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Danger Zone | NFL Fantasy Live

The Fantasy Live crew uncovers some extreme deep sleepers in this edition of the Danger Zone.

Danger Zone | NFL Fantasy Live

The Fantasy Live crew uncovers some extreme deep sleepers in this edition of the Danger Zone.

Danger Zone | NFL Fantasy Live

The Fantasy Live crew uncovers some extreme deep sleepers in this edition of the Danger Zone.

Danger Zone | NFL Fantasy Live

The Fantasy Live crew uncovers some extreme deep sleepers in this edition of the Danger Zone.

Il s’impose devant l’élite mondiale du surf, avec des figures hallucinantes

Riders Match vous propose le Best-Of des 10 meilleures vidéos de sports extreme ! Un zapping plein d’action et d’adrénaline ! Dans le classement du TOP10 cette semaine, Gabriel Medina​ s’impose devant l’élite mondiale du surf, from Colombia with love en parkour avec Pasha Petkuns​ et Bobby Brown​ qui se satellise en ski.

Il s’impose devant l’élite mondiale du surf, avec des figures hallucinantes

Riders Match vous propose le Best-Of des 10 meilleures vidéos de sports extreme ! Un zapping plein d’action et d’adrénaline ! Dans le classement du TOP10 cette semaine, Gabriel Medina​ s’impose devant l’élite mondiale du surf, from Colombia with love en parkour avec Pasha Petkuns​ et Bobby Brown​ qui se satellise en ski.

Il s’impose devant l’élite mondiale du surf, avec des figures hallucinantes

Riders Match vous propose le Best-Of des 10 meilleures vidéos de sports extreme ! Un zapping plein d’action et d’adrénaline ! Dans le classement du TOP10 cette semaine, Gabriel Medina​ s’impose devant l’élite mondiale du surf, from Colombia with love en parkour avec Pasha Petkuns​ et Bobby Brown​ qui se satellise en ski.

Il s’impose devant l’élite mondiale du surf, avec des figures hallucinantes

Riders Match vous propose le Best-Of des 10 meilleures vidéos de sports extreme ! Un zapping plein d’action et d’adrénaline ! Dans le classement du TOP10 cette semaine, Gabriel Medina​ s’impose devant l’élite mondiale du surf, from Colombia with love en parkour avec Pasha Petkuns​ et Bobby Brown​ qui se satellise en ski.

There's a Cave on the Moon Large Enough For a Future Lunar Colony

The 31 mile long fissure would protect astronauts from extreme temperatures and radiation

If MLB Considers Expansion, What Would a 32-Team League Look Like?

Against the backdrop of the current postseason excitement, talk of the first Major League Baseball expansion since 1998 is in the air thanks to a recent Baseball America report. Written by Spink Award winner Tracy Ringolsby, the report describes "a building consensus" within the industry that a 32-team configuration is inevitable, with Portland likely to be one of the sites for a new team. In the report, Ringolsby presented his own proposal, one that includes a radical realignment, a longer postseason and a 156-game schedule. The schedule would be designed to "allow MLB to address the growing concerns of the union about travel demands and off days." If nothing else, it’s a provocative plan. The extent to which it would reshape the game, however, might be too extreme to happen in one fell swoop.

As was the case in both 2015 and '16, the latest talk of expansion was spurred by comments from commissioner Rob Manfred, who at the BBWAA All-Star Game press conference in Miami cited the city of Montreal as a frontrunner for a franchise and broached the topic again during a visit to the Mariners' Safeco Field in September. Questioned about expansion by reporters, Manfred underscored the need to include a team in the west and reiterated that "Portland would be on the list." Ringolsby reported that "a legitimate ownership group in Portland … has the necessary financing along with support for a stadium, which would be partially funded by a $150 million grant." That money is from a 2003 effort to woo the Expos to Portland; House Bill 3606 allocated the funds via a percentage of MLB players' income tax revenue. A report by The Oregonian identified former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett as part of the Portland group.

Manfred has mentioned other potential cities in his discussions—last year I examined half a dozen of them including both Montreal and Portland—but has said at every turn that resolutions to the ongoing stadium sagas in Oakland and Tampa Bay takes priority among the owners. The A's formally proposed a site in September, but that’s hardly a done deal, and the end of the Rays’ search is nowhere in sight. As a result, there's nothing imminent about expansion.

MLB is currently in its longest post-1960 stretch without expansion; the most recent round was in 1998, when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays joined the NL and AL, respectively, and the Milwaukee Brewers shifted to the National League to keep the leagues with even numbers of teams. For the 2013 season, the Houston Astros were moved from the NL Central to the AL West so that all six divisions would consist of five teams.

Ringolsby's proposal is a thoughtful one, but its most radical components—realignment, the shorter schedule and yet another enlargement of the postseason—may be tough to swallow, either for teams, fans, or both. A closer look at each of those topics reveals many of the obstacles that could derail any expansion plan, not just this one.

Realignment

On one level, the primary goal of realignment is laudable, in that it would lessen the amount that players travel. As it is, west coast teams face a much greater burden because they're so spread out, and this places them at a competitive disadvantage. In 2016, Baseball Savant calculated that the Mariners log roughly twice as many air miles as the Cubs (47,704 to 24,271), and all five AL West teams ranking among the top seven in mileage traveled. A study published in 2017, covering 20 years of data (1992–2011), showed that teams crossing two or three time zones without having the proper time to adjust their sleep schedules performed worse than average, and that teams traveling east were at a greater disadvantage, with the Washington Post's Ben Guarino concluding that upon returning home, "The effects are sufficiently large to erase the home field advantage.”

Ringolsby's proposal, which includes franchises in Montreal and Portland, addresses that, calling for four eight-team geographic divisions in which play would be concentrated via an unbalanced schedule (I’ll get to that) and doing away with the separation of American and National Leagues that has been in place since the former was founded in 1901 (implicitly, this would resolve the designated hitter question, but we’ll set that aside). For emphasis, I've italicized the AL teams to offset them from the NL ones:

East: Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington

North: Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Montreal, New York Yankees, New York Mets, Toronto

Midwest: Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Colorado, Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Texas

West: Anaheim, Arizona, Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle

That's quite a shakeup, one that would dilute several longstanding rivalries. The separation of the Orioles from the Yankees and Red Sox would demolish rivalries that predate the division play era, while that of the White Sox and Tigers goes all the way back to the league’s inception. The “rivalries” of the Mets and Braves, as well as Nationals and Phillies would upset the status quo as well, though their fans could probably stand fewer reminders of heartbreak from the past two decades. Recall that Mets-Braves didn't really become a thing until the three-division era that began in 1994, since Atlanta was inexplicably assigned to the NL West in 1969 (the Cardinals remained in the East to preserve their rivalry with the Cubs).

Beyond the rivalries are the financial implications and a built-in tension: the highest-revenue teams, which generally have the largest payrolls, also draw the best on the road. On the one hand, keeping up with the monetary might of the Yankees and Red Sox—who ranked first and third in the majors in revenue last year according to Forbes—presents a challenge for, say, the Orioles, but so would losing the 19 home dates per year that they provide. Since baseball is an inherently conservative industry when it comes to change, it’s entirely possible that preserving the status quo would have an advantage in most cases. The AL East teams whose attendance gets goosed by Yanks/Sox might prefer things that way, and likewise for the NL West opponents of the Dodgers and Giants.

Based on Forbes' figures, the AL East produced 29% more revenue than the AL Central in 2016 (the most recent year for which data is available) even with the 30th-ranked Rays as part of the equation. Their stadium and media rights situations are major parts of that ranking, and both will presumably improve in the coming years. A revenue-boosting new ballpark is apparently a necessary precursor to expansion and the Rays' current TV deal, which is tied for the lowest in the game at $20 million per year according to FanGraphs, expires in 2018.

Given the financial woes of the late Expos, it’s not a given that a new Montreal team be competitive within the same division with the Yankees and Red Sox, and smaller market teams such as the Twins (22nd in revenue last year according to Forbes) and Indians (27th) may not be keen on competing with the big-spending behemoths as well. Likewise for the Rockies and Royals (23rd and 24th) in the same division with the Cubs (fourth).

This isn't the first time the concept of realignment has been floated; it reared its head in 1997 and again in 2010. Amid those discussions, the MLB Players Association was said to oppose seven-or eight-team divisions due to the stigma of finishing so low in the standings, and teams in two-team cities voiced concerns. In the Ringolsby scenario, would the tight-fisted Mets and White Sox want to compete in the same markets with the free-spending Yankees and Cubs?

As with the fault lines that led to the 1994 players’ strike, it’s not hard to see a band of smaller-market teams blocking this whole proposition, and no, there's no way in hell the players will accept a salary cap to place teams on a more equal footing in exchange for the introduction of 50 or so new major league jobs. Teams might find it more palatable to go to eight four-team divisions that more closely preserve the current AL/NL split.

Shorter schedule

In the 1980s, owners decided that single-admission doubleheaders were wasteful in the face of escalating salaries and rising attendance. Via the New York Times, a June 10, 2017 twin bill between the Rays and A's was just the second time since 2004 that teams have elected to schedule such games (as opposed to cobbling them together to make up postponed games). Without doubleheaders, the number of off days during the regular season has dwindled, placing further stresses on players already frazzled by travel. Teams play their 162 games within a 183-day span, which comes out to one off day for every 8.7 games.

Shortening the schedule was a topic of discussion during the negotiations for the Collective Bargaining Agreement unveiled last December, but the schedule remained unchanged. The union had proposed reverting to a 154 game schedule, akin to the one in place until the leagues first expanded in 1961 and '62, but was unwilling to roll back salaries, believing that with a bit more rest, players would be more consistently available and the overall product would improve. Manfred and the owners weren’t buying, with the commissioner saying, “You want to work less, usually you get paid less.”

Ringolsby's proposal calls for a 156-game schedule that would include 12 games (six home and six road) against teams within the same divisions, down from 19 in the current format, and then three games against each of the 24 others. Implicitly, that would mean each team plays a three-game series in those cities just once every two years, which might be more often than some of the current, far-flung interleague matchups, but again, that would explode longstanding ties in existing divisions. To stick with the Orioles as an example, would they willingly surrender 16 games a year hosting either the Red Sox or Yankees, going from 19 all the way down to three? That may be a tough sell.

A better proposal is a move away from the 162-game schedule. There's nothing sacrosanct about that number, even if it's been significant for more than half a century. Some single-season records date back to the 154-game era and speak to dramatically different conditions than those today, particularly when it comes to pitching. As we saw this year with the case of Giancarlo Stanton, schedule length is no longer the primary issue when it comes to debating the validity of the single-season home run record. Given time, baseball fans could grasp the nuances of the 154-, 162- and 156-game eras just as easily they do those of the pre-division, two-division and three-division eras when it comes to postseason formats (more on which momentarily). And as for career totals, it's possible that the slightly shorter schedules, theoretically designed to save a bit of wear and tear, keep players around a bit longer to offset the loss of games.

The upside of the 156-game schedule is that each team gets one off day every week within a schedule that fits into the same footprint as the existing one. Ringolsby’s plan would further limit each road trip to two cities. His belief is that the total savings on travel costs from the less frequent travel outside each division would more than offset the revenue lost from wiping three home games from each team's schedule.

Expanded postseason

Via this plan, the postseason—which grew to four team in 1969 with the advent of division play, eight teams in 1995 via the three divisions and wild card in each league, and 10 teams via the addition of a second wild card in each league in 2012—would grow to 12 teams. Each of the four division winners would advance to the Division Series, and the other eight teams would play four (!) wild card games to determine their opponents. That's double the sudden-death drama from the current format.

That said, the current format isn't universally loved. While it does a better job of penalizing its participants for not winning their divisions—it generally requires teams to call upon their ace, who are subsequently limited to one Division Series start and creates a ripple effect on bullpens—it shifts the focus of the regular season races away from the best teams and towards the middle of the pack. Under the current format, the fourth- and fifth-best teams in each 15-team league make the cut and the sixth, seventh and do not. In this year's AL wild card race, that meant sub-.500 teams battling for playoff spots, a situation that invited ridicule.

As for the wild card games themselves, baseball is a sport where on any given day, even the worst team can beat the best team. It's entirely possible, but hardly fair, that one bad day can undo even a 98-win season, as was the case for the 2015 NL Wild Card-losing Pirates.

Ringolsby's proposal doesn't take advantage of the call from some quarters to expand the wild card format to a best-of-three; the drawbacks of keeping the division winners waiting around for a few days remain. And with the 156-game schedule occupying the same footprint as the 162-game one, the proposal does nothing to prevent the postseason from creeping into November, where the risk of chilly weather having a greater impact on the outcome looms.

As the Bud Selig era showed, MLB can thrive even with significant changes. The sport's revenues have more than quintupled since 1993, from $1.9 billion to over $10 billion annually (per Forbes) while the industry and its audience has coped with the implementation of the wild card, three divisions and interleague play. Further changes are inevitable, as is expansion, but to these eyes, it would seem not only that a shorter season that improves rest and travel conditions for players should also wrap up before Halloween, but that the addition of two teams can be done without ripping apart so many of the rivalries, and so much of the history, that make up the sport's fabric.

Watching the NBA That Kevin Durant Created

The new era began at the end of Game 3 in last June's NBA Finals. LeBron James finished with 39 points, 11 assists, and nine rebounds, and the Cavs were unbelievable for most of the night. But Kevin Durant was fresh after picking his spots for the first three quarters. He was gliding all over the floor. He scored 14 of his 31 points in the final nine minutes, and with the Warriors down two, Durant hit a three in LeBron's face to take the lead and seal the win in the closing moments. LeBron was exhausted and a step slow to close out when it mattered, and that was the end. "I've played against some great teams," LeBron said afterward, "but I don't think no team has had this type of firepower."

That Durant shot was a torch-passing moment. Not necessarily because Durant was suddenly the better player, but because KD took LeBron's playbook and beat him at his own game.

Just as LeBron did with Miami in 2010—and again with Cleveland in 2014—KD used free agency to give himself the best chance possible to secure his legacy. He chose a team with young, unselfish superstars to ease his workload and an elite coach to optimize his talent. It wasn't an accident that Durant was peaking at the end of a Finals game just as LeBron was beginning to look mortal.

