Pitchside Europe

Facts - 7 truths: Raheem Sterling is now England's best player

Pitchside

1) Raheem Sterling is England’s best player

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As Wayne Rooney’s touch disintegrates and Joe Hart fails to consistently convince, one player continues to lay claim to the role of England talisman: Raheem Sterling. The attacking teenager (yep, still 19 until December) has started the new season in fine form.

He oozed confidence against Spurs, popping up all over the pitch and irritating Jan Vertonghen and co., and linked up brilliantly with Mario Balotelli and Daniel Sturridge. On this evidence, he simply has to start for England in the hole, regardless of where that pushes Captain Wayne.  

2) No one’s sussed three at the back yet

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Gabby Agbonlahor celebrates his goal against Hull (Getty)

Gabby Agbonlahor celebrates his goal against Hull (Getty)

What do Manchester United, QPR and Hull City all have in common? They’ve all deployed a defensive trio this season; they’ve all failed with a defensive trio this season. The former continue to unravel, the London club ditched three centre-backs with success over Sunderland on Saturday and the latter side were ruthlessly exposed in the first-half against Aston Villa.

Hull made Villa – a side who had scored one goal in three matches prior to their encounter – look like one of the Premier League’s most potent forces. Gabby Agbonlahor galloped into space with glee etched on his face as he was repeatedly afforded the freedom of the opposition half. One quick switch to a four-man defence at the break ended Hull’s adversity and almost yieled an unlikely point. Can anyone make 3-5-2 work? 

3) Mesut Ozil latest player to be misused by Arsene Wenger

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Mesut Ozil looks disappointed against Leicester (Reuters)

Mesut Ozil looks disappointed against Leicester (Reuters)

Expectations were high when Arsene Wenger signed playmaker Andrey Arshavin in 2009. Indeed, the Russian started brightly – banging in four goals at Anfield to announce himself to the fans – before his stock fell dramatically resulting in a demotion to the wings.

It’s been a similar tale for Mesut Ozil. The German’s assist-o-meter was freely ticking shortly after his Emirates bow, but his loss of form and confidence has seen him shunted to the left flank this season – a position he dislikes.

“I’m one of the best players in the world in that No 10 position,’’ Ozil divulged to the Telegraph recently. “Fans, coaches, players and everyone knows that my best position is playmaker. When I was in Madrid, I often played on the right. I enjoyed that because I’m left-footed and I was able to cut inside to give assists and get shots on target. On the left, it’s more difficult.”

Sadly for Ozil and Arsenal fans, Wenger has failed to heed this warning. Most surprising is the man chosen to replace the German in the centre is Santi Cazorla, a player more adept at flank play than the record £42.5 million signing. If Wenger doesn't believe in Ozil as an attacking pivot, then he shouldn't play him at all. 

4) Tottenham alarmingly vulnerable to counter-attacks

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Tottenham Hotspur's Jan Vertonghen (C) reacts after Liverpool's third goal (Reuters)

Tottenham Hotspur's Jan Vertonghen (C) reacts after Liverpool's third goal (Reuters)

Sixty per cent possession, three goals conceded, one shot on target. Those are the facts Mauricio Pochettino must digest following his side’s sorry home defeat to Liverpool. But the problems run deeper at White Hart Lane, despite an impressive campaign up to this point.

AVB’s reign as Spurs boss came to an adrupt end following a harrowing 5-0 defeat to Liverpool in north London last season, a tenure unhinged partly by his desire to deploy a high line. Pochettino utilised a similar defensive tactic on Sunday, watching on as his defence creaked when forced to backpedal. It’s the downside of a pressing game and Spurs showed enough promise to suggest they would warm to the system eventually, even if their team was crying out for pace both in attack and defence.

5) It’s time to learn how to pronounce Leonardo Ulloa

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Leonardo Ulloa contests a high ball with Per Mertesacker (Reuters)

Leonardo Ulloa contests a high ball with Per Mertesacker (Reuters)

Ulloa shrugged off his daunting price tag to put in another notable performance on Sunday, planting a fine header into the corner to double his season tally and popping up regularly between the Arsenal centre-backs.   

Given he’s actually proving a decent acquisition, it’s time for those of us uninformed to learn how to say his name rather than just murmuring something and hoping to avoid detection. So how is it pronounced? Well, despite a YouTube tutorial suggesting otherwise, we believe it’s pronounced A-JO-AH. There we go. Easy. 

6) Fabian Delph deserves an international chance

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Fabian Delph bemoans a miss against Hull (Getty)

Fabian Delph bemoans a miss against Hull (Getty)

Delph was a whisker away from opening the scoring inside 100 seconds against Hull when his effort skimmed off the top of the crossbar. It was the platform for a virtuoso midfield display that saw him quell the threats of Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore while also launch a series of attacks with sharp, incisive passing.

He’s finally fulfilling his potential following his £6m move from Leeds and has earned a belated England call-up. Given the format of Euro 2016 qualifying allows any half-decent side a free ticket to the finals, Delph deserves a couple of games in midfield – starting with the friendly against Norway on Wednesday. 

7) It’s GREAT to have Mario Balotelli back

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Mario Balotelli takes a shot against Tottenham (Reuters)

Mario Balotelli takes a shot against Tottenham (Reuters)

Fingers crossed there are more Balotelli moments like this post-match nugget...

Rodgers: “I said to Mario, ‘You’re picking up a man at corners.’”

Balotelli: ‘I don’t mark at corners.’

Rodgers: ‘You do now.’

Welcome back, Mario. In return for your selfless play, perhaps it’s time to seize penalty duty off Mr Gerrard?

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