MLSGB’s predicted England lineup vs Malta

Take a look at MLSGB‘s predicted England lineup vs Malta for their World Cup Qualifier on Friday evening. Gareth Southgate will set up to attack so 3-5-2 is the most likely formation. Although England should win comfortably they are still going to have to get goals early to ensure it is not a dragged out affair.

England lineup vs Malta: Defence

We expect Joe Hart to start in goal. Jordan Pickford’s withdrawal from the squad means the West Ham man is the front-runner to take the number one shirt. Burnley’s Tom Heaton will feel hard done by, but Hart’s experience makes his inclusion more likely.

John Stones, Gary Cahill and Michael Keane have all made strong starts to the Premier League season. The three of them are comfortable on the ball so they are capable of helping to break Malta down.

Kyle Walker and Ryan Bertrand are the obvious choices for wing-backs. The pair have great attacking ability and love to get forward. Even if they are caught out of position there is enough cover with the three behind them.

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England lineup vs Malta: Midfield

Southgate has a difficult choice for the two midfielders in the holding role given how many options he has. However we feel it will be Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson who make the cut. Dele Alli will sit in front of the two, providing the necessary flare and qualities to unlock the Malta backline.

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England lineup vs Malta: Attack

The attacking pairing is Southgate’s most difficult selection for us. Harry Kane start despite the fact he failed to find the back of the net in August. Kane’s partner for this one could be any of the other attacking options in the squad. Jamie Vardy will be hoping for some minutes but we think Marcus Rashford’s impressive start to the season will earn him a place in the starting XI.

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What would your England lineup be for the game against Malta?

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World Cup Qualifier Preview and Prediction: England vs Lithuania

Competition: World Cup 2018 Qualifier – England vs. Lithuania
Venue: Wembley – Sunday, March 26th – 17:00 GMT (13:00 ET
Match Odds: England 1/8 – Draw 7/1 – Lithuania 22/1

Match Preview

England welcome Lithuania to Wembley on Sunday evening in the 5th game of their World Cup Qualifiers. The Group F table is much as you’d expect, with England unbeaten in their previous four outings but there is plenty of work for Gareth Southgates side still to do.

The Three Lions have ten points from their four games and this fixture should be straightforward enough for them. The quality of the England attack should be more than capable of unlocking the Lithuania defence.

England have not lost a home World Cup Qualifier (Europe) since 2000, winning 18 of 20 games and have conceded just eight goals in those games. If those stats are anything to go by England should be comfortably winning to nil.

Lithuania have been no mugs so far in the qualifications rounds and are still in contention to reach the finals. They have five points from four games and trail second place by just three points.

They come into this one having lost 4-0 to Slovakia away from home. If Lithuania want to be challenging until the latter stages of the qualification rounds they will want to put in a respectable performance here so they can go into their next two home games with confidence of picking up positive results.

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Team News

Southgate will more than likely make changes to the England side that lost on Wednesday evening. Gary Cahill is suspended and Chris Smalling has pulled out through injury, Ben Gibson has been called up as his replacement. This may mean Southgate will revert back to four at the back rather than three. John Stones will more than likely start and Michael Keane should keep his place in the starting XI. Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling will be hoping to feature.

The Lithuania squad boast no real household names, so no surprises should be expected from them here. They will work extremely hard to cause England a tricky evening but as huge underdogs you can expect them to lineup with a packed out defence and midfield, possibly in a 4-5-1 or 5-4-1 formation.

Key Points

England’s last five: W/D/W/D/L

Lithuania’s last five: D/D/W/L/L

Key Stat: England remain unbeaten in the qualifying rounds and haven’t conceded.

Key Player: Dele Alli – The Spurs midfielder will be looking to have a huge impact on the game and continue his impressive season. His surging runs with and without the ball will cause Lithuania all sorts of problems this weekend.

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Score Prediction

England 4-0 Lithuania – Gareth Southgate’s side should be looking at a comfortable win here. They’ll be hoping to score early and settle the game down. If England have a healthy lead by half-time then Southgate will give some of the players on the bench some minutes. Lithuania will be resilient in keeping England out but for how long they can manage to do so is questionable.

