THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES

Something Rotten

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What a strange team Gareth Southgate's England are turning out to be. All those right-backs. A back five screened by two defensive midfielders, no matter the opposition. In-form players left on the fringes; favourites backed through thin, thick, and thicker.

Harry Maguire shouldn't have been playing: we can probably say that for sure. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should have had a word in his captain's ear, suggested a tightness in his captain's hamstring. And when the Premier League's most out-of-form player reported for England duty, Gareth Southgate should have greeted him warmly and told him to relax. Take some time to himself. Catch up on some reading, maybe. But stay in the hotel.

Instead he played, with his head scrambled and his touch gone, and he picked up two yellow cards — one on the left-wing, one in the centre circle; both inexplicable, both inevitable — and was gone in half an hour. He wasn't on the pitch long enough for this to be a bad performance: it was a cameo, a guest appearance. A homeopathic horrorshow.

As for Denmark's penalty, we've got some sympathy with the referee. We're guessing that Mr. Manzano didn't really understand what Jordan Pickford was up to, but he knew it couldn't be right and had to be punished.

And so England, who weren't exactly set up to pile forward with 11, had to chase the game with 10. This they almost entirely failed to do: Kaspar Schmeichel had exactly one save of note to make, though it was a fine piece of work, a big sweeping swipe of a paw to deny Mason Mount from close range.

Losing a game in such circumstances is understandable, even expected. But the done thing is to take the positives and, well, if you can find any for England, you've got a sharper eye than we do. Reece James was excellent until the final whistle; he got himself sent off immediately afterwards. A pity, that. Southgate can always find space for a right-back.

No, That Picture's Too Big

Farewell and adieu, Project Big Picture. Like Icarus, you soared too close to the sun; like Icarus you caught fire, then drowned. You'd think that would balance out, but no: it just makes the plan extra dead.

All 20 Premier League clubs today unanimously agreed that "Project Big Picture" will not be endorsed or pursued by the Premier League, or The FA. Further, Premier League Shareholders agreed to work together as a 20-club collective on a strategic plan for the future structures and financing of English football, consulting with all stakeholders to ensure a vibrant, competitive and sustainable football pyramid.

Abject cowardice from Liverpool and Manchester United, you have to say. Liverpool dropping their fancy plan; United standing off to one side mouthing "We're not with them." It appears the Ambitious Two couldn't even get the rest of the Big Six onside, much less the Small 14.

Perhaps now that the immediate prospect of the power grab has receded, some of the other stuff in the proposal will be given some attention. There was a lot of good in there, along with a fair helping of interesting. And another £50m is being loaned to Leagues One and Two, interest-free, while lockout continues.

Indeed, early reports are that John W. Henry is feeling pretty pleased with himself, as he's got the Premier League to commit to a review of the state of things. Everything else is negotiation. That five-yearly summer tournament could yet make a comeback.

Congrats Joniesta

Jonny Williams was first added to a senior Wales squad in October 2011, nine years ago, called up from the under-21s as injury cover. He didn't play. A month later he broke his leg.

Two years later, he was called up again, and in March 2013 he picked up his first cap. Seven years, seven months, and a passel of injuries later he came on as a substitute against Bulgaria to win his 25th cap, with Wales struggling to carve out clear chances. He'd never scored for his country before. And he went and did this:

What a hero. That's three wins and a draw for Wales in the Nations League: they sit on top of Nations League B Group 4 with three goals scored and none conceded. Spectacular? No. Comfortable? Not exactly. Almost certainly going to end with a Greece 2004-style run to victory at the Euros? Let's not rule anything out.

RETRO CORNER

133 years ago today, Preston North End stuck 26 unanswered goals past poor Hyde FC in the FA Cup: it remains English football's biggest beating. However, it's not on Youtube, obviously. So here's a compilation of Jorge Campos — born this day in 1966 — doing his unpredictable thing. Designed his own shirts, you know.

HAT TIP

Over to The Athletic (£) today, where Raphael Honigstein takes a look at Germany's search for a new identity ahead of the delayed Euros. A 3-3 draw against Switzerland on Tuesday suggests not everything is going to plan.

In Low’s defence, he doesn’t really have one. Many of Germany’s problems can be traced back to a lack of top-class personnel at the back, especially in the central positions. Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, you’ll recall, were controversially sidelined in March 2019 as the national team manager embarked on his own "revitalisation" programme. Subsequent showings have only reinforced the suspicion that Low has hastily mucked a perfectly decent hand in the somewhat naive hope of drawing an even nicer pair in the next round.

COMING UP

The international break is over! And in accordance with tradition, the occasion is marked with a game from the DFB Pokal. FC Düren v Bayern Munich, to be precise. Rejoice, and make merry.


Tom Adams will be here tomorrow to tell you all about Project Slightly Smaller Picture

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