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Real Madrid boss Zidane breaks silence on Benzema incident over Vinicius Jr

Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane has insisted that there are no problems between Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr.

The Frenchman was spotted on camera brutally putting his team-mate down during their match against Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League.

With the sides making their way out for the second-half, Benzema was talking to another club pal in Ferland Mendy.

In French, he told the defender to stop passing to Vinicius Jr.

He accused the 20-year-old of 'playing against us' during a tough match for Los Blancos.

They were 1-0 down to Gladbach at the time as their Champions League woes continued.

Real had already lost their first match of the European campaign in a surprise 3-2 result against Shakhtar Donetsk.

And the tension was clearly on show once again with Benzema saying in a leaked clip: "Don't play with him. On my mother's life, he [Vinicius] is playing against us."

The defender was heard replying: "When he becomes scared, he loses what makes him great."

Mendy would go on to pass to the Brazilian just three times despite the duo occupying the same flank.

Benzema reportedly apologised and Zidane has not got involved, insisting there are no problems between them.

He said: “It is clear about Benzema and Vinicius. They have talked to each other. Things stay on the field. They talked and it is perfect.

“There is no problem between them – the opposite. In the end, the important thing is that the energy is on tomorrow’s game [against Huesca].

“Things like Benzema and Vinicius have always happened but they stay on the field. The only thing that has changed is that there are many cameras.”

I t has been a tough start to life in Madrid for Vinicius Jr, who has been touted as one of the top youngsters in the world.

He was replaced by Eden Hazard and Zidane has insisted that the prodigal talent will come good soon.

The Real boss said: “Vinicius is young. He has a present and a future at Madrid.

“He is a boy who wants to learn and improve. He works and that is good for a coach and a team.”

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Arsenal star Matteo Guendouzi opens up over how Mesut Ozil convinced him to leave club

Arsenal star Matteo Guendouzi has revealed how Mesut Ozil convinced him to leave the club in the transfer window. Mikel Arteta did not want him around after offering him to clubs in Europe as he looked to bolster his funds. Eventually, the Frenchman signed for Hertha Berlin on a season-long loan- leaving his Emirates career still up in the air.

Arsenal star Guendouzi left for Hertha Berlin in the summer and he has revealed how Ozil played a major role in that decision.

It comes after a summer-long effort from Arteta to get rid of the midfielder, who was desperate to sign Thomas Partey and Houssem Aouar as his midfield duo.

However, Guendouzi only left on loan despite the Spaniard’s attempts to involve the ex-Lorient ace in a number of swap deals.

And now it has transpired that Ozil, who has also been ostracised by Arteta, advised the 21-year-old on leaving the Emirates.

Guendouzi told Kicker: “I had a very good relationship with Mesut Ozil and Bernd Leno. Both of them told me a lot of good things about the Bundesliga.

“I played over 80 games there [at Arsenal] and had a good, intense time there.

“I learned a lot there in terms of sport and grew up there. It was two good years for me.”

Guendouzi’s comments also suggest that his time at Arsenal is over with no intention of returning to north London.

It comes after an on-pitch bust-up against Brighton and he has not played for the Gunners since.

But Arteta has hinted that there was a pathway back into the first-team for the France Under-21 international.

“I have been really clear that everybody starts from zero all the time in football,” he said in August.

“What you did two weeks ago or two years ago doesn’t really matter. It’s what you are able to contribute to the team now. Everybody is going to have the same opportunities.

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“They’ll have to show with their performances and their attitude that they are better than their teammates or somehow contributing to what we want to achieve this season.”

It follows the news of another player in Ozil being frozen out of the team after being dropped from both Premier League and Europa League squads.

The German was another on the unwanted list but no club came forward to pick up his mammoth £350,000-a-week wages.

And ex-Manchester City star Micah Richards has praised Arteta for his handling of the 32-year-old.

“Ozil isn’t playing for Arsenal because he won’t press the way Arteta wants him to,” wrote the ex-Man City right-back in his MailOnline column.

“If it had anything to do with ability, Ozil would be in. If a player has flair and is willing to work, you always find room for them.

“What I love about the way Arteta has handled Ozil is that he hasn’t allowed one bit of animosity to creep out into the sport pages.

“We don’t know whether they are locked in a feud or if there has been a row because the manager deals with everything so clinically.

“It’s a real skill, that. It’s easy for news of rifts to leave the training ground but Arteta has taken care of this so expertly.”

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Pep Guardiola joins Jurgen Klopp in hitting out over Premier League rule change

Pep Guardiola has joined Jurgen Klopp in blasting the Premier League over changing the substitution rule.

As part of Project Restart, the number of subs allowed in a match was extended to five.

This was to cope with the added injury problems that were likely to rise as a result of a condensed list of fixtures combined with a lack of training.

However, that rule was scrapped this campaign – despite all teams failing to undergo a proper pre-season programme.

Measures to continue the five-sub rule were voted down by a majority of clubs in the Premier League.

And it is starting to take effect on the players, with 50 per cent more muscular problems already.

Liverpool boss Klopp was fuming with the decision, with his team being hit hard.

And Guardiola has joined his voice, taking aim at club chiefs who have taken the decision away from Premier League coaches.