World Cup Qualifier Preview and Prediction: Slovenia vs England

Competition: World Cup 2018 Qualification – Slovenia vs England

Venue: Stožice Stadium – Tuesday, October 11 – 19:45 BST (14:45 ET) 

Match Odds: Slovenia 19/4 – Draw 5/2 – England 4/6

Match Preview

Slovenia host England in both side’s third Group F World Cup Qualifying game on Tuesday night, with the Three Lions looking to make it three wins from three and remain top of the group.

Slovenia started their campaign with a 2-2 draw in Lithuania but followed it up with a 1-0 home win over Slovakia on Saturday and now sit joint-second with Scotland in Group F, two points behind leaders England.

Tuesday night’s game is a great chance for Slovenia to prove their credentials as they look to qualify for a major tournament for the first time since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, in which they were drawn in the same group as England.

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They have a strong home record and are tough the break down, so will be confident of getting a result against Gareth Southgate’s men here.

For England, it’s a chance to take full control of the group by keeping their 100% record intact in what is one of the campaign’s toughest away games.

The Three Lions have already won away at Slovakia in their opening Group F game and have more than enough quality in the squad to leave Slovenia with three points on Tuesday.

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Southgate will have been pleased with the win over Malta but will know that he’s being judged on how he sets his side up for games like this one. A win in Ljubljana would start to change people’s minds on whether he’s the right man for the job in the long run.

This will be the fifth meeting between the two nations. England have won all four prior to this, winning home and away in qualification for Euro 2016 over the last two years.

Team News

Slovenia have been rocked by the loss of their star man Kevin Kampl, with the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder withdrawing from the squad through exhaustion. Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak will expect to be busy in goal but will back his abilities as he looks to keep a second clean sheet in a week.

England have lost Tom Heaton and Ryan Bertrand through injury, with Kieran Gibbs and Jordan Pickford coming into the squad. Wayne Rooney is expected to start the game on the bench, with Eric Dier likely to come into midfield in order to offer some solid protection in what is expected to be a tougher game than the home clash against Malta. Marcus Rashford will be hoping for a start but may have to make an impact off the bench.

Key Points

Slovenia’s last five: L/D/L/D/W

England’s last five: W/D/L/W/W

Key Stat: Slovenia have only lost three of their last 13 home games, keeping clean sheets in eight of those games.

Key Player: Dele Alli – The young Tottenham midfielder scored his second England goal in the win over Malta on Saturday and will be looking to star for Southgate once again here. In what is expected to be a tight game, Alli will need to use his creativity to try and unlock a stern Slovenian defence.

Score Prediction

Slovenia 0-1 England – This will likely be another difficult away game for England. They managed to break down Slovakia in the dying minutes and will need to be prepared to face another resilient defence here. But, given the quality in this England side, they should be able to leave Slovenia with all three points.

World Cup Qualifier Preview and Prediction: England vs Malta

Competition: International Friendly – England vs. Malta 

Venue: Wembley Stadium – Saturday, October 8 – 17:00 BST (12:00 ET)

Match Odds: England 1/50 – Draw 20/1 – Malta 50/1

Match Preview

England welcome Malta to Wembley on Saturday afternoon in the second round of World Cup qualifying fixtures in Group F.

The host nation are second in the group heading into this game, behind only by goal difference. This is an opportunity for England to pick up three points and improve their goal tally in a game their are expected to win comfortably.

Since their opening win of the qualifying rounds England have parted company with Sam Allardyce for his ‘inappropriate conduct’ in a meeting with undercover reporters. England started their campaign with a late 1-0 win over Slovakia and anything but 100% after the second round of fixtures will be deemed inexcusable.

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Gareth Southgate takes interim charge of the national team for the first time since replacing Allardyce, he has been promoted from the U21 boss.

Malta were thumped 5-1 by Group F leaders Scotland in their opening game of the qualifying campaign, seeing their winless run extended to 11 games.

Pietro Ghedin faces the unenviable task of trying to frustrate teams in the group, with his side widely expected to finish bottom and be on the receiving end of many defeats by a high number of goals.

