Nick Albert

Your A-Z Guide Of Everything Premier League 2019/20

And, here we go. 88 days on from the end of the 2018/19 campaign, a shiny new season is upon us. May ten months of wall-to-wall football, jam packed full of incident, drama and non-stop debate begin. Ladies and Gents, The Premier League is back!

Bournemouth will rely on youth more than ever when Eddie Howe’s team begin their fifth successive PL season. Up and coming duo Lloyd Kelly and Jack Stacey have been plucked from the Championship, while 23-year-old Philip Billing joins from relegated Huddersfield. The Cherries have also shelled out on tricky winger Arnaut Danjuma and added Harry Wilson to the ranks, both of whom Howe will be hoping can add competition for places in the forward line. The latter especially will be tasked with providing the goods for top scorer and namesake, Callum, who has committed his future by penning a new four-year deal.

Chris Wilder will lead his Sheffield United side out at Bournemouth on the opening day a proud man. But also determined to enjoy the ride having thoroughly earned the opportunity to manage at this level. The boyhood Blade has worked his way up the football ladder starting out at non-league Alfreton Town, leading Oxford United out of the Conference, winning promotion from League Two with Northampton Town and most impressively, taking the team he supports from League One to the promised land in just three seasons. If he’s still be a Premier League manager this time next season, it’ll eclipse everything that has gone before.

Chris Wilder

The man loves a promotion but it's all about survival for Wilder this term

David Silva gracing us with his sheer brilliance will be a thing of the past after this season. The Manchester City and Premier League great will bow out at the end of the campaign after a trophy-laden decade at the Etihad. The Spaniard would’ve amassed well over 400 appearances by the time he hangs up his famous number 21 jersey, as well as four league titles, two FA Cups and four League Cups. Can his City teammates deliver the perfect send-off by winning a third consecutive PL? Or, who knows, perhaps Silva will sign off by adding a Champions League medal to complete the set?

Everton football club are doing bits in the transfer window! Even non-Evertonians are getting excited about how Marco Silva’s side are shaping up this year. Paying a mere £8 million for Fabian Delph represents arguably the best bit of summer business and the capture of Jean-Phillipe Gbamin should help fill the Idrissa Gueye shaped hole. The arrival of Alex Iwobi will also galvanise Goodison. But it’s the signing of 19-year-old Moise Kean from Juventus that has really turned heads, with the Italian exactly what The Toffees have been crying out for since the Romelu Lukaku days. Top six gatecrashers?

Frank Lampard, if you had by any chance forgotten, is back at the bridge! The club’s all-time leading scorer has landed his dream job quicker than he and everybody else expected to lead The Blues through, what can only be described as a period of transition. With the club’s best player sold and a transfer ban preventing any incomings, the ex-Derby coach has to go with what he has which isn’t so bad given it includes some of the best young talent in the country. As is forever the case at Chelsea though, it’s whether he gets the time. Given the circumstances, you’d like to think so.

Frank Lampard

'Super Frankie Lampard' is back at the bridge - how will he fare?

Graham Potter was still managing in the Swedish Allsvenskan a little over a year ago. Now, via the Championship, the former Östersund and Swansea man finds himself a Premier League manager with Brighton. Early season predictions suggest Potter will have his work cut out on the South Coast, particularly if the Seagulls end to last season is anything to go by. But this is a man who has already worked wonders in putting Östersund on the footballing map and stabilising a Swansea side who could’ve spiralled after relegation. Now to make a name for himself in the big time.

Heurelho Gomes was 99% sure he’d retire last term but has shelved those plans to sign a new one-year contract and remain part of Javi Garcia’s squad instead. And why not? The Spaniard has a good thing going at Vicarage Road and has even managed to buck the trend of recent Watford managers lasting barely a season. It’s clear he’s entrusted to lead the club and has been supported in the transfer market after a successful first season. Craig Dawson and Danny Welbeck bring Premier League experience, while long-standing target and record signing Ismaila Sarr brings that X-factor The Hornets had been lacking.

Incomings across the twenty Premier League clubs totalled a whopping £1.4 billion for the summer transfer window. 114 signings were made with eleven clubs breaking their transfer record; Sheffield United doing so four times and Leicester twice incidentally. Arsenal, Aston Villa Man City, Newcastle, Southampton, Tottenham, Watford, West Ham and Wolves also paid more than they had ever before to bring in the player they wanted. Despite supposedly not having much of a kitty, Arsenal were the third biggest spenders of the window (in England), parting with the best part of £140m. Aston Villa, having signed close to a new team ranked second, while Man United trumped everybody by virtue of Harry Maguire’s record breaking £80m deal.

