Football  News & Hospitality Updates

Chelsea to play Man City in the Carabao Cup Final at Wembley Stadium

Chelsea narrowly bested Spurs after an intense penalty shootout last night to secure their place in the Carabao Cup final against Man City.

The final will take place on the 24th February at Wembley Stadium, with the time still to be announced.

Chelsea lost the first of their meetings with Spurs at Wembley 1-0, but were hoping to slip into the final after scoring twice in the first half of the second leg last night.  The Spurs defence made an error in allowing N’Golo Kanté room to breathe at a corner, hammering in a low shot after a Fernando Llorente clearance.

Llorente did make up for putting the ball at Kanté’s feet with a diving header in the second half which brought Spurs back to 2-2 on aggregate and kept their Carabao Cup dreams alive.

Despite the headline score, Chelsea were mostly in control of both games yet failed to get any more in than Spurs.  The Blues hit the woodwork twice in the first leg and made shot after shot in the second so were unfortunate to have to take it to penalties.

Chelsea manager Sarri has seemed to blame any problems faced in recent weeks on finding difficulties motivating players, and had particularly hard words before the match for Eden Hazard, who he considers not working at his full potential.  The Belgian “has to do more” in order to impress Sarri, though the boss did concede that “he’s a great player. He always can win the match in two minutes, sometimes in one.”

Hazard was the man who mounted the 38th minute attack that resulted in him flicking the ball behind Paulo Gazzaniga with one touch from his left foot.

In a perhaps surprisingly different perspective from Sarri, Mauricio Pochettino felt “nothing but pride” as he left Stamford Bridge last night.  Having played yet again without star men Kane, Alli or Son, the team lacked some of the powerful forward momentum they’ve had for much of the season.

Looking forward to what is to come the Spurs boss was optimistic.  “I can congratulate my players and feel proud,” he told press post-match, adding that the close loss “will make us stronger.”

Chelsea Beat Spurs on Penalties

Who would play against Man City in the Carabao Cup final was decided after Willian, Azpilicueta, Jorginho and Luiz made it a flawless four of four for Chelsea on their spot kicks.

Spurs scored twice but failed on two successive attempts.  Eric Dier – whose penalty put England past Colombia in the World Cup – firing high of the crossbar and Kepa Arrizabalaga saving Loucas Moura’s shot with a low dive to his left.

Pochettino had praise for the two men, though, pointing out that “you can only miss if you take the responsibility to shoot. For me, it’s not a problem.”  His optimism in the players and cool reflections on such a close and crushing defeat can be admired, in times like these it’s easy to blame the players.

Chelsea to Face Man City in the Final

Chelsea’s win here lines them up against Man City in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley Stadium.  The two teams have had a recent competitive streak, Chelsea enjoying a 2-0 win in December at Stamford Bridge, but losing by the same margin in August’s Community Shield game.

It will be the first time that the two teams have ever met in a competitive final, but before kick-off at Wembley, they’ll be meeting at the Etihad Stadium for a Premier League tie on the 10th February.

This game two weeks out from the final will mean a lot to City.  They’re still four points behind Liverpool and need to keep racking up three-pointers if they want to take the league this season.  It also will give both sides an insight into the tactics and styles they might see in their Carabao Cup Final meeting.

Sarri and Pep Guardiola are known to not only share a mutual respect for each other’s styles of play, but are also somewhat friendly.  The pair have been spotted not just chatting together at games, but also dining with their mutual friend Arrigo Sacchi.

The similar playing styles of the two might account for much of this respect.  It’s not uncommon for either side to take 65% or more of possession, and, at time of writing they are dominating the passes made so far in the Premier League.  Both City and Chelsea have made over 16,000 passes in the league this season.  Top placed Liverpool are sitting in third place in the ranking making just over 14,000 and Spurs fourth having not reached the 13,000 passes mark.

For both managers controlling space is key to success in their games.  Being able to take it away from opponents and weaken their position is a key component, so the final is likely to go in the direction of whoever can control the game in this way.

Manchester City are hoping to prove the bookies right, who have them at 4/9 favourites, placing Chelsea at 17/10 underdogs.

