Fifty-four passes. In two minutes and 41 seconds of unbroken possession during the closing stages of their Euro 2020 semi-final win over Denmark, England moved to the brink of a 2-1 win in beautifully assured fashion with a 54-pass move. Over the course of the entire additional half hour, they completed 198 passes – more than the Three Lions managed in the entirety of the 1-0 Euro 2000 win over Germany.

Thirty-eight passes. Five days later in the final, Gareth Southgate's team could only manage 38 successful passes in the entire first half of extra time against Italy. That ticked up to 47 during the final 15 minutes of the 1-1 draw but still stood in stark contrast to the supreme example of modern, pro-active game management from the preceding midweek.

Southgate has overseen a period of unprecedented progress during his time in charge of international football's most maligned underachievers. A final for the first time since 1966, back-to-back semi-finals for the first time since 1968. As a major tournament force, England are stronger than they have been at any time over the past half a century by some distance.

But large chunks of Sunday's final defeat to Roberto Mancini's brilliant side felt like they had been transplanted from the bad old days, long before a penalty shoot-out concluded a tale of heartbreak. The lack of control and accompanying slow, sinking feeling could have belonged to any era.

By the final whistle, Italy had completed 820 passes to England's 426. As well as being common to England setbacks of yesteryear, there was also a repeated pattern from two of Southgate's previously most notable defeats in charge. Dictating the terms against elite opponents and being able to wrestle back control during moments of high stress represents something of a final frontier with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar a little over 16 months away.

Verratti and Jorginho torment England like pass masters Modric and De Jong

Leonardo Bonucci scrambled in Italy's equaliser after 67 minutes at Wembley, Luke Shaw having given England a second-minute lead.

When Southgate's team went down to a 2-1 semi-final defeat against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup, Kieran Trippier's free-kick put them ahead in the fifth minute before Ivan Perisic equalised in the 68th and Mario Mandzukic won it in extra time.

In between those two games, England faced the Netherlands in the semi-finals of the inaugural Nations League. Marcus Rashford put them ahead from the penalty spot – yes, he's normally excellent at those – before Matthijs de Ligt equalised in the 73rd minute and the Dutch pulled clear in the first additional period.

First-half leads cancelled out by 67th, 68th and 73rd-minute goals can, of course, just be a coincidence. But England gradually ceded control in each match, conceded and never truly reasserted themselves.

 

On Sunday, Italy had deep-lying playmaker Jorginho and the masterful Marco Verratti calling the tune, while two years earlier the Netherlands had Frenkie de Jong and in Moscow, Luka Modric was at the peak of his powers. Each time, there was a level of midfield expertise to which England had no sufficient answer.

Raw passing statistics can sometimes be misleading. If a central defender racks up more passes than his team-mates – as Bonucci did at Wembley – it does not mean they are the best passer on the field, more that they have a higher frequency of simple passes to make due to their position.

But in the heat of a midfield battle, a player being able to compile pass after pass suggests they might be dictating terms.

At the Luzhniki Stadium, Modric made 71 passes, slightly fewer than his colleagues in the Croatia engine room Marcelo Brozovic (87) and Ivan Rakitic (84). England's starting midfield three – admittedly not a trio who matched up entirely with Croatia in a positional sense – of Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard managed 48, 47 and 38 respectively.

If Modric led an ensemble performance, De Jong conducted England all by himself in Guimaraes a year later. The Barcelona midfielder made 104 passes over the course of 120 minutes, with England's starting midfielders Declan Rice, Fabian Delph and Ross Barkley managing 54, 24 and 56. Only Barkley saw the final whistle, while De Jong's passing accuracy of 96.2 per cent was almost identical to Rice (96.3) at nearly twice the output.

Paired with Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips, Rice had another tall task when taking on Jorginho and Verratti. Once again, it was a case of England chasing around after accomplished technicians.

Paris Saint-Germain's Verratti was in majestic form as he turned the contest in the Azzurri's favour. Of his 118 passes, 111 were successful and 72 came in the England half. Chelsea's Jorginho was similarly efficient with 94 out of 98 completed. Even allowing for Rice's 74th-minute substitution, the Opta statistics for himself (33 passes, 25 completed) and Phillips (39 passes, 30 completed) tell the story of their and England's night.

 

No passing, please, we're English

Despite the weekend sense of déjà vu, it is only fair to credit England with progress when coming up against technically superior midfields.

They gained a measure of revenge against Croatia, who they also beat en route to their Nations League date with the Netherlands, during the group stage and similarly shackled Germany – Toni Kroos, Leon Goretzka, Kai Havertz and all – in a 2-0 last-16 win.

As he did against Die Mannschaft, Southgate switched to a 3-4-3 for Italy and the formation initially overwhelmed Mancini's men, who were attacked repeatedly down their flanks.

This served to remove Italy's midfield superiority as a major factor in the contest until after half-time. Some have criticised Southgate for not being pro-active when the tide began to turn, failing to send on attacking threats such as Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish to give the Azzurri new and different problems.

While those suggestions are valid, it is also fair to ponder whether England would simply have had fresh-legged spectators to the Verratti-Jorginho show. Studying data from the Premier League and across Europe's major divisions this season, it can be concluded that changing formation, funnelling play out wide and pressing judiciously are all work-arounds Southgate and his coaching team have developed for a problem to which they don't have a direct remedy.