Harry Maguire

Now team-mates for country and club

Jay Rodriguez has returned to his hometown club, Burnley. The forward left West Brom to make the the move back to Turf Moor and the place where he made his name, seven years after leaving Lancashire. The Clarets faithful will be hopeful the once capped England international can kick-start his career and score the goals to help Burnley into the upper reaches of the division. Sean Dyche’s troops stumbled to 15th last term after never truly recovering from a disastrous Europa League qualification ‘campaign’. Free of that burden this time around, can Burnley make a better start? 

Kyle Walker-Peters looks set to feature more frequently for Spurs and fill the right-back berth vacated by Kieran Trippier. The 22-year-old has started all but one of Tottenham’s five pre-season games and has clearly won the trust of his boss. As we know, Poch isn’t one to shy away from putting his faith in youth and so it’ll be interesting to see how Ryan Sessegnon evolves under the Argentinian having completed a transfer from Fulham. The 19-year-old was joined by fellow Argie and highly thought of, Giovani Lo Celso, on deadline day, a deal that just exceeds the £54m paid for Tanguy Ndombele earlier in the window. Statements of intent from Spurs, finally.

Liverpool supporters, despite winning a sixth European Cup, will be wondering what might have been last season had their team been able to find a way past one of Leicester or West Ham post-Xmas. Winning the last nine straight, losing one solitary game in 38 and amassing 97 points still wasn’t enough to pass Pep’s Man City. The Reds have never been closer to ending three decades without a league title and will have to reach the same level of performance if they’re to challenge once more. Can Klopp’s men go again?

Manuel Pellegrini would’ve been content with his first year effort at West Ham, despite losing his perfect record of qualifying for European competition in each of his 12 seasons managing a European club. The Hammers finished the season strong to come in a respectable tenth but the Chilean has lofty ambitions and won’t be settling for mid-table mediocrity this time around. Having spent the best part of £65 million to bring highly rated Spain youngster Pablo Fornals and French front man Sebastian Haller - now the club’s record signing - to the Olympic Stadium, the focus will be on trying to finish as close to the top six as possible.

New rules for a new season is nothing out of the ordinary. But twelve in one hit? Are we returning to a whole new game? The major changes will see a stricter view on handball, allow for goal-kicks to be played to a team-mate inside the penalty area, forbid attacking players from creating havoc in a defensive wall, grant less freedom for goalkeepers when facing penalties, substituted players needing to leave the pitch at the nearest point and managers liable to receiving a yellow/red card for acts of misconduct. Plenty of fun to be had getting used to all this!

Pep Guardiola

A familiar sight this season?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stepped into the managerial breach in December aware he was unlikely to be the man leading Man. United into the new season. 14 wins in 19 thereafter and Ed Woodward was left with little choice but to announce the Norwegian as permanent manager. The following sequence of results and end to last season cast doubt on that call. But a perfect pre-season in terms of results has coincided with a productive transfer window in which a troublesome backline has been prioritized and strengthened, finally. Can OGS be the one to finally lift the gloom around Old Trafford.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg isn’t an instant pick for your FPL XI but he’s the first on the teamsheet of Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl. The centre-mid - once on the books of Bayern Munich - has taken over captain duties at St Marys. And despite being just 23, it’ll be he to lead a promising Southampton team featuring new signings Che Adams and Moussa Djenepo, as well as established names Nathan Redmond, James Ward-Prowse and Danny Ings. With a strong core in place, there’s genuine optimism among the supporters. However, after flirting with the drop for the past two seasons, Saints fans may just be grateful for not having to look over their shoulder.

Quite a few British managers will be plying their trade in England’s top division this year. Having had as many as twelve just four years ago, the number slipped to an all-time low of four last season with Sean Dyche, Eddie Howe, Roy Hodgson and Neil Warnock left flying the flag. But that figure has more than doubled to nine with Chris Wilder, Dean Smith, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard all set to taste Premier League management for the first time, while Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers and newly appointed Newcastle manager, Steve Bruce, complete the set.