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Wayne Rooney to Return to Wembley Stadium for England

It is official. England’s record goal scorer Wayne Rooney is set to return to Wembley Stadium for England vs USA!

With a legend back on the pitch it’s sure to be a thrilling friendly.

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After retiring from international duty in 2017, Rooney left with an impressive record of 119 caps and 53 goals to his name. Rightly so, The Football Association will honour him as England’s highest goal scorer for his numerous incredible efforts throughout his football career.

Gareth Southgate’s decision to recall Wayne Rooney came as an unexpected surprise for many England fans. It is noted that Southgate’s intentions are to bring him in initially starting at a substitute, however it is likely that Rooney will attain his 120th cap and add to his record number of goals.

Rooney, who currently plays for DC United in the States, has said that it will be a “particularly special moment” for him. The football star hopes to pass on some of his knowledge and experience to the young England squad.

He added:

“I am truly humbled and hugely excited to play for England at Wembley again. I would like to thank Gareth Southgate and The FA for inviting me back and helping to support my Foundation in the process. Playing for England was the greatest honour of my career – so winning my 120th, and final, cap will be a particularly special moment for me. It’s fitting that the match will be against the USA and I hope that both sets of fans enjoy the game.”

The match will be dubbed ‘The Wayne Rooney Foundation International’. He also hopes to utilise the game as an opportunity to raise funds for his Wayne Rooney Foundation which is a charitable organisation that supports a number of children’s charities including the NSPCC.

With the squad to be announced on Thursday, Southgate hopes that the former Manchester United striker will have a strong presence that will influence the team’s younger players on the journey towards the big match. Views are shared with Wayne Rooney who is “hugely impressed with the progress of this young England team.”

Southgate commented:

“The connection between the FA and former England players is something that has always been very important to me. This tribute to Wayne is a unique opportunity that is befitting of our nation’s record goal scorer. We’re fortunate that circumstances have allowed us to formally acknowledge Wayne’s immense contribution to England in front of the Wembley crowd and against apt opponents given the recent impact he has made in MLS.”

On the other hand, many believe Southgate’s decision will devalue the fixture, especially in light of the match with Croatia which comes three days later. However, the Football Association liken the move to Lukas Podolski’s send-off from Germany last year in the match against England. Podolski was gracefully sent off with 130 caps to his name.

The tribute is sure to make history at Wembley Stadium and Rooney’s one off appearance will be a special one and it’s sure to boost attendance at Wembley for the friendly match. In addition to that, Wembley will light its arch in the dazzling gold colours of Rooney’s charity.

Rooney’s Record at Wembley Stadium

Wayne Rooney’s career with England began in February 2003, the year that marked his debut. Throughout his fourteen year career which saw him captain England in 23 of his 119 caps, Rooney also saw six different managers during this time.

As fans now anticipate the football icons return for England, we recall some of Rooney’s most memorable moments and goals at Wembley Stadium.

England vs Estonia

This 2007 match at Wembley saw Rooney score two goals that led to England’s 3-0 victory in the UEFA Euro qualification.

England vs Slovakia

In 2009, Rooney again scored twice which allowed England to enjoy a 4-0 triumph in the friendly international.

England vs Andorra

March 2009 at Wembley Stadium was a thrilling match for England. Rooney scored one of England’s six goals which led to a remarkable 6-0 defeat of Andorra in the World Cup Qualification.

England vs San Marino

The 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualification in 2012 allowed him to score one of England’s five goals, winning 5-0 and making for another ground-breaking result at Wembley.

England vs Brazil

This 2013 match against Brazil led to Rooney scoring one of England’s two goals which resulted in a 2-1 win at this international friendly.

England vs Montenegro

Again, this FIFA World Cup qualification in 2013 enabled Rooney to score one of four of the winning goals that resulted in an impressive 4-1 victory for the England side.

England vs Norway

This 2014 friendly match against Norway was an impressive one for Rooney. He scored the only goal of the match which allowed for England’s 1-0 defeat of the Norwegian team at Wembley Stadium.