"It’s time to take care of the main reason everybody is in this business, which is the football players," he said.

"Some players have 8 days, 10 days off [if they don't play in European competition] so forget about the five substitutions [giving] an advantage for some teams.

"It’s to protect the players, all of them.

"The last 15, 20, 25, 30 minutes of games are when players who are playing every three days start to suffer.

"The rule is to protect them, that’s all. Why all around the world is it happening in all the leagues – in Italy, in Germany, in Spain, everywhere.

"But here, which is the more demanding for many reasons, we cannot protect the players?

"It’s not about protecting Man City.

"It’s about protecting all Premier League players and the statistics speak for themselves – almost 50 per cent more muscular injuries than last season.

"Why? Because the players play not being recovered from the previous game but also maybe most of them not from the previous season.

"It has happened in all the other leagues so why should we not do it? It make no sense, honestly – no sense. "

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Crystal Palace manager Hodgson furious with late Milivojevic red card

‘It was a fair challenge’: Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson furious with late Luka Milivojevic red card after questioning referee Martin Atkinson in aftermath of defeat at Wolves

  • Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic was sent off as his side lost 2-0 at Wolves
  • The midfielder saw red for an 86th-minute challenge on stricken Joao Moutinho
  • Palace boss Roy Hodgson had words with official Martin Atkinson after the game
  • Hodgson claimed the dismissal was the worst part of the Premier League defeat 

Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson asked Martin Atkinson why he had sent Luka Milivojevic off and claimed that his captain’s challenge had not been a foul after watching his side lose at Wolves.

Referee Atkinson consulted a pitchside monitor before showing the Palace skipper a red card for an 86th-minute tackle on Joao Moutinho, causing Hodgson to suggest that the dismissal had been the low point of the 2-0 defeat.

Frustrated Hodgson told BBC Sport: ‘My view is it’s not a sending off and I’ve told Martin Atkinson that.

Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic was sent off as his side lost 2-0 to Wolves at Molineux

The midfielder was dismissed for serious foul play in the final minutes of the Friday night game

‘He thinks there was a reason to give a red card but I’ve seen it as well and I certainly don’t agree with that. It was a fair challenge and there was no intent to contact Joao Moutinho at all.

‘I’m very disappointed with that one. It’s the worst part of the evening in a way.’

Midfielder Moutinho received treatment on the pitch while Atkinson made his decision to give Milivojevic his marching orders at Molineux.

First-half goals by teenage debutant Rayan Ait-Nouri and Portuguese winger Daniel Podence gave the hosts the points.

Midfielder Joao Moutinho was on the receiving end of the challenge and required treatment

Milivojevic is expected to sit out three matches for earning his marching orders after a review

Atkinson took his time and Palace manager Roy Hodgson disagreed with the referee’s verdict

Hodgson said: ‘There would have been positives to take, but to lose a player for three games for a challenge I didn’t even consider a foul will be very hard to take.’

Eagles midfielder Jeffrey Schlupp agreed with his manager, telling Palace’s website: ‘Everyone has seen it back and feels that it is a harsh decision.

‘He got the whole ball but the referee has said something about the follow through. I don’t really know what else you want Luka to do in that situation.

‘He can’t tackle someone and then pull your leg out the way or make your leg disappear.’ 

Unhappy Hodgson (right) sought out Atkinson after the game to let the official know his views




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Scott Parker reveals plan to keep Fulham in the Premier League

‘Face Up. Front up. Don’t hide’: Scott Parker has a plan to lift struggling Fulham off the bottom of the Premier League table… and former Tottenham and West Ham midfielder insists he is ‘immune’ to pressure as he navigates relegation battle this season

  • Fulham are bottom of the Premier League and are still looking for their first win
  • Scott Parker is not panicking and has a plan to turn his side’s fortunes around
  • He wants his players to show themselves and to ‘face up’ to the challenge ahead
  • Parker is keen to harness the culture and is not one for regular dressing downs 
  • Fulham take on fellow promoted side West Brom on Monday in a huge game 

Managing in the Premier League is hard. Doing it during a global health crisis is even harder. At Fulham, Scott Parker cannot even talk to all his players in one room at the same time.

‘I have to take two or three team meetings rather than one as we are only allowed a certain number of players in one room,’ he said.

‘We haven’t got anywhere at the training ground big enough for everyone to be socially distanced.’

Scott Parker has opened up on his plan to keep Fulham’s Premier League status this season

Fulham finished fourth last season, were promoted in the play-offs but are struggling right now

Every manager loses his temper with players occasionally. It must be exhausting to have to do it three times instead of once.

‘Yeah, I know,’ smiles Parker. ‘As a player here you just have to be clever about who you are going into one of my meetings with.

‘If someone has played badly at the weekend, just don’t go in the same room as that person!’ Parker is belly laughing by the end and it is good to see. Regular ear-bashings are not his style, anyway, but even if they were, he does not expect to reach that point often this season.

Fulham are at the bottom of the Premier League but you would not know it. ‘I feel brilliant, to be fair,’ he told Sportsmail on Thursday.

‘Pressure is something I have had since I was a 10-year-old on a McDonald’s advert.