Raul Jimenez flourished at Molineux en route to Wolves finishing seventh and qualifying for Europe last term. From his season’s tally of thirteen goals and seven assists, it’s a surprise nobody else came in for him before the club paid the £32m required to sign the Mexican on a permanent basis. The 28-year-old will lead the line once again for Nuno Espirito’s team who’ll have the unenvied task of adjusting to the dreaded Thursday/Sunday schedule. Expect the extra workload to be shared between Raul, Diogo Jota and newest recruit, Patrick Cutrone, a £16 million purchase from Milan.

Steve Bruce can hardly wipe the smile from his face after landing the job he has always dreamed of. Yet, despite having ‘one of their own’ at the helm, waves of Newcastle fans, disenchanted at Mike Ashley’s regime, fail to see the appointment in a positive light. Even Big Mike finding his wallet to fund a summer spree whilst breaking the club’s transfer fee for the second time in a year has failed to lighten the mood on Tyneside. Without having kicked a ball Bruce knows he’s up against it. Will he be afforded the time and patience of the fans to make his mark at St James’?

Steve Bruce 2

Local boy Bruce is living his dream but could it all soon become a nightmare?

Teemu Pukki made scoring goals look easy en route to Norwich securing the Championship title in May. 29 times the Finnish striker hit the back of the net but he’ll be aware replicating the same goalscoring exploits in the division above will be a whole lot harder. Just ask Matej Vydra, Danny Graham, Jordan Rhodes and the heaps of others who have failed to make the grade in the Prem. An uninspiring transfer window feeds the narrative of Norwich struggling and it’s hard to make a case for the ultimate yo-yo club surviving beyond this season. Can Pukki break the trend and keep The Canaries up?

Unai Emery appears to have undergone a personal makeover ahead of the new campaign with his new teeth, specs and hair-do. And the Spaniard has been busy in changing the appearance of his squad too. Dani Ceballos, Kieran Tierney, David Luiz and Nicolas Pepe, The Gunners’ new record signing, are four incomings that add instant quality to the Arsenal first XI. In convincing Everton to part with up to £40 million for the erratic Alex Iwobi and shifting their wantaway captain out the door, Arsenal have arguably enjoyed one of their best transfer windows to date. New-look but same old Arsenal? We’ll see.

VAR. Three letters to strike fear in the heart of us all. Yes, Video Assistant Referees will feature in the Premier League for the first time as of this season. Like it or not, there’s no doubt a system which tends to create more questions than answers, will create havoc to begin with. Andre Marriner, the name to remember for future pub quizzes, is the man who’ll make history as the first Premier League VAR. Will football as we know it change forever? We’re about to find out.

Wesley, a £22 million club record signing from Club Brugge, is one of TWELVE new players through the door at newly promoted Aston Villa. Better quality was always needed but the £100m+ spree Dean Smith has overseen resembles that of Fulham last season. And we know how that ended. That said, Tyrone Mings joining on a permanent basis, the surprise arrival of Tom Heaton and acquiring Matt Targett and Jota from Southampton and Birmingham respectively, represents solid business. Crucially, Villa have held onto Jack Grealish and John McGinn, two players who’ll play a key role in Smith’s side keeping their heads above the drop zone.

Jack Grealish

Grealish will play a pivotal role in keeping Villa up

Xmas time, mistletoe and wine. And football. Would Christmas even be Christmas without a game every few hours? It seemed for some time the much loved festive schedule would be scrapped with a winter break put in its place. But Scudamore and co have seen sense and instead introduced a ‘mid-season break’, to begin this season. The break will see one round of games played over two weekends in February, allowing each club a week off after a typically busy period. The change will be trialled over the next three years and, in the short term, should help the national side ahead of Euro 2020. No excuses this time then, Gareth!

Youri Tielemans only joined Leicester on the final day of the January transfer window. But his contribution was so telling that the prospect of the Belgian returning to the King Power beyond the duration of his six month loan deal seemed unlikely. But remarkably, Leicester faced almost zero competition chasing his permanent signature which, in the end cost £40m. Ayote Perez has also been purchased for a further £30m as Brendan Rodgers plots an attempt to break into the top six. Losing Harry Maguire at the other end may scupper those plans however.

