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Stats suggest Bale is Madrid's fall guy

Tactics & Analysis
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 By Michael Cox

Can Verratti, De Gea and Kane break into their national teams' starting XIs?

England head coach Roy Hodgson, and striker Wayne Rooney are confident about Harry Kane's debut in the European qualifier against Lithuania.

The European Championships' expansion to a 24-team tournament has a multitude of effects -- one is that it effectively gives the major countries a free pass. Therefore, managers have more license to experiment and evolve their side with significantly less risk of failure.

Here are five fine talents still attempting to break into their country's first-choice XI -- what chance do they have of overhauling more established names?

1. Marco Verratti, Italy

By this stage, we expected Verratti to be Italy's...

Advocaat must convince Sunderland they're not the Premier League's worst

Sunderland have appointed former Netherlands coach Dick Advocaat as manager on a short-term deal until the end of the season.

When QPR's former boss Harry Redknapp described Sunderland as the worst team in the Premier League, the first reaction among Wearside fans was naturally one of righteous indignation. Then, if the evidence of message boards and social media can be trusted, the bleak realisation dawned on at least some of them that maybe Redknapp had a point.

Here, after all, is a side the supporters themselves have berated all season for an inability to create, score or even defend while still attracting absurdly...

John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin

Remembering Rooney, Owen and Shearer on their England debuts

Take a look inside England's training as Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Harry Kane and more test their skills with some great goals and saves.
Could Harry Kane, left, follow in Alan Shearer's footsteps and score a goal on his England senior team debut?

Last week was the best of his whole life, said Tottenham's striker Harry Kane after a Saturday hat trick against Leicester City had followed his first call-up for England's senior squad.

This next week might be even better, should he score against Lithuania on Friday or Italy on March 31. If that happens, then this really could be Harry's game.

Alternatively, Kane might hit the buffers, and find that international football is a step up from the Premier League. Playing for England is a different...

 By David Usher

Skrtel suspension could pave way for Lovren to revive his Liverpool career

The ESPN FC crew react to Martin Skrtel's Instagram post following the news that he has been banned for three games by the English FA.

The three-match suspension handed to Liverpool's Martin Skrtel for his apparent stamp on Manchester United keeper David De Gea was perhaps the least surprising news of the week. Once you've been charged by the FA, the question is not whether you will be found guilty but rather just how many games you'll have to sit out. Contesting a charge is a pointless exercise that at best will fail and at worst will result in an increased suspension.

Skrtel was suitably unimpressed with the verdict, immediately...

 By Lee Roden

When Sporting meet Benfica, historical rivalry leads to new tensions

The Portuguese capital Lisbon came to a halt on Monday as legendary footballer Eusebio was laid to rest.
The Estadio Jose Alvalade, home to Sporting, was the scene for the latest meeting of two of Portugal's biggest clubs.

In the latest edition of ESPN FC's derbies series, which features eyewitness insights into some of the biggest rivalries in world football, Lee Roden went to Lisbon for the clash between Portuguese giants Sporting and Benfica. 

ESPN FC'S DERBIES SERIES

- River Plate vs. Boca Juniors, by Sam Kelly
- Man City vs. Man United, by Iain Macintosh
- Celtic vs. Rangers, by Chris Jones
- Benfica vs. Sporting CP, by Lee Roden
- Apr. 2: Everton vs. Liverpool, by Jeff Carlisle
- Apr. 16: Olympiakos vs. Panathinaikos, by Michael Yokhin
- Apr. 30: Schalke vs. Borussia Dortmund, by Uli Hesse

LISBON, Portugal -- At 5 p.m the Benfica supporters start to march from their own stadium into the enemy's heartland. It's Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. They have been gathering outside the Estadio da Luz for around two hours. Once the number of red shirts reaches 2,500, the...

 By Chris Wright

Dries Mertens launches Twitter search for Guinean boy wearing his shirt

Napoli forward Dries Mertens has embarked on a Twitter search in the hope of tracking down a schoolboy from a village in southeastern Guinea after noticing the little chap was wearing one of his replica shirts in a National Geographic photograph.

As shared by professional photographer Pete Muller, the photo shows a class of young children being taught French by their teacher at the school in the small village of Meliandou.