There are important qualifiers to consider here. 1) Again, LeBron is probably still better than KD if we're analyzing everyone in a vacuum; 2) Steph Curry and Draymond Green are both more valuable than Durant in Golden State; 3) What Durant did—join a 73-win team and a unanimous MVP that were one year removed from a title, and also join the team that had just beaten him in a playoff series that was more humiliating than most people remember—was several measures more extreme than any of the power-plays LeBron ever made.

That last point is the important one, because that's what gave us this summer. It's true, teams all over the NBA watched the Warriors in the Finals and realized that they would have to "up their risk-profile" to compete, but that was only half the equation. Durant's decision was so bold, and so effective, it freed superstars to try anything.

Chris Paul forced his way to Houston, the team that humiliated the Clippers a few years earlier. Paul George forced his way out of Indiana with his agent openly pining for the Lakers. Jimmy Butler got traded to become a 21-year-old sidekick in Minneapolis, and he was genuinely thrilled. Carmelo Anthony embraced Oklahoma City, and Dwyane Wade embraced Cleveland. Kyrie Irving watched Warriors in the Finals, heard LeBron rumors, and demanded a trade. All of them were making career decisions that would have seemed insane even two years ago, but they were mostly insulated from skepticism this summer. After KD, nothing feels that crazy.

The same way LeBron's Decision empowered a generation of superstars to go build their own empires with varying success—CP3 to LA, Carmelo to New York, Dwight to the Lakers—Durant's decision seems to have ushered in an era that's rendered all NBA alliances more fluid than ever. For teams like the Celtics and for stars like Kyrie Irving, every move on the board is now in play.

It's fair to have concerns about what's changed. For one thing, it seems unhealthy for the NBA if players like Paul George, Jimmy Butler, or Anthony Davis can't make it halfway through contract extensions before their incumbent teams are overwhelmed with trade rumors. Kyrie Irving had two years left on his deal, and that still gave him enough leverage to scare off suitors like the Nuggets and Bucks as he forced his way to Boston. Likewise, it's definitely not great that, just as the NFL was losing its grip on the mainstream and the NBA was building momentum, last year's playoffs were flat-out terrible.

The absence of drama hurt the NBA in some tangible ways. With the Cavs and Warriors barnstorming through the league, the NBA had the fewest playoff games since expanding to a best-of-7 format in 2003, culminating in an estimated-$70 million revenue shortfall, which made for a smaller salary cap this summer. Then, consider that the tighter cap will make it harder for Golden State's competition to level the playing field. Recall that Durant gave the Warriors a significant discount when he re-signed this summer, and that Klay Thompson is apparently considering doing the same in 2019. If you think the Warriors are a problem, they might not be going away away anytime soon.

"It’s pretty f***ing sick to see," Draymond Green told GQ this month. "Everybody is just in a f***ing panic about what to do. You sit back and think, like, these motherf***ers, they know. That’s the fun part about it: They know they don’t stand a chance.”

Two reactions there. First, a personal note: Every time I start to complain about the Warriors, Draymond Green reminds me not to take any of this too seriously. And second, if we're talking panic: I've worried about the Warriors' effect on the league to varying degrees over the past year, but I'm less concerned than ever.

If the Durant-era Warriors produced the offseason we just had, they deserve credit, not blame. This summer's anarchy should be part of the NBA's business model. But what's great about the Warriors is that they haven't only changed the calculus for teams and superstars. Fans are adapting, too.

Nobody is following this year's NBA to see who will win the Finals. Fans are watching to see what Kyrie Irving will do in Boston. Also: How will LeBron and Wade look in Cleveland? What does a Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons pick-and-roll look like? Will Westbrook, George, and Carmelo find a way to make it work? What about Paul and Harden? Is Karl-Anthony Towns ready to take over the world? And where will Anthony Davis end up?

This is how hardcore fans have always consumed basketball. Everyone has a favorite team, but if you love the NBA, you're following the entire sport. The trades, the draft picks, the personalities, J.R. Smith dapping up Jason Terry in the middle of a game, Giannis going nuts to win you over with a game-winner in the middle of January—the full spectrum of characters and subplots is what makes basketball great.

My guess on the Durant-Warriors era is that a lack of drama at the top of the league will force more mainstream fans to watch the NBA the way hardcore basketball fans always have. And that shift will come just as every league-wide subplot becomes twice as entertaining in the chaotic era that Durant helped forge.

There will always be Twitter eggs who claim that Warriors dominance has made the entire sport a waste of time, but I don't think the real world agrees with the comments section. Compare basketball and football. Both sports have seen TV ratings suffer in recent years, but everyone is consuming media differently today, so that's not necessarily indicative of health. More relevant: When is the last time you had a heated argument about NFL news that actually happened on the field? Are you more interested in following the next three months of Andrew Luck or Kyrie Irving? How many stars does football have who are more famous Joel Embiid? And how many of those NFL stars are under 30 years old?

Basketball is already winning in the modern era. Durant and the Warriors will just sharpen the focus on what fans are actually following. The same way soccer fans follow superstar players all over the planet, younger basketball fans are learning to watch the entire NBA and follow the offseason as obsessively as the playoffs. Whenever Golden State stops winning titles, parity at the top of the league will add one more advantage to a sport that's already well-positioned to own the next decade.

In the meantime, this season features more superstars than the NBA has ever seen, and it feels like half of them will be in new uniforms. Then next summer will feature LeBron James, Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, and Paul George all hitting free agency at the same time, with Anthony Davis looming as the most talented trade target since Kevin Garnett. None of this is slowing down. And as for the Finals MVP who lit the fuse on this new era, he's in a strange spot.

After the summer of the burner accounts and staged ESPY reactions and Nike trash talk, Durant's not less popular than LeBron was after Year One in Miami, but he seems less fulfilled. And what's interesting is that what KD seems to be looking for—broad appreciation of his game and his decisions—is everything LeBron eventually found on the court in Game 6 against Boston, the Finals against San Antonio, and obviously, the Finals against Golden State.

LeBron won over critics by winning games he was supposed to lose. The current version of Warriors is so incredible that it's unclear whether Durant will have the chance to give us those moments. He has, however, given the rest of the NBA the chance to take more risks, avoid scrutiny, get weird, and lean into everything that made basketball great in the first place.

Watching the NBA That Kevin Durant Created

The new era began at the end of Game 3 in last June's NBA Finals. LeBron James finished with 39 points, 11 assists, and nine rebounds, and the Cavs were unbelievable for most of the night. But Kevin Durant was fresh after picking his spots for the first three quarters. He was gliding all over the floor. He scored 14 of his 31 points in the final nine minutes, and with the Warriors down two, Durant hit a three in LeBron's face to take the lead and seal the win in the closing moments. LeBron was exhausted and a step slow to close out when it mattered, and that was the end. "I've played against some great teams," LeBron said afterward, "but I don't think no team has had this type of firepower."

That Durant shot was a torch-passing moment. Not necessarily because Durant was suddenly the better player, but because KD took LeBron's playbook and beat him at his own game.

Just as LeBron did with Miami in 2010—and again with Cleveland in 2014—KD used free agency to give himself the best chance possible to secure his legacy. He chose a team with young, unselfish superstars to ease his workload and an elite coach to optimize his talent. It wasn't an accident that Durant was peaking at the end of a Finals game just as LeBron was beginning to look mortal.

There are important qualifiers to consider here. 1) Again, LeBron is probably still better than KD if we're analyzing everyone in a vacuum; 2) Steph Curry and Draymond Green are both more valuable than Durant in Golden State; 3) What Durant did—join a 73-win team and a unanimous MVP that were one year removed from a title, and also join the team that had just beaten him in a playoff series that was more humiliating than most people remember—was several measures more extreme than any of the power-plays LeBron ever made.

That last point is the important one, because that's what gave us this summer. It's true, teams all over the NBA watched the Warriors in the Finals and realized that they would have to "up their risk-profile" to compete, but that was only half the equation. Durant's decision was so bold, and so effective, it freed superstars to try anything.

Chris Paul forced his way to Houston, the team that humiliated the Clippers a few years earlier. Paul George forced his way out of Indiana with his agent openly pining for the Lakers. Jimmy Butler got traded to become a 21-year-old sidekick in Minneapolis, and he was genuinely thrilled. Carmelo Anthony embraced Oklahoma City, and Dwyane Wade embraced Cleveland. Kyrie Irving watched Warriors in the Finals, heard LeBron rumors, and demanded a trade. All of them were making career decisions that would have seemed insane even two years ago, but they were mostly insulated from skepticism this summer. After KD, nothing feels that crazy.

The same way LeBron's Decision empowered a generation of superstars to go build their own empires with varying success—CP3 to LA, Carmelo to New York, Dwight to the Lakers—Durant's decision seems to have ushered in an era that's rendered all NBA alliances more fluid than ever. For teams like the Celtics and for stars like Kyrie Irving, every move on the board is now in play.

It's fair to have concerns about what's changed. For one thing, it seems unhealthy for the NBA if players like Paul George, Jimmy Butler, or Anthony Davis can't make it halfway through contract extensions before their incumbent teams are overwhelmed with trade rumors. Kyrie Irving had two years left on his deal, and that still gave him enough leverage to scare off suitors like the Nuggets and Bucks as he forced his way to Boston. Likewise, it's definitely not great that, just as the NFL was losing its grip on the mainstream and the NBA was building momentum, last year's playoffs were flat-out terrible.

The absence of drama hurt the NBA in some tangible ways. With the Cavs and Warriors barnstorming through the league, the NBA had the fewest playoff games since expanding to a best-of-7 format in 2003, culminating in an estimated-$70 million revenue shortfall, which made for a smaller salary cap this summer. Then, consider that the tighter cap will make it harder for Golden State's competition to level the playing field. Recall that Durant gave the Warriors a significant discount when he re-signed this summer, and that Klay Thompson is apparently considering doing the same in 2019. If you think the Warriors are a problem, they might not be going away away anytime soon.

"It’s pretty f***ing sick to see," Draymond Green told GQ this month. "Everybody is just in a f***ing panic about what to do. You sit back and think, like, these motherf***ers, they know. That’s the fun part about it: They know they don’t stand a chance.”

Two reactions there. First, a personal note: Every time I start to complain about the Warriors, Draymond Green reminds me not to take any of this too seriously. And second, if we're talking panic: I've worried about the Warriors' effect on the league to varying degrees over the past year, but I'm less concerned than ever.

If the Durant-era Warriors produced the offseason we just had, they deserve credit, not blame. This summer's anarchy should be part of the NBA's business model. But what's great about the Warriors is that they haven't only changed the calculus for teams and superstars. Fans are adapting, too.

Nobody is following this year's NBA to see who will win the Finals. Fans are watching to see what Kyrie Irving will do in Boston. Also: How will LeBron and Wade look in Cleveland? What does a Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons pick-and-roll look like? Will Westbrook, George, and Carmelo find a way to make it work? What about Paul and Harden? Is Karl-Anthony Towns ready to take over the world? And where will Anthony Davis end up?

This is how hardcore fans have always consumed basketball. Everyone has a favorite team, but if you love the NBA, you're following the entire sport. The trades, the draft picks, the personalities, J.R. Smith dapping up Jason Terry in the middle of a game, Giannis going nuts to win you over with a game-winner in the middle of January—the full spectrum of characters and subplots is what makes basketball great.

My guess on the Durant-Warriors era is that a lack of drama at the top of the league will force more mainstream fans to watch the NBA the way hardcore basketball fans always have. And that shift will come just as every league-wide subplot becomes twice as entertaining in the chaotic era that Durant helped forge.

There will always be Twitter eggs who claim that Warriors dominance has made the entire sport a waste of time, but I don't think the real world agrees with the comments section. Compare basketball and football. Both sports have seen TV ratings suffer in recent years, but everyone is consuming media differently today, so that's not necessarily indicative of health. More relevant: When is the last time you had a heated argument about NFL news that actually happened on the field? Are you more interested in following the next three months of Andrew Luck or Kyrie Irving? How many stars does football have who are more famous Joel Embiid? And how many of those NFL stars are under 30 years old?

Basketball is already winning in the modern era. Durant and the Warriors will just sharpen the focus on what fans are actually following. The same way soccer fans follow superstar players all over the planet, younger basketball fans are learning to watch the entire NBA and follow the offseason as obsessively as the playoffs. Whenever Golden State stops winning titles, parity at the top of the league will add one more advantage to a sport that's already well-positioned to own the next decade.

In the meantime, this season features more superstars than the NBA has ever seen, and it feels like half of them will be in new uniforms. Then next summer will feature LeBron James, Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, and Paul George all hitting free agency at the same time, with Anthony Davis looming as the most talented trade target since Kevin Garnett. None of this is slowing down. And as for the Finals MVP who lit the fuse on this new era, he's in a strange spot.

After the summer of the burner accounts and staged ESPY reactions and Nike trash talk, Durant's not less popular than LeBron was after Year One in Miami, but he seems less fulfilled. And what's interesting is that what KD seems to be looking for—broad appreciation of his game and his decisions—is everything LeBron eventually found on the court in Game 6 against Boston, the Finals against San Antonio, and obviously, the Finals against Golden State.

LeBron won over critics by winning games he was supposed to lose. The current version of Warriors is so incredible that it's unclear whether Durant will have the chance to give us those moments. He has, however, given the rest of the NBA the chance to take more risks, avoid scrutiny, get weird, and lean into everything that made basketball great in the first place.

Brighton 1 Everton 1: Wayne Rooney's late penalty saves a point... but what about Ronald Koeman's job?