 

In England's top flight in 2020-21, Manchester City's Rodri averaged the most passes per 90 minutes of midfielders to have made 20 or more appearances with 91.24. Next on the list were Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic (87.23), Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara (83.32) and Manchester United's Nemanja Matic (83.05), with Jorginho rounding out the top five on 79.68.

Considering players who featured at least 25 times in all competitions across the big five leagues, Verratti comes in second with a fairly absurd 96.86, from Sergio Busquets (94.63), Rodri and Kroos (88.37).

Miralem Pjanic's debut season at Barcelona was an utterly forgettable affair and one that could not be saved by him tiki-takaing himself to a standstill with 104.29 passes every 90 minutes. High passing numbers do not always mean a stand-out performer but illustrate a certain type of player – a type not readily available to Southgate.

Discounting Henderson's 92.85 per 90, given he played so often in 2020-21 at centre-back (meaning he was also ruled out of the Premier League rankings, having finished top at 95.69 from 21 outings), you have to scroll a decent way down this Europe-wide list to find some English representation.

The Premier League supplied three of last season's four European finalists and all of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United boasted brilliant English players who were pivotal to their success. But in each case, overseas players were entrusted with the midfield duties that generally undo England.

Yet, in some respects, Qatar 2022 is further away than it might seem. If Euro 2020 had actually taken place in 2020, it is more likely Shaw, Kyle Walker and John Stones would have missed out on the squad rather than made up three-quarters of Southgate's first-choice defence. Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Reece James, Conor Coady, Jude Bellingham, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Phillips and Grealish had not made their international debuts this time last year.

A lot can change between then and now, so who might emerge as a king of control for Southgate?

 

A nudge from Winks? Skipp to it?

The highest ranked English midfielder on the top-five leagues list is Tottenham's Harry Winks, who averaged 71.47 passes every 90 minutes over the course of 28 appearances.

Only 15 of those were in the Premier League and nine were starts. Getting regular football, largely due to a succession of injury problems, has been a problem for the 25-year-old, who is now being linked with a move away from Spurs.

However, Southgate is a fan and is responsible for giving Winks all 10 of his England caps to date. A Shaw-style renaissance is certainly possible.

One factor that might cause him to seek pastures new is Oliver Skipp's return to Tottenham from a successful loan spell at Norwich City.

While helping the Canaries to promotion from the Championship, the 20-year-old averaged 58.52 passes per 90. Nowhere near the towering numbers posted by Europe's best but the third highest among midfielders to have played 30 or more times in a competition of a very different nature.

Skipp has represented England at under-21 level and the pathway from there to the seniors is clear in the Southgate era.

Winks was the only English midfielder to average above 70 passes per 90 on our European list, although Curtis Jones (68.04) – hoping for a more prominent role at Liverpool this season – and provisional Euros squad member James Ward-Prowse (64.75) are other options who might treat the ball with a little more TLC.

 

Can the men in possession be better in possession?

It might seem perverse to say England need to vastly improve their control in midfield, while claiming Rice and Phillips each had fine tournaments, but both statements are true.

Southgate is not averse to hard-nosed selection decisions but whatever the formation or opponent, the West Ham and Leeds favourites started each match in central midfield. Rice's 12 interceptions were only bettered by Jorginho (25) and N'Golo Kante (14), while the Italy lynchpin recovered possession 48 times – shading Phillips (45) and lying behind Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (51).

With the ball, they did not perform their deep-lying roles like Jorginho or De Jong – even allowing for some of Rice's ravishing first-half dribbles in the final – because they were not asked to. Which leads to the obvious question: could they do it?

Plenty of good judges certainly seem to hold Rice in that regard, as evidenced by persistent links to Chelsea and Manchester United. He averaged 47.7 passes per 90 minutes last season and, for all that they enjoyed a brilliant season under David Moyes, West Ham's average possession figure of 42.53 was the sixth lowest in the division.

To understand the full range of Rice's prowess and potential to be England's metronome, it might be necessary to view him on a weekly basis in a different setting.

The same need not be said for Phillips, who did not pick up his "Yorkshire Pirlo" nickname on account of interceptions or recoveries. Control is not always the primary aim of Marcelo Bielsa's high-intensity and ravenous pressing style, all whirring parts and thrills, but Phillips averaged 52.02 passes per 90 last term in the Premier League.

Again, this is not up there with the elite distributors in Europe, but it is a useful return at odds with his 39 passes over the course of 120 minutes versus Italy.

 

Bridging the gr-8 divide

At Leeds, Phillips will generally have more forward passing in closer proximity than those that were granted to him at Wembley on Sunday. This is where the configuration of Southgate's midfield is worth consideration.

It will be intriguing to see whether he returns to a 4-3-3 with two number eights as opposed to a 4-2-3-1 with two holders and a 10 when England resume World Cup qualifying in September.

The defeat to a De Jong-inspired Netherlands and a wild 5-3 Euros qualifying win over Kosovo later in 2019 were influential in the England boss choosing a more cautious approach for Euro 2020, shelving an expansive 4-3-3.

A run to the final without conceding a goal from open play means that decision cannot really be disputed. But perhaps this newfound defensive solidity means the shackles can be loosened once more, allowing more attack-minded players to operate centrally.

The control that eluded England in the matches discussed above was not simply as a result of metronomic passing. De Jong (16) was second only to Raheem Sterling (20) for dribbles completed at Euro 2020, while Verratti had three carries resulting in a chance. Five from Hojbjerg, Lorenzo Insigne and Gareth Bale topped the list in the competition.