Zaha to Arsenal, Zaha to Everton. Crystal Palace’s prized asset desire to join a ‘big’ club became one of the sagas of the summer window. But despite submitting a transfer request late on and his brother’s best efforts in trying to force a move, the £80m rated player remains at Selhurst Park. It’s the one positive - if you can call keeping an unhappy player a good thing - of an underwhelming summer for Palace who having sold academy product Wan-Bissaka for £50m, chose to spend the grand total of £6m on Jordan Ayew and James McCarthy. Hardly inspiring for Eagles fans.

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Nick Albert

Footballers and Romantic Returns

Frank Lampard, albeit, this time in suit and tie, is back at the Bridge, while Gianluigi Buffon has proclaimed re-signing for Juve as ‘one of the most beautiful days of my life’. 

Mats Hummels, Phil Jagielka and Jay Rodriguez have also returned to their roots and ‘first love’ to make it a summer of romantic returns. But how do things turn out second time around? After all, they say you should never go back. 

Here are five standout names who were unable to resist the lure of an emotional homecoming.

Thierry Henry

Arsenal’s record goalscorer arrived in North London a relative unknown but left as one of Europe’s most feared strikers and a Premier League legend.

Thierry Henry redefined the art of finishing with his trademark sidefoot into the far corner, to not only leave his mark on Gunners fans, but football fans up and down the land.

To the delight of us all, the smooth and silky Frenchman returned for a brief but brilliant spell in 2012, five years on from leaving for the lures of Barcelona.

Thierry Henry

Typical of the man, Henry stepped off the bench to score the decisive goal on his second debut against Leeds and signed off with a stoppage time winner on his 258th and final appearance.

RETURN VERDICT - HIT

Kenny Dalglish

‘King Kenny', played his part in helping Liverpool win a raft of trophies as a player, including six league championships and three European cups, and then led the Reds to a further three first division titles and an FA Cup from the dugout.

The Scot’s legendary status will exist for eternity at Anfield and this was his likely thought process when he stepped into the managerial breach once more following Roy Hodgson’s dismissal in 2011.

Serial trophy winner Dalglish did add one more medal to his collection during his second stint - the 2011/12 League Cup - but this wasn’t enough to convince the board he was the right man going forwards hence a short-lived second spell lasting all of eighteen months.

RETURN VERDICT - MISS

Robbie Fowler

Robbie Fowler’s exit from Liverpool first time round was acrimonious to say the least. So for the Anfield faithful to welcome ‘God’ back five years later was met with universal acclaim by just about every Red going.

Well, maybe not Dalglish. Fowler scored eight goals on his return, the second of which moved Fowler ahead of the Scot in the all-time club scoring charts.

A strong end to 2005/06 resulted in a new contract but a more peripheral role the following season led to a fairly tame exit. Nonetheless, Fowler’s total of 183 goals in 369 appearances guarantees his place among the Liverpool greats.

RETURN VERDICT - PAR

Paul Scholes

A magician on the pitch, the ginger maestro trumps the competition when it comes to comebacks too.

His decision to bring down the curtain on a trophy-laden career in 2011 was always going to hit United hard. But arguably it hit Scholes hardest, who’d been making noises about missing playing.

Cue the perfect comeback!

Paul Scholes

Carefully concealed by all at OT, Scholes made his second United debut six months after 'retiring' at arch rivals Manchester City, the one club man clearly unable to resist the idea of helping his beloved United through the course of an injury crisis, and to another league title.

Scholes called time on his career for good in 2013 having amassed over 700 games over 20 years and bowed out with an eleventh Premier League winners medal around his neck, his 25th trophy of a sparkling career.

RETURN VERDICT - HIT

Alan Shearer

Tuesday 30th July 1996 - the day Geordies rejoiced as one of their own, Alan Shearer, returned ‘home’ to turn out for his boyhood team having turned down the chance to win trophies at the other United.

Needless to say, a trophy-less ten years ensued. But getting to pull on the black and white shirt and also scoring the goal to clinch the all-time goal scoring record at the Gallowgate End, well, that’s not bad either?

A cult hero he may have been but preventing The Magpies from slipping out of the top flight was even beyond the powers of Big Al who was literally shoved the job after Joe Kinnear fell ill in 2009.

It was to be a first and last foray into management for Shearer who has, understandably, settled for the serene nature of the TV studio since.

RETURN VERDICT - MISS

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Nick Albert

Six questions for the weekend

Titles, promotion, play-off spots, relegation - this weekend will decide the fate of many clubs as the EFL draws to a close and the Premier League serves up its penultimate round of fixtures.