Malta are ranked 176th in the world rankings, their last win came in 2015 and they have conceded 14 goals in their last four games.

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Team News

Southgate announced Wayne Rooney would remain England captain during his time in charge. Phil Jagielka, Raheem Sterling and Glen Johnson pulled out of the squad through injury, leaving the door open for Michael Keane to earn his first cap for England. Andros Townsend replaced Sterling but Southgate isn’t expected to call in a replacement for Jagielka.

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Malta have no real ‘household name’ players in their squad. What you can expect is their starting XI to work extremely hard and ensure they earn the respect of the Wembley crowd.

Key Points

England’s last five: D/W/D/L/W

Malta’s last five: D/L/L/D/L

Key Stat: This is Gareth Southgate’s first game as head coach of England’s senior team.

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Key Player: Dele Alli – The Tottenham Hotspur star is full of enthusiasm and talent. He will be hoping to express himself on the ball in this game and make it one to remember.

Score Prediction

England 4-0 Malta – To say England are favourites is an understatement. They simply have to pick up a strong win here and ensure they keep a clean sheet. If they score a couple of early goals Malta’s confidence will be even lower than when the game kicks off, but they have to treat their opposition with respect and go about their business in a professional way.

World Cup Qualifier Preview and Prediction: Slovakia vs England

Competition: 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier – Slovakia vs. England

Venue: Stadion Antona Malatinskeho – Sunday, September 4 – 17:00 BST (12:00 ET)

Match Odds: Slovakia 3/1 – Draw 12/5 – England 1/1

Match Preview

Slovakia host England on Sunday afternoon as the qualification cycle for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia begins this weekend.

England are entering another new era as Sam Allardyce will take charge of his first international match since replacing Roy Hodgson in the summer.

These two sides faced off in their final group stage game at Euro 2016 in June, playing out a dull 0-0 draw. Slovakia are still looking to beat the Three Lions for the first time, having lost three in a row before the draw in France two months ago.

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Slovakia picked up just one win at the Euro’s and were eliminated by Germany after being thumped 3-0 in the Round of 16. They begin their qualification campaign looking to qualify for just their second World Cup, after only previously taking part in South Africa in 2010.

Slovakia have won just two of their last eight competitive internationals, so it’s no surprise they enter Sunday’s games as underdogs, with England expected to start life under ‘Big Sam’ with a win. But that’s far from guaranteed, considering the shameful 2-1 defeat to Iceland the last time these English players were together.

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A calamitous Euro 2016 campaign saw Roy Hodgson lose his job, with the defeat to Iceland one of the lowest points in English football history. A much-improved performance is needed this weekend to get the nation back onside.

Allardyce hasn’t had much of a chance to work with his players and so it will be intriguing to see how they respond to the new manager this weekend. The only England manager to not win his first game was Sir Alf Ramsey in 1963, so Big Sam knows the pressure is on.

Team News

Slovakia’s main threat remains Marek Hamsik. He is one of the most creative players in European football and manager Jan Kozak will look to get the best out of him here if Slovakia are to stand a chance. Former Liverpool centre-back Martin Skrtel will be hoping to keep England out as he did successfully at the Euro’s.

Sam Allardyce has already announced his first England starting lineup, making just three changes to the team that lost to Iceland in the Round of 16 a couple of months ago. Chris Smalling, Dele Alli and Daniel Sturridge are all dropped, with John Stones, Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana replacing that trio. Wayne Rooney will captain the side once more and will become England’s most-capped outfield player on Sunday. Joe Hart remains No.1 despite leaving Manchester City on Deadline Day.

England XI to face Slovakia: Hart, Walker, Cahill, Stones, Rose, Dier, Henderson, Lallana, Rooney, Sterling, Kane.

Key Points

Slovakia’s last five: D/L/W/D/L

England’s last five: W/D/W/D/L

Key Stat: England have not lost a World Cup Qualifier since October 2009. That is the Three Lions’ only defeat in their last 22 WC qualification outings.

