Tweet
ArsenalBournemouthBrighton BurnleyCardiff CityChelseaCrystal PalaceEvertonFulhamHuddersfield TownLeicester CityLiverpoolManchester CityManchester UnitedNewcastle UnitedSouthamptonTottenham HotspurWatfordWest Ham UnitedWolverhampton Wanderers

Ask the Ref: Man City-Liverpool incidents examined

Once upon a time, English football used to develop a particular type of striker. He was big, tall, strong and a perfect target for long balls and crosses.

Look through England squads at major international tournaments over the past 15 years and you'll find Peter Crouch (2006), Emile Heskey (2010) and Andy Carroll (2012). In 2014, there was Rickie Lambert, who actually specialised at linking play from deep, but by virtue of coming from the lower leagues, he was automatically considered a target man -- the type of centre-forward England unmistakably required somewhere in their armoury.

ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
ESPN+ schedule

ESPN FC's experts ranked the best men's players and managers in world football. Check out the list.

Fear, paranoia, difficult behaviour and constant battling with club officials and players led to the inevitable, writes Rob Dawson.

When Boca Juniors and River Plate were set to meet in Argentina's most important match, Buenos Aires lost its mind, writes Wright Thompson.

Then, suddenly, something changed. Between World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016, England discovered their best crop of centre-forwards in decades and arrived in France with Harry Kane, who had just won the Premier League Golden Boot; Jamie Vardy, who had finished one goal behind and had won the Premier League; and Marcus Rashford, who was suddenly a Manchester United regular having made his league debut only four months beforehand. At World Cup 2014, these weren't even remotely options: They had three Premier League goals between them.

You can't call this trio a "generation" -- Vardy was born in 1987, Kane in 1993 and Rashford 1997 -- but that discovery of class up front was the catalyst for England's improvement over the next couple of years, even if it was at World Cup 2018, rather than Euro 2016, where it proved effective. Vardy is now retired from internationals, but Kane and Rashford look set to dominate England's future. They face one another this weekend at the national stadium, as Kane's Tottenham face Rashford's Manchester United.

Kane and Rashford aren't traditional English centre-forwards who thrive on crosses -- both wear No. 10 rather than No. 9, incidentally -- but they're also very different from one another.

Kane was initially considered a pure goal-poacher -- generally because no one could entirely deduce what he excelled at -- but Kane played as a No. 10 throughout his teenage years and likes coming short to link play. His performances over the past 18 months, in particular, have been defined by his selfless contributions in deeper positions, rather than his penalty box prowess.

That was evident at the World Cup, where, somewhat paradoxically, Kane won the Golden Boot yet contributed chiefly in terms of bringing defenders up the pitch to create space for the onrushing Raheem Sterling.

We've witnessed this type of movement regularly for Tottenham this season, and Kane has started to excel at a very particular type of pass -- coming short toward the ball and immediately whipping a first-time pass "around the corner" with his right foot for a runner down the right flank. It's the pass Francesco Totti used to specialise in. Who thought that would be an obvious comparison when Kane first broke through?

Rashford's all-round game is also impressive, but in a different manner. He has often been deployed out wide for Manchester United because he boasts the speed and directness to cause problems in open spaces. There remains a suggestion that he requires a central role to thrive, but the major benefit to his positioning through the middle, ironically, is that he can drift out wide to both flanks. Rashford's link play is decent enough, but it's his movement, acceleration and timing of his runs that really kills opponents.

That was obvious during Manchester United's recent 4-1 home victory against Bournemouth, when the prematch focus was upon Rashford being deployed through the middle, yet within the opening 10 minutes, he'd drifted wide to the right before using first his speed, and then an extravagant "elastico" move to beat two defenders and cross for Paul Pogba to score. It's also worth recalling an assist for Ander Herrera's flicked finish away at Southampton last month: another burst down the right and another measured low ball.

Although Rashford is clearly right-footed and specialises in striking across the ball to get reverse movement on shots (see his free-kick opener at Cardiff or the delivery that resulted in Romelu Lukaku's goal at Newcastle last week), he's comfortable shooting with his left.

Kane also boasts an impressive level of ambidexterity. His powerful, long-range opener against Wolves was particularly striking because Kane hammered it into the top corner with his supposedly weaker foot. That was his second straight goal on his left side, following his volley against Bournemouth, in which he watched Christian Eriksen's chip perfectly over his left shoulder onto his boot.

Kane completes the set because he offers that old-fashioned English headed threat, too. He has scored more headers this season than Rashford has in his career -- including, incidentally, a well-judged looping effort to open the scoring in the reverse fixture. Rashford remains unconvincing in the air and notably missed two presentable chances against Newcastle a couple of months back when connecting with the ball somewhat awkwardly, suggesting he's almost untrained in the air.

That would make sense. These days, it's rare to see a centre-forward adept in the air at a young age; with academies increasingly focusing upon developing more technical skills, it's a quality that comes later. That was the case when Wayne Rooney was shifted into a proper centre-forward position; or when Robin van Persie became a No. 9 rather than a No. 10; or, in more recent times, with Romelu Lukaku, who confessed that he simply didn't like heading the ball in his early days at Everton but has recently offered more aerial power.

Maybe this seems counter-intuitive: These players are so exciting precisely because they're technical rather than physical, and they encourage their teammates to play good combination football. But it has always been something of a myth that, to offer a threat in the air, you need to be big and strong. It's equally about positioning, timing of runs and leaping at the right moment, and smaller strikers from Michael Owen to Javier Hernandez have proven effective at the technical side of heading. Rashford clearly has a physical advantage on both of those.