Premier League: Rodgers/Benitez to help/hinder old club?

It looks as if Liverpool will need a helping hand from somewhere if they’re to end nearly three decades without a league title. Will that come in the shape of former Reds boss Brendan Rodgers who takes his revitalized Leicester to Man City on Monday?

The Foxes have taken 16 points from the eight games the Northern Irishman has presided over, a record only bettered by the two teams contesting the championship. Can Rodgers, so close to winning the title himself at Anfield, do his former employers a favour by ending City’s run of 12 straight wins?

Course, this could all be irrelevant if Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle stop Liverpool in their tracks on Saturday night. The Magpies were the last side to take points from City before their sequence of successive victories and should they raise their game once more, Rafa could be the man to end Liverpool’s title dream once and for all. He couldn’t, could he?

Premier League title race: Key fixtures

Saturday: Newcastle vs. Liverpool (19:45)

Monday: Man.City vs. Leicester (20:00)

Premier League: Can Cardiff win to stay alive for one more week?

Cardiff are four points adrift of safety and face Crystal Palace in their final home game. And the objective is a straightforward one: take all three points to take survival to the final weekend. Anything less and it’s curtains for the Bluebirds after just one season back at this level.

Palace have safety secured and little else other than eleventh place to play for - what Neil Warnock would give for that scenario - and the cynics may well point to the prospect of Palace seeing fierce rivals Brighton sweat on their status a little while longer.

But Roy Hodgson has his side playing a refreshing style of counter attacking football away from home. With six wins from the last nine under their belts - most notably at City and most recently at Arsenal - Palace own the sixth best away record which doesn’t translate to an easy task for the hosts.

Six Questions For The Weekend

Last weekend's defeat at Fulham leaves Cardiff needing a miracle

Championship: Who will secure final play-off berth?

One playoff spot remains and there are three contenders to fill it. Current occupants, Derby County, hold the advantage being a point ahead of Middlesbrough and two in front of Bristol City in eighth.

However, they have arguably the toughest of the final fixtures, at home to confirmed play-off contender West Brom who could still steal in ahead of Leeds in third and avoid a Midlands derby with rivals Aston Villa, with three points.

Any slip-up from the hosts at Pride Park and one of Middlesbrough, away at already relegated Rotherham, or Bristol City away at Hull, could well sneak in sixth. You’d expect one, if not both, to take advantage of fixtures against teams with nothing left to play. This said, nothing can be taken for granted, this is the Championship after all1

Sixth spot showdown: Key fixtures

Sunday: Derby County vs. West Brom

Sunday: Hull City vs. Bristol City

Sunday: Rotherham United vs. Middlesbrough

(All Championship games to kick off at 12:30)

League One: How will relegation dogfight end?

It has been some season in League One at both ends of the table. But the relegation battle, for some while featuring almost 12 of the division’s 24 clubs, has been a compelling watch to say the very least. And, still three of the four places need to be decided.

Going into the final round of games, Wimbledon, Southend, Plymouth, Walsall and Scunthorpe remain none the wiser of the division they’ll be in when next season swings around with three points separating the five teams.

Fingernails at the ready then for the supporters of each involved particularly at Home Park where Plymouth, winless in eight and manager-less since Derek Adams was sacked on Sunday, host Scunthorpe in a winner-takes-all clash.

Elsewhere, Wimbledon will head to Bradford, confident of getting the win they need to secure safety and the greatest of escapes, while Southend host Sunderland for whom promotion via the play-offs is the best they can hope for now.

League One relegation scrap: Key fixtures

Saturday: Bradford vs. AFC Wimbledon

Saturday: Plymouth Argyle vs. Scunthorpe

Saturday: Shrewsbury vs. Walsall

Saturday: Southend vs. Sunderland

(All League One games to kick-off at 17:30)

League Two: MK Dons or Mansfield for promotion?

Bury joined Champions Lincoln in securing promotion midweek leaving just one automatic spot to be filled. Incredibly, the two teams in contention, MK Dons and Mansfield face off in the 46th and final round of games that will feel like a cup final given what’s at stake.

Both locked on 76 points, there’s barely daylight between the sides though a draw will see The Stags hold onto the third place they occupy courtesy of their better goal difference.