‘Whether it was Under 12s football on a Sunday where everyone is looking and saying, “Oh, that’s the kid” or making my debut for Charlton at 16, then moving to Chelsea for £10million.

‘I have kind of become immune to it. Of course, there are times when it’s hard but when I was 10 and walking into school and kids were being rough to me, that was hard, too.

‘So you understand it and you try to stay level and that’s the biggest part of me. I know what my mechanisms are and they are simple. Hard work. Face up. Front up. Don’t hide. Especially now while we are having a bad run.

‘The reality is that we are not playing well. So what do we need to do? How can we improve? Can we work harder? Can I stay in the office longer? Can I be on the training ground more? That’s always been my go-to and normally I end up coming out the other side.’

Speaking to Sportsmail, Parker was able to laugh and dismissed the notion of pressure

Fulham go into Monday night’s game against West Brom desperate for a first win this season

Parker has only just turned 40 and this is his second full season as a manager. Last season’s promotion via the play-offs was a significant achievement and already remaining in the top flight looks like a big ask. Fulham have a single point ahead of Monday’s home game with West Bromwich Albion.

The former England midfielder knows his team must improve. There is not an awful lot of top-flight experience in the Fulham side. Parker once said football was only 20 per cent about ability. The rest is in the head.

‘I do feel like we need to improve on that but these are good players and they will,’ he nodded.

‘Setbacks will come and the bumps will come. They did last year. But being brutally honest we need to improve on how we deal with that and I am sure any one of the players would say that is a big driver coming from me.

‘I do think you can train it, though. You just have to try. We all go out on the grass and train the left foot or someone’s crossing or shooting but we lose sight of the other stuff. But it’s during adverse times that you can really learn and grow. We need to do that.’

A chat with Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson after his team beat Fulham 2-1 last weekend was helpful.

Parker is convinced that he can harness results from a group that has struggled badly so far

‘He was very complimentary of how we did things last year and this year,’ revealed Parker. ‘He just said “stick with it” and “keep believing in what you are doing”. That was nice.’

Less helpful was a tweet from Fulham co-owner Tony Khan after a home defeat by Aston Villa in September in which he apologised for the performance of Parker’s team. 

Parker was not happy and said so.

‘That has settled down fine,’ said Parker. 

‘We have owners who care about Fulham and have spent a lot of money. Tony’s comments were coming from a good place.

‘He had his say and I had mine and it is what it is. My point was nobody had to apologise for the performance.

‘Tony is in charge of the other bits and if he wants to apologise for that it’s fine but he doesn’t need to apologise for the performance because if you do that, it’s because of lack of effort and that will never be the case for one of my teams.

‘So we move on and realise more than ever that we must stick together as a club, a team and as fans.

‘There will be a lot of people out there wanting to chip away at us and break us. We need to stick together.

‘It will be tough this year. I took over after Claudio Ranieri left and the club was in pieces. It was distant in all areas. The team, the fans, the group. Results can do that. A big driver for me was to get everyone back together and that to a large part is why we were successful last year.

Fulham owner Khan issued an apology on Twitter after the club’s heavy defeat vs Aston Villa

 

 

‘Not many relegated teams come straight back up. Look at Stoke, Huddersfield. It’s difficult.

‘Much of that success was from our togetherness. Sure there are times when you come in on a Monday morning and have to tell the players that something wasn’t acceptable.

‘I realise that I am trying to drive 30 men with different egos and personalities. I need them out there on a Saturday giving the best they can.

‘So creating an environment and a culture is about getting the balance right.

‘Everyone saw the Brentford game in the play-off final but that was just the end of it. What happened before was what got us here.

‘It has to be the same this year. One million per cent we have to stick together and I am sure we will do that.’

Fulham beat Brentford 2-1 in extra-time at Wembley. Most memorable was Parker’s emotional post-match interview during which he paid tribute to his wife, Carly, and their four sons for putting up with the baggage that a football manager inevitably brings home every night. During our conversation on Zoom, Parker was as he is always is. Smiling, engaged and great company. So is he managing to be the same at home?

‘Yeah, it’s all good,’ he said. ‘What I said was just how I felt. It was the emotion of a long, hard season. The people closest to you are the ones that see all sides of it. The end part makes it all worthwhile.

Tom Cairney has been a key part of the success under Parker but things are tough right now

‘It’s no different for me than it is for any other parent out there working. The pressures and sacrifices are just the same.

‘But the family are enjoying the Premier League, I think. The boys often tell me they would like more points. But I would like them even more than they would.’

Parker’s playing career took him from Charlton to Chelsea and then on to Newcastle, West Ham, Tottenham and Fulham.

He began his coaching life at Spurs with the Under 18s but the long-term objective was always clear.

‘My No 1 aim was to be at first-team level and manage my team,’ he said. ‘I went to Tottenham to cut my teeth and be on the training field. For my development as a coach I needed that.

‘I had dealt with a lot as a player and felt accomplished but on the coaching side of it, I wasn’t. I didn’t want to jump into first-team football and be learning my trade on the job.

‘I didn’t want to be making big mistakes in front of seasoned pros. I know how ruthless the game can be.’