England vs Slovenia

In this 2014 fixture, Rooney contributed to England’s 3-1 victory, scoring one goal for the team.

England vs Lithuania

England defeated Lithuania 4-0 in 2015, and Rooney added one of the four goals that contributed to the success in this UEFA Euro qualification.

England vs France

Rooney’s last appearance at Wembley Stadium to date was for the 2015 friendly match against France, in which he memorably scored both goals that led to England’s 2-0 win.

With such a strong track record supporting him, Wayne Rooney’s return to Wembley is surely likely to result in more goals to his name!

Wembley Stadium is the proud home of the English football team and so England supporters will be in full force for this once in a lifetime send off! You can join them in VIP style to experience football history in the making.

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PAOK v Chelsea: Europa League Match Review

PAOK v Chelsea: Thursday 20th September 2018

A comfortable triumph for Chelsea last evening in their Europa league opener against Greece’s PAOK. It was their first match in this league since 2013 – a year the Blues enjoyed victory.

Now, with the team off to a satisfactory start, they can only hope to experience greater wins in their coming games.

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One Is All You Need

For a sixth successive victory, one is all you need. Chelsea defeated PAOK 1-0 with Willian’s successful strike only seven minutes in!

This victory now puts them at three points levelled with BATE (who won 2-0 at Hungarian side Videoton). The Blues must strive to top their group if they want this year’s Europa league to be anything like 2013.

What Are The Stats?

Talking statistically, Chelsea were sure champs. The team enjoyed twenty two shots, with five on target. Whilst the PAOK side attained a disappointing one shot on target out of three in total. The Blue’s relished in 69% possession of the ball, leaving PAOK with a mere 31%.

Indeed Chelsea made skilful use of the ball having a pass accuracy of 90%.

Numbers Don’t Lie

Yes, numbers don’t lie. But, as we look deeper, Chelsea could have enjoyed a far greater win if not for some wasted chances. The Blues passed up numerous opportunities to make the scoreline more exciting.

In fact, Pedro could have helped to increase Chelsea’s lead but was unable to do so. It was in his 38th-minute counter-attack, shooting straight at the keeper after being picked out by Marcos Alonso. From the resulting corner, Morata regrettably steered a hard header too wide.

A culprit was Mr Morata himself. As mentioned above, the Spanish striker headed wide from Pedro’s cross and also dragged a shot wide from Antonio Rudiger’s throughball. And, after failing to keep a sidefoot volley down, Morata blazed over left-footed from the left side of the box.

Nonetheless, the team was successful in maintaining their 1-0 lead until full time.

‘He Was Unlucky’

‘Morata had three or four opportunities, he was unlucky,’  said Chelsea manager Sarri.

‘I hope in the future I can try to help him, but the confidence comes only with goals. I am not able to give him confidence.’

We hope this confidence can be built quickly because as Chelsea gets deeper into the League, there can be no room for mistakes or missed opportunities.

Control for Chelsea

‘We were in control for 90 minutes,’ according to Sarri. He admitted ‘I am really very happy with the three points and the performance but I am not happy with the result. When it is time to kill the match we have to kill the match.’

If performance is to match expectations, fans can hope to see only improvements and greater performance on Chelsea’s side.

An Unfriendly Environment

A sold out stadium in Thessaloniki. Fireworks shooting. Flares going up. PAOK’s home fans created an unfriendly environment for Chelsea to say the least.

Not surprisingly, PAOK fans have a reputation for giving visiting teams a hostile welcome and last night they lived up to that reputation. Before kick-off, the noise was gradually increasing and as the players came out, the stand erupted.

There were fireworks on display and smoke filled the air as the chanting increased and increased.

Though Chelsea fans may have been small in number, they were reportedly acknowledged by Chairman Bruce Buck who was handing out free snacks to the Chelsea supporters who had travelled from all over.

Despite the hostile environment, Chelsea strolled through the game and their fans were the ones left celebrating at the end of the night.

Chelsea v PAOK: The Second Meeting

Chelsea will face PAOK yet again on Thursday 29th November 2018.

Only this time, the action will be live from Chelsea’s territory – Stamford Bridge. Will Chelsea reign in victory once again against their Greek competitors? Or, will PAOK bring the intensity and overcome?

