His most contentious tactic of playing two screening midfielders, Rice and Phillips, has helped keep the ball out of Jordan Pickford’s net in all five games, or 450 minutes.

Denmark beat Czech Republic authoritatively, with goals by Thomas Delaney and Kasper Dolberg. The Danes are quick, decisive and are playing for a cause: the loss of Christian Eriksen to a cardiac arrest 41 minutes into their campaign. England’s long quest to repeat the ecstasy of 1966 can’t quite match that. But the craving to end 55 years without a trophy – or even an appearance in a final – runs marrow deep. It probably amuses people from other countries. In England itself, it stirs a deep well of yearning, frustration and, yes, embarrassment.

With a typically stylish sign-off, Gary Lineker ended his BBC interview with Southgate by saying: “We’ve got to get to the news. In fact, you are the news.” And it will stay that way, to the Denmark game on Wednesday. You wait all those years for a semi-final to come along – then they all come along at once.

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England player ratings: Resurgent Kane hits brace but Shaw steals the show

Even after finishing top of their group and beating Germany in the round of 16, England needed a statement performance to truly announce themselves as one of the frontrunners at Euro 2020. This was that performance, as goals from Harry Kane, Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson secured a 4-0 win over Ukraine.

As has been the case for every England game at Euro 2020 so far, Gareth Southgate’s team selection prompted much pre-match discussion. Most notably, Jadon Sancho’s inclusion in the line-up caught many by surprise. Less surprising was the return of Mason Mount after missing the wins over Czech Republic and Germany.

England will face Denmark in the semi-finals and on this basis they will take some beating at this tournament. Here is a closer look at how the 15 players who featured for the Three Lions performed and what England can take from this performance.

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FORMATION

Having matched up against Germany in a back three, Southgate reverted back to a flat back four with Kieran Trippier dropping out of the line-up as the wing back as Kyle Walker started as right back. The biggest pre-match headline, though, was the inclusion of Sancho for the first time at Euro 2020.

Sancho was charged with stretching the pitch on the right side, giving England an an out-ball. Mason Mount had something of a drifting role which saw the Chelsea midfielder get close to Sancho in order to prevent the Borussia Dortmund winger from becoming isolated on the touchline.

This isn’t to say Sancho was wedded to this position. Indeed, the 21-year-old surged through the middle on more than one occasion, with Walker pushing forward to maintain the width. On paper, Southgate’s shape was a 4-2-3-1 with Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice as the midfield platform, but it also shifted between a 4-3-3 and even a 3-4-3 as Luke Shaw pushed forward.

BIG WINNER – Luke Shaw

Just one week on from yet more critical comments of Luke Shaw from Jose Mourinho, the 25-year-old showed why he is now considered one of the best full backs in Europe. Indeed, Shaw was a constant threat down the left side against Ukraine, contributing two assists as England showed a different dimension to their play in the attacking third.

This was the perfect modern full back performance. Not only was Shaw mobile in the way he surged up and down the left wing for the full 65 minutes he was on the pitch, his final ball was sharp. The fact Southgate withdrew Shaw early with the game already won demonstrated his worth to England right now.

BIG LOSER – Gareth Southgate’s critics

If England’s win over Germany in the round of 16 wasn’t enough to get the critics off Southgate’s back, this surely was. While the 50-year-old still maintained the structure of his team throughout, he recognised the opportunity to truly press home England’s superior quality against an opponent that just couldn’t match them.

Southgate’s team selections at Euro 2020 have been analysed intensely, but his use of his squad as a whole at this tournament can’t be questioned. England managed this game, but in a way that still allowed them to attack. Southgate hasn’t just proved himself as a dressing room leader, but as a tactician.

PLAYER RATINGS

Pickford 5 – While Jordan Pickford made one solid save to deny Roman Yaremchuk at a crucial stage of the match in the first half, he was rash in coming off his line to make a clearance just after 70 minutes. It didn’t cost England, but Southgate didn’t look too pleased on the touchline.

Maguire 8 – This was another performance that underlined Maguire’s importance to this England team. He was crucial to the way the Three Lions played out from the back and effectively put the result beyond doubt by getting his head on the end of a Shaw freekick into the box.

Stones 6 – Yaremchuk gave the England defence something to think about, and got the better of Stones more than once, but it would be harsh to criticise the Manchester City centre back for another good performance.

Shaw 9 – Deployed in a higher position than was the case in his previous three games at Euro 2020, Luke Shaw was an attacking threat down the left side. His final product was good too, demonstrated by his free-kick delivery for Maguire’s header at the start of the second half. He could have finished with a couple more assists too.