Goodness knows what they made of this in India – although Ronald Koeman is probably more concerned of the reaction in Monaco, where Everton’s majority shareholder, Farhad Moshiri, resides. Having given the manager a vote of confidence going into the international break, after Everton’s woeful start to the season, Moshiri had added an important caveat: the fans “deserve better”. That already amounts to the ultimate get-out for a club owner navigating a line between publically supporting a manager and giving himself sufficient wriggle-room to still make a change if he has to and when Anthony Knockaert scored his first-ever Premier League goal, with just eight minutes to go, all eyes moved to the touchline and to Koeman. Despite his protestations, and his dismissive reaction when questioned about Everton’s significant spending last summer, Koeman has to be under pressure. The Dutchman has laid out his ambition at the club and is falling alarmingly short of that with a team that is simply failing to impress. This fixture was moved to a 1.30pm Sunday kick-off but was not shown live in the UK. Instead it was only Star Sport in India who picked up the Premier League’s invitation and until the last 10 minutes it really was a poor advert for the league and its continued plans for global expansion. But then, as ever with the Premier League, even the dullest of encounters can explode into life and there was a hectic, controversial finale which ultimately ended in a draw. Brighton celebrate French midfielder Anthony Knockaert's goal Credit: AFP It leaves both Brighton and Everton on eight points from eight matches and while Chris Hughton’s newly-promoted side will begrudgingly take that return – even if the manager understandably said it felt like a defeat – it is frankly not good enough for their opponents. The result leaves Everton in 16th place, with Brighton two places above on goal difference, and an even more damning statistic is the fact that the last away win in the league for Koeman’s side was back on January 21 at Crystal Palace. Everton will point to a difficult fixture list at the start of this campaign but they have now played Burnley at home and Brighton away in their last two matches and taken just a point – and that was grabbed through a 90th-minute penalty award when the desperation was becoming extreme. Everton did not deserve to lose but the games do not get any easier with Europa League matches against Lyon, Arsenal in the league and Chelsea in the Carabao Cup. The direction of their season in three competitions could well be decided in the next few weeks. Brighton keeper Matthew Ryan manages to deck not just Phil Jagielka but Shane Duffy as well Credit: Getty In a sense Wayne Rooney sums them up. The 31 year-old was deployed as a central striker and struggled. He appeared off the pace and out of touch and, in the second-half, complained vehemently that he was fouled when all that happened was he sloppily lost possession to gift Brighton a chance. And yet Rooney scored and had the coolness to roll the ball into the net to salvage a point with what was his last kick of the game before he was substituted. That goal also meant that only Frank Lampard (39), Andy Cole (38) and Alan Shearer (37) have scored against more different clubs in the Premier League than Rooney. Brighton are No 36 for him. Not that he deserved the headlines. He, like Everton, like Koeman have to do better than this. The penalty was a gift. It came from a free-kick with Brighton captain Bruno sticking out an arm and catching Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Although the home fans reacted angrily it was the right decision by referee Michael Oliver. In need of inspiration: Ronald Koeman ponders Credit: Action Images via Reuters Brighton claimed for penalties of their own – the ball striking Michael Keane’s arm as he blocked a powerful Lewis Dunk shot and Leighton Baines nudging Pascal Gross as they vied for a cross – while Everton claimed they should have had another, when the game was goalless, for a challenge on Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Davy Propper was perhaps fortunate only to be cautioned for a studs-up tackle on Idrissa Gueye. But there was precious little difference between the sides and how Hughton must rue the lack of an effective striker with Tomer Hemed suspended and Glenn Murray struggling. Brighton’s defence is rock-sold, though, with Dunk and Shane Duffy – although he, worryingly, went off injured – and record-signing Jose Izquierdo certainly made a difference when he came on as a substitute. Knockaert went agonisingly close as his goal-bound shot struck Keane but the Frenchman, the Championship player of the year, the fans favourite, did make the breakthrough. Bruno was involved in that also, bursting forward to cross low, picking out Izquierdo whose first-time shot was also blocked by Keane. It rebounded to Morgan Schneiderlin who was painfully slow to react with Gross closing him down and the ball squirted to Knockaert who knocked it past Jordan Pickford. It seemed destined to settle it but Everton fought back and, in fact, almost snatched it at the end through substitute Kevin Mirallas, only for goalkeeper Mathew Ryan to deny him with a superb double save. That would have been hard on Brighton and relief for Koeman. Instead it finished in an unsatisfactory draw. 3:25PM Time on ball (at full time) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 3:24PM Average touch positions (full time) Average touch positions (full time) 3:24PM GOAL! 1-1! Wayne Rooney has popped up with a late equaliser for Everton. Brighton 1 - 1 Everton (Wayne Rooney, 90 min) 3:21PM 90+ mins All exciting stuff here, now, terrific goalmouth scramble as Everton try everything to bundle it over the line. Mirallas having a couple of efforts beaten out by the hero Matt Ryan. Brighton hold firm, and that is the end of the match. First half was a wet weekend at the seaside, second half was a decent laugh. Quality highly questionable. Jason Burt will be here in just a minute to give you his thoughts. Cheers! 3:20PM 90+ mins Mirallas trips Gross, who was on the break, and takes the yellow. 3:19PM 89 mins It was a perfect penalty from Wayne. Right in the corner. Koeman now takes Rooney off and brings on Davies. 3:17PM Rooney from the spot! It's 1-1 3:16PM PENALTY EVERTON! Knockaert with a cynical foul to stop an Everton break. Hauls Niasse down. Clear yellow, accepts it without comment. That gives Everton a freekick. Siggy delivers it in. Bruno pushes Calvert-Lewin out the way from the freekick! Idiotic! Oliver has no hesitation. 3:15PM 86 mins Here's that man Izquierdo Mena again, he's causing all sorts. He slips it inside to Brown who lashes it at goal 3:13PM 85 mins Koeman out? He cannot have many more games left to play with. His response is to throw on Mirallas, Baines off. Brighton bring on Isaiah Brown for Glenn Murray. 3:11PM GOAL! 1-0. Anthony Knockaert has put Brighton ahead in the dying minutes! Izquierdo has been the difference maker since he came on and he has caused havoc in the Everton area here. Bruno got down the right, cut it to Iz.  He finds space, drills the shot at goal, and the desperate Evertonians parry it only as far as Knockaert. He has time to pick his spot, he slots it home, and the place goes wild! Brighton 1 - 0 Everton (Anthony Knockaert, 82 min) 3:09PM 81 mins Mind you, Gross is now sinned against in his turn! He's in the area, just about to receive the ball, and Baines knocks him over! 3:07PM 79 mins Everton argue for a penalty, and with just cause. Gross tugs back Sigur Ros and that's a spot-kick all day long to my mind. 3:04PM 76 mins Brighton go close again from the corner! Knockaert chips it in, headed back out but straight to the same player. He lashes it at goal from the narrow angle. Everton in desperate straits.  This game has been bad. Decision not to put it on TV totally vindicated.— Jack Pitt-Brooke (@JackPittBrooke) October 15, 2017 3:03PM 75 mins Izquierdo Mena robs it off Rooney, who is furious, thinks he''s been fouled. Izquierdo Mena cracks it at goal. Effort! Beaten behind for a corner. 3:02PM Time on ball (60 - 75 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 3:01PM 73 mins Wayne rolls back the years with a lovely bit of play, turning away from his man and playing a beaut of a cross in. Calvert-Lewin is in perfect position but his technique lets him down.  Uwe Hünemeier on for Duffy. And Izquierdo Mena on for Solly March. 2:58PM 70 mins Duffy down, hurt, unrelated to that. 2:57PM 69 mins Good freekick into the box. Duffy leaps, batters Pickford. Offside. La vie est belle. 2:56PM 68 mins Gueye comes off, Niasse on.  2:56PM 67 mins Sigurdsson hits it. Over the wall but half a goal width wide of the post. What's happened to this lad since he's moved to Goodison? 2:55PM 66 mins Bit of a soft foul from Brighton, giving the Toffeemen a handy freekick. Gylfi, Wayne and Leighton stand over the ball. 2:52PM 64 mins From the second of those corners, Duffy rises like a salmon, albeit a salmon in heavy boots, and heads wide. 2:52PM 61 mins This Propper's asking for it, he's now been involved in another contact with Gueye that ends with the Everton guy flat on his back. Brighton enjoying a bit of a moment. Couple corners. 2:51PM 59 mins Gross, to March, but the cross is no good.  2:47PM Time on ball (45 - 60 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:47PM 58 mins Much more enjoyable game now, it's opened up, played at a good pace. Some tackles going in. Minute or two prior to that shot where he slipped, Vlasic had cracked a decent effort at the goal. Also, Calvert-Lewin had found space for a header, but could not trouble the keeper. 2:45PM 56 mins Nice move from Everton, Vlasic into the box. He spins and shoots, but slips on the turf. Hard lines, that. Decent play 2:44PM 55 mins Ridiculous tackle from Propper. Studs up stamp on the shin of Gueye, as clear a red card as you will ever see and the Everton player is lucky he's not on his way to casualty. Just a yellow card. 2:38PM 47 mins When Vlasic and Sigurdsson get together, there are vague hints of a better tomorrow for Everton. The former sends the latter in here, okay cross, Duffy blocks. 2:36PM 46 mins Couldn't find any biscuits, so I've had a cup of tea and a Topic. Wayne? 2:17PM 45 mins Wayne! WAYNE! Biscuit. That's the half. It's nil nil. 2:17PM Time on ball (first half) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:16PM Average touch positions (half time) Average touch positions (half time) 2:15PM 42 mins I'm looking forward to my half time cup of tea and a biscuit, as indeed I suspect is Wayne Rooney, who has trudged around like a hungover man being made to go to Westfield by his better half on a weekend afternoon. 2:11PM The shot count is similar Brighton and Everton are evenly matched in attack so far - the vistors have fired in five shots to the hosts' three. Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 2:11PM 39 mins Stephens has an effort from distance but gets it all wrong. 2:11PM 37 mins March gets in behind Holgate, but dear old Phil J has read it, and tidies up. The game is even now. Everton were on top for the first 20, Brighton are now at parity, at least, but neither side has much in the way of quality. 2:06PM Brighton hit back Brighton have their first shot at goal, while Everton have registered four efforts so far. Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 2:05PM 33 mins This was a good little period for Brighton, they had a couple of corners. Dunk reckoned he should have a penalty for that block by Keane. I think not. Bit of class from Rooney, vision and touch for a no-look lay off. Gueye wallops a shot at goal. 2:03PM 31 mins Closest Brighton have come! A decent freekick, clearly a training ground job, finds Knockaert unattended at the edge of the box. He cracks it at goal. It's blocked. Dunk has a chance from a narrow angle, but the rangy number five wouldn't be the Seagulls' first choice to finish, and sure enough, he cannot. Keane blocks it, fair and square I'd say, although some Brighton folk think he used the hand. 2:01PM Time on ball (15 - 30 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:01PM Everton enjoying plenty of touches of the ball so far Everton have had 252 touches of the ball compared to 162 by Brighton. Brighton vs Everton 1:59PM 26 mins Shame Glenn Murray didn't time that run better, it was a nice ball from Solly March. 1:57PM 25 mins A decent Brighton attack flounders on an offside call against Murray. 1:56PM 22 mins Schneiderlin dives at the feet of an opponent. I don't mean he tries to win a penalty, I mean he just sort of lies in front of him like a very expensive French draft excluder. The opponent falls over, Everton get the freekick, which is nice. Gylfi Sigurpuss gets another chance to try a dead ball in. He's getting better with them. Dominic Calvert-Lewin heads it over, but he was never looking like scoring. 1:51PM 20 mins And here's Sigurdsson with a nice corner, well struck, and dangerous. Bundled away. 1:50PM 19 mins More like it! Sigurdsson links cleverly with Vlasic, they lay it off to Gueye and he hits a nice crisp shot. Smart save Ryan. Behind for a corner. 1:49PM 18 mins I hope Everton got a receipt for that one hundred billion dollars that they spent in the summer, because this looks a limited team. 1:49PM Time on ball (0 - 15 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 1:49PM Neither Brighton or Everton are testing the goalkeepers so far Tense opening quarter of an hour at Amex Stadium, as Brighton and Everton struggle to get shots on goal Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 1:46PM 14 mins They're both okay. 1:46PM 12 mins Duffy kicks Rooney. Sigurdsson’s freekick in... Mega keeper blast! Ball's lofted into the Brighton area. Goalkeeper Ryan comes hurtling out, this kid means business. He's laid out Phil Jags AND his own player, Duffy, in one fell swoop! 1:44PM 11 mins Brighton vs Everton 1:43PM 10 mins Here's Brighton on the front foot down the left. Schneiderlin in the enforcer role, trying to break up play. Decent defensive energy from Koeman's side. Once Everton win position though, they just... grind to  a halt. There are no runners. They just sort of wheel into position, by which time Brighton have got two lines of four and are solid as a bit of Brighton rock. 1:40PM 9 mins Atmosphere is absolutely excellent, fair play to those Sussex boys and girls. Nothing much to tell you about football-wise 1:39PM 8 mins Baines gets on the ball, looking to add a bit of drive and quality. It's head tennis at the moment. 1:36PM 5 mins I am enjoying the fight being shown by Brighton, here's Suttner snapping at the heels of Holgate and winning it. Brighton's only attacking/creative suggestion so far, however, has been to hit that long diagonal ball up towards their front two. 1:34PM 3 mins Brighton are getting a chance to play it around a bit, and their fans are roaring them on. Now they try to hit a long ball. 442 for them. 1:32PM 2 mins Phil Neville says that Vlasic and Calvert-Lewin being deployed out wide gives Everton the width and pace they have been sadly lacking. 1:31PM 1 mins There's an early freekick for Everton  but an awful delivery. 1:31PM Koeman looking a bit dishevelled Unshaven. Anyway. To footblal. 1:28PM Gross Point Blank Pascal Gross has been involved in 4 of Brighton’s 5 #PL goals and created 15 chances so far: 8 more than any of his teammates #BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/FiSs8DHEqU— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 1:26PM The players are coming out at Brighton. It's 16th v 17th and you'd have to say that this is a fixture both clubs would dearly love to win. Big deal for both teams, big day in the career of Ronald Koeman. 1:22PM Koeman "We need to be ruthless. Critics? Ah, that's okay. That is football. You get critics, if you don't win." Everton have had a tough run of fixtures, haven't they? Things surely have to get easier over the next couple of months. Assuming he can keep his job, like. 1:21PM Referee! Referee! It's child whistler Michael Oliver, about whom each and every commentator is contractually obliged to note that he is 32 years old. So young! SO YOUNG!! 1:01PM Teams! Teams! Brighton: Ryan, Saltor, Duffy, Dunk, Suttner, March, Stephens,  Propper, Knockaert, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Bong, Hunemeier,  Izquierdo, Schelotto, Brown, Molumby. Everton: Pickford, Holgate, Keane, Jagielka, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Vlasic, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin, Rooney. Subs: Williams, Mirallas, Martina, Klaassen, Stekelenburg,  Davies, Niasse.  Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)  12:59PM Toffees! Toffees! | Team news is in... pic.twitter.com/llI0QZv9t2— Everton (@Everton) October 15, 2017 12:58PM Seagulls! Seagulls! Here's how #BHAFC line up against @Everton at the Amex for today's @premierleague game. #BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/HJ3CBYokDK— BHAFC (@OfficialBHAFC) October 15, 2017 12:58PM Knockaert! Knockaert! TEAM NEWS Three changes to the @OfficialBHAFC line-up as Suttner, Murray & Knockaert come in for Bong, Izquierdo & Brown.#BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/8D0dFart6S— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 12:57PM Rooney! Rooney! TEAM NEWS Wayne Rooney returns to the starting Everton XI, along with Jagielka & Holgate, in place of Niasse, Williams & Martina#BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/YG80icPCu3— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 12:55PM Good afternoon sports fans We welcome you to our live of Brighton v Everton, kicking off at 1.30pm. The team news is incoming. 12:53PM Our match preview What is it? It's the Premier League clash between Brighton and Everton. When is it? Today, Sunday 15 October. What time is kick-off? 1.30pm What TV Channel is it on? Er, well, here's the thing. Despite it being moved to the convenient 1.30pm Sunday slot, it isn't being shown on UK TV. 20 best players in the Premier League: August 2017 Why was it moved then? The Premier League decided not to move it back to the traditional 3pm Saturday slot after neither Sky Sports or BT Sport jumped at the offer of showing it live. If you're in India, you're in luck. It will be shown live at 6pm in Mumbai as India’s Star Sports picked it up.  What's the team news? Phil Jagielka will return from injury for Everton after being sidelined since the Manchester United game. Seamus Coleman and Yannick Bolasie, however, remain ruled out.  Brighton will be missing Sam Baldock, Tomer Hemed and Beram Kayal. Hemed is serving the second of a three-match suspension. Phil Jagielka is expected to return to the Everton line-up Credit: Reuters What are the odds? Brighton to win 23/10 Draw 23/10 Everton 7/5 What's our prediction? Ronald Koeman's men to turn a corner and pick up a slender 1-0 win at the Amex Stadium.