Ability to carry the ball, both to ease pressure through linking the play along with creating chances, sounds like quite a good description of Foden. The Manchester City youngster's injury absence felt more regrettable as the final pressed on.

In pre-recorded introductions for ITV's Euro 2020 coverage, Foden described himself as a central midfielder. It is where he played the vast majority of his youth football for City and during most of his early first-team outings.

But in a 2020-21 campaign when it was hoped he would step forward as David Silva's playmaking replacement, he in fact filled the void left by Leroy Sane and turned in electrifying performances on the left wing.

 

"Phil just needs time to improve playing inside," Pep Guardiola said when discussing Foden's positional change earlier this year.

"When you play as a winger you have to play at one tempo and when you play inside you have to play in another one. When he gets this balance he will be 10 times more extraordinary as a player. It’s just a question of time."

Southgate will have an eye on that ticking clock and also how Mason Mount is used by another esteemed tactician. The Chelsea youngster has played as an eight for club and country but was used almost exclusively in the front three after Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge and plotted a path to Champions League glory.

There are few English players more elegant and effective when it comes to running with the ball at his feet than Grealish. In 2020-21, international team-mate Harry Maguire and Leeds full-back Luke Ayling were the only English players to have more than his 172 instances of carrying the ball towards goal for 10 metres or more. Mount (138) came seventh on that progressive carries list.

But, like Foden and Mount, most of Grealish's best recent work has come in the forward line. The likes of Verratti and De Jong are masters of their craft because they play in their position every week.

Still, dropping one of his twinkle-toed playmakers a touch deeper might become an irresistible work-around, especially if paired with a Henderson back to his talismanic best in central midfield for Liverpool. In 2019-20 he was the heartbeat of the side that won the Premier League, averaging 74.44 passes per 90 into the bargain. Suffering against Modric and Croatia before failing to stem the tide when short of match fitness versus Italy should not cloud perceptions of the 31-year-old's supreme qualities.

Then there is the tantalising prospect of Bellingham's next stage of development under the highly regarded Marco Rose at Borussia Dortmund. The 18-year-old could be frighteningly good by the time the 2022 World Cup rolls around. If Southgate can hit upon a formula for midfield that can both dictate and create, we could be able to say the same for England.

Jack Grealish has hit back at criticism following England's Euro 2020 shoot-out heartache against Italy, insisting he wanted to take a penalty.

Gareth Southgate's side lost 3-2 on spot kicks following three successive failures from 12 yards by Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka.

The game had finished 1-1, with the teams unable to be separated in extra time after Leonardo Bonucci's scrambled effort midway through the second half cancelled out Luke Shaw's second-minute opener.

Much of the focus was placed on England's choice of penalty takers afterwards, with Southgate taking full responsibility for selecting who would step forward.

Rashford and Sancho were introduced during the dying minutes, while Arsenal teenager Saka had never taken a penalty in his professional career.

"If you're [Raheem] Sterling or Grealish, you cannot sit there and have a young kid [Saka] go up for a penalty ahead of you, you can't," former Manchester United captain Roy Keane told ITV.

"You cannot let a shy 19-year-old go up in front of you. They have a lot more experience, Sterling has won trophies, they had to get in front of the young kid and stand up."

Grealish tweeted in response to Keane, saying: "I said I wanted to take one!!!!

"The gaffer has made so many right decisions through this tournament and he did tonight!

"But I won't have people say that I didn't want to take a 'peno' when I said I will..."

 

Speaking at his post-match news conference, Southgate insisted Grealish and Sterling – who was one of England's standout performers with three goals and an assist during the competition – being omitted from the chosen five was based upon preparations on the training ground.

"I chose the penalty takers based on what we've done in training and nobody is on their own," he said.

"We've won together as a team and it's absolutely on all of us in terms of not being able to win the game."

Grealish made five appearances at Euro 2020, four of which came as a substitute. He provided assists for Sterling's early winner in the 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic and Harry Kane's header as England saw off Germany 2-0 in the last 16.

Jack Grealish knows Gareth Southgate has a tough time picking his England XI, describing the Three Lions' attacking options – of which he is one – as "scary".

Aston Villa captain Grealish has been the subject of much attention at Euro 2020, but Southgate has so far only started the winger once – against the Czech Republic.

Grealish laid on an assist in that game and had another as a substitute against Germany, making him the only England player to create multiple goals so far in the tournament.

Unsurprisingly, the most-fouled player in the Premier League in 2020-21 (110) has also earned the most free-kicks in this Three Lions side (seven).

This is despite Grealish being limited to just 116 minutes of action, although that is still considerably more than Marcus Rashford (58) or Jadon Sancho (six).

Rashford (20) and Sancho (19) had more goal involvements in the league last season than Grealish (16) or any of Southgate's other wide options: Raheem Sterling (17), Phil Foden (14) and Bukayo Saka (eight).

But Southgate's difficult decisions have so far paid off, with Sterling starting all four matches and scoring three of England's four goals, and Grealish has no issue with his manager.

"He's been perfect with me," the reported Manchester City target told reporters. "I see some stuff sometimes about me and Gareth but we have a great relationship. He does with all the players. He's a brilliant man-manager.

"You have got six players that play either side of Harry [Kane] that, in reality, could play for most clubs in the world.

