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Fringe players to watch out for ahead of 2022 World Cup

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The 2022 World Cup continues to creep up on us.

England boss Gareth Southgate will already have a pretty good idea of what his squad will look like for the global showpiece in Qatar, but there will be a handful of places still up for grabs. Fortunately for the boss, there are a number of players who look capable of forcing their way into the setup.

Here’s a closer look at some of the fringe players worth keeping an eye on.

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James Maddison

Maddison looked destined to make the squad / James Gill – Danehouse/GettyImages

Look, nobody at Leicester looks good right now. Southgate is not rocking up to the King Power Stadium looking for talent from the Premier League’s bottom club.

That being said, if anyone can break out of the funk, it’s probably James Maddison.

He has two goals and an assist in his first five Premier League games this year and ended last season on an incomparable tear. The talent is there, and if Maddison can show it a little bit more, he could be on the plane to Qatar.

Ivan Toney

Toney is flying this season / Steve Bardens/GettyImages

Yep, the highest-scoring Englishman in the Premier League somehow still counts as a fringe player. In fact, he’s still waiting for his first call-up to the England squad.

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Ivan Toney has proven his ability to hang at the highest level in English football and just why the Brentford man is yet to make a single international appearance is anyone’s guess.

If he keeps scoring goals and bullying defenders, there’s no way Southgate will be able to overlook him.

Eric Dier

Dier is figuring himself out / Craig Mercer/MB Media/GettyImages

Antonio Conte has long been adamant that Eric Dier can get back into the England setup. It was a comical suggestion at first but, over time, it has seemed more and more reasonable. Almost as if these expensive Premier League managers know a little something about talent.

The versatile Dier has been a mainstay in Tottenham’s defence for over a year now, shining on their push for the top four last season before getting the business done this year as well.

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Centre-back is perhaps the most up-in-the-air position in Southgate’s squad. Dier has a good a chance as anyone to make it.

Eberechi Eze

Eze is back to full fitness / Jan Kruger/GettyImages

Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace can be a lot of fun to watch and a large part of that is the return to fitness of Ebere Eze.

Comfortable in midfield or on the wing, the 24-year-old is a dribbling machine who has already started racking up assists this year. It’s a sort of play style that the Three Lions aren’t really used to.

Eze has never played for the senior England side but was a regular at youth level. If he can step his performances up a gear, he might get the chance to change that.

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Callum Hudson-Odoi

Hudson-Odoi is out in Germany / Frederic Scheidemann/GettyImages

It’s about three years too late, but Callum Hudson-Odoi has finally left Chelsea on loan in search of regular minutes.

He’s getting them at Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, where he bagged an assist on his debut and has already attracted plenty of praise for his impact on the attack.

With Ghana trying to convince Hudson-Odoi to switch his international allegiance, Southgate may have to act quick if he wants to keep the winger around.

Jacob Ramsey

Ramsey has done his best to stand out / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Jacob Ramsey is another of those players who have been hampered by his team’s poor performance.

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Aston Villa have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons this year but one of the few positives from Steven Gerrard’s side has been midfielder Ramsey.

The 21-year-old threatened to become a real goal threat last season, netting six league goals, but has struggled to match that output this year. If he can get the goals flowing again, Southgate won’t be able to say no.

Harvey Elliott

Elliott has seen plenty of minutes / Ivan Romano/GettyImages

Liverpool’s midfield injury crisis has benefitted Harvey Elliott, who has seen a lot more minutes than perhaps he would have expected.

While the Reds haven’t exactly set the world on fire this season, Elliott has stood out at times, making a difference both in midfield and further forward on the wings.

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He brings an intriguing level of versatility that just might see him secure a spot in Southgate’s squad.

Anthony Gordon

Gordon is on Chelsea’s radar / Laurence Griffiths/GettyImages

Many laughed at the idea that Anthony Gordon could be worth £60m to Chelsea. While he might not have lived up to that just yet, he’s put in a damn good shift so far.

Gordon, as he did last year, has put Everton on his shoulders and done his best to will them to victory. This season, however, he has flashed a scoring streak that was absent from his game in the past.

The standards to make the England squad as a winger are pretty high, but Gordon has set himself up for a good run at Southgate’s setup.

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Ryan Sessegnon

Conte has taken a liking to Sessegnon / Warren Little/GettyImages

When Ryan Sessegnon joined Tottenham in 2019, it seemed certain that he would be a part of the 2022 World Cup squad.

While the past few years haven’t been particularly kind to the former Fulham man, Sessegnon looks to have finally figured things out under Conte and is thriving in a left wing-back role that Southgate enjoys using as well.

As far as left-sided players go, competition is not as high as in other positions, so a good run of form could make the world of difference for Sessegnon.

Marcus Edwards

Edwards is making a real impact for Sporting / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/GettyImages

It’s often claimed (rightly or wrongly) that playing outside of England harms your chances of making the national team squad.

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Marcus Edwards, the winger famously compared to Lionel Messi by Mauricio Pochettino, is doing his best to change that out in Portugal with Sporting CP.