Brighton 1 Everton 1: Wayne Rooney's late penalty saves a point... but what about Ronald Koeman's job?

Goodness knows what they made of this in India – although Ronald Koeman is probably more concerned of the reaction in Monaco, where Everton’s majority shareholder, Farhad Moshiri, resides. Having given the manager a vote of confidence going into the international break, after Everton’s woeful start to the season, Moshiri had added an important caveat: the fans “deserve better”. That already amounts to the ultimate get-out for a club owner navigating a line between publically supporting a manager and giving himself sufficient wriggle-room to still make a change if he has to and when Anthony Knockaert scored his first-ever Premier League goal, with just eight minutes to go, all eyes moved to the touchline and to Koeman. Despite his protestations, and his dismissive reaction when questioned about Everton’s significant spending last summer, Koeman has to be under pressure. The Dutchman has laid out his ambition at the club and is falling alarmingly short of that with a team that is simply failing to impress. This fixture was moved to a 1.30pm Sunday kick-off but was not shown live in the UK. Instead it was only Star Sport in India who picked up the Premier League’s invitation and until the last 10 minutes it really was a poor advert for the league and its continued plans for global expansion. But then, as ever with the Premier League, even the dullest of encounters can explode into life and there was a hectic, controversial finale which ultimately ended in a draw. Brighton celebrate French midfielder Anthony Knockaert's goal Credit: AFP It leaves both Brighton and Everton on eight points from eight matches and while Chris Hughton’s newly-promoted side will begrudgingly take that return – even if the manager understandably said it felt like a defeat – it is frankly not good enough for their opponents. The result leaves Everton in 16th place, with Brighton two places above on goal difference, and an even more damning statistic is the fact that the last away win in the league for Koeman’s side was back on January 21 at Crystal Palace. Everton will point to a difficult fixture list at the start of this campaign but they have now played Burnley at home and Brighton away in their last two matches and taken just a point – and that was grabbed through a 90th-minute penalty award when the desperation was becoming extreme. Everton did not deserve to lose but the games do not get any easier with Europa League matches against Lyon, Arsenal in the league and Chelsea in the Carabao Cup. The direction of their season in three competitions could well be decided in the next few weeks. Brighton keeper Matthew Ryan manages to deck not just Phil Jagielka but Shane Duffy as well Credit: Getty In a sense Wayne Rooney sums them up. The 31 year-old was deployed as a central striker and struggled. He appeared off the pace and out of touch and, in the second-half, complained vehemently that he was fouled when all that happened was he sloppily lost possession to gift Brighton a chance. And yet Rooney scored and had the coolness to roll the ball into the net to salvage a point with what was his last kick of the game before he was substituted. That goal also meant that only Frank Lampard (39), Andy Cole (38) and Alan Shearer (37) have scored against more different clubs in the Premier League than Rooney. Brighton are No 36 for him. Not that he deserved the headlines. He, like Everton, like Koeman have to do better than this. The penalty was a gift. It came from a free-kick with Brighton captain Bruno sticking out an arm and catching Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Although the home fans reacted angrily it was the right decision by referee Michael Oliver. In need of inspiration: Ronald Koeman ponders Credit: Action Images via Reuters Brighton claimed for penalties of their own – the ball striking Michael Keane’s arm as he blocked a powerful Lewis Dunk shot and Leighton Baines nudging Pascal Gross as they vied for a cross – while Everton claimed they should have had another, when the game was goalless, for a challenge on Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Davy Propper was perhaps fortunate only to be cautioned for a studs-up tackle on Idrissa Gueye. But there was precious little difference between the sides and how Hughton must rue the lack of an effective striker with Tomer Hemed suspended and Glenn Murray struggling. Brighton’s defence is rock-sold, though, with Dunk and Shane Duffy – although he, worryingly, went off injured – and record-signing Jose Izquierdo certainly made a difference when he came on as a substitute. Knockaert went agonisingly close as his goal-bound shot struck Keane but the Frenchman, the Championship player of the year, the fans favourite, did make the breakthrough. Bruno was involved in that also, bursting forward to cross low, picking out Izquierdo whose first-time shot was also blocked by Keane. It rebounded to Morgan Schneiderlin who was painfully slow to react with Gross closing him down and the ball squirted to Knockaert who knocked it past Jordan Pickford. It seemed destined to settle it but Everton fought back and, in fact, almost snatched it at the end through substitute Kevin Mirallas, only for goalkeeper Mathew Ryan to deny him with a superb double save. That would have been hard on Brighton and relief for Koeman. Instead it finished in an unsatisfactory draw. 3:25PM Time on ball (at full time) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 3:24PM Average touch positions (full time) Average touch positions (full time) 3:24PM GOAL! 1-1! Wayne Rooney has popped up with a late equaliser for Everton. Brighton 1 - 1 Everton (Wayne Rooney, 90 min) 3:21PM 90+ mins All exciting stuff here, now, terrific goalmouth scramble as Everton try everything to bundle it over the line. Mirallas having a couple of efforts beaten out by the hero Matt Ryan. Brighton hold firm, and that is the end of the match. First half was a wet weekend at the seaside, second half was a decent laugh. Quality highly questionable. Jason Burt will be here in just a minute to give you his thoughts. Cheers! 3:20PM 90+ mins Mirallas trips Gross, who was on the break, and takes the yellow. 3:19PM 89 mins It was a perfect penalty from Wayne. Right in the corner. Koeman now takes Rooney off and brings on Davies. 3:17PM Rooney from the spot! It's 1-1 3:16PM PENALTY EVERTON! Knockaert with a cynical foul to stop an Everton break. Hauls Niasse down. Clear yellow, accepts it without comment. That gives Everton a freekick. Siggy delivers it in. Bruno pushes Calvert-Lewin out the way from the freekick! Idiotic! Oliver has no hesitation. 3:15PM 86 mins Here's that man Izquierdo Mena again, he's causing all sorts. He slips it inside to Brown who lashes it at goal 3:13PM 85 mins Koeman out? He cannot have many more games left to play with. His response is to throw on Mirallas, Baines off. Brighton bring on Isaiah Brown for Glenn Murray. 3:11PM GOAL! 1-0. Anthony Knockaert has put Brighton ahead in the dying minutes! Izquierdo has been the difference maker since he came on and he has caused havoc in the Everton area here. Bruno got down the right, cut it to Iz.  He finds space, drills the shot at goal, and the desperate Evertonians parry it only as far as Knockaert. He has time to pick his spot, he slots it home, and the place goes wild! Brighton 1 - 0 Everton (Anthony Knockaert, 82 min) 3:09PM 81 mins Mind you, Gross is now sinned against in his turn! He's in the area, just about to receive the ball, and Baines knocks him over! 3:07PM 79 mins Everton argue for a penalty, and with just cause. Gross tugs back Sigur Ros and that's a spot-kick all day long to my mind. 3:04PM 76 mins Brighton go close again from the corner! Knockaert chips it in, headed back out but straight to the same player. He lashes it at goal from the narrow angle. Everton in desperate straits.  This game has been bad. Decision not to put it on TV totally vindicated.— Jack Pitt-Brooke (@JackPittBrooke) October 15, 2017 3:03PM 75 mins Izquierdo Mena robs it off Rooney, who is furious, thinks he''s been fouled. Izquierdo Mena cracks it at goal. Effort! Beaten behind for a corner. 3:02PM Time on ball (60 - 75 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 3:01PM 73 mins Wayne rolls back the years with a lovely bit of play, turning away from his man and playing a beaut of a cross in. Calvert-Lewin is in perfect position but his technique lets him down.  Uwe Hünemeier on for Duffy. And Izquierdo Mena on for Solly March. 2:58PM 70 mins Duffy down, hurt, unrelated to that. 2:57PM 69 mins Good freekick into the box. Duffy leaps, batters Pickford. Offside. La vie est belle. 2:56PM 68 mins Gueye comes off, Niasse on.  2:56PM 67 mins Sigurdsson hits it. Over the wall but half a goal width wide of the post. What's happened to this lad since he's moved to Goodison? 2:55PM 66 mins Bit of a soft foul from Brighton, giving the Toffeemen a handy freekick. Gylfi, Wayne and Leighton stand over the ball. 2:52PM 64 mins From the second of those corners, Duffy rises like a salmon, albeit a salmon in heavy boots, and heads wide. 2:52PM 61 mins This Propper's asking for it, he's now been involved in another contact with Gueye that ends with the Everton guy flat on his back. Brighton enjoying a bit of a moment. Couple corners. 2:51PM 59 mins Gross, to March, but the cross is no good.  2:47PM Time on ball (45 - 60 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:47PM 58 mins Much more enjoyable game now, it's opened up, played at a good pace. Some tackles going in. Minute or two prior to that shot where he slipped, Vlasic had cracked a decent effort at the goal. Also, Calvert-Lewin had found space for a header, but could not trouble the keeper. 2:45PM 56 mins Nice move from Everton, Vlasic into the box. He spins and shoots, but slips on the turf. Hard lines, that. Decent play 2:44PM 55 mins Ridiculous tackle from Propper. Studs up stamp on the shin of Gueye, as clear a red card as you will ever see and the Everton player is lucky he's not on his way to casualty. Just a yellow card. 2:38PM 47 mins When Vlasic and Sigurdsson get together, there are vague hints of a better tomorrow for Everton. The former sends the latter in here, okay cross, Duffy blocks. 2:36PM 46 mins Couldn't find any biscuits, so I've had a cup of tea and a Topic. Wayne? 2:17PM 45 mins Wayne! WAYNE! Biscuit. That's the half. It's nil nil. 2:17PM Time on ball (first half) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:16PM Average touch positions (half time) Average touch positions (half time) 2:15PM 42 mins I'm looking forward to my half time cup of tea and a biscuit, as indeed I suspect is Wayne Rooney, who has trudged around like a hungover man being made to go to Westfield by his better half on a weekend afternoon. 2:11PM The shot count is similar Brighton and Everton are evenly matched in attack so far - the vistors have fired in five shots to the hosts' three. Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 2:11PM 39 mins Stephens has an effort from distance but gets it all wrong. 2:11PM 37 mins March gets in behind Holgate, but dear old Phil J has read it, and tidies up. The game is even now. Everton were on top for the first 20, Brighton are now at parity, at least, but neither side has much in the way of quality. 2:06PM Brighton hit back Brighton have their first shot at goal, while Everton have registered four efforts so far. Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 2:05PM 33 mins This was a good little period for Brighton, they had a couple of corners. Dunk reckoned he should have a penalty for that block by Keane. I think not. Bit of class from Rooney, vision and touch for a no-look lay off. Gueye wallops a shot at goal. 2:03PM 31 mins Closest Brighton have come! A decent freekick, clearly a training ground job, finds Knockaert unattended at the edge of the box. He cracks it at goal. It's blocked. Dunk has a chance from a narrow angle, but the rangy number five wouldn't be the Seagulls' first choice to finish, and sure enough, he cannot. Keane blocks it, fair and square I'd say, although some Brighton folk think he used the hand. 2:01PM Time on ball (15 - 30 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:01PM Everton enjoying plenty of touches of the ball so far Everton have had 252 touches of the ball compared to 162 by Brighton. Brighton vs Everton 1:59PM 26 mins Shame Glenn Murray didn't time that run better, it was a nice ball from Solly March. 1:57PM 25 mins A decent Brighton attack flounders on an offside call against Murray. 1:56PM 22 mins Schneiderlin dives at the feet of an opponent. I don't mean he tries to win a penalty, I mean he just sort of lies in front of him like a very expensive French draft excluder. The opponent falls over, Everton get the freekick, which is nice. Gylfi Sigurpuss gets another chance to try a dead ball in. He's getting better with them. Dominic Calvert-Lewin heads it over, but he was never looking like scoring. 1:51PM 20 mins And here's Sigurdsson with a nice corner, well struck, and dangerous. Bundled away. 1:50PM 19 mins More like it! Sigurdsson links cleverly with Vlasic, they lay it off to Gueye and he hits a nice crisp shot. Smart save Ryan. Behind for a corner. 1:49PM 18 mins I hope Everton got a receipt for that one hundred billion dollars that they spent in the summer, because this looks a limited team. 1:49PM Time on ball (0 - 15 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 1:49PM Neither Brighton or Everton are testing the goalkeepers so far Tense opening quarter of an hour at Amex Stadium, as Brighton and Everton struggle to get shots on goal Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 1:46PM 14 mins They're both okay. 1:46PM 12 mins Duffy kicks Rooney. Sigurdsson’s freekick in... Mega keeper blast! Ball's lofted into the Brighton area. Goalkeeper Ryan comes hurtling out, this kid means business. He's laid out Phil Jags AND his own player, Duffy, in one fell swoop! 1:44PM 11 mins Brighton vs Everton 1:43PM 10 mins Here's Brighton on the front foot down the left. Schneiderlin in the enforcer role, trying to break up play. Decent defensive energy from Koeman's side. Once Everton win position though, they just... grind to  a halt. There are no runners. They just sort of wheel into position, by which time Brighton have got two lines of four and are solid as a bit of Brighton rock. 1:40PM 9 mins Atmosphere is absolutely excellent, fair play to those Sussex boys and girls. Nothing much to tell you about football-wise 1:39PM 8 mins Baines gets on the ball, looking to add a bit of drive and quality. It's head tennis at the moment. 1:36PM 5 mins I am enjoying the fight being shown by Brighton, here's Suttner snapping at the heels of Holgate and winning it. Brighton's only attacking/creative suggestion so far, however, has been to hit that long diagonal ball up towards their front two. 1:34PM 3 mins Brighton are getting a chance to play it around a bit, and their fans are roaring them on. Now they try to hit a long ball. 442 for them. 1:32PM 2 mins Phil Neville says that Vlasic and Calvert-Lewin being deployed out wide gives Everton the width and pace they have been sadly lacking. 1:31PM 1 mins There's an early freekick for Everton  but an awful delivery. 1:31PM Koeman looking a bit dishevelled Unshaven. Anyway. To footblal. 1:28PM Gross Point Blank Pascal Gross has been involved in 4 of Brighton’s 5 #PL goals and created 15 chances so far: 8 more than any of his teammates #BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/FiSs8DHEqU— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 1:26PM The players are coming out at Brighton. It's 16th v 17th and you'd have to say that this is a fixture both clubs would dearly love to win. Big deal for both teams, big day in the career of Ronald Koeman. 1:22PM Koeman "We need to be ruthless. Critics? Ah, that's okay. That is football. You get critics, if you don't win." Everton have had a tough run of fixtures, haven't they? Things surely have to get easier over the next couple of months. Assuming he can keep his job, like. 1:21PM Referee! Referee! It's child whistler Michael Oliver, about whom each and every commentator is contractually obliged to note that he is 32 years old. So young! SO YOUNG!! 1:01PM Teams! Teams! Brighton: Ryan, Saltor, Duffy, Dunk, Suttner, March, Stephens,  Propper, Knockaert, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Bong, Hunemeier,  Izquierdo, Schelotto, Brown, Molumby. Everton: Pickford, Holgate, Keane, Jagielka, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Vlasic, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin, Rooney. Subs: Williams, Mirallas, Martina, Klaassen, Stekelenburg,  Davies, Niasse.  Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)  12:59PM Toffees! Toffees! | Team news is in... pic.twitter.com/llI0QZv9t2— Everton (@Everton) October 15, 2017 12:58PM Seagulls! Seagulls! Here's how #BHAFC line up against @Everton at the Amex for today's @premierleague game. #BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/HJ3CBYokDK— BHAFC (@OfficialBHAFC) October 15, 2017 12:58PM Knockaert! Knockaert! TEAM NEWS Three changes to the @OfficialBHAFC line-up as Suttner, Murray & Knockaert come in for Bong, Izquierdo & Brown.#BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/8D0dFart6S— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 12:57PM Rooney! Rooney! TEAM NEWS Wayne Rooney returns to the starting Everton XI, along with Jagielka & Holgate, in place of Niasse, Williams & Martina#BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/YG80icPCu3— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 12:55PM Good afternoon sports fans We welcome you to our live of Brighton v Everton, kicking off at 1.30pm. The team news is incoming. 12:53PM Our match preview What is it? It's the Premier League clash between Brighton and Everton. When is it? Today, Sunday 15 October. What time is kick-off? 1.30pm What TV Channel is it on? Er, well, here's the thing. Despite it being moved to the convenient 1.30pm Sunday slot, it isn't being shown on UK TV. 20 best players in the Premier League: August 2017 Why was it moved then? The Premier League decided not to move it back to the traditional 3pm Saturday slot after neither Sky Sports or BT Sport jumped at the offer of showing it live. If you're in India, you're in luck. It will be shown live at 6pm in Mumbai as India’s Star Sports picked it up.  What's the team news? Phil Jagielka will return from injury for Everton after being sidelined since the Manchester United game. Seamus Coleman and Yannick Bolasie, however, remain ruled out.  Brighton will be missing Sam Baldock, Tomer Hemed and Beram Kayal. Hemed is serving the second of a three-match suspension. Phil Jagielka is expected to return to the Everton line-up Credit: Reuters What are the odds? Brighton to win 23/10 Draw 23/10 Everton 7/5 What's our prediction? Ronald Koeman's men to turn a corner and pick up a slender 1-0 win at the Amex Stadium.