"Myself, Jadon, Marcus, Raheem, Phil Foden and Bukayo. It's scary how good us six are. That's not being big-headed or nothing. That is just the truth.

"He can't play all six of us but one thing he's done really well is make people think that they are still involved. He still speaks to everyone on a daily basis."

 

It is Grealish whose exclusion has drawn the most ire, his introduction against Germany in the last 16 prompting a huge roar from the half-capacity Wembley crowd.

The 25-year-old says he would be watching from a fan park if he was not a player, adding his alternative vocation would likely be as "a club promoter, Tenerife or Ibiza".

As it is, Grealish is in the England squad and revelling in the attention.

"I'm loving it. It makes me so happy and proud when I hear the crowd singing my name," he said. "It could be too much pressure for some people but I just want to repay that.

"I always try to play with a smile on my face because I'm doing what I love.

"It's nice when Villa fans are calling for you but you kind of expect it because you are one of them. When it's England fans, it's different. I get booed every single week by these fans.

"When I speak to my mum and dad, they think that it's so nice people are not going: 'Ah, if he was at Villa, we'd boo him every week.'

"They are giving me that support and doing it for the whole team."

Kylian Mbappe has long been linked with a blockbuster move to Real Madrid.

Mbappe is out of contract at the end of next season and is yet to re-sign in Paris.

Madrid are reportedly preparing their next steps in an attempt to recruit the France international.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID STEPPING UP MBAPPE INTEREST

Real Madrid are hoping to sign Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe after Euro 2020, according to the front page of Friday's Marca.

Marca detail Madrid's timetable to prise Mbappe from PSG in the report, with Los Blancos focusing on a post-European Championship transfer.

Mbappe – also linked with Liverpool – is out of contract at the end of the 2021-22 season.

 

ROUND-UP

Cristiano Ronaldo's future remains undecided and it is blocking Juventus' plans in the transfer market, according to Tuttosport and Corriere dello Sport. Ronaldo has been linked with PSG and Manchester United as Juve eye Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli.

- The Sun claims Jack Grealish's agent expects the Aston Villa captain to join Premier League champions Manchester City. The England international has previously been linked with United, who are believed to be closing in on a deal to sign Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho.

Arsenal are nearing a deal to sign Brighton and Hove Albion defender Ben White, reports Goal. Brighton are demanding around £50million for the England international, who has also reportedly attracted interest from United and Liverpool.

- Sampdoria midfielder Mikkel Damsgaard is wanted by Barcelona, Milan and Tottenham, says Marca and Sport.

Milan and Inter are both looking to sign Barca goalkeeper Neto, according to Sport. Neto has served as a backup to Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

- Tuttosport reports Inter have opened negotiations with Sassuolo for Giacomo Raspadori, while the Serie A champions are also interested in Lazio's Manuel Lazzari.

Jack Grealish harbours ambitions of following in the footsteps of Paul Gascoigne and Wayne Rooney by displaying his talent on an international stage after impressing in England's win over the Czech Republic.

The Aston Villa attacking midfielder was afforded his opportunity to start in the Three Lions' final Euro 2020 Group D fixture, having only appeared as a substitute against Scotland in their opening two matches.

Fans and pundits alike had been clamouring for Grealish to be given a chance and it was the 25-year-old who provided the delicate chipped cross for Raheem Sterling to nod in the only goal in a 1-0 win that secured top spot in the pool.

As well as his assist, Grealish completed 83.3 per cent of his passes in the opposition half, won 62.5 per cent of his duels and drew three fouls for his team – the latter a trait many suggest should see him start more regularly due to England's perceived strength at set-pieces.

Grealish's charisma off the pitch as well as his courageous attacking play on it have drawn comparisons to some of England's stars of the past such as Gascoigne and Rooney, and the man himself is eager to be revered by fans for his displays at the tournament.

"I have spoken about how big these tournaments can be in players' careers," Grealish said in quotes reported by Sky Sports.

"If you look back and think of Gazza at Italia 90, that is where he first made a… well he was obviously still well known before, but I think everyone remembers him for that tournament especially.

"You look at Wayne Rooney in Euro 2004 – I think that was where he set his marker to say I am going to be one of the best in the world.

"I am hoping to follow in their footsteps and hopefully I can do that if I get more chances in this tournament."

 

Grealish made his England bow back in September and has nine caps to his name but has yet to cement his place in Gareth Southgate's starting XI.

The external noise for Grealish to be given a more prominent role only increased after a drab goalless draw against Scotland, but he insists there was no added pressure on his shoulders to perform.

"I don't think it is pressure. I love playing football. That is what I am paid to do. That is what I have been born to do," he added.

"I just play football every day of my life. When I go out there and play it is no pressure on me whatsoever. I go out there and just enjoy myself like I always do.

"I felt like I had a good performance good but I still maybe felt like in the second half I could have got on the ball a little more and probably tried to dictate the game a little more from an England point of view."

The Premier League's big-money clubs are circling for Aston Villa's Jack Grealish.

The England midfielder is drawing interest from multiple suitors keen to lure him away from Villa Park.

Could a move be on the cards after the Euros? 

 

TOP STORY – BLUES WANT GREALISH

Chelsea are strong contenders to sign Jack Grealish from Aston Villa, Football Insider reports. 

The England international has also drawn interest from Manchester City, but the Blues' involvement could change the dynamic. 