The former Spurs youngster has been racking up goals and assists over the past few years and opened his Champions League account earlier this season, suggesting he has stepped his game up at the right time. Are you watching, Mr. Southgate?



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Player ratings as Die Roten breeze back to winning ways

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Bayern Munich got their domestic season back on track with a dominant 4-0 victory over Bayer Leverkusen on Friday night, ending a run of four Bundesliga games without a win.

Jamal Musiala ran the show as Die Roten dominated their visitors from the off, bursting into a lead after just three minutes. A shell-shocked Leverkusen couldn’t keep the ball away from Bayern, who made good on a fast start with goals from Musiala and Sadio Mane before half-time.

Mane had his second of the night chalked off early into the second half, but it didn’t deter the hosts who played the game almost exclusively in the opposition half as things progressed. Thomas Muller sealed things by adding a fourth from another Lukas Hradecky error late on.

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With the pressure on, it took Bayern just three minutes to make the most out of a positive start, with Sane’s shot deflecting in for 1-0 following Musiala’s low cross.

The early goal clearly settled Bayern and completely rattled an already fragile Leverkusen side, who were merely trying to keep the ball away from goal and get it forward as quickly as possible. Bayern pressed well, though, and won the ball back quickly, which caused the visitors a flurry of problems.

Intelligent movement and well-picked vertical passes saw Bayern double their lead after 17 minutes. Musiala brought down a long ball, knocked it into the path of Muller and received it back beyond the defender, before beating Hradecky at his near post too easily with a low strike.

Bayern’s press was relentless. Leverkusen simply couldn’t retain possession within their own half, and saw the ball coming straight back at them far too often, despite the occasional counter attack whenever Callum Hudson-Odoi and Jeremie Frimpong received the ball.

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Mane had been rather quiet in possession, but came up with the goods some six minutes before half-time to add a third for Bayern. Leverkusen were caught out by the hosts’ press, allowing Musiala to pick out Mane who, unchallenged, found the bottom corner with a deflected effort that left Leverkusen desperate for the whistle.

Julian Nagelsmann’s side didn’t let up after the break and added a fourth 11 minutes after play resumed, following more sustained pressure. Musiala kept the ball alive following a corner and his dribble fell into the path of Mane, who fired in for 4-0. His second goal was chalked off, though, due to a foul committed in the build-up that played him onside.

A rare chance for a counter attack saw Leverkusen spurn their best chance to score all night. Manuel Neuer was out quick to deny Sardar Azmoun just beyond the hour mark.

Hradecky’s evening went from bad to worse as he slipped when trying to play a pass inside his own box after 84 minutes, sending the ball straight to Muller who tapped into an open goal for 4-0 and ensured Bayern shot themselves up to second in the table ahead of the weekend.

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Sadio Mane, Alphonso Davies, Jamal Musiala

Musiala stole the show / Adam Pretty/GettyImages

GK: Manuel Neuer – 6/10 – Alert to deny the visitors on the rare occasions they broke forward. Otherwise quiet.

RB: Benjamin Pavard – 7/10 – Pavard impressed despite not being renowned for his attacking prowess. Didn’t shy away from committing high up the pitch and tracked rare counter attacks well. A balanced display.

CB: Dayot Upamecano – 7/10 – The Frenchman, when at his best, is such an asset to Bayern. His presence in possession was immense and he responded well when occasionally challenged defensively.

CB: Matthijs de Ligt – 6/10 – Left the more risky, progressive actions to his partner. But that’s exactly what Upamecano needs. The pair clearly compliment each other and it was on show here. Swept things up in composed fashion when needed.

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LB: Alphonso Davies – 7/10 – Unable to get himself back on the scoresheet, but gave Leverkusen a headache with his constant forward runs and ability to cause overloads.

DM: Joshua Kimmich – 6/10 – Much more like his usual self. Composed, assertive and clean with his actions. Nothing too flashy, and still needs to find his groove consistently, but better.

DM: Marcel Sabitzer – 7/10 – Unchallenged defensively for the most part, but put in an impressive display on his return to the starting XI. Keen to get on the ball, kept things ticking and would join attacks when possible.

RM: Leroy Sane – 7/10 – Sharp. Rotated smartly with his colleagues and showed off his fine technical ability with an array of delicate touches and passes. Took his goal well early on, but spurned a great chance to grab his brace after an hour.

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AM: Thomas Muller – 7/10 – Strangely, Muller did all the right things, but just lacked that clinical edge. He was often let down by a loose final touch or a scuffed effort at goal. Well-positioned for his goal, which was gifted to him.

LM: Jamal Musiala – 9/10 – Exceptional awareness, a stunning first touch and the confidence and physicality to pull it all together. Musiala is an absolute star in the making. Made the fluid approach in attack tick.

ST: Sadio Mane – 8/10 – Peeled out wide to stretch the play with regularity, but came up with the goods when it mattered. A first goal in five games and a first as a Bayern Munich player at the Allianz Arena.