With that last truth in mind, it feels a little as though Parker will need some results soon if the ground is not to start to shift a little beneath his feet.

His playing career saw him play for a number of London clubs, including West Ham (pictured)

The former Tottenham youth coach knows he has to innovate to keep this group in the league

He is realistic about that and knows exactly what Fulham’s horizons are this season.

‘If we finish the season fourth from bottom, that will be a huge achievement given that we were fourth in the Championship last season,’ he said.

As he looks to achieve that, Parker knows he must innovate. The bonds he wants to strengthen usually come from packed dressing rooms, team buses and squad nights out. The pandemic has removed those options.

‘We can’t even go out for a team meal,’ Parker said. ‘It’s out of the question. That’s the world we are in. But everyone out there is in the same position. No way will we feel sorry for ourselves. Being flexible is part of it and trying to find new ways to push boundaries and keep everything moving is the thing.’

As he said himself: Face Up. Front up. Don’t hide. It sounds like a decent motto.




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MARTIN KEOWN: Harry Kane is like Dennis Bergkamp and can smash record

MARTIN KEOWN: Harry Kane is on course to smash Thierry Henry and Kevin De Bruyne’s Premier League assists record by summoning shades of Dennis Bergkamp at Tottenham

  • Harry Kane has been spectacular during the start of the Premier League season
  • Martin Keown has been reminded of former star Dennis Bergkamp by the striker
  • Keown says Kane can break record set by Thierry Henry and Kevin De Bruyne
  • The former Arsenal defender has also taken a glance at some top-flight statistics 

During lockdown, I caught up with Dennis Bergkamp on Zoom. We discussed what he used to do for Arsenal, and how he would start high but drop deep.

Defenders didn’t know whether to follow him – and risk leaving their fellow centre back alone with Thierry Henry – or let him drift into that space between the lines. ‘That was my little battle,’ Dennis told me.

Teddy Sheringham was one of my toughest opponents for this reason, too. He never played at the same pace as the match and would drop into difficult areas. If I go with him, I leave a hole in defence which Dwight Yorke could use to score. If I don’t, Sheringham is on his own. 

Forward Harry Kane (centre) has been a phenomenal provider for Tottenham so far this season

Martin Keown sees similarities in Kane and Dennis Bergkamp, his friend and former teammate

Seeing every Premier League team beaten just six games into this new season got me thinking about our Invincible days and how systems have evolved. The tactics we used in going unbeaten in 2003-04 have never been copied in full.

Most managers now prefer to use three up top. They also like an extra man in midfield, whereas we were able to rely on a fantastic pairing in Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva.

Arsene Wenger never overcomplicated things. He preferred to focus on how we’d play rather than the opposition.

We’d start with a 4-4-2 formation but that was fluid and could become 4-4-1-1 or 4-3-3 as we adapted to different situations. We knew how to create overloads and outnumber the opposition on the wings. Amid all this, Dennis was like our quarter-back, feeding those willing runners in front of him.

Keown thinks Kane can eclipse the assists total by another of his ex-teammates, Thierry Henry

In 2003-04, he would have Henry, Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg to pick out. In 1997-98, Ian Wright or Nicolas Anelka would be the striker, supported by roadrunner Marc Overmars and the underrated Ray Parlour coming inside from the wings.

What anyone who played with Dennis will say is that his service was outstanding. I’m now watching what Harry Kane is doing for Tottenham and, dare I say it, he is starting to remind me of my old team-mate.

I’m not saying Kane is as technically gifted as Dennis – I don’t think anybody is. But the quality of the balls I’m seeing from the Spurs striker, and the way he is finding Son Heung-min, it is Bergkampian.

He is starting high, dropping deep, and showing there is more to his game than merely scoring goals. With eight assists in six games, at this rate Kane would obliterate the Premier League record of 20, shared by Henry and Kevin De Bruyne.

We’ve seen what Roberto Firmino does for Liverpool – how he drops into those pockets of space and has willing runners in Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, who start wide but come inside. 

Pundit Keown has identified an unwelcome potential statistic for his former club this weekend 

Kane, likewise, has fast-paced forwards who he can pick out. That’s been Son of late – most notably in that 5-2 win over Southampton when Kane took advantage of the hosts’ high line to assist his team-mate four times.

But now he has Gareth Bale, too. Son and Bale could become Tottenham’s inside forwards with Kane applying those golden passes into their paths.

This is not to say he won’t score goals of his own – Dennis was still our top scorer when we did the Double in 1997-98. But Kane, who suffered that serious hamstring injury last New Year’s Day, has adjusted his game. He finds pockets of space in front of opposition defences, and will often be seen operating deeper than his fellow forwards.

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out, both for Tottenham and possibly even England. With Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford as two runners, and Kane dropping deep as a feeder, that could be a dangerous combination worth considering.

I am surprised managers haven’t tried to mimic the system that proved so successful for Wenger. Burnley boss Sean Dyche and Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson use a 4-4-2 which is workmanlike and not possession-based. Southampton’s Ralph Hasenhuttl uses this formation, too, with some flexibility.