Football Insider claims owner Roman Abramovich has approved the type of expenditures that would be necessary to land players like Grealish, and winning the Champions League will only loosen the reins on Chelsea's spending. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Kylian Mbappe wants to move on from Paris Saint-Germain, according to RMC Sport, which says the France international will depart on a free transfer when his contract expires next year if he does not move during this window. 

- Lionel Messi's long-anticipated new contract with Barcelona could be announced as soon as Thursday, according to Le 10 Sport. 

- If Man City are to complete a deal to land Harry Kane from Tottenham, they will need to do it without using Raheem Sterling in a swap deal. Sterling has no interested in joining Spurs as part of the reported £100million move for Kane, ESPN said. 

- Sergio Ramos plans to join PSG, AS reports, spurning interest from City and Manchester United

- Chelsea see Villarreal's Gerard Moreno as a fall-back option if they cannot sign Erling Haaland, according to Fichajes. 

- Milan are looking at Rafinha of PSG as a potential addition as Hakan Calhanoglu moves on, Calciomercato reports. 

- England defender James Tarkowski is drawing interest from Wolves and West Ham, the Telegraph reports, while the Mail says Leicester City also are eyeing the Burnley man. 

- Scott Parker is set to depart Fulham and become Bournemouth's new manager, The Athletic reports. 

Jack Grealish and Harry Maguire will start England's Euro 2020 Group D match against the Czech Republic at Wembley, with Arsenal's Bukayo Saka a surprise inclusion in Gareth Southgate's XI.

Grealish was a second-half substitute in England's 0-0 draw against Scotland last Friday and Mason Mount being forced into self-isolation after a coronavirus scare has cleared the way for the Aston Villa favourite to start in the number 10 role.

Raheem Sterling – the scorer of England's only goal in the tournament so far – and captain Harry Kane retain their places, with Saka completing the forward line.

The 19-year-old netted his first international goal in a friendly against Austria earlier this month and is preferred to the likes of Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, the Borussia Dortmund winger who is yet to feature at Euro 2020 despite 16 goals and 18 assists at club level in 2020-21.

Manchester United skipper Maguire returns to partner John Stones at centre-back following ankle ligament damage and the duo are charged with keeping Golden Boot contender Patrik Schick, the spearhead of an unchanged Czech line-up, quiet.

 

Schick has three goals in two outings so far and a draw will be enough for his country to deny England top spot.

England's fourth and final change from the Scotland match is Kyle Walker's inclusion at right-back, although his Manchester City team-mate Phil Foden is not in the matchday squad, with Southgate electing to rest the playmaker due to a yellow card he collected against Croatia, which put him at risk of suspension for the round of 16.

Jack Grealish is taking inspiration from international team-mate Harry Kane ahead of England's Euro 2020 campaign.

Aston Villa playmaker Grealish is preparing for his first major international tournament after being selected as part of Gareth Southgate's 26-man squad.

The 25-year-old is coming off the back of an impressive Premier League campaign for Villa and is in strong contention to start England's Group D opener with Croatia.

Kane seems certain to feature from the beginning in Sunday's clash at Wembley and Grealish, who captains his club side, is hoping to continue learning from the Three Lions skipper.

"I speak to Harry a lot," Grealish said at a news conference on Wednesday. "I speak to everyone in the changing room. 

"I think it's good when you do come away with England to get different opinions off people, see what certain people do, what certain people don't do.

"But when you come away here there's no better person to look at than Harry Kane, to see the way he looks after himself and stuff like that.

"I think the main thing is you come here and you see the likes of Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane, and what they do off the field.

"Obviously what they do on it we can all see that, but what they do on the training pitch and around the place and how they look after themselves, and you sit there and you think it's no wonder why they've had the careers that they have had.

"And that's I think one of the main things that has made me mature as a player, as a person and as a captain."

Kane topped the scoring charts in Euro 2020 qualifying with 12 goals and also finished as top scorer in the Premier League in 2020-21.

That made the Tottenham striker the third player after Thierry Henry (four) and Alan Shearer to win the Golden Boot three times or more.

He also set up 14 goals to become just the second player in the Premier League era to top the charts for both goals and assists (also Andy Cole in 1993-94).

Kane was edged out by Manchester City pair Kevin De Bruyne and Ruben Dias for the two main Premier League Player of the Year awards, and Grealish believes the Spurs man deserves more recognition for his incredible campaign.

"For me, he's at the very top of his game right now," Grealish added. "I think he's had one of the best Premier League seasons I've seen. 

"I don't know how he didn't get more awards than he did, with the most goals and the most assists."

Despite missing 12 matches, Grealish was by far and away the most fouled player in the English top flight last season with 110 fouls won.

His 2.68 dribbles completed per 90 minutes was bettered by just six players to have played at least 20 times, meanwhile, with his skills on the ball and ability to win free-kicks both likely to come in handy for England at the Euros.

"I got a few kicks last week in the two friendlies," Grealish said. "But like I said after those games, if I'm doing something to help the team, I'll do that.

"You look around our team here and you see the set-piece takers here that we've got - especially Trips [Kieran Trippier]. 

"Obviously it was unfortunate that Trent [Alexander-Arnold] went home - but there's still so many people that have just got unbelievable set-piece ability here.

"So if I'm getting fouled or whatever, I'll take the hits for the team. That doesn't really bother me."

Manchester City's ambitions are showing no end after missing out on the Champions League title.

