Last chance saloon?
AS WE endure another interminable international week just for a change I can actually see the point of this one. These games are England’s (and Wales’s) last fixtures before the World Cup, so Italy away and Germany at home are an opportunity for fringe players to make their case for inclusion in the World Cup squad, while also an opportunity for players currently out of favour or just not getting any minutes at their respective clubs to show that they’re still worthy of consideration by Gareth Southgate.
The latter include stalwarts such as Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jack Grealish, and Marcus Rashford, while the former include Ivan Toney, Eric Dier, Fikayo Tomori, and Tammy Abraham.
You get the feeling that, regardless of club form or lack of that, Maguire is a shoo-in but by any measure Eric Dier is having a far better season then the Manchester United skipper and should be adding to his 45 caps.
Alexander-Arnold is an enigma, great going forward, highly suspect in defence, he has a lot to do to get on the plane to Qatar. I don’t know what to make of Grealish; to me he should have a free role across the front line but for some reason Southgate prefers the unremarkable Mason Mount in that role, a role in which for me at least he’s never really excelled.
Jude Bellingham would seem tailor-made for that role but I think Southgate will stick with Mount. With Kalvin Phillips getting zero game time at Manchester City, Declan Rice needs a new midfield partner but is Jordan Henderson really the answer?
Meanwhile up top it’s all about who gets to be number two behind Harry Kane. With Callum Wilson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin injured, these two games are a great chance for one of Tammy Abraham and Ivan Toney to claim that spot but as per usual their progress assumes that they actually get chances to score and I don’t see our midfield, especially playing Southgate’s safety first football, providing too many opportunities for them to excel. We shall see.
Half-full Newkie Broon
My Houston Texas Gateshead-born domiciled cousin is confused: are his beloved Toon having a good early season or not? With just one defeat in seven you would think so, but they’ve also managed just one win in those seven matches with the other five games being draws, which while far from impressive isn’t exactly relegation form either.
In fact relegation talk would be ludicrous because clearly Eddie Howe is doing a decent job in Geordieland but a two- or three-game losing streak may yet concentrate minds up on Tyneside.
Team of the week
Neto Bournemouth, Joao Cancelo Citeh, Conor Coady Everton, William Saliba Arsenal, Lewis Cook Bournemouth, Rodrigo Betancur Spurs, Joao Palinha Fulham, Kevin De Bruyne Citeh, Bernardo Silva Citeh, Jesus Arsenal, Son Heung-min Spurs. Manager: Mikel Arteta Arsenal.
Much as I hate to say it winning 3-0 at Brentford is pretty impressive. Player of the week: Son Heung-min. He may only have been on the pitch for 31 minutes but scoring a brilliant 14-minute hat-trick was a hell of a way to remind his doubters of the old cliché that form is temporary, class is permanent.
This week’s games to ignore
Nations League today 7pm; Northern Ireland vs Kosovo. 9:45; Scotland vs Republic of Ireland. Tomorrow 9:45; Wales vs Poland. Monday 9:45;
England vs Germany. Tuesday 9:45; Republic of Ireland vs Armenia, Ukraine vs Scotland, Greece vs Northern Ireland. Well I say ignore, but when it comes to Germany that’s extremely hard to do. Apart from the fact that England vs Germany always carries exaggerated significance, both teams will be looking for the win that may save them from relegation to the ranks of Europe’s B teams, which while normally wouldn’t be too much of a pain will affect the rankings for Euro 2024.
Which in England’s case would be a complete nonsense given their current top five world ranking.
Last week’s question: which team currently not in the top division has twice conceded a hat-trick of own goals in Premier League games? That would be Sunderland, who first went down that particular rabbit hole in February 2003 when visitors Charlton were the grateful recipients of the Mackems’ generosity in the Addicks’ 3-1 win, with all three own goals coming in a manic eight-minute period in the first half.
Next up came Southampton away in 2014, when Sunderland’s three OGs were probably a mere footnote as the Saints came away 8-0 winners at St Mary’s. This week: who appeared at 11 FA Cup finals but was never on a winning side?
Wednesday night quiz question (1): Which tall Canadian/British singer had hits in the 60s? (2): Name the ex-Spurs full back with the initials JE who tragically died at the age of 49 in 2019.
I correctly came up with Long John Baldry for the former, so why or how did I manage to actually write Long John Silver? But that erroneous answer palls into insignificance when a certain Spurs fan with the initials PC, famous for wearing nothing but Spurs attire day in day out, didn’t know the answer to the latter was Justin Edinburgh. I’d say his lack of an answer was worse than my answer and it’s my column so I’m sticking to that opinion.
The real team of the week
All of those involved in the preparations for the Queen’s funeral, especially those at the sharp end, in particular the young Grenadiers who carried her coffin. To describe the management and execution of the event as outstanding doesn’t do justice to what we witnessed.
There were many words written and said following the Queen’s passing that I have no need to replicate here, but this from the internet caught my eye: “The Queen was born in 1926. In that time she witnessed a world war, the fall of the USSR, the birth of Israel, atomic bombs, the invention of computers, the assassination of JFK, the moon landing, HIV/AIDS, the internet, 9/11. Just about the only thing she didn’t witness was Arsenal winning the Champions League.” RIP.