But Wenger was blessed with players of pace and creativity, along with a magnificent midfield, and Dennis was key. Sometimes he was a striker, other times a midfielder, and he was never replaced at Arsenal.

The club tried having Cesc Fabregas push up from a deep starting position in midfield, but it wasn’t the same. It is always tricker for the opposition when the player starts high and drops deep.

That is what many Premier League defences are now discovering with Kane.  

Bergkamp was as much a provider as he was a scorer and Keown says Kane has mirrored that

If Liverpool avoid defeat against West Ham on Saturday it will be their 63rd league game in a row at Anfield without losing.

This will equal their record unbeaten home run from February 1978 to December 1980 under manager Bob Paisley.

The omens are good — the Hammers have won just one of their last 47 away league games against Liverpool and their manager David Moyes has never won at Anfield in the Premier League in 15 attempts (drawn six, lost nine). 

If Leeds forward Patrick Bamford scores a hat-trick against Leicester on Monday, he will be the first Leeds player since 1926 to hit a treble in consecutive top-flight games.

That year saw 24-year-old Tom Jennings score three on September 25 v Arsenal, October 2 v Liverpool and October 9 v Blackburn. Leeds have scored 12 goals in the Premier League this season — the most by a newly promoted team after six games since Middlesbrough in 1992-93 (also 12).




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Liverpool's central defensive CRISIS: Who can Fabinho's boots?

The teenager who was playing non-league in March, a 6ft 4in French starlet or a Dutchman who models his game on Virgil van Dijk? Who Jurgen Klopp can turn to after Fabinho’s injury saw Liverpool’s defensive crisis go from bad to worse

  • Liverpool’s worst case scenario has materialised with the injury of Fabinho 
  • The Brazilian has acted as a makeshift centre back to replace Virgil van Dijk 
  • Against Midtjylland Fabinho pulled up clutching his hamstring and had to depart 
  • Jurgen Klopp faces a defensive crisis with a game vs West Ham on Saturday

It was the moment Liverpool fans around the world had been fearing most.

With just 30 minutes on the clock inside a cold and muted Anfield stadium, Brazilian star Fabinho pulled up clutching his hamstring, agony spreading across his face.

Jurgen Klopp’s trusted and perhaps most versatile lieutenant could play no further part against Midtjylland, as Liverpool were left to tackle the remainder of the Champions League group stage tie without him. 

The face of Jordan Henderson said it all. Leering over the top of physio Chris Morgan who was busy treating a grimacing Fabinho, the Liverpool captain let out a deep, exasperated breath while placing his head in his hands.

Fabinho’s injury against Midtjylland realised the worst fears of Liverpool fans around the world

Liverpool may be joint top of the Premier League and have two wins from two in Europe, but the omission of key personnel coupled with potentially mass tactical changes can really shake up a side; even one as good as Klopp’s.

So, with a Premier League clash against an in-form West Ham on Saturday and a busy festive fixture schedule on the horizon, what happens now for Liverpool?

Defensive talisman Virgil van Dijk looks set to spend much of the season on the sidelines, while Fabinho looks set to return after the international break next month.

With Klopp now having no choice but to drastically shuffle the pack and hope for the best, Sportsmail takes a look at the lesser known youngsters whose time to shine may have just arrived…

Rhys Williams

Fans are now familiar with the tall, lean defender after his last two outings for the Reds in the Champions League.

Much has been made of the fact Williams was playing non-league football on loan at Kidderminster Harriers as recently as March, just prior to the coronavirus lockdown.

And now, when needed most, Williams looks to be answering the call.

The 19-year-old was given his first taste of the big occasion after being used as an injury-time substitute to replace veteran James Milner against Ajax at the Amsterdam Arena.

Rhys Williams has stepped up twice now for the Reds and has two European appearances

Williams’ first contribution was to win a crunching header, with Klopp commenting in the immediate aftermath: ‘He is a big talent – not only big physically, but he is a real talent and it’s nice to have him around.

‘I saw it in his eyes after the game that he was pretty impressed by that occasion and that’s nice.’

Little did Williams know however that in the very next Champions League fixture, under the lights at Anfield, he would be needed not simply as a late impact sub… but in the heart of defence from the early stages.

Williams had little time to prepare before his number was held up to replace the injured Fabinho after just half an hour.

The youngster came in and slotted alongside Joe Gomez, as Liverpool held their breath to see if he could see out the majority of an elite European match unscathed. 

The 19-year-old was thrust into the action after just 30 minutes against Midtjylland at Anfield

As recently as March Williams was playing non-league football with Kidderminster Harriers

As it turned out, Williams duly answered the call. Staff behinds the scenes at Liverpool’s Melwood base have noted just how much the teenager had improved following his spell with Kidderminster, and the progress was all too apparent.

Looking comfortable in and out of possession, Williams closed down space to deny Midtjylland chances to create, while also showing the tactical awareness to pull out across the defence and offer goalkeeper Alisson Becker the option to pass out from the back.

Williams has done enough to put himself in the reckoning to step in for Fabinho going forward, though Liverpool will have full appreciation that the rough and tumble of the Premier League is likely to be a much more arduous task than an evening against the Danish minnows. 