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Premier League Review: Match Week 3

The Weekend’s Premier League instalment certainly didn’t disappoint this week, with Pochettino’s fluid Spurs side undoubtedly stealing the headlines.

The Lilywhites thrashed Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford as the home side’s troubled start to the season continued. Jose Mourinho, critical of his players and frustrated at the failure to make further signings, cut a sombre figure at the end, with some wondering whether it might also be the end for the controversial manager if there is a failure to improve.

Strangely he had midfielder Ander Herrera in a three-man central defensive system alongside Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, with Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof dropped.

Mourinho was desperate to add central defensive reinforcements in the transfer window, yet he was the man who signed Bailly and Lindelof at a cost of more than £60 million. Is third-year syndrome, when Mourinho either leaves clubs or is moved on, about to bite again? Harry Kane’s header put Spurs in command at the start of the second half. Lucas Moura doubled their lead two minutes later and the Brazilian scored a second late on to make things emphatic.

One hundred per cent records for Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea and Watford, three wins out of three, so far this season.

Liverpool saw Mohamed Salah’s first-half strike secure a 1-0 victory over a battling Brighton side. Salah, who scored a record 38 goals in the Premier League last season, clinically finished off the inside of the post. Wolves managed a deserved point after they held Manchester City 1-1 at Molineux.

The visitors hit the post twice in the first half – first through Sergio Aguero and then when Wolves keeper Rui Patricio brilliantly turned Raheem Sterling’s 25-yard drive onto the bar. Wolves’ striker Raul Jimenez had a goal ruled out for offside. And the hosts took the lead in controversial fashion when defender Willy Boly’s attempted diving header went in off his hand from Joao Moutinho’s free-kick.

An Aymeric Laporte header rescued a point for the champions. Both sides had opportunities in the closing stages, with Aguero’s free-kick glancing off the bar with virtually the last kick of the game.

Arsenal managed their first win under new head coach Unai Emery, beating West Ham 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners were caught out on the counter for the opener, West Ham captain Marko Arnautovic slotting low past Petr Cech. Nacho Monreal struck back, firing into an unguarded net after Bellerin’s cross deflected into his path off Alex Iwobi.

Hammers’ debutant Issa Diop diverted Alexandre Lacazette’s volley across the area into his own net and then Danny Welbeck sealed it in added time. The result perhaps flattered Arsenal whose defensive frailties remain.

Chelsea went to Newcastle and turned over the Geordies 2-1. Eden Hazard, on his first start this season, netted from the penalty spot in the 76th minute before substitute Joselu levelled with a terrific header at St James’ Park. But late on Newcastle were sucker punched when Marcos Alonso’s shot deflected in off DeAndre Yedlin. Chelsea dominated the game with 82 per cent possession.

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Premier League Review: Match Week 2

It was a tale of two Manchesters as City thrashed Huddersfield 6-1 while United went down 3-2 at Brighton.

For City, Sergio Aguero scored a superb hat-trick. “I never saw him like this since I was here,” said manager Pep Guardiola. “He is in an incredible condition with the ball and without the ball.” Other City scorers were Gabriel Jesus, David Silva and a Terence Kongolo own goal.

Huddersfield managed a consolation through Jon Gorenc Stankovic. Aguero now has nine Premier League hat-tricks – level with former Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester City striker Robbie Fowler. Only ex-Blackburn and Newcastle forward Alan Shearer (11) has managed more.

United have had a toxic start to the new season with Jose Mourinho at his most irascible. Now it has spread to on the field.
Brighton stunned a lacklustre United with three first-half strikes. They took the lead on 25 minutes, when Glenn Murray flicked home Solly March’s low cross. Just two minutes later, Shane Duffy stroked home his first Premier League goal.

Romelu Lukaku halved the deficit 11 minutes before the break, but then Eric Bailly brought down Pascal Gross inside the area and Gross converted the penalty to restore the two-goal advantage. Paul Pogba netted an injury-time spot kick after Duffy fouled Marouane Fellaini. But it was too little too late. United have now conceded four goals in their opening two games of the season – it took them nine to let in that many last term.