Brighton 1 Everton 1: Wayne Rooney's late penalty saves a point... but what about Ronald Koeman's job?

Goodness knows what they made of this in India – although Ronald Koeman is probably more concerned of the reaction in Monaco, where Everton’s majority shareholder, Farhad Moshiri, resides. Having given the manager a vote of confidence going into the international break, after Everton’s woeful start to the season, Moshiri had added an important caveat: the fans “deserve better”. That already amounts to the ultimate get-out for a club owner navigating a line between publically supporting a manager and giving himself sufficient wriggle-room to still make a change if he has to and when Anthony Knockaert scored his first-ever Premier League goal, with just eight minutes to go, all eyes moved to the touchline and to Koeman. Despite his protestations, and his dismissive reaction when questioned about Everton’s significant spending last summer, Koeman has to be under pressure. The Dutchman has laid out his ambition at the club and is falling alarmingly short of that with a team that is simply failing to impress. This fixture was moved to a 1.30pm Sunday kick-off but was not shown live in the UK. Instead it was only Star Sport in India who picked up the Premier League’s invitation and until the last 10 minutes it really was a poor advert for the league and its continued plans for global expansion. But then, as ever with the Premier League, even the dullest of encounters can explode into life and there was a hectic, controversial finale which ultimately ended in a draw. Brighton celebrate French midfielder Anthony Knockaert's goal Credit: AFP It leaves both Brighton and Everton on eight points from eight matches and while Chris Hughton’s newly-promoted side will begrudgingly take that return – even if the manager understandably said it felt like a defeat – it is frankly not good enough for their opponents. The result leaves Everton in 16th place, with Brighton two places above on goal difference, and an even more damning statistic is the fact that the last away win in the league for Koeman’s side was back on January 21 at Crystal Palace. Everton will point to a difficult fixture list at the start of this campaign but they have now played Burnley at home and Brighton away in their last two matches and taken just a point – and that was grabbed through a 90th-minute penalty award when the desperation was becoming extreme. Everton did not deserve to lose but the games do not get any easier with Europa League matches against Lyon, Arsenal in the league and Chelsea in the Carabao Cup. The direction of their season in three competitions could well be decided in the next few weeks. Brighton keeper Matthew Ryan manages to deck not just Phil Jagielka but Shane Duffy as well Credit: Getty In a sense Wayne Rooney sums them up. The 31 year-old was deployed as a central striker and struggled. He appeared off the pace and out of touch and, in the second-half, complained vehemently that he was fouled when all that happened was he sloppily lost possession to gift Brighton a chance. And yet Rooney scored and had the coolness to roll the ball into the net to salvage a point with what was his last kick of the game before he was substituted. That goal also meant that only Frank Lampard (39), Andy Cole (38) and Alan Shearer (37) have scored against more different clubs in the Premier League than Rooney. Brighton are No 36 for him. Not that he deserved the headlines. He, like Everton, like Koeman have to do better than this. The penalty was a gift. It came from a free-kick with Brighton captain Bruno sticking out an arm and catching Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Although the home fans reacted angrily it was the right decision by referee Michael Oliver. In need of inspiration: Ronald Koeman ponders Credit: Action Images via Reuters Brighton claimed for penalties of their own – the ball striking Michael Keane’s arm as he blocked a powerful Lewis Dunk shot and Leighton Baines nudging Pascal Gross as they vied for a cross – while Everton claimed they should have had another, when the game was goalless, for a challenge on Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Davy Propper was perhaps fortunate only to be cautioned for a studs-up tackle on Idrissa Gueye. But there was precious little difference between the sides and how Hughton must rue the lack of an effective striker with Tomer Hemed suspended and Glenn Murray struggling. Brighton’s defence is rock-sold, though, with Dunk and Shane Duffy – although he, worryingly, went off injured – and record-signing Jose Izquierdo certainly made a difference when he came on as a substitute. Knockaert went agonisingly close as his goal-bound shot struck Keane but the Frenchman, the Championship player of the year, the fans favourite, did make the breakthrough. Bruno was involved in that also, bursting forward to cross low, picking out Izquierdo whose first-time shot was also blocked by Keane. It rebounded to Morgan Schneiderlin who was painfully slow to react with Gross closing him down and the ball squirted to Knockaert who knocked it past Jordan Pickford. It seemed destined to settle it but Everton fought back and, in fact, almost snatched it at the end through substitute Kevin Mirallas, only for goalkeeper Mathew Ryan to deny him with a superb double save. That would have been hard on Brighton and relief for Koeman. Instead it finished in an unsatisfactory draw. 3:25PM Time on ball (at full time) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 3:24PM Average touch positions (full time) Average touch positions (full time) 3:24PM GOAL! 1-1! Wayne Rooney has popped up with a late equaliser for Everton. Brighton 1 - 1 Everton (Wayne Rooney, 90 min) 3:21PM 90+ mins All exciting stuff here, now, terrific goalmouth scramble as Everton try everything to bundle it over the line. Mirallas having a couple of efforts beaten out by the hero Matt Ryan. Brighton hold firm, and that is the end of the match. First half was a wet weekend at the seaside, second half was a decent laugh. Quality highly questionable. Jason Burt will be here in just a minute to give you his thoughts. Cheers! 3:20PM 90+ mins Mirallas trips Gross, who was on the break, and takes the yellow. 3:19PM 89 mins It was a perfect penalty from Wayne. Right in the corner. Koeman now takes Rooney off and brings on Davies. 3:17PM Rooney from the spot! It's 1-1 3:16PM PENALTY EVERTON! Knockaert with a cynical foul to stop an Everton break. Hauls Niasse down. Clear yellow, accepts it without comment. That gives Everton a freekick. Siggy delivers it in. Bruno pushes Calvert-Lewin out the way from the freekick! Idiotic! Oliver has no hesitation. 3:15PM 86 mins Here's that man Izquierdo Mena again, he's causing all sorts. He slips it inside to Brown who lashes it at goal 3:13PM 85 mins Koeman out? He cannot have many more games left to play with. His response is to throw on Mirallas, Baines off. Brighton bring on Isaiah Brown for Glenn Murray. 3:11PM GOAL! 1-0. Anthony Knockaert has put Brighton ahead in the dying minutes! Izquierdo has been the difference maker since he came on and he has caused havoc in the Everton area here. Bruno got down the right, cut it to Iz.  He finds space, drills the shot at goal, and the desperate Evertonians parry it only as far as Knockaert. He has time to pick his spot, he slots it home, and the place goes wild! Brighton 1 - 0 Everton (Anthony Knockaert, 82 min) 3:09PM 81 mins Mind you, Gross is now sinned against in his turn! He's in the area, just about to receive the ball, and Baines knocks him over! 3:07PM 79 mins Everton argue for a penalty, and with just cause. Gross tugs back Sigur Ros and that's a spot-kick all day long to my mind. 3:04PM 76 mins Brighton go close again from the corner! Knockaert chips it in, headed back out but straight to the same player. He lashes it at goal from the narrow angle. Everton in desperate straits.  This game has been bad. Decision not to put it on TV totally vindicated.— Jack Pitt-Brooke (@JackPittBrooke) October 15, 2017 3:03PM 75 mins Izquierdo Mena robs it off Rooney, who is furious, thinks he''s been fouled. Izquierdo Mena cracks it at goal. Effort! Beaten behind for a corner. 3:02PM Time on ball (60 - 75 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 3:01PM 73 mins Wayne rolls back the years with a lovely bit of play, turning away from his man and playing a beaut of a cross in. Calvert-Lewin is in perfect position but his technique lets him down.  Uwe Hünemeier on for Duffy. And Izquierdo Mena on for Solly March. 2:58PM 70 mins Duffy down, hurt, unrelated to that. 2:57PM 69 mins Good freekick into the box. Duffy leaps, batters Pickford. Offside. La vie est belle. 2:56PM 68 mins Gueye comes off, Niasse on.  2:56PM 67 mins Sigurdsson hits it. Over the wall but half a goal width wide of the post. What's happened to this lad since he's moved to Goodison? 2:55PM 66 mins Bit of a soft foul from Brighton, giving the Toffeemen a handy freekick. Gylfi, Wayne and Leighton stand over the ball. 2:52PM 64 mins From the second of those corners, Duffy rises like a salmon, albeit a salmon in heavy boots, and heads wide. 2:52PM 61 mins This Propper's asking for it, he's now been involved in another contact with Gueye that ends with the Everton guy flat on his back. Brighton enjoying a bit of a moment. Couple corners. 2:51PM 59 mins Gross, to March, but the cross is no good.  2:47PM Time on ball (45 - 60 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:47PM 58 mins Much more enjoyable game now, it's opened up, played at a good pace. Some tackles going in. Minute or two prior to that shot where he slipped, Vlasic had cracked a decent effort at the goal. Also, Calvert-Lewin had found space for a header, but could not trouble the keeper. 