Key Player: Wayne Rooney – There are many who feel the Manchester United man needs to now be taken out of the international picture, but Allardyce has kept him as captain and Rooney will become the outright leader for appearances made by an outfield player on Sunday. He is currently tied with David Beckham on 115 caps. A good start to life under the new manager is vital for Rooney if he is to remain a key player for England.

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Score Prediction

Slovakia 0-2 England – A horrendous end to Euro 2016 may still be in the minds of these players and fans alike, but the chance for a fresh start under Allardyce should see the England players lifted for the trip to Slovakia this weekend. The Slovakians haven’t been in great form in 2016 and will likely be penned in for the majority of the game. They defended valiantly against the Three Lions in the summer but are unlikely to be able to equal that. England to win, though it might not be a walk in the park.

International Friendly Preview and Prediction: Germany vs England

Competition: International Friendly – Germany vs England

Venue: Olympiastadion, Germany – Saturday, March 26 – 19:45 GMT (15:45 ET)

Match Odds: Germany 8/13 – Draw 29/10 – England 17/4

Match Preview

Three-time European Championship winners and current World champions Germany welcome England to the Olympiastadion on Saturday evening in a friendly tie that should be full of action.

The footballing machine that is Germany are arguably the best national team in the world at the moment and have a squad brimming with confidence.

They do however come into this friendly off the back of a 2-0 loss to France last time out in a game that will live long in the memory of players and fans alike for heartbreaking and disastrous reasons off the field.

This should be a good test for Germany ahead of the Euro’s and a tie for all to enjoy. They face Italy next so it’s going to be a tough international break for Joachim Löw’s side. Germany have won three of the last four meetings between these sides and will expect home advantage to help them through.

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England have a lot to be optimistic about heading into this tie in what is a new era for Roy Hodgson’s side. There are a lot of young and upcoming top talents in the squad and two exciting goal-machines upfront in the form of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy – the Premier League’s top two goalscorers.

Hodgson will be able to test out some different variations in this tie and it will again provide a test for the squad he has chosen. This will be also be a tough international break for England, as they face the Netherlands three days after this outing, so rotation is expected throughout.

England also played France in their last outing but they had a more favourable result, winning 2-0 at Wembley.

Hodgson’s side are held in high regard by Löw, who expects them to challenge to win Euro 2016 in France this summer, so this is a great chance to prove to any doubters England are more than capable of causing problems for the very best.

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Team News

The German squad is as strong as ever, with some of the highest regarded players once again earning a call up. The fierce attacking options at Löw’s disposal are frightening, with the likes of Thomas Muller, Marco Reus, Mesut Ozil and Karim Bellarabi expecting to start in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira are expecting to fill the holding role, with Mats Hummels and Shkodran Mustafi in line to feature as the centre-back paring. Familiar faces included in the squad such as Andre Schurrle, Mario Gotze, Mario Gomez and Emre Can will all be pushing to feature. Bastain Schweinsteiger has been ruled out through injury.

England are without regular goalkeeper Joe Hart, so Jack Butland is expected to start. The Tottenham Hotspur contingency in the squad, Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Harry Kane will hope their fine Premier League performances this season will be enough to gain some minutes in this tie. Hodgson has a solid squad heading into the clash with the likes of Jamie Vardy, James Milner, Chris Smalling and Jordan Henderson all having consistent domestic seasons. Danny Drinkwater will be itching to make his senior England debut and what a game it could be for him to feature in. Wayne Rooney and Raheem Sterling are both out through injury.

Key Points

Germany’s last five: W/W/L/W/L

England’s last five: W/W/W/L/W

Key Stat: England have only lost once in their last 17 games.

Key Player: Manuel Neuer – The German ‘keeper, widely regarded as the best in the world and equally as good with the ball at his feet, will prove as always so difficult to get the better of.

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Score Prediction

Germany 2-1 England – The German national side will prove to have just a little too much for England to deal with on Saturday. This game should provide both sides with a taster of what is to come from the Euro’s this summer and give both head coaches ideas of areas they will need to improve upon with just over two months to go.