With neither coming into the pivotal clash in good form though (one win in five for MK and two straight defeats for Mansfield), it may well turn into a war of attrition.

League Two: Can Sol secure survival?

Sol Campbell’s first foray into management has been far from easy. But Macclesfield Town, bottom when Campbell took over, are still alive and kicking.

They’re arguably favourites to stay up, ahead of Notts County who need to collect all three points at Swindon and rely on The Silkmen not winning, to avoid losing their football league status for the first time in their history. Town host Cambridge, one place and three points above but with safety assured.

The former England international has won it all in the game but can he keep Macclesfield up for what will surely go down as one of his best achievements yet?

To stay in the Football League: Key fixtures

Saturday: Macclesfield vs. Cambridge

Saturday: Swindon vs. Notts County

(All League Two games to kick-off at 15:00)

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Nick Albert

Weekend Preview: What to look out for

From title fights to promotion and relegation battles, here's what to look out for this weekend across England's top four leagues.

A real Super Sunday

I’ve lost count of how many times first place in the Premier League has changed hands this season (postcards are welcome with the answer). In all seriousness though, it has been a title race to remember, with twists, turns and some majestic football played by both Liverpool and Man City, along the way.

With each playing on the same day, one after the other and live on Sky, Sunday really is deserving of the ‘Super’ on this occasion. First up, City head to Palace. The South London side, responsible for the only blotch on City’s otherwise perfect home record, will be out to record a famous double over the Champions.

Challengers to their crown, Liverpool, host Chelsea straight after in a mouthwatering clash at Anfield. Worse-case scenario they’ll need to win to reclaim top spot but should City slip-up once more against Palace, then we could be looking at Liverpool extending their lead to four and, at best, five points with just a few weeks of the season left.

Premier League survival fight could become clearer

We’ll know a lot more about the occupants of the final relegation spot after this weekend’s round of games that’s for sure. 18th currently are Cardiff - they’re away at Burnley, realistically needing a result to remain in contention.

I say this as you’d expect one of Southampton and Brighton - five points above the Bluebirds and with a vastly superior goal difference - to take points from their mid-table opponents (Wolves and Bournemouth).

You could say Cardiff’s destiny is still in their own hands with games to play against teams in and around them. But taking nothing points wise from Turfmoor or their re-arranged midweek clash away at fellow strugglers Brighton, could leave the Bluebirds with too big a gap to close.

Premier League: Key relegation games

Sat: Brighton vs. Bournemouth (15:00)

Sat: Burnley vs. Cardiff (15:00)

Sat: Southampton vs. Wolves (15:00)

Tues: Brighton vs. Cardiff (19:45)

Crunch games in The Championship

Where do we start with the league many consider to be the best league in the world? (Or is that just my opinion?)

Finally, it looks as if the three into two is now two into one with Norwich having peeled away from Leeds and Sheffield United to hold a six point advantage at the top. The Canaries may have the chance to further increase their lead at Wigan on Sunday if Leeds fail to beat in-form Sheffield Wednesday at Elland Road on Saturday evening.

Sheffield United, heavily fancied to see off Millwall at Bramall Lane, will be hoping their fierce city rivals can do them a favour by stopping Leeds.

Norwich City

On the up? Norwich are close

With West Brom looking dead certs to end up fourth, there are six contenders for the two play-off spots remaining, two of whom, Aston Villa in 5th and Bristol City in 6th, play each other on Saturday.

Hosts Villa are in red hot form having won their last seven but Lee Johnson’s side can’t be written off after recent wins at Sheffield United, Middlesbrough and at home to West Brom.

Middlesbrough, Derby, Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday make up the chasing pack. 'Boro are faced with the prospect of being leapfrogged by Hull should they lose to the Tigers in their 3 o’clock meet at the Riverside on Saturday.

One almighty relegation scramble in third tier

You’ve probably come across the state of the League One table of late, for its sheer ridiculousness. With five rounds of games still to go for most, we’re still none the wiser as to who the four relegated teams will be.   

Walsall in 23rd are just six points from the mid-table mediocrity of 13th occupied currently by Gillingham. If we say Bradford have given themselves too much to do at this stage, there are still ELEVEN clubs in danger of falling through that dreaded trap door.