2:45PM 56 mins Nice move from Everton, Vlasic into the box. He spins and shoots, but slips on the turf. Hard lines, that. Decent play 2:44PM 55 mins Ridiculous tackle from Propper. Studs up stamp on the shin of Gueye, as clear a red card as you will ever see and the Everton player is lucky he's not on his way to casualty. Just a yellow card. 2:38PM 47 mins When Vlasic and Sigurdsson get together, there are vague hints of a better tomorrow for Everton. The former sends the latter in here, okay cross, Duffy blocks. 2:36PM 46 mins Couldn't find any biscuits, so I've had a cup of tea and a Topic. Wayne? 2:17PM 45 mins Wayne! WAYNE! Biscuit. That's the half. It's nil nil. 2:17PM Time on ball (first half) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:16PM Average touch positions (half time) Average touch positions (half time) 2:15PM 42 mins I'm looking forward to my half time cup of tea and a biscuit, as indeed I suspect is Wayne Rooney, who has trudged around like a hungover man being made to go to Westfield by his better half on a weekend afternoon. 2:11PM The shot count is similar Brighton and Everton are evenly matched in attack so far - the vistors have fired in five shots to the hosts' three. Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 2:11PM 39 mins Stephens has an effort from distance but gets it all wrong. 2:11PM 37 mins March gets in behind Holgate, but dear old Phil J has read it, and tidies up. The game is even now. Everton were on top for the first 20, Brighton are now at parity, at least, but neither side has much in the way of quality. 2:06PM Brighton hit back Brighton have their first shot at goal, while Everton have registered four efforts so far. Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 2:05PM 33 mins This was a good little period for Brighton, they had a couple of corners. Dunk reckoned he should have a penalty for that block by Keane. I think not. Bit of class from Rooney, vision and touch for a no-look lay off. Gueye wallops a shot at goal. 2:03PM 31 mins Closest Brighton have come! A decent freekick, clearly a training ground job, finds Knockaert unattended at the edge of the box. He cracks it at goal. It's blocked. Dunk has a chance from a narrow angle, but the rangy number five wouldn't be the Seagulls' first choice to finish, and sure enough, he cannot. Keane blocks it, fair and square I'd say, although some Brighton folk think he used the hand. 2:01PM Time on ball (15 - 30 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:01PM Everton enjoying plenty of touches of the ball so far Everton have had 252 touches of the ball compared to 162 by Brighton. Brighton vs Everton 1:59PM 26 mins Shame Glenn Murray didn't time that run better, it was a nice ball from Solly March. 1:57PM 25 mins A decent Brighton attack flounders on an offside call against Murray. 1:56PM 22 mins Schneiderlin dives at the feet of an opponent. I don't mean he tries to win a penalty, I mean he just sort of lies in front of him like a very expensive French draft excluder. The opponent falls over, Everton get the freekick, which is nice. Gylfi Sigurpuss gets another chance to try a dead ball in. He's getting better with them. Dominic Calvert-Lewin heads it over, but he was never looking like scoring. 1:51PM 20 mins And here's Sigurdsson with a nice corner, well struck, and dangerous. Bundled away. 1:50PM 19 mins More like it! Sigurdsson links cleverly with Vlasic, they lay it off to Gueye and he hits a nice crisp shot. Smart save Ryan. Behind for a corner. 1:49PM 18 mins I hope Everton got a receipt for that one hundred billion dollars that they spent in the summer, because this looks a limited team. 1:49PM Time on ball (0 - 15 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 1:49PM Neither Brighton or Everton are testing the goalkeepers so far Tense opening quarter of an hour at Amex Stadium, as Brighton and Everton struggle to get shots on goal Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 1:46PM 14 mins They're both okay. 1:46PM 12 mins Duffy kicks Rooney. Sigurdsson’s freekick in... Mega keeper blast! Ball's lofted into the Brighton area. Goalkeeper Ryan comes hurtling out, this kid means business. He's laid out Phil Jags AND his own player, Duffy, in one fell swoop! 1:44PM 11 mins Brighton vs Everton 1:43PM 10 mins Here's Brighton on the front foot down the left. Schneiderlin in the enforcer role, trying to break up play. Decent defensive energy from Koeman's side. Once Everton win position though, they just... grind to  a halt. There are no runners. They just sort of wheel into position, by which time Brighton have got two lines of four and are solid as a bit of Brighton rock. 1:40PM 9 mins Atmosphere is absolutely excellent, fair play to those Sussex boys and girls. Nothing much to tell you about football-wise 1:39PM 8 mins Baines gets on the ball, looking to add a bit of drive and quality. It's head tennis at the moment. 1:36PM 5 mins I am enjoying the fight being shown by Brighton, here's Suttner snapping at the heels of Holgate and winning it. Brighton's only attacking/creative suggestion so far, however, has been to hit that long diagonal ball up towards their front two. 1:34PM 3 mins Brighton are getting a chance to play it around a bit, and their fans are roaring them on. Now they try to hit a long ball. 442 for them. 1:32PM 2 mins Phil Neville says that Vlasic and Calvert-Lewin being deployed out wide gives Everton the width and pace they have been sadly lacking. 1:31PM 1 mins There's an early freekick for Everton  but an awful delivery. 1:31PM Koeman looking a bit dishevelled Unshaven. Anyway. To footblal. 1:28PM Gross Point Blank Pascal Gross has been involved in 4 of Brighton’s 5 #PL goals and created 15 chances so far: 8 more than any of his teammates #BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/FiSs8DHEqU— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 1:26PM The players are coming out at Brighton. It's 16th v 17th and you'd have to say that this is a fixture both clubs would dearly love to win. Big deal for both teams, big day in the career of Ronald Koeman. 1:22PM Koeman "We need to be ruthless. Critics? Ah, that's okay. That is football. You get critics, if you don't win." Everton have had a tough run of fixtures, haven't they? Things surely have to get easier over the next couple of months. Assuming he can keep his job, like. 1:21PM Referee! Referee! It's child whistler Michael Oliver, about whom each and every commentator is contractually obliged to note that he is 32 years old. So young! SO YOUNG!! 1:01PM Teams! Teams! Brighton: Ryan, Saltor, Duffy, Dunk, Suttner, March, Stephens,  Propper, Knockaert, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Bong, Hunemeier,  Izquierdo, Schelotto, Brown, Molumby. Everton: Pickford, Holgate, Keane, Jagielka, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Vlasic, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin, Rooney. Subs: Williams, Mirallas, Martina, Klaassen, Stekelenburg,  Davies, Niasse.  Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)  12:59PM Toffees! Toffees! | Team news is in... pic.twitter.com/llI0QZv9t2— Everton (@Everton) October 15, 2017 12:58PM Seagulls! Seagulls! Here's how #BHAFC line up against @Everton at the Amex for today's @premierleague game. #BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/HJ3CBYokDK— BHAFC (@OfficialBHAFC) October 15, 2017 12:58PM Knockaert! Knockaert! TEAM NEWS Three changes to the @OfficialBHAFC line-up as Suttner, Murray & Knockaert come in for Bong, Izquierdo & Brown.#BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/8D0dFart6S— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 12:57PM Rooney! Rooney! TEAM NEWS Wayne Rooney returns to the starting Everton XI, along with Jagielka & Holgate, in place of Niasse, Williams & Martina#BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/YG80icPCu3— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 12:55PM Good afternoon sports fans We welcome you to our live of Brighton v Everton, kicking off at 1.30pm. The team news is incoming. 12:53PM Our match preview What is it? It's the Premier League clash between Brighton and Everton. When is it? Today, Sunday 15 October. What time is kick-off? 1.30pm What TV Channel is it on? Er, well, here's the thing. Despite it being moved to the convenient 1.30pm Sunday slot, it isn't being shown on UK TV. 20 best players in the Premier League: August 2017 Why was it moved then? The Premier League decided not to move it back to the traditional 3pm Saturday slot after neither Sky Sports or BT Sport jumped at the offer of showing it live. If you're in India, you're in luck. It will be shown live at 6pm in Mumbai as India’s Star Sports picked it up.  What's the team news? Phil Jagielka will return from injury for Everton after being sidelined since the Manchester United game. Seamus Coleman and Yannick Bolasie, however, remain ruled out.  Brighton will be missing Sam Baldock, Tomer Hemed and Beram Kayal. Hemed is serving the second of a three-match suspension. Phil Jagielka is expected to return to the Everton line-up Credit: Reuters What are the odds? Brighton to win 23/10 Draw 23/10 Everton 7/5 What's our prediction? Ronald Koeman's men to turn a corner and pick up a slender 1-0 win at the Amex Stadium.

Brighton 1 Everton 1: Wayne Rooney's late penalty saves a point... but what about Ronald Koeman's job?