Walker 5 – Favoured over Kieran Trippier on the right side of the defence, Ukraine identified Kyle Walker as something of a weak link in the first half. However, the 31-year-old fared better in the second period as Ukraine started to tire.

Phillips 7 – While many debated whether Kalvin Phillips should even be included in England’s squad for this tournament, the Leeds United midfielder has made himself undroppable with a series of composed performances. This was another one.

Rice 6 – Withdrawn just before the hour mark, this wasn’t Declan Rice’s most eye-catching display, but Southgate will be pleased with how the West Ham midfielder maintained the structure of the side in the centre of the pitch and kept things ticking over with his prudent use of the ball.

Mount 6 – Back in the team after a period of Covid-19 self-isolation, it was up to Mason Mount to lead the England press from deep. This might have been down to Kane’s lack of physicality, but it had the additional benefit of pushing England’s midfield further forward.

Sancho 8 – Selected to start his first match of the tournament, Jadon Sancho gave England forward thrust down the right side. He was also afforded the freedom to drift into the middle on the ball which helped create overloads for England.

Sterling 8 – This continues to be Raheem Sterling’s tournament. While the Manchester City attacker didn’t get on the score sheet here, he created the opening from which England took a grip of the game after just four minutes. Sterling played predominantly on the left, but also operated through the middle and even on the right at times. This gave England real fluidity in attack.

Kane 8 – Having faced much criticism for his performances earlier in the tournament, Kane is now well and truly up and running. The 27-year-old showed trademark goalscoring instincts to bag a brace to take his Euro 2020 tally to three goals. Even when only half-fit, Kane leads the line better than any other striker on England’s books.

Harry Kane of England celebrates after scoring their side’s first goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Quarter-final match between Ukraine and England at Olimpico Stadium on July 03, 2021 in Rome, Italy.

Image credit: Getty Images

Subs:

Henderson 6 – Making only his second appearance of Euro 2020, Jordan Henderson came off the bench to press home England’s advantage, scoring a header from a corner kick to make it 4-0.

Trippier 4 – Kieran Trippier’s main purpose in this match was to afford Shaw some rest on the left side, but he still offered England something of an outlet in his absence.

Bellingham 5 – Southgate still found time to give England fans a glimpse of the future as Jude Bellingham was introduced off the bench after 65 minutes. His energy kept England’s foot on the throat of Ukraine in the latter stages.

Rashford 3 – Given 25 minutes to make an impression, Marcus Rashford was a peripheral figure in the time he was on the pitch. This just hasn’t been his tournament so far.

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Southgate reveals how Sancho reacted to Man Utd move in England camp

Gareth Southgate insists Jadon Sancho hasn’t been distracted by his transfer move to Manchester United and is training better than ever for England.

Sancho is in line to start against Ukraine in the quarter-finals on Saturday, his first of Euro 2020 and United fans are desperate to see their new signing in action.
The forward will complete his move to United once he agrees personal terms and passes a medical, but Southgate insists the spotlight on Sancho hasn’t affected him in a bad way.

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“No, in fact I think Jadon over the last seven days has trained the best level in the time with us,” Southgate told ITV when asked if Sancho had been distracted by the speculation.

You accept there are lots of ongoing transfer situations and nobody is coming in for talks, nobody is going out for talks.

“But we can’t stop people’s phones ringing and we can’t stop business happening outside of that and you just have to trust the players and they’re all very focused.

“I haven’t really had a long discussion with him about it at this moment, because that story’s been going on for 12 months. When everything’s confirmed I’m sure I’ll have a chat with him.

“But there’s so much speculation about all of our players, I don’t pick up every little individual piece but I’m checking in with the players every single day to see how they are and the biggest thing is he’s been very focused in his training and that’s been good.”

United and Borussia Dortmund announced they had come to an agreement over the transfer of Sancho, with the Red Devils set to pay around £73 million for the England international.

The 21-year-old will sign a five-year deal worth a reported £350,000-a-week. Sancho leaves Dortmund after kickstarting his career in the Bundesliga.

‘Southgate continues to baffle us there’ – Why no Sancho for England?

Sancho forced his way out of Manchester City when he was a youngster to join Dortmund and burst onto the scene in Germany to become one of the league’s best players.

United have been chasing Sancho for several years and the deal will represent the end to a long-running transfer saga.

England are favourites to progress past Ukraine with one semi-final already confirmed. Spain will take on Italy after their clashes with Switzerland and Belgium respectively.