Spurs comfortably beat Fulham 3-1. Indeed so comfortable was it that all the headlines focussed on Harry Kane finally scoring his first league goal in August. Lucas Moura had opened the account with his breakthrough Premier League goal, curling one beyond Fabri’s dive. Moura is already shaping up to be an influential performer now he has found his feet in English football.
Fulham, who lost to Crystal Palace in their first game back in the top flight following promotion, levelled as a result of clever improvisation by Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Kieran Trippier restored Tottenham’s lead with a trademark free-kick. Then they got a third as Kane turned his marker and slotted the ball into the far corner of the net. The August jinx had lasted for 1,065 minutes over five seasons. “It is nice to put it to bed,” he commented.

Chelsea beat Arsenal 3-2 but the London sides have much to do if they are to challenge for the title.
Both defences were opened up at will and arguably the Gunners should have won, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi missing three absolute sitters in front of goal.

Chelsea built a two-goal advantage inside the first 20 minutes as Pedro turned in Marcos Alonso’s cross and Alvaro Morata added another. Mkhitaryan pulled one back with a low shot that Chelsea’s new £71 million keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga should have saved.
Iwobi then put the away side on level terms.

However, Chelsea controlled the second half, and claimed victory, Alonso sweeping in substitute Eden Hazard’s cross nine minutes from time to make it successive wins for new coach Maurizio Sarri and two defeats for new Arsenal manager Unai Emery.

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World Cup 2018: France Secure Second Major Title

A deserved 4-2 victory for the French in the World Cup final – and a great final. France beat Uruguay, Argentina and Belgium on the way – no mean feat – but Croatia were magnificent and in many ways unlucky.

The population of France – nearly 70 million; the population of Croatia – 4.1 million. Croatia with a world ranking of 20th. Some marvellous players on both sides, but France were decisively clinical.

From a very soft free kick, arguably Antoine Griezmann was never even touched, they opened the scoring as the ball into the box nicked off Mario Mandžukić’s head and diverted into the Croatian net for an own goal.

Croatia bounced back, also from a free kick, as Ivan Perišić thrashed the ball past Hugo Lloris in the French goal. Then France got lucky with a very harsh Perisic handball from a corner punished from the spot by Griezmann following a VAR review. Croatia much the better side in the first half – in the words of Alan Shearer “losing from a free kick which wasn’t a free kick and a penalty which wasn’t a penalty”.

All the luck had gone France’s way – amazing how these things tend to favour big nations against small nations when it matters most. And the second half started the same way with Croatia on top before France went into overdrive. A wonderful Paul Pogba pass set Kylian Mbappé away, it came back to Pogba, and, at the second attempt, the Manchester United man scored. But Mbappé, just 19, was not to be denied and drilled home to make it four.

The game got even crazier as Croatia managed a consolation. Mandžukić pounced on a huge error from Lloris. A back pass, should have been easy for the goalkeeper, instead, he tried to beat the centre-forward who blocked it into the net. Croatia tried to build off that, kept creating, but it wasn’t to be.

A fantastic tournament. Incredible football skills on show and a high standard of refereeing. Russia 2018 was a big success.

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England’s World Cup Dream Ends in Heartbreak

So, football isn’t coming home – defeat to Croatia 2-1 in extra time. You can argue the England performance in this World Cup on two contrasting levels.

First, we did far better than anyone expected – which we did. Some terrific performances along the way. Lots to build on with all the young players coming through.

Second, we beat nobody any good – Tunisia, Panama, lost to Belgium’s reserves, Colombia and Sweden. We had a huge slice of luck, with Spain and Germany, not getting through our side of the draw. But you can argue we deserved that down the years in the wake of previous World Cup outrages such as cheat Diego Maradona’s Hand of God and Frank Lampard’s disallowed ‘goal’ in South Africa when it was miles over the line.

Ironic that Gareth Southgate goes out as a player at the semi-final stage of Euro 96 and goes out at as a manager at the semi-final stage of World Cup 2018. His performance in Russia was over-hyped and now, one suspects, he will be over-criticised. All too often in this tournament we have sat back and sought to defend a lead when attack is always the best form of defence. And so it proved against Croatia.