While they're in battle this weekend, Kane and Rashford look set to be international teammates for years to come -- and in the nearer future, for the UEFA Nations League final four in June. With Sterling a guaranteed starter, Gareth Southgate will look to deploy a front three -- as he did for England's fine 3-2 victory away at Spain in October -- which means Rashford starting from wide and going in behind and Kane leading the line, dropping deep and feeding the other two.

England now have the most attacking options they've had for some time, while the technical and tactical ability of these players symbolises a shift away from the old-fashioned approach and a template for future English forwards to follow.

After a week off, the Premier League returns and that is music to our ears. Can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Man United maintain their momentum as they take a step up in competition against Tottenham? Does Jurgen Klopp have a problem on his hands in defence? Here's what Nick Miller is watching for this weekend...

It would be reasonably patronising to suggest that all Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been doing at Manchester United is rubbing everyone's shoulders and telling tales of that famous 1999 night in Barcelona, even with Marcus Rashford's light-hearted tweet this week suggested the anecdotes are flowing. He is clearly having a material impact on United's strikers, tinkering with Romelu Lukaku's positioning and working closely with Rashford on his finishing.

Pick your eight-man team and compete in the Champions League, Premier League, La Liga or Liga MX, then go head-to-head in leagues against your friends or people around the world. Sign up for free!

Your team will be made up of eight players, at four different positions: two forwards, three midfielders, two defenders, and a goalkeeper. Find out more here.

ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
ESPN+ schedule

But now he actually has to start managing. After a pretty gentle opening five games, United now face Tottenham, a side who wobbled once recently but one who held Chelsea scoreless in the Carabao Cup semifinals this week and who had scored 22 goals in the five games previous.

On Sunday Solskjaer will face the manager whose seat he might be keeping warm: if United's caretaker wants a test in the form of a head-to-head with one of the best, Mauricio Pochettino will certainly be that. If nothing else, this will probe at Solskjaer's tactical thinking, as Spurs are a team that can change shape in a heartbeat: at the moment they favour a loose 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond, but they could as easily go with a 4-2-3-1 or some variant on a 3-4-3 this weekend. How United will combat this tactical malleability will be a test of the work Solskjaer has done to make his collection of players more of a team again.

The players seem happy, particularly when discussing Solskjaer's insistence on playing attacking football. But against one of the best managers, and best teams in the game, that alone won't be enough. Solskjaer wants to stay beyond the end of this season: if he outwits the man many have tabbed to replace him, might that change some minds upstairs at Old Trafford?

Jurgen Klopp didn't want to play Dejan Lovren against Wolves in the FA Cup on Monday, and it was subsequently made pretty clear why, after the Croatian tweaked a hamstring and 16-year-old Ki-Jana Hoever was forced to come on. With Joe Gomez and Joel Matip already out, that leaves Virgil van Dijk as Liverpool's only fit central defender: he's good, but asking him to literally do the job of two men might be a bit much.

So what are Klopp's alternatives? The most logical would be Fabinho, who started alongside Lovren against Wolves, but Georginio Wijnaldum has filled in at the back before, James Milner can play anywhere and Hoever performed well during his first test. Whoever he chooses will be a makeshift option, and while Brighton aren't the most fearsome attacking prospect, after two defeats in a row for the first time this season, Liverpool still might find this tricky.

Amid all the talk about an offer for Marko Arnautovic and the return of Andy Carroll, it's easy to forget that West Ham now have Samir Nasri available to them. Might he play a part against his former club Arsenal this weekend? Yes, according to Manuel Pellegrini. "It was very useful for him to get minutes against Birmingham [in the FA Cup]," said the West Ham manager on Thursday. "He played 60 minutes, he is working with us very hard for around 40 days now so he has demonstrated he is able to play."

The question is, what sort of impact will he have? Nasri is an excellent technical player, but he hasn't played a league match for nearly 14 months, so even if he has been training with the Hammers for six weeks, how sharp can he really be? We might find out on Saturday.

It was interesting that, even in defeat to Tottenham on Tuesday night, Maurizio Sarri described Chelsea's performance as their "most important" of the season. That was because, in his words, they kept playing well for the whole 90 minutes, rather than submitting to that weird affliction that has troubled them in a few games. That being a loss of concentration after about an hour, like a toddler with a limited attention span.

It will be interesting to see if Sarri can keep his side's focus to do that again when they play Newcastle on Saturday. There has been an awful lot of noise around Chelsea recently, from the Callum Hudson-Odoi situation to Cesc Fabregas' potential departure, to who his replacement will be. If concentration has been a problem for Sarri's side this season, then now might be the time when it's tested the most.

With one win in the last eight league games, it was no wonder that Everton's majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri noted last week that their position in the table "is just not good enough." Perhaps even more worrying for Marco Silva, even though it came with the assurance "we stick with him", was Moshiri emphasising that they had put a "big bet" on the manager. In short, they expect progression, and since Everton are currently two places worse off with the same number of points as this stage last season, when they were already on their third manager of the campaign, it would take quite the salesman to argue that giant steps forward have been taken.

Sure, the football is better, but the results have been wobbly. Silva can blame some of the more recent ones on individual mistakes, but these upcoming games will be key. The five fixtures before facing Manchester City at the end of February are relatively friendly: they have a stumbling Bournemouth this weekend, then Southampton, Huddersfield, Wolves and Watford. But if they take fewer than, say, nine points from those five games, then bigger questions might be asked.

ESPN