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Sancho and Mount in line to start against Ukraine – report

Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount are in line to start England’s quarter-final match against Ukraine on Saturday, according to the Telegraph.

Despite being one of the most productive attacking players in Europe over the past two seasons, Sancho is yet to start a game at Euro 2020, making just one substitute appearance against Scotland.

The report suggests England are set to revert to a back four after playing a back five against Germany, and the news of a Sancho start is likely to please fans who are desperate to see manager Gareth Southgate play more attacking football, especially against weaker nations.

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Manchester United fans will be pleased too, with the Old Trafford club having agreed a £73m deal to bring Sancho to the club from Borussia Dortmund after a long and arduous transfer saga.

Mount is also set to start, having missed the matches against Czech Republic and Germany due to a period of self-isolation.

One of Southgate’s most trusted players, Mount started the first two matches against Croatia and Scotland, and will provide the attacking impetus from midfield in an England side looking to reach their first European Championship semi-final since 1996.

Raheem Sterling of England celebrates the opening goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Round of 16 match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium on June 29, 2021 in London, United Kingdom.

Image credit: Getty Images

With Mount and Sancho starting, Southgate looks as though he is wary of tournament fatigue and is using the depths of his squad to ensure players are rested and ready for the latter stages, should England progress.

But there will be no room for complacency against a Ukraine side that saw off Sweden and a tricky group stage to progress to the last eight.

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Dortmund in talks to sell Haaland and Sancho – Paper Round

Real start Haaland talks

Spanish newspaper Marca reports that Erling Haaland has given his blessing for talks to start between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. The 20-year-old Norwegian striker is available for 75 million euros next summer, and it is believed that the Germans and Spaniards will come together on a compromise of around 130 million euros to complete a deal this summer.

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Paper Round’s view: Dortmund would be getting 65 million euros more than they would next season if they were to keep hold of Haaland for just one more season. As good as he is, there is probably more benefit in doubling the profit they are making on him, more or less, and being able to spend big to bring in a replacement. It might make it harder for Manchester United to sign Jadon Sancho, though.

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‘Southgate continues to baffle us there’ – Why no Sancho for England?

United close in on Sancho

The Mirror claims that Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United are close to agreeing terms for a transfer of Jadon Sancho. The 20-year-old England international will earn £250,000-a-week wages on a five-year contract with the option of a further year, and United have followed up a £60 million bid with one worth £72.5 million with another £10 million in add-ons. That is £5 million short but a compromise is expected.

Paper Round’s view: One would imagine that United simply did not want to sign Sancho last season because their approach this summer has been far more constructive. If he is signed then United will then be able to move swiftly onto improving the defence, and the focus will turn to the future of Paul Pogba, who is impressing for France while his contract starts to run down.

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Chelsea hope to tempt Ramos

Chelsea are making a late move for former Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos. The 35-year-old Spaniard is wanted by Thomas Tuchel to partner Antonio Rudiger, according to the Sun. However there is competition from Paris Saint-Germain, who can tempt him with the chance to play alongside Neymar, former teammate Angel Di Maria, and perhaps even Cristiano Ronaldo.

Paper Round’s view: If Ronaldo and Ramos team up again that would transform PSG into a side who would believe themselves to be genuine challengers for the Champions League – if only for a season or two, given their age. Chelsea’s interest might be genuine but it is difficult to square that with the new contract for Thiago Silva, who surely carries out the same role for Chelsea now.

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Bertrand set for Leicester switch

Ryan Bertrand is likely to join Southampton on a free transfer, says the Mail. The 31-year-old left-back is out of contract on the south coast, and had been wanted by Arsenal, AC Milan and Monaco. However with Leicester in need of defensive back-ups with Timothy Castagne and James Justin both potentially out for long periods with injury, Brendan Rodgers has made his move.

Paper Round’s view: Bertrand will be able to contribute for a few years yet given his fitness, and if he is coming to help fill out the Leicester squad then his career may be elongated by not having to play two times a week. He has international and Champions League experience, and will give Rodgers a reliable presence who can also play at wing-back and perhaps even further forward, if required.

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Gareth Southgate was preparing himself for a pre-match media to-and-fro about holding midfielders and team balance when he heard Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell would need to isolate. Just to really spice up the England manager’s day, Sky were reporting a £100m offer from Manchester City to Spurs for Harry Kane.