13 lesser-known Englishmen to watch in MLS in 2016

By Jamie Dawe 

Over the past year, three legends of English football by the names of Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have decided to start to wind down their careers in California and New York respectively. Fellow Premier League stalwarts of old, such as Liam Ridgewell and Shaun Wright-Phillips have also made their moves to MLS in recent time. Most Premier League fans will be fully aware of these well-known and well publicised moves to the States, but many other Englishman have sailed across the Atlantic completely unnoticed. It’s about time that some of these players get the recognition they deserve. These players all have their own interesting stories to tell – one played for a national team that they were ineligible for, one broke the MLS record for the most goals in a season and one even won the FA Youth Cup in 2013!

So read on to find out some of the other English names you should be looking out for in 2016 and beyond…

Norwich’s Neymar – Dom Dwyer

Current Club: Sporting Kansas City

Joined MLS: 2012

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A youth career with Norwich City ended when he was told he would never physically recover enough from his third foot break to play professional football. He was subsequently spotted by US college scouts and given a full scholarship at Tyler Junior College in Texas. He moved to the University of South Florida in 2011 and was picked at No. 16 in the 2012 SuperDraft by SKC – where he has been ever since. A total of 61 goals in 103 career games – including 36 in MLS for SKC – shows his incredible striking ability. At 5ft 9ins he relies on power and speed to blast past his opponents rather than being a traditional No. 9. He created a formidable partnership with former Liverpool player Krisztian Nemeth last season but will need to lead the attack more independently in 2016 – something he should be capable of doing effectively.

The Former U21 Star – Jordan Stewart

Current Club: San Jose Earthquakes

Joined MLS: 2013

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The 34-year-old left-back has been in California ever since he left Coventry City in 2013. He has led a successful career, playing in the Premier League for Watford and Leicester as well as recording Championship and League 1 appearances with Bristol Rovers, Derby County, Sheffield United and Notts County. He also enjoyed a lone season at Greek Superleague side Skoda Xanthi. During his six seasons in the first team at Leicester, he achieved an appearance with the England U21 squad as well as four with the U18 group. He will be hoping for another solid campaign in San Jose this year.

The Other Brother – Bradley Wright-Phillips

Current Club: New York Red Bulls

Joined MLS: 2013

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Bradley Wright-Phillips joined MLS a full two years before his older brother Shaun. In his career leading up to the move stateside he played for Manchester City, Southampton, Charlton, Brentford and the side that I have devoted my life to, Plymouth Argyle. A grand total of 131 career goals with 51 for the Red Bulls (an MLS record-setting 27 goals in a single season included in that) prove that BWP is a true goalscorer and he has thrived since joining the league in 2013.

The Non-League Struggler – Luke Mulholland

Current Club: Real Salt Lake

Joined MLS: 2014

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Mullholland started his career with non-league side Lancaster City, who were on the verge of bankruptcy at the time. He managed to escape to college soccer in 2007 and made his professional debut in 2010 for the Wilmington Hammerheads in the USL. After a failed trial with New England Revolution in 2011, it took Mulholland three more years to fulfill his ambition of playing in MLS when he signed for RSL in 2014. He has become a key part of the team since and will hope to be an important player in 2016.

The Sunshine State Boys – Luke Boden, Seb Hines and Harrison Heath

Current Club: Orlando City SC

Joined MLS: 2015

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All three of these players were part of Orlando City’s inaugural season last term, however, they all took significantly different paths to reach the club. Luke Boden joined Orlando in 2011 when they were a USL side, after being released from his boyhood club Sheffield Wednesday. Since then, he has been an integral part of the OCSC set up and has played 112 games for the team in the two different divisions. Seb Hines moved to MLS from Middlesbrough, initially on loan a year ago, but made the deal permanent when his contract at the Riverside expired in July. Harrison Heath is the 19-year-old son of Lions boss Adrian Heath and was part of the FA Youth Cup winning Norwich City side in 2013, before moving to the US to link up with his father. Both Boden and Heath have US Green Cards – meaning they are seen as domestic players on MLS rosters.