Sepp van den Berg

In June 2019 excitement bubbled around the red half of Merseyside after Liverpool announced they had successfully pulled off the signing of Dutch sensation Van den Berg.

Klopp and Co worked hard to convince the youngster his future would be best served at Anfield, given the stern competition from the likes of Ajax, Bayern Munich and PSV Eindhoven.

Liverpool fought off competition from Ajax and Bayern Munich to sign Sepp van den Berg

Liverpool agreed to pay PEC Zwolle an initial £1.3million for the starlet, which could rise depending on his future trajectory.

Rival European elite had made promises to the gangling youngster that first-team football would be on the horizon, though Liverpool had pointed to their successful academy system and clear pathway into the senior ranks under Klopp.

Now Liverpool have an opportunity to come good on their promise.

It may be a little soon for the 18-year-old to be thrown into the deep end, though Van den Berg has impressed on each occasion he has been offered a shot in the Liverpool senior squad.

During a warm-up game against Blackburn Rovers in June, Liverpool handed Van den Berg an opportunity while rotating their side following football’s pandemic postponement.

The ginger-haired youngster seized his chance, looking a picture of composure at the back as Liverpool carried out a 6-0 thrashing, while not being afraid to vocalise himself to senior team-mates.

Klopp couldn’t stop beaming after meeting Van den Berg for the first time upon his arrival

‘It is always difficult for Sepp van den Berg as a central defender,’ said Klopp after the game. ‘We have four of them, so he doesn’t need to play much. But he shows promising things during the training.’

Van den Berg has made little secret of the fact he watches Virgil van Dijk in training religious, hoping to glean every scrap of knowledge he can from being in close proximity to his nation’s captain.

Speaking to Fox Sports after signing for the Reds, Van den Berg said: Everyone helps me but I can learn the most from Van Dijk. 

‘So if he gives me tips, I’ll save them. If I make a mistake like not stepping up and things like that. It is things you need to know.’

Nathaniel Phillips

Like Rhys Williams, Nat Phillips hails from the north west of England and signed for the Reds from his boyhood club Bolton Wanderers in 2016.

Now 23, Phillips arrived at a crossroads position in the summer whereby a big decision was needed regarding his future.

It was widely expected that Liverpool would allow the player to leave in a permanent deal, though no concrete bids arrived given the disarray in which the transfer market was left in due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Nat Phillips looked to be on the brink of leaving this summer, and may now have a final chance

The Reds instead retained Phillips, and the current predicament may very well present a last chance saloon scenario.

Last season Phillips spent the campaign on loan in the Bundesliga with Stuttgart, impressing with his consistent play and the speed with which he adjusted to German football.

On 27 December 2019, Liverpool announced that Phillips would be recalled from his loan on 1 January 2020 due to defensive shortages in the squad.

He was then swiftly handed his senior debut under Klopp just days later, as Liverpool fielded a youthful squad against bitter rivals Everton in the FA Cup third round and pulled off a shock 1-0 victory.

Phillips started the game at centre back alongside Joe Gomez, in a defence which also comprised Neco Williams and Yasser Larouci.

Curtis Jones’ sublime effort sealed an historic victory for the Reds but Phillips still received a portion of praise in the aftermath, before being loaned back to Stuttgart for the remainder of the season.

Phillips made his senior debut against Everton in the FA Cup in January and kept a clean sheet

The 23-year-old has been around the seniors for some time, though was expected to leave

Liverpool held on to Phillips following the summer sale of Dejan Lovren to Zenit St Petersburg, and Klopp himself has recently admitted he thought Phillips would have departed.

‘With our situation, we have Nat Phillips here as well and Billy the kid [Koumetio] and they are really around,’ said the Liverpool boss.

‘Phillips we thought would be transferred, but at the last second it didn’t happen.

‘We already brought him back from Stuttgart for one game last season against Everton in which he did really well.

‘These are solutions for us, and help us a lot. The boys are great, and it is a big opportunity for them.’

Billy Koumetio

And so to the boy who Klopp affectionately refers to as ‘Billy the kid.’

Koumetio made a huge impact in the summer after being named as a surprise inclusion in the squad which travelled to Liverpool’s pre-season isolated training camp in the Austrian mountains.

Inside the camp Liverpool players are said to have been put through painstaking fitness drills and arduous tests with and without the ball, though by all accounts Koumetio stepped up to the plate and made a real impression on the senior stars.

Billy Koumetio already has the stature of a Premier League defender and is highly rated

French youngster Koumetio arrived at Liverpool in 2018 after signing from Orleans FC, and signed his first professional contract with the club in August of this year.

Previously on the books of his hometown club Lyon, Koumetio had been closely monitored by Paris Saint-Germain before Liverpool stole a march and got the deal done.

Standing at 6ft 4in tall, many Liverpool fans expressed their surprise in the summer when seeing the starlet measuring up in stature – and muscle composition – with the mighty Van Dijk.

Visually Koumetio looks like a ready-made Premier League defender, though Liverpool are carefully managing his progress in order to bring him up to speed while also teaching their rather specific and intrinsic way of defending.

Now, however, this process may well have to be accelerated.