One standout game down there will see Wycombe, winless in 12 and seemingly in free fall, head to Roots Hall, where Southend, themselves without a win in 13, lie in wait with their new manager Kevin Bond. Accrington vs. Walsall is also one to keep an eye out for - both are winless in five and in dire need of points.

League One: Key relegation games

Accrington Stanley vs. Walsall (15:00)

Bristol Rovers vs. Bradford City (15:00)

Gillingham vs. Shrewsbury (15:00)

Southend vs. Wycombe (15:00)

Lincoln sealing promotion

The Imps were in the non-league wilderness just two years ago. But they’ll have opportunity to secure promotion to the third tier for the first time this century, should they record a 24th league win on Saturday.

Cheltenham will play the role of potential party poopers at a packed Sincil Bank with fans getting ready to celebrate a second promotion in three seasons. The taking of all three points at closest rivals MK Dons last weekend leaves Lincoln nine points ahead of third with five to play and, crucially, eleven points ahead of fourth.

A win will seal a historic day for a club on the up but even if they fail with their first bite of confirming the inevitable, Danny Cowley’s men could even have promotion confirmed if their fellow promotion rivals all drop points. Champagne bottles at the ready!

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Nick Albert

England: On Southgate's radar

Qualification for Euro 2020 begins next week for England with a double header against Czech Republic and Montenegro. Here are some of the names in the frame for Gareth Southgate's first squad of 2019.

Declan Rice

Having rejected an international career in the wilderness with Ireland, the path is now clear for the West Ham starlet to turn out in the white of England.

At just 20, Rice has become a permanent fixture in Manuel Pellegrini’s starting XI after coming on and leaps and bounds at the Olympic Stadium. And with Southgate seemingly not sold on Dier or Henderson in the defensive midfield role, the youngster looks set to be given the chance to make the position his own.

A wise head on young shoulders, it looks as if Rice will be rewarded for a fine season and show of commitment with his first cap.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka

The Palace right-back is another player involved in a tug-of-war in regards his international side with DR Congo watching on to see if Southgate includes the Croydon born defender for the first time.

Bissaka, capped by England at U21 level, has been a revelation for the Eagles this term. 27 starts tells you everything about the trust Roy Hodgson has in AWB who has taken the shirt from Joel Ward and consigned an experienced defender to a watching brief.

As we know, Southgate is his own man and won’t allow outside factors to influence his decision-making process. But with doubts over the form of Kyle Walker and Kierian Trippier for the RB position, coupled with Southgate’s insistence of picking players in-form, you have to think Wan-Bissaka will now get his chance.

James Ward-Prowse

After almost 50 appearances at England youth level, the Southampton man earned his one and only senior cap in 2017.

An eight minute cameo off the bench against Germany made the occasion far from memorable though and another call failed to materialise, unsurprisingly.

Precisely two years on however, Ward-Prowse has caught the eye of Southgate once more. The 24-year-old has repaid the faith shown in him by Ralph Hasenhuttl with several high energy performances and notably some end product. Impressively, his six goals - all since the turn of the year by the way - is the most by an English midfielder in the Premier League this season.

James Ward Prowse

After his weekend winner vs. Spurs, will be there be more cause for celebration for JWP?

Conor Coady

Captaining Wolves in the Premier League week in, week out in the Premier League has certainly helped people sit up and take notice of the central defender but the national manager has long been aware of Coady’s qualities through his appearances in various England youth teams.

At 6ft 1, 26 years of age and composure in abundance, Coady fits the bill for the type of defender the England boss prefers in his backline. Any concern as to whether the former Sheffield United and Huddersfield man could do it at the top level have been eased with a fine debut season in which Coady has played every minute of Wolves’ 30 PL games.

With injury and fitness concerns set to keep Phil Jones and Joe Gomez out of contention, the time seems right to reward Coady with a first senior call.

Tom Heaton

It was no surprise to see Burnley’s mid-season revival coincide with the return of their club captain between the sticks.

Heaton marked his return to the side with a clean sheet at home to West Ham on 30th December and hasn’t looked back since, helping to shore up a permeable defence with his calming influence and natural shot stopping qualities.

Let’s not forget, Heaton would’ve had a seat on the plane to Russia last summer had it not been for the shoulder injury which saw him fall down the pecking order at club level too.

Jordan’s Pickford recent error-strewn displays for Everton have cast doubt over the number one jersey in the short-term, a factor that is likely to see Heaton given the opportunity to add to his three caps.

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