bbc– Gareth Southgate gave England’s public what it wanted against Hungary and was rewarded with a deadly dull display greeted with a wave of indifference from a discontented Wembley gallery.
On a night that got off to the worst of starts as Hungarian fans jeered the England players taking the knee before clashing violently with police and stewards, the fare on the pitch was bitterly disappointing, lacking inspiration and sparkle.
England’s manager has been criticised for conservatism in the past, but his team sheet provoked excitement.
It was the kind of line-up his detractors have long demanded, with Phil Foden and Mason Mount alongside Declan Rice in midfield and serving Jack Grealish, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling in attack.
But there was the whiff of serious anti-climax around Wembley as the home supporters filed away into the night following a stodgy 1-1 draw, though England still remain on course to qualify for next year’s Qatar World Cup.
It was not exactly a case of “be careful what you wish for” as England were comfortably contained by a Hungary side who lost at home to Albania in their last qualifier, but it may have served as a cold shower for some of the more romantic notions aimed towards Southgate in recent times.
He has based much of his qualifying campaign for the 2022 showpiece around the holding midfield partnership of Rice and Kalvin Phillips. With Phillips injured and Jordan Henderson on the bench, there was a sense of Southgate letting England off the leash. Yet they never even got out of the starting blocks
When John Stones equalised before half-time, it seemed certain England would go on to secure victory, especially as they were facing a team they had thrashed 4-0 in Budapest in September.
Not a bit of it. The second half was, in fact, an eyesore.
England were strangely lacking in ideas, despite the wealth of creation at their disposal. Hungary were resilient, well organised and presented Southgate’s side with a problem they could not solve.
Southgate did not hide from the reality. “Disappointing performance,” he said. “Hungary caused us a tactical problem and we were not fluid.
“We did not play at the level we need to play, simple as that. It’s difficult to pinpoint and we will go away and look at the balance of the team.
“We have to reflect and should not judge things on one game and that experiment. From the start we were not sharp with our play, gave the ball away, were over-running things and, for the first time in a long time, we have to hold our hands up.”
The biggest concern of all was the lightweight nature of the response when Hungary challenged England to break them down.
The symbol of their struggles was captain Kane, so far out of form and so lacking in confidence that there could be no questioning Southgate’s decision to take him out of the firing line with 14 minutes left. He looked jaded and off the pace, still dropping too deep on occasions, thus reducing his threat.
In the past, taking Kane off with the game at stake and England chasing a winner would have been regarded as a high-risk strategy. Not here. Kane had not made the case to stay on. His run of scoring in 15 consecutive qualifiers was over.
The removal of Grealish, arguably England’s most dangerous player, was mystifying, but the substitution of Kane was not. No-one can be exempt from harsh judgement in such circumstances and Kane was a prime candidate to be hooked by Southgate.
Grealish was at least carrying a threat and his departure was greeted by jeers from a large section of the Wembley crowd – and probably with great relief by Hungary.
Sterling, somewhat marginalised at Manchester City these days, is another who is not at his best and he accompanied Kane on the long walk back to the bench after 76 minutes. Once again there could be no complaints.
There was little or nothing to recommend this night on or off the field, although Southgate will have learned much and there is now every chance the central midfield pairing of Rice and Phillips will be restored at the earliest opportunity.
Fantasy Premier League tips gameweek 19: Cristiano Ronaldo, Son Heung-min, Bukayo Saka and more
The news of Liverpool vs Leeds’ postponement leaves a lot of managers in the lurch. Most of us have at least three players who will not be playing on Boxing Day, with captaincy favourite Mohamed Salah one of them. Where do we turn with our most reliable points-scorer suddenly wiped out?
It requires a bit of restructuring and probably a -4 hit but moving to Ronaldo, who travels to Newcastle, may not be a bad idea. Though Salah could return quickly against Leicester and Chelsea, the Africa Cup of Nations is fast approaching and Manchester United’s fixtures are strong, with an expected double gameweek on the horizon.
A more straightforward move is Salah to Son. Many managers could do it with their weekly free transfer and there is good reason to back the Tottenham winger, who scored against Liverpool last time out and has an enticing run of fixtures coming up and a likely double in gameweek 22.
Crystal Palace’s defensive numbers are still among the more impressive this season but are stronger at home than away and have faltered slightly of late, while Tottenham’s attack is gradually picking up under Antonio Conte. After the visit from Patrick Vieira’s side, Spurs face back-to-back trips to Southampton and Watford.
After three consecutive impressive wins, Arsenal assets are all the rage this week, with heavy investment in the band of young, exciting attacking players at Mikel Arteta’s disposal. Gabriel Martinelli was a late call-up to our picks last time around and duly delivered, while Emile Smith Rowe keeps on scoring even as a substitute.
If we had to pick one for this weekend’s trip to Norwich though, it would still be Saka. He has a better chance of starting long-term than Martinelli and he has more impressive underlying numbers than Smith Rowe. In fact, those numbers have gradually ticked up after a slow start to the season, with an average of 0.6 non-penalty xG+xA over the last six games.
While Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe are all popular picks this week, one thing to look out for is an unusual split coming up in Arsenal’s fixtures, where their schedule is a lot better from a defensive perspective than an attacking one.
With that in mind, 4.8m-rated Tierney offers a slightly more adventurous route into Arsenal’s backline than either goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale or the cheaper Ben White. The concern with Tierney, as ever, is injury and whether he can be trusted to start games during a tight schedule, but at a low ownership of 6.4%, he may be worth the risk.
With all these heavy hitters to swap around and squad restructuring to do, it can be useful to leave money in the bank for flexibility. But at the same time, we need a deep squad in order to cope with the postponements and rotation. It is difficult to find players in the cheap but reliable sweet spot.
Broja is one of the better budget options. He carries a rotation risk himself and can get substituted early but, with Che Adams and Adam Armstrong still making their way back from injury, the 5.1m-priced Southampton striker should get enough minutes going forward to earn points, while freeing up funds to spend elsewhere.
Real Madrid tied with Cadiz
Real Madrid tied with Cadiz without goals in the match that brought them together today in the eighteenth round of the Spanish Football League “La Liga”.
With this result, Real Madrid raised its score to 43 points at the top of the standings of the Spanish League teams, and Cadiz raised its score to 14 points in 19th place.
Real Madrid won for the 10th game in a row to beat neighbours Atletico Madrid and move eight points clear of Sevilla at the top of La Liga.
bbc– La Liga’s top scorer Karim Benzema powered in a fantastic volley from Vinicius Jr’s cross to give Carlo Ancelotti’s side the lead.
And Vinicius picked out Marco Asensio to slot home their second.
Defending champions Atletico, who are 13 points behind Real, had chances but the clinical hosts deserved the win.
Real have only lost twice in 23 games – and none since 3 October – since Carlo Ancelotti replaced Zinedine Zidane in the summer.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico, who sit fourth, look miles away from the team who won La Liga last season.
They did force Real keeper Thibaut Courtois into six saves, including to keep out Antoine Griezmann’s free-kick.
A double change at the break and the introduction of Luis Suarez could not help them find a way through though.
Real deserved their win with Vinicius involved in both goals. Benzema’s opener was his 13th La Liga goal of the season and his 36th for Real in all competitions in 2021, his best annual haul for the club. He was replaced by Luka Jovic at the break.
Barcelona are down in eighth, 18 points behind Real, after a 2-2 draw at Osasuna.
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