Koumetio was invited to Liverpool’s senior pre-season camp in Austria and made an impact

Koumetio has not been named in Liverpool’s Premier League squad and is still listed as an academy player, however teams can use as many Under 21 players as they like in addition to their main squad throughout the season.

He turns 18 in November and is expected to be drafted into the senior ranks permanently from next season, though will need to knuckle down given Liverpool’s bleak injury situation.

With the defence looking more threadbare than ever before, Koumetio’s chance may arrive faster than he could have possibly imagined. 

Jordan Henderson

Given how much risk in involved when it comes to throwing a youngster into the pressure cooker that is central defence, there is now an increased likelihood that Klopp will turn to his main general.

For years Henderson has played selflessly when it comes to Liverpool, offering his services in any position regardless of how naturally it may come to him.

Klopp will be well aware that Henderson’s broad shoulders can take on the responsibility, and his captain is the most vocal player on the pitch for the Reds week-in, week-out.

Klopp will most likely lean on the inspirational Jordan Henderson to slot in across the back line

Henderson does however have some experience when it comes to slotting into defence for his side, after playing as a central defender during the Club World Cup last summer.

In the semi-final encounter with Mexican titans Monterrey, Henderson featured alongside Gomez in the absence of Van Dijk and played out the full 90 minutes from the back line.

The 30-year-old marshalled the defence and looked very much in his element, helping those around him retain composure after his partner Gomez was booked during a frenetic second half.

Liverpool won the game 2-1, proceeded to the final, and Henderson very much proved his versatility.

It may well be more of the same on Saturday, therefore, with Klopp perhaps much more inclined to go with Henderson once again, while filling the void in midfield with the returning Thiago Alcantara or Naby Keita.

Henderson filled in at centre back before, against Monterrey in the Club World Cup semi-final

It’s a big ask for the Liverpool skipper, who would be allocated the unenviable task of dealing with an in-form West Ham side.

Either way, the veteran German manager has huge decisions to make and perhaps several leaps of faith to take.

It will be up to whoever is trusted with the defensive duties to own the limelight and act accordingly; the reigning champions are depending on it. 




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Nobby Stiles was a little man with a giant heart who conquered world football

Nobby Stiles had never lost a fight in his life – but his long battle with prostate cancer was one scrap even he couldn't win.

But this is how we should all remember Stiles, the little man with a giant heart bigger than the gap in his front teeth. The man who conquered the footballing world.

Supporters of the modern generation could be forgiven for struggling to appreciate how much the England and Manchester United midfielder contributed to the game.

But those relying on anecdotes, newspaper reports and memories of the past need look no further than the footage of him dancing across the Wembley turf on that sunny afternoon in 1966 after England had beaten West Germany to win the World Cup.

Take a look at how happy and proud he was? How he revelled in the moment and connected with the delirious supporters inside the famous stadium?

There might have been bigger names in that wonderful side, like Bobby Moore, Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Geoff Hurst, but no-one gave more to English football's finest hour than Stiles did.

He achieved so much for club and country, guaranteeing him greatness and legendary status, but Stiles never took himself too seriously. How could he, with all those teeth missing?

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The world needs people like Stiles, who was fun and made people laugh, which is a rare gift indeed.

The man who became a hero to millions is probably now dancing again, only this time in heaven. He will be sorely missed, but never forgotten. RIP Norbert Peter Stiles.

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Jurgen Klopp must defy Liverpool transfer stance with three ideal January targets

Liverpool head into the game against Wednesday with Jurgen Klopp needing to shuffle around his pack to cope with their defensive crisis. Fabinho, Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk are all out injured, with the latter expected to miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament.

It leaves Joe Gomez as the only senior centre-back available to Klopp with a crucial fixture against Manchester City coming up.

Rhys Williams has slotted in amicably in his two performances so far, but Klopp will need experience in defence.

He has already hinted that another one of his midfield players could drop into defence.

“We still have other options like Hendo, Gini, or James Milner or Andy Robertson can all play centre half as well,” he said.

JUST IN: Solskjaer mocked for doing what Man Utd fans criticised Liverpool for

 

“They are not smaller than Mascherano and he played it pretty well in that position.”

But that will start to unravel Liverpool’s system in midfield which has worked so well over the past two years.

While Fabinho is a solid centre-back, his best position remains in midfield where he’s also able to get forward and affect the game.

Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum are equally important for the Reds in midfield while James Milner is someone who can come in to break up play when needed.

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Liverpool’s front three and Van Dijk may have earned most of the plaudits for their Champions League and Premier League success, but the midfield core has been their unsung hero at times.

Klopp will be able to learn a lot from the game against West Ham, especially if he sticks his trust with the young options available to him.

The Liverpool boss isn’t known for making demands at board level to list off players he wants to bring into the club.

But this January transfer window needs to be the exception if Liverpool are to defend their title.

Ozan Kabak has been strongly linked with a move to Anfield and he could be available at a reasonable price.

Brighton’s Ben White has impressed since making the step up to the Premier League and he’s already been extensively scouted by Liverpool.

Arguably the most intriguing option though is Bayern Munich’s David Alaba, who recently turned down a contract extension from the Bundesliga giants.