The Accidental Jamaican – Tyrone Mears

Current Club: Seattle Sounders

Joined MLS: 2015

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At the peak of his career, former Bolton, Derby, Burnley and Marseille player Tyrone Mears was rumoured to be on the brink of an England call-up. However, an appearance for the Jamaican national side in 2009 meant he was committed to play for Jamaica until the end of time (except he was never eligible to play for Jamaica as he thought his estranged father was Jamaican, even though he turned out to be from Sierra Leone). Fast forward to 2016 and Mears is entering his second season with the Sounders as their starting right-back after coming off of a 28-appearance debut campaign last year. He will hope to help Seattle to success this year and beyond.

The New SuperDraft Signings – Jack Harrison, Ben Polk & Paul Clowes

Current Clubs: NYCFC, Portland Timbers and DC United

Joined MLS: 2016

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All three of these players were picked within the first two rounds of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft – at No. 1, 20 and 32 respectively. Harrison (pictured at top of article) spent his youth career with the Manchester United academy, whereas Clowes spent his youth career on the blue side of the city. Ben Polk has a British mother and lived in the UK between the ages of 10-19, training with Oxford United’s youth sides and playing for Banbury United in the seventh tier of English football at age 17. Now all three will hope to make a splash in MLS as they start their professional careers.

The Portuguese Shot-Stopper – Matt Jones

Current Club: Philadelphia Union

Joined MLS: 2016

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Stoke-on-Trent-born Matt Jones is only on loan to the Union from Portuguese side Belenenses, but he is British through and through. His youth career consisted of appearances for the youth sides of Port Vale and West Bromwich Albion, which lasted until he decided to play college soccer for Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. He spent one season in the fourth tier of US Soccer, after which he moved to Portugal to play for Second Division side Santa Clara. Since then, he has ventured around Portugal, playing for Madeira, Belenenses and Tondela as well as recording 29 league appearances for Santa Clara. At 6ft 3ins and at age 29, he has the command and experience of a true leader in goal and will hope for an opportunity to prove his worth in Philadelphia this year.

The Liverpudlian Lionel Messi – Rob Vincent

Current Club: DC United

Joined MLS: 2016

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After spending his formative years with Everton, Crewe Alexandra and Stockport County, Vincent took the opportunity to play college soccer in the States for the University of Charleston. After college, he moved to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the USL and has excelled over the past three seasons, finally being signed by DC United this winter. He plays in an attacking midfielder role and at 5ft 9ins and with 24 goals in 78 games – the only fair comparison is (obviously?!) to Lionel Messi! He is the most recent addition to this exclusive group of English stars plying their trade in the MLS and could make an impression with DC in 2016.

This group of English players make up the national contingent that are performing in the top divison of soccer in the US. However, there are many other English players in the leagues below MLS that are striving to reach the top.

Below is my MLS dream team of English-born players currently in MLS. Is there anyone you think deserved to be in this side that isn’t?

My best XI of Englishman playing in MLS in 2016. Via Lineupbuilder.com

My best XI of Englishman playing in MLS in 2016. Via Lineupbuilder.com

International Friendly Preview and Prediction: England vs France

Competition: International Friendly – England vs. France 

Venue: Wembley Stadium – Tuesday, November 17 – 20:00 GMT (15:00 ET)

Match Odds: England 6/4 – Draw 11/5 – France 15/8

Match Preview

England face Euro 2016 hosts France at Wembley on Tuesday night in a friendly game that will see the two nations stand together following Friday night’s tragic terror attacks in Paris.

Initially it seemed obvious that the game would be cancelled by the French Football Federation but they have decided to let the game go ahead. England and France will use the match to showcase the two nations’ solidarity following Friday’s events.

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England come into the game following their 2-0 defeat to Spain in Alicante on Friday evening. The result saw England lose for the first time since the 2014 World Cup, ending a run of 14 games unbeaten.

With Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy out through injury, Harry Kane is the only fit striker available to Roy Hodgson and there are worries the England squad looks too weak just months before the European Championships get underway.