Goodness knows what they made of this in India – although Ronald Koeman is probably more concerned of the reaction in Monaco, where Everton’s majority shareholder, Farhad Moshiri, resides. Having given the manager a vote of confidence going into the international break, after Everton’s woeful start to the season, Moshiri had added an important caveat: the fans “deserve better”. That already amounts to the ultimate get-out for a club owner navigating a line between publically supporting a manager and giving himself sufficient wriggle-room to still make a change if he has to and when Anthony Knockaert scored his first-ever Premier League goal, with just eight minutes to go, all eyes moved to the touchline and to Koeman. Despite his protestations, and his dismissive reaction when questioned about Everton’s significant spending last summer, Koeman has to be under pressure. The Dutchman has laid out his ambition at the club and is falling alarmingly short of that with a team that is simply failing to impress. This fixture was moved to a 1.30pm Sunday kick-off but was not shown live in the UK. Instead it was only Star Sport in India who picked up the Premier League’s invitation and until the last 10 minutes it really was a poor advert for the league and its continued plans for global expansion. But then, as ever with the Premier League, even the dullest of encounters can explode into life and there was a hectic, controversial finale which ultimately ended in a draw. Brighton celebrate French midfielder Anthony Knockaert's goal Credit: AFP It leaves both Brighton and Everton on eight points from eight matches and while Chris Hughton’s newly-promoted side will begrudgingly take that return – even if the manager understandably said it felt like a defeat – it is frankly not good enough for their opponents. The result leaves Everton in 16th place, with Brighton two places above on goal difference, and an even more damning statistic is the fact that the last away win in the league for Koeman’s side was back on January 21 at Crystal Palace. Everton will point to a difficult fixture list at the start of this campaign but they have now played Burnley at home and Brighton away in their last two matches and taken just a point – and that was grabbed through a 90th-minute penalty award when the desperation was becoming extreme. Everton did not deserve to lose but the games do not get any easier with Europa League matches against Lyon, Arsenal in the league and Chelsea in the Carabao Cup. The direction of their season in three competitions could well be decided in the next few weeks. Brighton keeper Matthew Ryan manages to deck not just Phil Jagielka but Shane Duffy as well Credit: Getty In a sense Wayne Rooney sums them up. The 31 year-old was deployed as a central striker and struggled. He appeared off the pace and out of touch and, in the second-half, complained vehemently that he was fouled when all that happened was he sloppily lost possession to gift Brighton a chance. And yet Rooney scored and had the coolness to roll the ball into the net to salvage a point with what was his last kick of the game before he was substituted. That goal also meant that only Frank Lampard (39), Andy Cole (38) and Alan Shearer (37) have scored against more different clubs in the Premier League than Rooney. Brighton are No 36 for him. Not that he deserved the headlines. He, like Everton, like Koeman have to do better than this. The penalty was a gift. It came from a free-kick with Brighton captain Bruno sticking out an arm and catching Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Although the home fans reacted angrily it was the right decision by referee Michael Oliver. In need of inspiration: Ronald Koeman ponders Credit: Action Images via Reuters Brighton claimed for penalties of their own – the ball striking Michael Keane’s arm as he blocked a powerful Lewis Dunk shot and Leighton Baines nudging Pascal Gross as they vied for a cross – while Everton claimed they should have had another, when the game was goalless, for a challenge on Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Davy Propper was perhaps fortunate only to be cautioned for a studs-up tackle on Idrissa Gueye. But there was precious little difference between the sides and how Hughton must rue the lack of an effective striker with Tomer Hemed suspended and Glenn Murray struggling. Brighton’s defence is rock-sold, though, with Dunk and Shane Duffy – although he, worryingly, went off injured – and record-signing Jose Izquierdo certainly made a difference when he came on as a substitute. Knockaert went agonisingly close as his goal-bound shot struck Keane but the Frenchman, the Championship player of the year, the fans favourite, did make the breakthrough. Bruno was involved in that also, bursting forward to cross low, picking out Izquierdo whose first-time shot was also blocked by Keane. It rebounded to Morgan Schneiderlin who was painfully slow to react with Gross closing him down and the ball squirted to Knockaert who knocked it past Jordan Pickford. It seemed destined to settle it but Everton fought back and, in fact, almost snatched it at the end through substitute Kevin Mirallas, only for goalkeeper Mathew Ryan to deny him with a superb double save. That would have been hard on Brighton and relief for Koeman. Instead it finished in an unsatisfactory draw. 3:25PM Time on ball (at full time) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 3:24PM Average touch positions (full time) Average touch positions (full time) 3:24PM GOAL! 1-1! Wayne Rooney has popped up with a late equaliser for Everton. Brighton 1 - 1 Everton (Wayne Rooney, 90 min) 3:21PM 90+ mins All exciting stuff here, now, terrific goalmouth scramble as Everton try everything to bundle it over the line. Mirallas having a couple of efforts beaten out by the hero Matt Ryan. Brighton hold firm, and that is the end of the match. First half was a wet weekend at the seaside, second half was a decent laugh. Quality highly questionable. Jason Burt will be here in just a minute to give you his thoughts. Cheers! 3:20PM 90+ mins Mirallas trips Gross, who was on the break, and takes the yellow. 3:19PM 89 mins It was a perfect penalty from Wayne. Right in the corner. Koeman now takes Rooney off and brings on Davies. 3:17PM Rooney from the spot! It's 1-1 3:16PM PENALTY EVERTON! Knockaert with a cynical foul to stop an Everton break. Hauls Niasse down. Clear yellow, accepts it without comment. That gives Everton a freekick. Siggy delivers it in. Bruno pushes Calvert-Lewin out the way from the freekick! Idiotic! Oliver has no hesitation. 3:15PM 86 mins Here's that man Izquierdo Mena again, he's causing all sorts. He slips it inside to Brown who lashes it at goal 3:13PM 85 mins Koeman out? He cannot have many more games left to play with. His response is to throw on Mirallas, Baines off. Brighton bring on Isaiah Brown for Glenn Murray. 3:11PM GOAL! 1-0. Anthony Knockaert has put Brighton ahead in the dying minutes! Izquierdo has been the difference maker since he came on and he has caused havoc in the Everton area here. Bruno got down the right, cut it to Iz.  He finds space, drills the shot at goal, and the desperate Evertonians parry it only as far as Knockaert. He has time to pick his spot, he slots it home, and the place goes wild! Brighton 1 - 0 Everton (Anthony Knockaert, 82 min) 3:09PM 81 mins Mind you, Gross is now sinned against in his turn! He's in the area, just about to receive the ball, and Baines knocks him over! 3:07PM 79 mins Everton argue for a penalty, and with just cause. Gross tugs back Sigur Ros and that's a spot-kick all day long to my mind. 3:04PM 76 mins Brighton go close again from the corner! Knockaert chips it in, headed back out but straight to the same player. He lashes it at goal from the narrow angle. Everton in desperate straits.  This game has been bad. Decision not to put it on TV totally vindicated.— Jack Pitt-Brooke (@JackPittBrooke) October 15, 2017 3:03PM 75 mins Izquierdo Mena robs it off Rooney, who is furious, thinks he''s been fouled. Izquierdo Mena cracks it at goal. Effort! Beaten behind for a corner. 3:02PM Time on ball (60 - 75 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 3:01PM 73 mins Wayne rolls back the years with a lovely bit of play, turning away from his man and playing a beaut of a cross in. Calvert-Lewin is in perfect position but his technique lets him down.  Uwe Hünemeier on for Duffy. And Izquierdo Mena on for Solly March. 2:58PM 70 mins Duffy down, hurt, unrelated to that. 2:57PM 69 mins Good freekick into the box. Duffy leaps, batters Pickford. Offside. La vie est belle. 2:56PM 68 mins Gueye comes off, Niasse on.  2:56PM 67 mins Sigurdsson hits it. Over the wall but half a goal width wide of the post. What's happened to this lad since he's moved to Goodison? 2:55PM 66 mins Bit of a soft foul from Brighton, giving the Toffeemen a handy freekick. Gylfi, Wayne and Leighton stand over the ball. 2:52PM 64 mins From the second of those corners, Duffy rises like a salmon, albeit a salmon in heavy boots, and heads wide. 2:52PM 61 mins This Propper's asking for it, he's now been involved in another contact with Gueye that ends with the Everton guy flat on his back. Brighton enjoying a bit of a moment. Couple corners. 2:51PM 59 mins Gross, to March, but the cross is no good.  2:47PM Time on ball (45 - 60 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:47PM 58 mins Much more enjoyable game now, it's opened up, played at a good pace. Some tackles going in. Minute or two prior to that shot where he slipped, Vlasic had cracked a decent effort at the goal. Also, Calvert-Lewin had found space for a header, but could not trouble the keeper. 2:45PM 56 mins Nice move from Everton, Vlasic into the box. He spins and shoots, but slips on the turf. Hard lines, that. Decent play 2:44PM 55 mins Ridiculous tackle from Propper. Studs up stamp on the shin of Gueye, as clear a red card as you will ever see and the Everton player is lucky he's not on his way to casualty. Just a yellow card. 2:38PM 47 mins When Vlasic and Sigurdsson get together, there are vague hints of a better tomorrow for Everton. The former sends the latter in here, okay cross, Duffy blocks. 2:36PM 46 mins Couldn't find any biscuits, so I've had a cup of tea and a Topic. Wayne? 2:17PM 45 mins Wayne! WAYNE! Biscuit. That's the half. It's nil nil. 2:17PM Time on ball (first half) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:16PM Average touch positions (half time) Average touch positions (half time) 2:15PM 42 mins I'm looking forward to my half time cup of tea and a biscuit, as indeed I suspect is Wayne Rooney, who has trudged around like a hungover man being made to go to Westfield by his better half on a weekend afternoon. 2:11PM The shot count is similar Brighton and Everton are evenly matched in attack so far - the vistors have fired in five shots to the hosts' three. Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 2:11PM 39 mins Stephens has an effort from distance but gets it all wrong. 2:11PM 37 mins March gets in behind Holgate, but dear old Phil J has read it, and tidies up. The game is even now. Everton were on top for the first 20, Brighton are now at parity, at least, but neither side has much in the way of quality. 2:06PM Brighton hit back Brighton have their first shot at goal, while Everton have registered four efforts so far. Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 2:05PM 33 mins This was a good little period for Brighton, they had a couple of corners. Dunk reckoned he should have a penalty for that block by Keane. I think not. Bit of class from Rooney, vision and touch for a no-look lay off. Gueye wallops a shot at goal. 2:03PM 31 mins Closest Brighton have come! A decent freekick, clearly a training ground job, finds Knockaert unattended at the edge of the box. He cracks it at goal. It's blocked. Dunk has a chance from a narrow angle, but the rangy number five wouldn't be the Seagulls' first choice to finish, and sure enough, he cannot. Keane blocks it, fair and square I'd say, although some Brighton folk think he used the hand. 2:01PM Time on ball (15 - 30 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:01PM Everton enjoying plenty of touches of the ball so far Everton have had 252 touches of the ball compared to 162 by Brighton. Brighton vs Everton 1:59PM 26 mins Shame Glenn Murray didn't time that run better, it was a nice ball from Solly March. 1:57PM 25 mins A decent Brighton attack flounders on an offside call against Murray. 1:56PM 22 mins Schneiderlin dives at the feet of an opponent. I don't mean he tries to win a penalty, I mean he just sort of lies in front of him like a very expensive French draft excluder. The opponent falls over, Everton get the freekick, which is nice. Gylfi Sigurpuss gets another chance to try a dead ball in. He's getting better with them. Dominic Calvert-Lewin heads it over, but he was never looking like scoring. 1:51PM 20 mins And here's Sigurdsson with a nice corner, well struck, and dangerous. Bundled away. 1:50PM 19 mins More like it! Sigurdsson links cleverly with Vlasic, they lay it off to Gueye and he hits a nice crisp shot. Smart save Ryan. Behind for a corner. 1:49PM 18 mins I hope Everton got a receipt for that one hundred billion dollars that they spent in the summer, because this looks a limited team. 1:49PM Time on ball (0 - 15 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 1:49PM Neither Brighton or Everton are testing the goalkeepers so far Tense opening quarter of an hour at Amex Stadium, as Brighton and Everton struggle to get shots on goal Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 1:46PM 14 mins They're both okay. 1:46PM 12 mins Duffy kicks Rooney. Sigurdsson’s freekick in... Mega keeper blast! Ball's lofted into the Brighton area. Goalkeeper Ryan comes hurtling out, this kid means business. He's laid out Phil Jags AND his own player, Duffy, in one fell swoop! 1:44PM 11 mins Brighton vs Everton 1:43PM 10 mins Here's Brighton on the front foot down the left. Schneiderlin in the enforcer role, trying to break up play. Decent defensive energy from Koeman's side. Once Everton win position though, they just... grind to  a halt. There are no runners. They just sort of wheel into position, by which time Brighton have got two lines of four and are solid as a bit of Brighton rock. 1:40PM 9 mins Atmosphere is absolutely excellent, fair play to those Sussex boys and girls. Nothing much to tell you about football-wise 1:39PM 8 mins Baines gets on the ball, looking to add a bit of drive and quality. It's head tennis at the moment. 1:36PM 5 mins I am enjoying the fight being shown by Brighton, here's Suttner snapping at the heels of Holgate and winning it. Brighton's only attacking/creative suggestion so far, however, has been to hit that long diagonal ball up towards their front two. 1:34PM 3 mins Brighton are getting a chance to play it around a bit, and their fans are roaring them on. Now they try to hit a long ball. 442 for them. 1:32PM 2 mins Phil Neville says that Vlasic and Calvert-Lewin being deployed out wide gives Everton the width and pace they have been sadly lacking. 1:31PM 1 mins There's an early freekick for Everton  but an awful delivery. 1:31PM Koeman looking a bit dishevelled Unshaven. Anyway. To footblal. 1:28PM Gross Point Blank Pascal Gross has been involved in 4 of Brighton’s 5 #PL goals and created 15 chances so far: 8 more than any of his teammates #BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/FiSs8DHEqU— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 1:26PM The players are coming out at Brighton. It's 16th v 17th and you'd have to say that this is a fixture both clubs would dearly love to win. Big deal for both teams, big day in the career of Ronald Koeman. 1:22PM Koeman "We need to be ruthless. Critics? Ah, that's okay. That is football. You get critics, if you don't win." Everton have had a tough run of fixtures, haven't they? Things surely have to get easier over the next couple of months. Assuming he can keep his job, like. 1:21PM Referee! Referee! It's child whistler Michael Oliver, about whom each and every commentator is contractually obliged to note that he is 32 years old. So young! SO YOUNG!! 1:01PM Teams! Teams! Brighton: Ryan, Saltor, Duffy, Dunk, Suttner, March, Stephens,  Propper, Knockaert, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Bong, Hunemeier,  Izquierdo, Schelotto, Brown, Molumby. Everton: Pickford, Holgate, Keane, Jagielka, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Vlasic, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin, Rooney. Subs: Williams, Mirallas, Martina, Klaassen, Stekelenburg,  Davies, Niasse.  Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)  12:59PM Toffees! Toffees! | Team news is in... pic.twitter.com/llI0QZv9t2— Everton (@Everton) October 15, 2017 12:58PM Seagulls! Seagulls! Here's how #BHAFC line up against @Everton at the Amex for today's @premierleague game. #BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/HJ3CBYokDK— BHAFC (@OfficialBHAFC) October 15, 2017 12:58PM Knockaert! Knockaert! TEAM NEWS Three changes to the @OfficialBHAFC line-up as Suttner, Murray & Knockaert come in for Bong, Izquierdo & Brown.#BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/8D0dFart6S— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 12:57PM Rooney! Rooney! TEAM NEWS Wayne Rooney returns to the starting Everton XI, along with Jagielka & Holgate, in place of Niasse, Williams & Martina#BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/YG80icPCu3— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 12:55PM Good afternoon sports fans We welcome you to our live of Brighton v Everton, kicking off at 1.30pm. The team news is incoming. 12:53PM Our match preview What is it? It's the Premier League clash between Brighton and Everton. When is it? Today, Sunday 15 October. What time is kick-off? 1.30pm What TV Channel is it on? Er, well, here's the thing. Despite it being moved to the convenient 1.30pm Sunday slot, it isn't being shown on UK TV. 20 best players in the Premier League: August 2017 Why was it moved then? The Premier League decided not to move it back to the traditional 3pm Saturday slot after neither Sky Sports or BT Sport jumped at the offer of showing it live. If you're in India, you're in luck. It will be shown live at 6pm in Mumbai as India’s Star Sports picked it up.  What's the team news? Phil Jagielka will return from injury for Everton after being sidelined since the Manchester United game. Seamus Coleman and Yannick Bolasie, however, remain ruled out.  Brighton will be missing Sam Baldock, Tomer Hemed and Beram Kayal. Hemed is serving the second of a three-match suspension. Phil Jagielka is expected to return to the Everton line-up Credit: Reuters What are the odds? Brighton to win 23/10 Draw 23/10 Everton 7/5 What's our prediction? Ronald Koeman's men to turn a corner and pick up a slender 1-0 win at the Amex Stadium.

Brighton 1 Everton 1: Wayne Rooney's late penalty saves a point... but what about Ronald Koeman's job?