SUB: Serge Gnabry (65′ for Mane) – 6/10

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SUB: Leon Goretzka (65′ for Sabitzer) – 6/10

SUB: Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (74′ for Sane) – N/A

SUB: Ryan Gravenberch (81′ for Gravenberch) – N/A

SUB: Noussair Mazraoui (82′ for Upamecano) – N/A

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Manager: Julian Nagelsmann – 8/10 – After a difficult few weeks where the pressure was on to get a result, Nagelsmann delivered. A slip-up could’ve been easy, but he coached his side well and selected an XI that responded to the challenge.



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Barcelona still owe €50m for Miralem Pjanic & Philippe Coutinho transfers

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Barcelona are thought to still owe as much as €144m on various incoming transfers from years – including €50m on Miralem Pjanic and Philippe Coutinho alone, both of whom have actually left Camp Nou in permanent deals.

Barça made Coutinho one of the most expensive players of all time when they agreed a deal with Liverpool in 2018 worth up to €160m. But things quickly soured for the Brazilian and he spent time on loan at Bayern Munich and Aston Villa, before joining the latter for a minimal fee this year.

Pjanic, meanwhile, was part of a slightly bizarre double deal in the summer of 2020 that saw the Catalans also send Arthur Melo to Juventus.

AS has reported that Barça’s latest economic report, which is to be presented to members next months, will explain that the club has outstanding transfer fees to be paid totalling €144m.

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However, they are also owed just under €130m themselves, with plenty of modern deals arranged with staggered payment structures.

Aside from money still owed for Pjanic (€36m) and Coutinho (€14m), Barça have €46m to pay Ajax for Frenkie de Jong and Sergino Dest. There is another €52m that has to go to Manchester City for Ferran Torres. Yet Barça are yet to be paid €10m for Coutinho by Aston Villa and will also receive €6m for Trincao from Wolves in due course.

Barça’s finances are in much better shape than they were at the peak of the club’s money trouble, but Camp Nou vice president of economics Eduard Romeu confirmed earlier this week that this chapter is still not over and more has to be done.

“We have saved Barça, but we still haven’t resolved it,” Romeu explained. “We don’t have it healthy; it involves a lot of austerity, a lot of rigour and there is a lot of work to do. In the 2024/25 season we will be at the level that corresponds to us.”

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Armando Broja discusses his father’s training methods, inspirations & Albanian pride

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Armando Broja has spoken about the tireless hours his family would commit to ensuring he made it as a footballer in his youth, and what it means to be a young star representing Albania on the world stage.

Broja shot to prominence at Southampton last season, on loan from Chelsea. The forward impressed throughout the campaign and returned to west London having scored nine goals in all competitions and racking up 32 Premier League appearances.

Since returning to his parent club, the Albanian international has penned a new long-term contract with Chelsea and been integrated into the first-team, featuring for Thomas Tuchel before his dismissal as head coach.

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But the future remains bright for Broja, despite the managerial change, with Graham Potter now in the hot seat.

Speaking to The Players’ Tribune, Broja credited his mentality and ability to thrive under pressure to his family, namely his father, who pushed him throughout his childhood.

“He’s always been so desperate to succeed and for his kids to succeed. Growing up, there wasn’t a minute to waste. Time was the most precious thing to him,” the striker said.

“I remember when I was young and just starting off in football, he’d come home from work late and he’d be exhausted. It might be like 10 or 11 at night and he might’ve worked a 15-hour day, but he’d always ask, ‘Armando, have you done your training today?’”

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“Obviously lyin’, I’d be like, ‘Mmm, yes?’” he added: “He’d know the truth, though, and out we’d go to the park and he’d make me run laps. Twenty times around the pitch.”

Broja went further, explaining his father’s detailed eye for his traits and progression: “When I had a growth spurt around 16, he got worried I was gonna lose my speed. Pace had always been one of my biggest strengths. So he took me out to do hill sprints for like an hour at a time.

“I was basically falling down the hill by the end and he’s there standing over me like, ‘Nah, go again. Another one. Defenders gonna catch you.’

“We joke now that my success is 50-50. Half mine, half his and my mum’s. They put in the work you don’t see. In those early years, though, the balance was waaaay more on their side.”

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Broja also discussed his inspirations, explaining that his affinity for Brazilian legend Ronaldo came from his father, after he would show him clips on YouTube.

But alongside R9, Broja namedropped Lorik Cana – the first and only Albanian to play in the Premier League before him.

It was this that fuelled his discussion about flying the flag for his nation and what it meant to represent Albania, who he earned his first senior international cap for in 2020.

“There was a moment when the England under-21s wanted me and, yeah, I thought about it and what I wanted for my future, but honestly … I didn’t have to think too long,” he explained: “I grew up in England, but I’m proud to be Albanian.

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“Every time I travel for international duty and pull on the red and black I feel this incredible pride and excitement.”

The 21-year-old added, explaining how he relishes the opportunity of being able to shoulder responsibility and expectations at a young age for his country, while also expressing his desire to fire them to a World Cup.

“You can step up and be a star. And if you do well, you can become an icon for eternity. When my career is over, I want my name to live on. For Albania. For my dad.”

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