EPL

‘No interview and no agreement’ with Liverpool – Ruben Amorim

By Sports Desk April 11, 2024

Sporting Lisbon head coach Ruben Amorim has denied reaching a verbal agreement with Liverpool to succeed Jurgen Klopp as manager at Anfield.

Reports suggested the 39-year-old is in talks with the Premier League club with a view to taking over in the summer.

Amorim emphatically dismissed the speculation as he prepares for his side’s Primeira Liga match at Gil Vicente on Friday evening.

“This is the last time I am going to talk about my future,” he told a press conference.

“There was no interview and certainly no agreement.

“The only thing we all want here is to be champions with Sporting, nothing will change.

“I’m the Sporting coach and there was no interview or agreement with any club. I’m just focused, as always, on representing my club.”

Liverpool manager Klopp announced in January that he will leave Merseyside at the end of the season after almost nine years in the role.

Former Reds midfielder Xabi Alonso was linked with the job before committing his future to Bayer Leverkusen, while Amorim and Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi also emerged as contenders.

Ex-Portugal midfielder Amorim is on course to lead Sporting to the second domestic title of his tenure after joining from divisional rivals Braga in 2020.

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    Southampton have re-signed their former captain Adam Lallana after the midfielder left Brighton and Hove Albion as a free agent.

    Lallana initially joined Southampton at the age of 12 and was with the club for 14 years before he left for Liverpool in a £25million deal in 2014.

    During eight years with the Saints' first team, he made 265 appearances and scored 60 goals, helping them win back-to-back promotions from League One to the Premier League as well as lifting the EFL Trophy at Wembley Stadium in 2010.

    He then went on to help Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool win the Premier League, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup trophies before joining Brighton in 2020.  

    He heads back to St Mary's as Russell Martin's first signing ahead of their return to the Premier League, after Southampton earned promotion by beating Leeds United 1-0 in last month's Championship play-off final.

    Speaking to Southampton's website, Lallana said: "I've been no stranger. My son's at the academy, so I'm in and around it quite a bit, but I've not been this close to being home, so it's amazing. 

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  • The Numbers Game: Three Lions target winning start against Serbia The Numbers Game: Three Lions target winning start against Serbia

    Looking to end 58 years of hurt, England get their Euro 2024 campaign under way against Serbia on Sunday.

    Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate has suggested it may be a case of all or nothing as he enters his fourth – and potentially final – major tournament at the helm.

    Southgate has transformed England from perennial underachievers to genuine contenders, overseeing a surprise fourth-place finish at the 2018 World Cup, then seeing the nation's old nemesis – the penalty spot – haunt them in the Euro 2020 final versus Italy and a 2022 World Cup quarter-final against France.

    Penalty shoot-outs excluded, the Three Lions have only lost one of their last 18 games at the Euros (10 wins, seven draws), going down by a 2-1 scoreline in an infamous last-16 clash with Iceland in 2016.

    Despite the same opponents inflicting another defeat upon England in their final pre-Euros friendly last week, the Opta supercomputer makes them tournament favourites.

    They lift the trophy in 19.9 per cent of competition simulations, just ahead of France (19.1 per cent).

    Serbia, however, will be looking to throw a spanner in the works on their first Euros appearance as an independent nation, with the presence of several capable attackers leading some to tout them as a potential surprise package.

    Here, we delve into the Opta data to preview Sunday's game.

    What's expected?   

    England have started all three of their major tournaments under Southgate with a victory, and the Opta supercomputer is backing them to do so again in Germany.

    They are given a 62.1 per cent chance of a win, with Serbia only triumphing in 16 per cent of scenarios and the spoils being shared in 21.9 per cent.

     

    In the supercomputer's Group C predictions, the Three Lions are given a huge 95.4 per cent chance of reaching the last 16, finishing top in 66 per cent of simulations. 

    Serbia advance in 56.2 per cent of projections, fewer than Denmark (69.2 per cent) but more than Slovenia (42.1 per cent). However, they are only given a 12 per cent chance of topping the pool.

    This will be England and Serbia's first encounter since the latter re-emerged as an independent state in 2006. In fact, since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, England have only faced Serbia and Montenegro once, winning 2-1 in a 2003 friendly.

    The Three Lions are, though, unbeaten in their last six matches against Serbia or Yugoslavia, winning each of the last four.

    Their most recent defeat to them was a particularly notable one, though, as Alf Ramsey's world champions lost 2-1 in the semi-finals of Euro 1968, a four-team competition that saw Yugoslavia finish as runners-up.

    Attack the best form of defence for Serbia

    With Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Cole Palmer, Jarrod Bowen, Anthony Gordon and Eberechi Eze competing to support Harry Kane, England's firepower is not in question.

    Their ability to keep things tight at the back, though, just might be.

    With Harry Maguire sidelined by a calf injury and Luke Shaw not yet ready to feature after recovering from a hamstring issue, Southgate will be forced to field a new-look backline on Sunday. 

    Marc Guehi is expected to partner John Stones, and England need to recapture the solidity they displayed at previous tournaments under Southgate. 

    Across the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and Euro 2020, England conceded just 0.59 goals per game and allowed opponents a paltry 0.72 expected goals (xG) per match – a figure only bettered by France (0.67) among the leading European teams to make each tournament. 

    Should they fall short of those standards in Gelsenkirchen, the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Dusan Vlahovic and Dusan Tadic are well-equipped to punish them.