Previous England managers have seen bigger complications. Think Sven-Goran Eriksson in Baden Baden in 2006. But you could see why Southgate might be exasperated. Post-match contact between Mount and Chilwell and their Chelsea comrade, Billy Gilmour, had thrown his team selection for the Czech Republic to the winds of the pandemic. Any planned rejig was now more complicated. And just as Kane had been settled down with the guarantee of a starting place against the Czechs, along came our old friend, Premier League wealth and power, to annex the day’s agenda.

“This is tournaments. You have to adapt, you have to respond, it’s why the depth of the squad is so important,” Southgate said of the uncertainty around Mount. “Calmness around what’s going on at any given time is really critical, I think.”

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At least external chaos saved him from having to answer England fans and pundits who think a shift is needed away from caution towards adventure. Most of the talk was about Covid and whether Mount, who Southgate regards as a “fourth attacker”, would be playing against the Czechs or watching it alone in his room.

Mason Mount (top) and Billy Gilmour

Image credit: Getty Images

The fault-line for grumblers has been Southgate’s preference for two ‘defensive’ midfielders, even though Kalvin Phillips, on the edge of Croatia’s box, provided the neat pass for England’s only goal of the tournament so far. But it’s undeniable that England’s Leeds-West Ham midfield combo looked conservative in the context of how Scotland played and the sluggishness of Southgate’s attackers, which is unlikely to be repeated, unless there really is a “problem” with this team.

Discounting “fatigue”, this is how Southgate explained the Scotland performance: “I think we had a tactical problem to break Scotland down. We couldn’t get the overloads in wide areas as easily as we had done in previous matches and that’s great credit to Scotland. We’ve talked that through with the team. The team that started were in good physical shape and I had no concerns about them.”

The most strident reviews of the Scotland game portrayed Southgate as a coach with a fixed outlook. In reality he has a history of adaptation.

In the six months leading up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Southgate and his assistant Steve Holland had become unhappy with England’s play. Over dinner on a reconnaissance trip to Russia they designed a new formation with wing‑backs, three central defenders and two No 8s to support Harry Kane – initially Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli. The formation was so effective in the early stages of that World Cup that England’s opponents began changing shape in mid-game to deal with it.

Landmark tournament switches are an entertaining sub-plot. For England, Bobby Robson’s transformative change to three-at-the-back at Italia 90 turned a team who’d faced the front-page “send them home” treatment after the draw with the Republic of Ireland into semi-final opera stars.

In 1966, for England’s only tournament victory, Alf Ramsey had unveiled his wingless wonder 4-3-3 formation against Spain six months earlier but played a winger in each of the World Cup group games, shifting to 4-3-3 only in the knock-out rounds. Ramsey changed direction halfway through a tournament: a detail missing in many of the wingless wonder narratives.

At Euro 96, Terry Venables had his team ready to alternate between a back-four and a three according to the opposition. Tactical inflexibility was anathema to Venables and his successor, Glenn Hoddle, who both loathed the regimentation of 4-4-2.

It doesn’t always work. Graham Taylor springing a back three on England before the ‘Norse Manure’ game in Oslo in 1993 caused mayhem, with players not knowing where to go or who to mark. Nobody is demanding a radical tactical upheaval from Southgate, but the Scotland game landed him in a place familiar to England managers, where the shouting assails both ears.

Players, too, come and go, rise and fall. Peter Beardsley replacing Mark Hateley in Mexico in 1986 was a catalyst for Gary Lineker’s hat-trick against Poland and added sophistication and fluidity to England’s attack. Four years later, David Platt earned his starting place with his spectacular over the shoulder volley against Belgium on the third of his substitute appearances.

The beauty of this England squad is that Beardsley and Platt have many potential incarnations. Jack Grealish, Jude Bellingham and Jadon Sancho are the obvious candidates to provide more thrust and tip the balance from six defensive and four offensive players to five and five (Bellingham, notably, is able to provide just about every midfield function and has the ‘legs’ to go box to box.)

Poking out from the gloom over Mount and Chilwell and the lingering inquest from Scotland was a reminder of England’s strengths. It came when Southgate was asked why Sancho hasn’t kicked a ball yet.

“Well we just have so many good attacking players,” Southgate replied. “In terms of wide players or players who can play in those areas and come inside we have Raheem Sterling, we have Phil Foden, we have Jack Grealish, we have Marcus Rashford, we have Bukayo Sako and we have Jadon, and they’re all very good players, so if you weren’t asking me about Jadon you’d be asking me about one of the others.”

If England win at Wembley, the emphasis will shift away from Scotland and back to the surfeit of riches everyone was talking about before the tournament. For now though Southgate is in the infernal realm of national agitation he witnessed in his England playing days: a reality even a Covid drama couldn’t disguise.

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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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