City have been linked with star England pair Harry Kane and Jack Grealish to further bolster the Premier League champions.

But the price tags on the duo from Tottenham and Aston Villa may be their stumbling blocks.

 

TOP STORY – CITY SALE TO FUND KANE AND GREALISH MOVES

Manchester City will offload several fringe players to raise £70million in order to fund their moves for Tottenham star Harry Kane and Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, claims the Daily Mail.

With Sergio Aguero departed, City manager Pep Guardiola wants a frontline striker and those surplus to requirements will reportedly be let go.

First-team players Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez all have admirers and could move on.

But also fringe talent like Yangel Herrera, Ivan Ilic, Jack Harrison, Pedro Porro and Lukas Nmecha, who have had loan spells elsewhere, could be cashed in.

Bernardo Silva has been linked with a move to Atletico Madrid in exchange for Saul Niguez, while Juventus are reportedly eyeing Gundogan.

 

ROUND-UP

Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are both keen on Inter's Achraf Hakimi and have lodged €60m (£52m) offers, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. Inter's asking price may be higher, while Chelsea may utilise Emerson Palmieri or Andreas Christensen as part of a swap deal.

- Bild says Borussia Dortmund will sell Jadon Sancho to United if they receive a suitable offer by the end of July. Sancho has long been tipped to swap Dortmund for United.

- Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin is being linked with LaLiga champions Atletico and Real Betis by CBS Sport, while Sport have also claimed Juve are interested in the Spaniard, utilising Aaron Ramsey in a swap deal.

Liverpool are looking to replace Georginio Wijnaldum, lining up Roma skipper Lorenzo Pellegrini, according to Corriere dello Sport.

- The Sun claims West Ham are ready this month to step up their bid to sign Jesse Lingard permanently from Manchester United after his excellent loan spell.

- Fabrizio Romano reports Arsenal are set to finalise the details on a new contract for young talent Emile Smith Rowe.

Crystal Palace are closed to appointing former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo as their new manager to replace Roy Hodgson, claims The Telegraph.

Chelsea won the Champions League last month but they are not sitting still.

Thomas Tuchel is determined to strengthen his attack as he seeks to dethrone Premier League champions Manchester City in 2021-22.

Erling Haaland is reportedly Chelsea's number one target.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA WANT HAALAND

Chelsea are "working intensely" on a deal to sign Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, according to the Telegraph.

Haaland has been linked with Real MadridManchester CityBarcelonaParis Saint-GermainManchester UnitedJuventusLiverpoolChelsea and Bayern Munich.

Tottenham's Harry Kane and Inter forward Romelu Lukaku have emerged as options for Chelsea, though the Champions League winners appear set on Haaland.

 

ROUND-UP

PSG are poised to sign Italy international goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma on a free transfer, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. Out of contract at Milan, Donnarumma was also linked with Juve and Barca.

- The Times says United are moving closer to reaching an agreement with Dortmund for Jadon Sancho. The England international was heavily tipped to move to Old Trafford ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

City are chasing Spurs star Kane and Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, per ESPN. Pep Guardiola's side are willing to buy both if they are able to do so. Kane and Grealish have also been linked with Manchester neighbours United.

Atletico Madrid have offered Saul Niguez to City in exchange for Bernardo Silva, according to the Times. Unsettled at LaLiga champions Atletico, Saul has also reportedly caught the attention of United, Chelsea and Bayern.

- The Daily Mail claims Brighton and Hove Albion are looking to keep England international defender Ben White by demanding £50million amid interest from clubs such as United, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Milan are eyeing Chelsea trio Olivier Giroud, Fikayo Tomori and Hakim Ziyech, claims the Gazzetta dello Sport. Ziyech has also been linked with Napoli.

- Gazzetta dello Sport says Inter are hopeful of re-signing Nicolo Barella and Atletico Madrid target Lautaro Martinez by the end of the off-season.

- Juventus are interested in Roma veteran Edin Dzeko and are ready to offer a two-year deal, reports Corriere dello Sport.

Rio Ferdinand has questioned Gareth Southgate's decision to include Harry Maguire in England's Euro 2020 squad and says Marcus Rashford should not be considered for a starting spot.

Maguire was this week named as part of England's final 26-man squad for the tournament, despite missing Manchester United's final five games of the season – including the Europa League final loss to Villarreal – with ankle ligament damage.

He has yet to take part in training since linking up with his Three Lions team-mates, with Southgate admitting on Tuesday he is unsure if the defender will be ready for the Group D opener against Croatia on June 13.

With fears Maguire may not be fit enough to play any part in the group phase, former United centre-back Ferdinand does not believe Maguire should have been selected at the expense of another defender.

"Harry is important from set-pieces, as he showed at the World Cup. But I have to be honest, I wouldn't take players that are 50 per cent fit," said Ferdinand, who was speaking to Stats Perform on behalf of Heineken, an official UEFA Euro 2020 partner. 

"If I'm worried about a player being able to make 90 minutes, I wouldn't take them. Too much energy goes into talking about it and worrying about it, that it takes the focus off what you are there for as a team."

Who to play alongside John Stones in the heart of defence should Maguire fail to win his fitness battle is not the only big selection call Southgate has to make ahead of Euro 2020 getting under way next week.

The England boss is spoiled for choice in the final third, with Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka, Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all battling for starting spots alongside captain Harry Kane.

