TUESDAY'S BIG STORIES

Get him on the plane

Oh James, why have you left it so late?
World Cup
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YESTERDAY AT 13:31
The answer, of course, is he hasn’t. Since the start of the 2021-22 season, no Englishman (well, except Harry Kane) has had more Premier League goal involvements than James Maddison. In a team that is stranded in the relegation zone, he has somehow managed to enhance his reputation. And the only difference between him and Jack Grealish is that one of them has an end product and the other cost £100 million.
Two goals and an assist in the 4-0 scalping of Nottingham Forest have only increased calls for Gareth Southgate to get him on the plane. And it’s hard to disagree.
England are desperate for creativity. Someone to kick it against an opposition arm so Harry Kane can thwack home a penalty. But Maddison’s hopes are slim given England’s next warm-up match for the World Cup in Qatar is a clash with Iran at the World Cup in Qatar. That’s not a lot of time to say hi to the lads, work out Gareth Southgate’s system – defend a 1-0 with everything you have, until extra-time when it falls apart – and also make enough of an impression to become 2022’s answer to Grealish at the Euros.
But to his credit, he still believes it is possible.
"I am not naive, I know there are top, top players in the forward areas but I have the self-belief I am a top player and can be in that category,” he told Sky Sports. "I have to force my way in because the players at the big clubs are in and they are top. I think there could be a space for me, so I will keep working hard."
Before England belatedly burst into life against Germany in that fun 3-3 draw last month, the Warm-Up was convinced England would lose their first game 1-0 against Iran and crash out with a whimper. But suppose England took another exciting player to Qatar, someone in form, and left, say, Conor Coady at home? Is that too much to ask? Brendan Rodgers doesn’t think so.
“I would really hope that there was a place for a player like that in a squad where you’ve got someone who is so talented and such a hard worker and such a team player,” Rodgers told Sky Sports.
“This is a player who can come into a game and change the course of a game. To have that ability, if he wasn’t starting for you, on the bench to come in and bring something in a tight World Cup game, it’s what a team like England needs.”
Take a gamble, Gareth, and ditch the Southgate straitjacket.

'Fan criticism is unhealthy' says Southgate, Sterling defends his England manager

Trent Alexander-Arnold is one step away from being the new Cafu...

…or at least, that’s what Gary Neville thinks.
The former Manchester United right-back has waded into the eternal debate – “is Trent Alexander-Arnold good or really good” – and heaped praise on a man who can’t even convince the world’s only known hoarder of right-backs to give him a chance.
"No full-back that I've ever seen in this country can do what he can do," Neville told Sky Sports.
"So, if he can just work on those basic [defensive] things and get consistency, we won't just have one of the best attacking right-backs this country has ever produced, we will probably have the best right-back the world has ever produced.
"This is a [Brazil legend] Cafu - that level of full-back, this is something unbelievably special."
This sort of feels like someone telling Neville that he only had to add “those basic [attacking] things” and he would have had a shot at being the Mancunian Cafu. Or someone telling the Warm-Up to grow six inches and learn how to catch to become the new Lev Yashin.
Despite his precocious gifts in attack, Alexander-Arnold can only function at maximum when protected by a sensational defence and midfield. There is nothing wrong with that when he has had both those things at Liverpool, but it’s a big ask to suggest he can suddenly just learn how to defend.
Sorry Gary, but we’re only in the “good” camp.

IN THE CHANNELS

The brilliance of Kevin De Bruyne is without question. However, sometimes a comparison to another footballing great can serve as a reminder to that level of brilliance. Over the weekend, De Bruyne moved level alongside Dennis Bergkamp on the Premier League assist league table.
They are both sat on 94 Premier League assists. Remarkably, De Bruyne collected his total in exactly 100 games less than the Dutch great.
De Bruyne took 215 games to hit the mark, while Bergkamp arrived at that table in 315 matches. The pair are joint fifth on the list – behind Frank Lampard (102), Wayne Rooney (103), Cesc Fabregas (111) and Ryan Giggs (162).

HAT-TIP

Graham Potter has not trodden the usual path to the pinnacle of modern football.
Over at The Athletic, Dominic Fifield recounts a career that saw him football development manager for the University of Hull, technical director for Ghana women's team, manager of Northern Counties East League Division One side Leeds Carnegie and then on to Ostersund, Swansea City and Brighton & Hove Albion.
There are stories aplenty in there, but this section on silent football stands out:
“He’d try different things as well. I’ll always remember how he’d have us playing silent football sometimes. No one was allowed to talk. Any team is told about how much you have to rely on talking to each other but playing silent football made you get your head up and look. It made you think differently.”

COMING UP

A huge batch of Champions League action. We'll have live text commentary from SIX games: Bayern v Plzen, Marseille v Sporting, Eintracht v Tottenham, Inter v Barcelona, Liverpool v Rangers and Ajax v Napoli.
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