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It will be interesting to see what the side will look like with Dele Alli and Eric Dier both awaiting their first start in an England shirt, and just how ‘experimental’ the starting XI will be on Tuesday evening.

France beat Germany 2-0 on Friday night in Paris as the tragic events in the French capital unfolded. The result of that game will mean little to French supporters but the game against England will go ahead.

However, Didier Deschamps’ side have now won five games in a row and will use the game with England to show solidarity. The European Championships in France are still set to go ahead and so the host nation will want to ensure they are in the best form possible.

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Key Points

England’s last five: W/W/W/W/L

France’s last five: W/W/W/W/W

Key Stat: England haven’t beaten France on home soil since 1992 and have failed to win in any of the last six meetings between the nations.

Key Player: Paul Pogba – Pogba is one of the world’s most complete midfielder and has been sensational since joining Juventus in 2012. It won’t be long until he’s one of, if not the best, players in world football. He’s a superb talent with unfathomable potential.

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Score Prediction

England 1-1 France – We’re hoping this game offers a chance for football to distract itself from the events in Paris on Friday night and hopefully both sides will be looking to get forward and score goals. We think a score draw is most likely.

STATS: Is Chris Smalling the best centre-back in England?

Former Manchester United defender Gary Pallister has labelled Chris Smalling as the best centre-back in the Premier League after a fine start to the season, helping United to boast the best defensive record in the top flight after 12 games.

Smalling was regularly criticised following his move to Old Trafford from Fulham in 2010 as he struggled to impress in the few starts he was given.

But under Louis Van Gaal’s guidance, the 25-year-old has become one of the most solid defenders in English football and many feel that there is no one better in his position right now. But what do the stats say?

Table: Chris Smalling's 2015/16 statistics compared to some of the best centre-backs in England.

Table: Chris Smalling’s 2015/16 statistics compared to some of the best centre-backs in England.

When comparing Smalling’s statistics to some of the most highly rated defenders in the Premier League, it’s clear he is not the best on English shores.

Vincent Kompany and Laurent Koscielny are viewed by many as two of the finest defenders in Europe, let alone the Premier League and Koscielny, in particular, outshines Smalling in terms of aerial dominance as well as interceptions and blocks.

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John Stones is also held in high esteem by English football fans across the country. He has made more tackles and blocks per game than Smalling so far but is outperformed by his England partner aerially with the United man also making more interceptions and clearances per game.

Then we come to Chancel Mbemba, who is the surprise addition in the comparison above. The Newcastle man doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of the best centre-back in the Premier League but maybe he should be further forward in the thinking process, especially if looking at his statistical performances.

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He outshines Kompany, Stones, Koscielny and Smalling in terms of tackles won per game and has also made more blocks and clearances than any of the other four. In fact, Mbemba has won more tackles in the Premier League than any other central defender after 12 games.

It’s worth noting Mbemba has more defensive work to do than someone like Smalling but perhaps claims that the Manchester United man is the best in his position need to be reconsidered, at least for now.

Do you think Chris Smalling is the best centre-back in the Premier League? Who is better?

Gerard Pique labels young English star as one of world’s best

FC Barcelona and Spain centre-back Gerard Pique has named England and Everton star John Stones in his world XI and told The Daily Telegraph he is ‘one of the new generation.’

Pique is regarded as one of the best central defenders in the world and he admits you can’t just be a ‘defender’ anymore in the modern game.

“Now the position of the centre-back is not just about defending or being nasty or tough. It’s about knowing how to play football, control the ball, pass and be more comfortable in possession,” he said.

Stones has received credit for his composure and confidence from players past and present and pundits alike in his rise to the top level over a short period of time.

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The praise didn’t stop there from Pique, as he added: “He’s one of the new generation who understand football not just as a defender.”

The 21-year-old Toffees star could well be in England’s starting lineup against Spain on Friday, which should see him face Pique.

Pique’s comments will only further fuel speculation that Stones will be subject to more bids from Europe’s elite clubs in the upcoming transfer windows.

Stones was one of only two players who Pique has not played alongside in his chosen XI.

Pique World XI

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Will Stones get a move to one of Europe’s elite clubs?