The Austrian superstar remains one of the best defenders in the world and could be available for cheap in January should his contract situation not be resolved.

Liverpool already have a good relationship with Bayern after paying what they wanted for Thiago, albeit in staggered payments.

Now is the time for Klopp to use some of that leverage he’s built at Liverpool through winning trophies to demand the perfect defensive cover.

If not, it could prove to be a disappointing season for Liverpool after promising so much.

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Wolves vs Crystal Palace LIVE: Winner goes joint-top of the league

Wolves vs Crystal Palace LIVE: Nuno Espirito Santo and Roy Hodgson’s sides battle to go joint-top of the Premier League table after promising starts to the campaign

  • Wolverhampton Wanderers host Crystal Palace in the Premier League tonight 
  • The winner will go joint-top of the Premier League table this Friday evening  
  • Latest Premier League news, live action and results can be found here
  • Premier League table – as it stands 

Wolves host Crystal Palace in Friday night Premier League action at Molineux Stadium, with the winner going joint-top of England’s top-flight tonight.  

Nuno Espirito Santo’s side were pegged back in dramatic fashion in their last match against Newcastle thanks to Jacob Murphy’s last-gasp free-kick. Wolves will be hoping to put the record straight following the dismal 1-1 draw on Friday night. 

Roy Hodgson’s Eagles, meanwhile, are in good spirits after ending their three-match winless run with a 2-1  win away at Fulham last weekend. Palace forward Wilfried Zaha has scored in each of his last two games and will be hoping for a third this evening. 

Sportsmail’s SAM BLITZ will provide live EPL coverage of Wolves vs Crystal Palace including score, lineups and updates. 

Host commentator

Five minutes to go until kick-off here at Molineux. Let’s have a reminder of the two teams…

WOLVES XI: Patricio; Boly, Coady, Kilman; Semedo, Neves, Dendoncker, Ait-Nouri; Podence, Jiménez, Neto

CRYSTAL PALACE XI: Guaita; Clyne, Kouyaté, Dann, Van Aanholt; Townsend, Milivojevic, Riedewald, Schlupp; Batshuayi, Zaha


It’s been a sad day for football today as England World Cup winner Nobby Stiles has passed away at the age of 78.

Stiles was a crucial member of the Three Lions side who lifted the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966.

Read MARTIN SAMUEL’s piece below about one of England’s greatest players…

 

There is quite a lot of talk about Wilfried Zaha’s good run for Crystal Palace, but what about Raul Jimenez’s record for Wolves this season?

Like Zaha, the Mexican number nine has netted in each of his last two games, with Jimenez’s overall league tally standing at four goals in six matches. 

Cheick Kouyate and Scott Dann are in for a tricky night this evening…

Both these sides playing out entertaining fixtures last season, with Wolves edging Palace in the head-to-head contest across the previous campaign.

The sides drew 1-1 at Selhurst Park in the first encounter with Diogo Jota – now at Liverpool – cancelling out Leandro Dendoncker’s own goal with a 90th minute equaliser.

In the post-lockdown return fixture at Molineux, Daniel Podence and Jonny finished off attacks to give Wolves a 2-0 win.


The pre-match warm-ups have begun for the two sides with half an hour to go until kick-off.

The two managers are also doing their pitchside interviews at the moment. It’s a big evening for both sides, who can propel themselves right up the table with a win. 


It’s been a crazy few months for Crystal Palace Jairo Riedewald. The Dutch midfielder was deemed surplus to requirements at Selhurst Park and looked set to be leaving the club this summer.

But an injury crisis gave Riedewald a second chance and his recent midfield displays mean he is one of the first names on the teamsheet?

The 24-year-old netted the opener against Fulham last weekend, will we see another star showing this evening?

Tonight’s match is available to watch via BT Sport’s Box Office channel as the Premier League continues its pay-per-view service during the coronavirus era. 

Nuno Espirito Santo has been very vocal in his opposition to the service which has divided opinion amongst fans…

Crystal Palace will have several attacking options this evening but Wolves will need to pay attention to one in particular.

Wilfried Zaha has scored in each of his last two games to take his goal tally to five in six games. The Ivorian is the Eagles’ man in form and tonight’s result will depend on whether he turns up at Molineux this evening. 

Roy Hodgson also makes one change from the side that won at Fulham last time out. Left-back Tyrick Mitchell misses out entirely, so Patrick van Aanholt comes into the back four.

Michy Batshuayi keeps his place up front despite Jordan Ayew returning to the bench after his coronavirus diagnosis during the October international break. 

Nuno Espirito Santo makes one change from the side that drew with Newcastle last weekend. There’s a Wolves debut for Rayan Ait-Nouri on the left-side of the midfield five, who starts in place of Roman Saiss. 

The 19-year-old is on loan from French side with Angers, though Wolves do have the option to buy him on a permanent deal. A chance to impress then.

Welcome to this evening’s coverage of the Premier League game between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Crystal Palace.

Both sides have had identical starts to the league season, with three wins, a draw and two losses in their opening six matches.

But the winner of tonight’s match can go joint-top of the Premier League table with Liverpool and Everton on 13 points.

Kick-off is at 8pm GMT so team news will be out in ten minutes or so…


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