Rashford has scored four goals in his last five appearances for England, but he struggled with a niggling injury issue towards the end of last season and Ferdinand would hold off from using the versatile forward until later in the tournament.

"If you're looking at form, I think Marcus probably doesn't deserve to start," Ferdinand said. "I think of the players around him in that position, Sancho and Foden should be picked in terms of form.

"I don't know much about Gareth's relationship with them players and what they've done in the past for him, and his confidence in certain players. Also, tactically how the game looks, who he is going to play. 

"In terms of form, I think he's scored one in nine or 10 games at the end of the season [for United]. I think he's a bit fatigued and I think he's been carrying a few injuries. I'd like to see him recuperating in this little period of time off, and then come into it fresh."

Of those eight players vying for a starting role in the final third, Aston Villa playmaker Grealish and Borussia Dortmund's Sancho lead the way in terms of big chances created in the league during the 2020-21 campaign with 14 each.

Despite missing 12 matches, Grealish was by far and away the most fouled player in the Premier League last season (110 fouls won), while his 2.68 dribbles completed per 90 minutes was bettered by just six players to have played at least 20 times.

Only Belgium (40) scored more goals than England's 37 in qualifying for Euro 2020 and Ferdinand is particularly excited by the attacking options available to choose from.

"In terms of wide players, we must have some of the biggest talent," he said. "We've got Foden, Sterling, Rashford, Grealish, Sancho, and Mount can play there as well – so six of the most talented, impactful players that are playing at the moment. 

"You look at Sancho, over the last three years has got 30 goal involvements every year, which is astounding for a kid who had been 21 and under. 

"Jack Grealish has been one of the hardest to combat players in the Premier League when he's fit. Phil Foden is deciding games in Champions League knockout stages, for one so young, and Man City are dominating in midfield. 

"It's crazy. You've also got Sterling, with what he's done over the last three years, his trophy haul that he's building at the moment is up there with the best. Those young players, it's mouthwatering."

While a number of positions are up for debate, it is certain that captain Kane – who topped the scoring charts in qualifying – will lead the line for the Three Lions.

Kane won his third Golden Boot after scoring 23 times in 2020-21, becoming the third player after Thierry Henry (four) and Alan Shearer to achieve such a feat.

He also set up 14 goals to become just the second player in the Premier League era to top the charts for both goals and assists (also Andy Cole in 1993-94).

The Tottenham striker's future is a hot topic of debate heading into the tournament after recently admitting he is at a "crossroads" in his career, but Ferdinand does not expect that to have any sort of impact on his performances.

"It happens to the best players," he said. "These players we're talking about with speculation, like Sancho and Kane, they have this every day of the week. This is normal for them, they are just in a tournament, that's the only difference.

"I think Harry has shown he enjoys wearing the armband. He enjoys the responsibility, some players grow with it. This tournament, I'd like to see that."

 

Ferdinand was speaking as part of Heineken's 'Enjoy the Rivalry' campaign, which encourages fans to watch Euro 2020 matches alongside their rivals.

The United legend was pranked by fellow former pro Robbie Savage as part of the initiative, culminating in the ex-England international having his portrait draped in a flag of rivals Wales.

"I was a bit surprised, I've got to be honest," he said. "I was probably being a bit too polite because there were two young ladies in front of me and I didn't want to be... well I saw the Welsh flag and I thought what are these people playing at?

"They don't understand the rivalry that we have with Wales and all of a sudden they drape me in a Welsh flag. It was weird.

"I think 'finally together again to be rivals', is a perfect strapline. I think everyone's waited for this opportunity, to have some sort of rivalry with teams, with people, with individuals."

Trent Alexander-Arnold's participation in Euro 2020 appears to be in huge doubt after the England full-back sustained an apparent muscular injury against Austria.

England won 1-0 on Wednesday thanks to Bukayo Saka's first international goal, but a late injury for Alexander-Arnold may have spoiled the night.

Alexander-Arnold was left out of a previous England squad in March, but has made the 26-man cut for Euro 2020, with Gareth Southgate taking four right-backs.

Two of those right-backs – Kyle Walker and Reece James – were unavailable in Middlesbrough following their Champions League final exploits, so the Liverpool star got the nod.

However, in the closing stages, Alexander-Arnold pulled up after making a clearance with his left foot, and appeared to be clutching his thigh as he limped off the pitch, with England's medical staff then having to help him walk around the sidelines to the tunnel.

With England kicking-off their campaign against Croatia on June 13, Alexander-Arnold's prospects do not look good, but Southgate, who also has concerns over the fitness of Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire, will wait for a full diagnosis before making a decision on whether to replace the 22-year-old.

"We're going to have a look. It's obviously not good to see him come off in the way he did. We'll just have to assess him over the next 24 hours," he told ITV Sport.

"I think thigh, but the medical team are still assessing it really. We just have to see, it's not a good sign to see him have to walk off as he did, but we'll know more in the next 24, 48 hours.

"Let's see how Trent is, and we'll go from there. We don't know the full extent, so the last thing you want is to have to see him come off in the way he did."

Another player to provide something of a scare to England fans might have been Jack Grealish. 

The Aston Villa talisman missed a large chunk of the Premier League run-in due to an injury, but played over an hour before being replaced by debutant Ben White.

Grealish was seen with an ice pack on his right shin as he watched on from the stands, but the 25-year-old insisted he is fit.