Ahead from the 5th minute via a great free kick by Kieran Trippier, we missed the opportunity to kill it off with Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard fluffing wonderful chances. We were all over them in the first half, totally dominant.

Then second half we gradually went deeper and deeper, allowed them to play, tried to defend our advantage ridiculously far out, and payed the price. Goals by Perisic in the 68th minute and Mandzukic in the second period of extra time. Southgate’s use of substitutes, not for the first time, was appalling. Not getting them on soon enough and ending up with ten men – how do you do that? And was the composition of the team ever right?

Dele Alli never really imposed himself, Lingard was mostly unconvincing and Kyle Walker was always uncomfortable playing centre back – responsible for the Perisic goal. Raheem Sterling stretches defences with his blinding pace but can’t score at international level and constantly runs up blind alleys. It left Kane isolated. No creative midfielder in the role of Luka Modric. The big positives were John Stones, Harry Maguire, Trippier and Jordan Pickford, a base to work off.

England now play Belgium again in the third and fourth placed play-off on Saturday, and will probably lose because the Belgians are far more skilful and our boys will be out on their feet. The “final” was France v Belgium.

Prediction for Sunday’s France v Croatia showdown, 4-1 to France. Sadly, we will not be seeing the expression on Novichok Putin’s face had he been handing the trophy to England!

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England leave it late against Tunisia in World Cup opener

Harry Kane pulled it out of the fire as England beat Tunisia 2-1 with a late injury-time strike.

The victory, plus three more points against Panama on Sunday, should see England through to the next stage of the World Cup.
Hopefully, all set fair for a showdown with Belgium a week on Thursday to decide who tops the group.

It took two old-fashioned England-style goals – corners headed on by first John Stones and then Harry Maguire saw Kane free and converting the opportunities.

His first with the boot, the second a clever header.

England made hard work of it – started magnificently and could arguably have been three or four up in the first 30 minutes.
But they spurned the chances, Jesse Lingard being the main culprit, and one feared the Three Lions might suffer for it.

And they did when Kyle Walker, a wing back playing centre back, was adjudged to have fouled his man in the penalty area with a wandering elbow. Sassi scored from the spot.

England were then aggrieved that two rugby tackles on Kane in the box went unpunished by an ineffective referee – disappointing because the men in the middle have been generally good so far. Where was the VAR system when England needed it?
For long periods of the second half a stuffy but toothless Tunisia looked like they would scrape an undeserved draw.
Cue Captain Kane to the rescue.

Kane, Henderson, Trippier and Stones were top quality for England. But Sterling lacked effectiveness and the laboured Dele Alli, seemingly injured, should have been pulled off long before he eventually was – a poser why Gareth Southgate failed to act earlier.

The manager will also be baffled how England could be so fluent in the first half and so ineffective in the second.
Plenty to work on but we are off to a flyer.

The Belgium game now looks like being a cracker. Especially as the Belgians easily beat Panama 3-0 with a beauty from Dries Mertens and two from Romelu Lukaku. Panama look as if they will be the whipping boys of the group. England must make sure they put them away, then bring on the Belgians.

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2018 World Cup Warm-up – England V Nigeria Review

For the first half at Wembley it felt like a new England, a vindication of nearly two years of work from Gareth Southgate trying to lift the burden of history from these players.

England walked away with the win, even after a second half resurgence from a seemingly inspired Nigeria. In a week of headlines dominated by Raheem Sterling and Nigeria’s eye catching new kit, it was refreshing to see the game itself in the spotlight.

England started very brightly, coming close with a few early crosses, before Chelsea defender Gary Cahill celebrated his return to England’s squad by opening the scoring with a powerful header after only seven minutes. It was a triumphant return for Cahill, back in the squad in place of Harry Maguire. While the Leicester man may hold the edge in terms of passing ability (A key attribute for Southgate), Cahill showed he can be a big threat on set pieces, an area that England could possibly exploit during the World Cup.