    Serbia have only managed five clean sheets in 25 competitive outings under Dragan Stojkovic, who took over in 2021.

    However, they have only failed to score on two of those outings, against Norway (0-1 in the Nations League) and Brazil (0-2 at the 2022 World Cup).

    Generally using a 3-5-2 shape and looking to isolate Mitrovic and Vlahovic against their markers, Serbia will pose a real physical test. They scored one third (five of 15) of their goals in Euro 2024 qualifying via headers, the highest percentage of any team to reach Germany.

    The Three Lions must be prepared to withstand an aerial bombardment. 

    Can Alexander-Arnold solve midfield conundrum?

    Aside from Maguire's replacement, the main talking point in the build-up to England's opener has been the identity of Declan Rice's midfield partner.

    Manchester United's Kobbie Mainoo looked to be in pole position at the end of the domestic season, but reports now suggest Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold – who will don the number eight shirt – will start as first-choice.  

    Alexander-Arnold has played a total of 25,078 minutes of competitive football for Liverpool, and only one per cent of those have come in central midfield, so playing the position at a major tournament could represent something of a baptism of fire.

    However, Alexander-Arnold – who is accustomed to inverting into central areas at club level – could prove a useful asset as England look to prise open low blocks.

     

    He ranked eighth among all outfielders for accurate long balls (147) in the Premier League last season and third for switches of play (32). If he can help to get the likes of Foden and Saka isolated against Serbia's wing-backs on Sunday, that could be key to opening the door.

    Meanwhile, England are well aware of the importance of dead balls at major tournaments. They ranked either first or joint-first for goals from set-pieces at the 2018 World Cup (six goals), Euro 2020 (three) and the 2022 World Cup (two).

    Since making his Premier League debut in December 2016, Alexander-Arnold leads all players in the division for set-play assists (20) and ranks joint-third for chances created from such scenarios (184). 

    Maguire may be absent, but if Alexander-Arnold brings his dead-ball prowess to Germany, England will be a force to be reckoned with from corners and free-kicks.  

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Serbia – Aleksandar Mitrovic

    Mitrovic, who is Serbia's all-time leading scorer with 58 goals in 91 matches, still looks sharp despite swapping the Premier League for the Saudi Pro League last year.

    The former Fulham man plundered 28 goals in 28 league games for Al-Hilal in 2023-24, with only Cristiano Ronaldo – with 35 strikes in 31 matches – topping him in the scoring charts.

    Under Stojkovic, Mitrovic has 21 goals in 23 competitive appearances for his country, with the majority of his goals coming via headers (52 per cent).

    England – Harry Kane 

    If England are to go all the way, they will need Kane to deliver in his new home country, after he saw a 44-goal debut season with Bayern Munich go unrewarded in terms of silverware.

     

    Kane is also a proven operator on the international stage, scoring 12 goals across the last three major international tournaments – six at the 2018 World Cup, four at Euro 2020 and two at the 2022 World Cup. 

    No European player has bettered that tally, with only France's Kylian Mbappe matching it.

    He also scored or assisted on all seven of his starts in qualifying (eight goals, two assists), including a brace in an impressive 3-1 win over European champions Italy last October.

  • Atlanta United v Houston Dynamo: Valentino looking to bring back enjoyment for Five Stripes Atlanta United v Houston Dynamo: Valentino looking to bring back enjoyment for Five Stripes

    Atlanta United interim head coach Rob Valentino is hoping to get off to a positive start when they welcome Houston Dynamo to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

    Atlanta announced on June 3 that they had parted ways with Gonzalo Pineda, with Valentino stepping into his shoes with the Five Stripes sitting 13th in the Eastern Conference.

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    "But on the other side of it, I want there to be shared success. We really want to enjoy the day-to-day. I think that is going to be the message going forward from myself."

    Meanwhile, Houston are seventh in the Western Conference after losing just two of their seven matches before the mid-season break.

    Having ended their scoreless run in May, head coach Ben Olsen is keen to ensure their good run in front of goal continues.

    "Even on the road, we're putting up numbers," said Olsen. "We're constantly working to fine-tune some things and push the guys in making real actions and moving with conviction in the final third.

    "[Not scoring] was a frustrating period for us, so now, hopefully, the goal stays big for us. There's a lot still to be desired, but I'm looking forward to being back at work."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Atlanta United – Thiago Almada

    Almada scored his fourth goal of the campaign in Atlanta's defeat to Charlotte FC last time out, making him joint-second in the team’s scoring charts this season. He is now just one behind top scorer Giorgos Giakoumakis.

    Houston Dynamo – Sebastian Kowalczyk

    Kowalczyk has scored in consecutive games for the Dynamo after having found the net just once in his first 21 career MLS matches. Kowalczyk is the third Dynamo player to score in consecutive appearances this season after Latif Blessing, Ibrahim Aliyu.

    MATCH PREDICTION: ATLANTA UNITED WIN

    The home side has won all three meetings between Atlanta and Houston. The home side have outscored the visitors 13-1 in the three games, with the hosts scoring at least four times in all three meetings.

    However, Atlanta have lost a club-record five straight regular-season home matches. Prior to this run, Atlanta had never lost more than two consecutive home league games before.

    Since moving to the Western Conference in 2015, the Dynamo have managed just five wins in 41 away matches against Eastern foes (D9 L27). Since the start of the 2019 season, Houston have lost 14 of 19 away matches against the East (W2 D3).

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Atlanta United – 44%

    Draw – 26.8%

    Houston Dynamo – 29.2%

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