"I've had an injury recently so to get 70 minutes under my belt, I'm glad," he explained to ITV Sport.

"It's not shin splints, actually, it's different to that, it's like a bit of stress on my shin, a different type of injury.

"I'm not concerned, I'm still aware of it, need to keep on top of it, do whatever I can to heal it after playing in these games, so that's why the ice was on."

Is David de Gea's time at Manchester United coming to an end?

De Gea has spent a decade with the Red Devils but his form has been scrutinised in recent years.

A swap involving Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak could solve United's problems.

 

TOP STORY – DE GEA OUT, OBLAK IN?

Manchester United are lining up a swap deal involving star goalkeeper David de Gea and Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak, according to The Sun.

De Gea's future has been uncertain since Dean Henderson signed a long-term contract extension at United, who remain uncertain about the pair.

Spain international De Gea joined United from Atletico in 2011 and the Red Devils are prepared to offer the LaLiga giants a reunion in exchange for star Oblak.

 

ROUND-UP

- TV3 reports Barcelona have offered Lionel Messi a new contract. Messi's current deal is due to expire on June 30 and the superstar captain has been linked with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

Saul Niguez is adamant he wants to leave LaLiga champions Atletico and Juventus lead the race to sign the Spaniard, claims Marca. United – long-term admirers – Bayern Munich and PSG are also interested.

- PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino is the favourite to replace Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, says the front page of Friday's Mundo Deportivo. Zidane has announced his departure. Former Inter boss Antonio Conte, Castilla coach and club great Raul and Xabi Alonso – currently in charge of Real Sociedad's reserve side – are also on the list. Pochettino has also been linked with a sensational return to Tottenham.

Barca have held talks regarding goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, according to Fabrizio Romano. Donnarumma's Milan contract is due to expire and his departure is already confirmed. After talking with agent Mino Raiola, Barca are set to decide whether to sign Donnarumma, who has also been linked with Juve and United.

- Premier League champions City are looking to smash their transfer record to bring in £100million-rated Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, reports the Daily Mail. City are also interested in Tottenham's Harry Kane – a target for rivals United, Chelsea, Madrid and Barca.

- The Telegraph says United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is set to sign a new three-year contract in Manchester. Solskjaer guided United to a second-placed finish in the Premier League, while the club were stunned by Villarreal in the Europa League final this season.

Barca are close to completing free transfers for Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Lyon star Memphis Depay, according to Mundo Deportivo. Ronald Koeman's men are also eyeing City's free agent pair Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia.

- FootMercato reports PSG have made an approach for star Milan full-back Theo Hernandez.

Chelsea and Tottenham both have strong interest in Borussia Monchengladbach attacker Jonas Hofmann, claims Sport1.

Erling Haaland is hot property right now with a long list of suitors keen on the Norwegian forward.

Financially powerful clubs Real Madrid, Manchester City and Chelsea are among those jostling for the Borussia Dortmund man but Barcelona are in contention too.

Haaland and his agent Mino Raiola visited Barcelona along with Madrid in April as talks commenced.

 

TOP STORY - MESSI PAY CUT TO FUND HAALAND DEAL

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi is willing to take a pay cut in order to help Barcelona land Erling Haaland according to Eurosport.

Messi wants to renew with Barca under the assumption the club is ambitious and contending for top honours.

Contract talks have commenced between Messi and the Catalans, with reports that they will offer Messi a new 10-year contract.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca reports that Real Madrid are looking to extend Lucas Vazquez's contract with a new and improved offer.

- Raheem Sterling could be offloaded by Manchester City this off-season, in order to fund moves for Erling Haaland and Jack Grealish, claims Football Insider.

- Chelsea are in the race for Juventus' French midfielder Adrien Rabiot, along with Barcelona, reports Calciomercato.

- Gazzetta dello Sport claims that Napoli have made a €10 million offer to Club Brugge for 20-year-old Belgium international Charles De Ketelaere.

- Gazzetta dello Sport also reports that Juventus wants to lure Massimiliano Allegri back to the club to replace head coach Andrea Pirlo.

Jack Grealish has suffered a setback in his injury recovery and will be absent for another "few weeks", Aston Villa boss Dean Smith has confirmed.

Attacking midfielder Grealish has missed Villa's last seven matches due to a shin complaint, with Smith's side winning only two of those games.

The Villa captain will now sit out the clash with Liverpool at Anfield this weekend and is likely to remain a doubt for when they next play, against Manchester City on April 21.

"Myself and Jack were quite optimistic to get him back a bit sooner than he probably should and he's had a setback that will probably put him back a couple of weeks," Smith said.

"He was really good in training, but he couldn't tolerate the loading. It's a loading injury and we have to de-load him over the next few weeks and get him back from there.

"We know it's not a long-term injury and he will be back. We all, Jack included, probably pushed him back a little bit too quickly. We wanted him to get back and he had a little setback."

Only three players have more Premier League assists than Grealish's 10 this term, while he ranks second behind Bruno Fernandes for chances created (75) and joint-third for Opta-defined 'big' chances (14).

Grealish's injury meant he missed out on England selection for the recent World Cup qualifiers, but Smith is optimistic the absence will not damage his player's chances of making Gareth Southgate's squad for the rescheduled Euro 2020.

"He's proved himself already, but the one thing for certain is he will be back before the end of the season, and then Gareth [Southgate] has to make a decision whether he thinks he's right for that," Smith said.

Page 5 of 6
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.