England’s total first-half domination was emphasized when captain Harry Kane scored his eighth goal in his last seven appearances. Kane struck from outside the area just six minutes before the interval when Nigeria keeper Francis Uzoho allowed his 18-yard shot to slip in. The 19 year old really should have saved the effort, but for Kane its yet another reminder of his value to the side. Alongside Kyle Walker he stands out as the world class talent in the England squad, and thus, if England are to have a successful campaign in Russia, you would think Kane has to play a leading role.

Southgate, however, will be pleased by the pace and movement shown by his attacking players in a thoroughly convincing opening 45 minutes.

Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi gave Nigeria’s thousands of fans inside Wembley hope two minutes after the break with a crisp finish but England – who had Raheem Sterling booked for diving – closed out the victory in relatively untroubled fashion. Nigeria had a few more chances to level, but unlike against Italy two months ago, England held out for a morale boosting win.

“The most important thing I do in the next six weeks is to protect the players” – Southgate

England’s preparations continue with another friendly against Costa Rica at Elland Road on Thursday, where it is anticipated that Southgate will look to rotate his side to allow the likes of Vardy, Loftus-Cheek and Alexander-Arnold to get some minutes under their belt. The national team has played at Elland Road twice before, a 3-3 draw with Sweden in June 1995 was preceded by defeat against Italy in 2002.

They will look to better that record this week, and no doubt Gareth Southgate will be hopeful of a performance to get the fans dreaming again, ahead of a big summer in Russia.

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Championship Playoff Final Review

After a four year absence, Fulham will next season return to the big time, following a 1-0 win over Aston Villa in Saturday’s Playoff final.

The last time Fulham were in the Premier League, Man City were champions, and Real Madrid had conquered all of Europe. you’d therefore be forgiven for thinking not much had changed in the 4 seasons since. But for the Cottagers, its been a turbulent spell in the Championship, which initially began with back to back bottom half finishes.

The last two seasons saw the club turn things around, but they were in danger of becoming the nearly men, after a playoff semi final defeat last year, and narrowly missing out on automatic promotion this season.

They therefore went into Saturdays final knowing it was an opportunity not to be missed, and against a Villa side that never really got out of first gear, they suitably seized the opportunity. It was the final we all wanted to see, 3rd place vs 4th, in what was expected to be a close encounter. So when Fulham shot into an early lead after a very bright start, it seemed as if the final was only going one way. A shaky looking Villa defense were opened up thanks to a slick move from the Fulham attack, as Teenage Sensation Ryan Sessegnon played in Tom Cairney, who calmly slotted the ball past the Keeper Sam Johnstone. Fulham continued to press for a second with the pace of Fulham in wide areas causing all kinds of problems, a Mitrovic free header really should have made it 2-0.

It was a difficult afternoon for the former Chelsea legend John Terry, who at times was running very gingerly.

His worries were eased however as Villa fought back in the second half, with time running out the need for an equalizer became more pressing. Aston Villa’s main threat came from the Brummie talisman Jack Grealish, who, operating in the 10 role, was an ever present danger. Mid way through the second half, he embarked on what can only be described as a Ricky Villa-esque jinking run through the Fulham defense. After tiptoeing his way into the box, Grealish fired towards goal, but a fortunate deflection off a Fulham defender prevented what would have been a piece of individual brilliance.

“I’m in charge of a really great club and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” – Bruce

Villa continued to push for an equalizer, even sending on two additional strikers in Kodja and Hogan to find a way through. Fulham though stood strong, and while Denis Odoi’s sending off 20 minutes from time led to a jittery end for Slavisa Jokanovic’s Whites, they ultimately dug deep to secure the biggest financial prize in world football on a day to cherish.

The significance of the day was clear for all to see at full time, as shown by Fulham’s jubilant celebrations. The win confirms that Fulham will be playing Premier League football next season, the significance of which cannot be overstated, when you consider that many of the sides stars, Sessegnon included, may have left if promotion wasn’t achieved. After losing out on automatic promotion on the final day, the relief for Fulham will no doubt be huge.

Congratulations to the Cottagers, we look forward to seeing you in the Premier League next year!

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