Goodness knows what they made of this in India – although Ronald Koeman is probably more concerned of the reaction in Monaco, where Everton’s majority shareholder, Farhad Moshiri, resides. Having given the manager a vote of confidence going into the international break, after Everton’s woeful start to the season, Moshiri had added an important caveat: the fans “deserve better”. That already amounts to the ultimate get-out for a club owner navigating a line between publically supporting a manager and giving himself sufficient wriggle-room to still make a change if he has to and when Anthony Knockaert scored his first-ever Premier League goal, with just eight minutes to go, all eyes moved to the touchline and to Koeman. Despite his protestations, and his dismissive reaction when questioned about Everton’s significant spending last summer, Koeman has to be under pressure. The Dutchman has laid out his ambition at the club and is falling alarmingly short of that with a team that is simply failing to impress. This fixture was moved to a 1.30pm Sunday kick-off but was not shown live in the UK. Instead it was only Star Sport in India who picked up the Premier League’s invitation and until the last 10 minutes it really was a poor advert for the league and its continued plans for global expansion. But then, as ever with the Premier League, even the dullest of encounters can explode into life and there was a hectic, controversial finale which ultimately ended in a draw. Brighton celebrate French midfielder Anthony Knockaert's goal Credit: AFP It leaves both Brighton and Everton on eight points from eight matches and while Chris Hughton’s newly-promoted side will begrudgingly take that return – even if the manager understandably said it felt like a defeat – it is frankly not good enough for their opponents. The result leaves Everton in 16th place, with Brighton two places above on goal difference, and an even more damning statistic is the fact that the last away win in the league for Koeman’s side was back on January 21 at Crystal Palace. Everton will point to a difficult fixture list at the start of this campaign but they have now played Burnley at home and Brighton away in their last two matches and taken just a point – and that was grabbed through a 90th-minute penalty award when the desperation was becoming extreme. Everton did not deserve to lose but the games do not get any easier with Europa League matches against Lyon, Arsenal in the league and Chelsea in the Carabao Cup. The direction of their season in three competitions could well be decided in the next few weeks. Brighton keeper Matthew Ryan manages to deck not just Phil Jagielka but Shane Duffy as well Credit: Getty In a sense Wayne Rooney sums them up. The 31 year-old was deployed as a central striker and struggled. He appeared off the pace and out of touch and, in the second-half, complained vehemently that he was fouled when all that happened was he sloppily lost possession to gift Brighton a chance. And yet Rooney scored and had the coolness to roll the ball into the net to salvage a point with what was his last kick of the game before he was substituted. That goal also meant that only Frank Lampard (39), Andy Cole (38) and Alan Shearer (37) have scored against more different clubs in the Premier League than Rooney. Brighton are No 36 for him. Not that he deserved the headlines. He, like Everton, like Koeman have to do better than this. The penalty was a gift. It came from a free-kick with Brighton captain Bruno sticking out an arm and catching Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Although the home fans reacted angrily it was the right decision by referee Michael Oliver. In need of inspiration: Ronald Koeman ponders Credit: Action Images via Reuters Brighton claimed for penalties of their own – the ball striking Michael Keane’s arm as he blocked a powerful Lewis Dunk shot and Leighton Baines nudging Pascal Gross as they vied for a cross – while Everton claimed they should have had another, when the game was goalless, for a challenge on Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Davy Propper was perhaps fortunate only to be cautioned for a studs-up tackle on Idrissa Gueye. But there was precious little difference between the sides and how Hughton must rue the lack of an effective striker with Tomer Hemed suspended and Glenn Murray struggling. Brighton’s defence is rock-sold, though, with Dunk and Shane Duffy – although he, worryingly, went off injured – and record-signing Jose Izquierdo certainly made a difference when he came on as a substitute. Knockaert went agonisingly close as his goal-bound shot struck Keane but the Frenchman, the Championship player of the year, the fans favourite, did make the breakthrough. Bruno was involved in that also, bursting forward to cross low, picking out Izquierdo whose first-time shot was also blocked by Keane. It rebounded to Morgan Schneiderlin who was painfully slow to react with Gross closing him down and the ball squirted to Knockaert who knocked it past Jordan Pickford. It seemed destined to settle it but Everton fought back and, in fact, almost snatched it at the end through substitute Kevin Mirallas, only for goalkeeper Mathew Ryan to deny him with a superb double save. That would have been hard on Brighton and relief for Koeman. Instead it finished in an unsatisfactory draw. 3:25PM Time on ball (at full time) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 3:24PM Average touch positions (full time) Average touch positions (full time) 3:24PM GOAL! 1-1! Wayne Rooney has popped up with a late equaliser for Everton. Brighton 1 - 1 Everton (Wayne Rooney, 90 min) 3:21PM 90+ mins All exciting stuff here, now, terrific goalmouth scramble as Everton try everything to bundle it over the line. Mirallas having a couple of efforts beaten out by the hero Matt Ryan. Brighton hold firm, and that is the end of the match. First half was a wet weekend at the seaside, second half was a decent laugh. Quality highly questionable. Jason Burt will be here in just a minute to give you his thoughts. Cheers! 3:20PM 90+ mins Mirallas trips Gross, who was on the break, and takes the yellow. 3:19PM 89 mins It was a perfect penalty from Wayne. Right in the corner. Koeman now takes Rooney off and brings on Davies. 3:17PM Rooney from the spot! It's 1-1 3:16PM PENALTY EVERTON! Knockaert with a cynical foul to stop an Everton break. Hauls Niasse down. Clear yellow, accepts it without comment. That gives Everton a freekick. Siggy delivers it in. Bruno pushes Calvert-Lewin out the way from the freekick! Idiotic! Oliver has no hesitation. 3:15PM 86 mins Here's that man Izquierdo Mena again, he's causing all sorts. He slips it inside to Brown who lashes it at goal 3:13PM 85 mins Koeman out? He cannot have many more games left to play with. His response is to throw on Mirallas, Baines off. Brighton bring on Isaiah Brown for Glenn Murray. 3:11PM GOAL! 1-0. Anthony Knockaert has put Brighton ahead in the dying minutes! Izquierdo has been the difference maker since he came on and he has caused havoc in the Everton area here. Bruno got down the right, cut it to Iz.  He finds space, drills the shot at goal, and the desperate Evertonians parry it only as far as Knockaert. He has time to pick his spot, he slots it home, and the place goes wild! Brighton 1 - 0 Everton (Anthony Knockaert, 82 min) 3:09PM 81 mins Mind you, Gross is now sinned against in his turn! He's in the area, just about to receive the ball, and Baines knocks him over! 3:07PM 79 mins Everton argue for a penalty, and with just cause. Gross tugs back Sigur Ros and that's a spot-kick all day long to my mind. 3:04PM 76 mins Brighton go close again from the corner! Knockaert chips it in, headed back out but straight to the same player. He lashes it at goal from the narrow angle. Everton in desperate straits.  This game has been bad. Decision not to put it on TV totally vindicated.— Jack Pitt-Brooke (@JackPittBrooke) October 15, 2017 3:03PM 75 mins Izquierdo Mena robs it off Rooney, who is furious, thinks he''s been fouled. Izquierdo Mena cracks it at goal. Effort! Beaten behind for a corner. 3:02PM Time on ball (60 - 75 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 3:01PM 73 mins Wayne rolls back the years with a lovely bit of play, turning away from his man and playing a beaut of a cross in. Calvert-Lewin is in perfect position but his technique lets him down.  Uwe Hünemeier on for Duffy. And Izquierdo Mena on for Solly March. 2:58PM 70 mins Duffy down, hurt, unrelated to that. 2:57PM 69 mins Good freekick into the box. Duffy leaps, batters Pickford. Offside. La vie est belle. 2:56PM 68 mins Gueye comes off, Niasse on.  2:56PM 67 mins Sigurdsson hits it. Over the wall but half a goal width wide of the post. What's happened to this lad since he's moved to Goodison? 2:55PM 66 mins Bit of a soft foul from Brighton, giving the Toffeemen a handy freekick. Gylfi, Wayne and Leighton stand over the ball. 2:52PM 64 mins From the second of those corners, Duffy rises like a salmon, albeit a salmon in heavy boots, and heads wide. 2:52PM 61 mins This Propper's asking for it, he's now been involved in another contact with Gueye that ends with the Everton guy flat on his back. Brighton enjoying a bit of a moment. Couple corners. 2:51PM 59 mins Gross, to March, but the cross is no good.  2:47PM Time on ball (45 - 60 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:47PM 58 mins Much more enjoyable game now, it's opened up, played at a good pace. Some tackles going in. Minute or two prior to that shot where he slipped, Vlasic had cracked a decent effort at the goal. Also, Calvert-Lewin had found space for a header, but could not trouble the keeper. 2:45PM 56 mins Nice move from Everton, Vlasic into the box. He spins and shoots, but slips on the turf. Hard lines, that. Decent play 2:44PM 55 mins Ridiculous tackle from Propper. Studs up stamp on the shin of Gueye, as clear a red card as you will ever see and the Everton player is lucky he's not on his way to casualty. Just a yellow card. 2:38PM 47 mins When Vlasic and Sigurdsson get together, there are vague hints of a better tomorrow for Everton. The former sends the latter in here, okay cross, Duffy blocks. 2:36PM 46 mins Couldn't find any biscuits, so I've had a cup of tea and a Topic. Wayne? 2:17PM 45 mins Wayne! WAYNE! Biscuit. That's the half. It's nil nil. 2:17PM Time on ball (first half) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:16PM Average touch positions (half time) Average touch positions (half time) 2:15PM 42 mins I'm looking forward to my half time cup of tea and a biscuit, as indeed I suspect is Wayne Rooney, who has trudged around like a hungover man being made to go to Westfield by his better half on a weekend afternoon. 2:11PM The shot count is similar Brighton and Everton are evenly matched in attack so far - the vistors have fired in five shots to the hosts' three. Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 2:11PM 39 mins Stephens has an effort from distance but gets it all wrong. 2:11PM 37 mins March gets in behind Holgate, but dear old Phil J has read it, and tidies up. The game is even now. Everton were on top for the first 20, Brighton are now at parity, at least, but neither side has much in the way of quality. 2:06PM Brighton hit back Brighton have their first shot at goal, while Everton have registered four efforts so far. Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 2:05PM 33 mins This was a good little period for Brighton, they had a couple of corners. Dunk reckoned he should have a penalty for that block by Keane. I think not. Bit of class from Rooney, vision and touch for a no-look lay off. Gueye wallops a shot at goal. 2:03PM 31 mins Closest Brighton have come! A decent freekick, clearly a training ground job, finds Knockaert unattended at the edge of the box. He cracks it at goal. It's blocked. Dunk has a chance from a narrow angle, but the rangy number five wouldn't be the Seagulls' first choice to finish, and sure enough, he cannot. Keane blocks it, fair and square I'd say, although some Brighton folk think he used the hand. 2:01PM Time on ball (15 - 30 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 2:01PM Everton enjoying plenty of touches of the ball so far Everton have had 252 touches of the ball compared to 162 by Brighton. Brighton vs Everton 1:59PM 26 mins Shame Glenn Murray didn't time that run better, it was a nice ball from Solly March. 1:57PM 25 mins A decent Brighton attack flounders on an offside call against Murray. 1:56PM 22 mins Schneiderlin dives at the feet of an opponent. I don't mean he tries to win a penalty, I mean he just sort of lies in front of him like a very expensive French draft excluder. The opponent falls over, Everton get the freekick, which is nice. Gylfi Sigurpuss gets another chance to try a dead ball in. He's getting better with them. Dominic Calvert-Lewin heads it over, but he was never looking like scoring. 1:51PM 20 mins And here's Sigurdsson with a nice corner, well struck, and dangerous. Bundled away. 1:50PM 19 mins More like it! Sigurdsson links cleverly with Vlasic, they lay it off to Gueye and he hits a nice crisp shot. Smart save Ryan. Behind for a corner. 1:49PM 18 mins I hope Everton got a receipt for that one hundred billion dollars that they spent in the summer, because this looks a limited team. 1:49PM Time on ball (0 - 15 min) Possession: Brighton vs Everton 1:49PM Neither Brighton or Everton are testing the goalkeepers so far Tense opening quarter of an hour at Amex Stadium, as Brighton and Everton struggle to get shots on goal Brighton vs Everton shots on goal 1:46PM 14 mins They're both okay. 1:46PM 12 mins Duffy kicks Rooney. Sigurdsson’s freekick in... Mega keeper blast! Ball's lofted into the Brighton area. Goalkeeper Ryan comes hurtling out, this kid means business. He's laid out Phil Jags AND his own player, Duffy, in one fell swoop! 1:44PM 11 mins Brighton vs Everton 1:43PM 10 mins Here's Brighton on the front foot down the left. Schneiderlin in the enforcer role, trying to break up play. Decent defensive energy from Koeman's side. Once Everton win position though, they just... grind to  a halt. There are no runners. They just sort of wheel into position, by which time Brighton have got two lines of four and are solid as a bit of Brighton rock. 1:40PM 9 mins Atmosphere is absolutely excellent, fair play to those Sussex boys and girls. Nothing much to tell you about football-wise 1:39PM 8 mins Baines gets on the ball, looking to add a bit of drive and quality. It's head tennis at the moment. 1:36PM 5 mins I am enjoying the fight being shown by Brighton, here's Suttner snapping at the heels of Holgate and winning it. Brighton's only attacking/creative suggestion so far, however, has been to hit that long diagonal ball up towards their front two. 1:34PM 3 mins Brighton are getting a chance to play it around a bit, and their fans are roaring them on. Now they try to hit a long ball. 442 for them. 1:32PM 2 mins Phil Neville says that Vlasic and Calvert-Lewin being deployed out wide gives Everton the width and pace they have been sadly lacking. 1:31PM 1 mins There's an early freekick for Everton  but an awful delivery. 1:31PM Koeman looking a bit dishevelled Unshaven. Anyway. To footblal. 1:28PM Gross Point Blank Pascal Gross has been involved in 4 of Brighton’s 5 #PL goals and created 15 chances so far: 8 more than any of his teammates #BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/FiSs8DHEqU— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 1:26PM The players are coming out at Brighton. It's 16th v 17th and you'd have to say that this is a fixture both clubs would dearly love to win. Big deal for both teams, big day in the career of Ronald Koeman. 1:22PM Koeman "We need to be ruthless. Critics? Ah, that's okay. That is football. You get critics, if you don't win." Everton have had a tough run of fixtures, haven't they? Things surely have to get easier over the next couple of months. Assuming he can keep his job, like. 1:21PM Referee! Referee! It's child whistler Michael Oliver, about whom each and every commentator is contractually obliged to note that he is 32 years old. So young! SO YOUNG!! 1:01PM Teams! Teams! Brighton: Ryan, Saltor, Duffy, Dunk, Suttner, March, Stephens,  Propper, Knockaert, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Bong, Hunemeier,  Izquierdo, Schelotto, Brown, Molumby. Everton: Pickford, Holgate, Keane, Jagielka, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Vlasic, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin, Rooney. Subs: Williams, Mirallas, Martina, Klaassen, Stekelenburg,  Davies, Niasse.  Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)  12:59PM Toffees! Toffees! | Team news is in... pic.twitter.com/llI0QZv9t2— Everton (@Everton) October 15, 2017 12:58PM Seagulls! Seagulls! Here's how #BHAFC line up against @Everton at the Amex for today's @premierleague game. #BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/HJ3CBYokDK— BHAFC (@OfficialBHAFC) October 15, 2017 12:58PM Knockaert! Knockaert! TEAM NEWS Three changes to the @OfficialBHAFC line-up as Suttner, Murray & Knockaert come in for Bong, Izquierdo & Brown.#BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/8D0dFart6S— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 12:57PM Rooney! Rooney! TEAM NEWS Wayne Rooney returns to the starting Everton XI, along with Jagielka & Holgate, in place of Niasse, Williams & Martina#BHAEVEpic.twitter.com/YG80icPCu3— Premier League (@premierleague) October 15, 2017 12:55PM Good afternoon sports fans We welcome you to our live of Brighton v Everton, kicking off at 1.30pm. The team news is incoming. 12:53PM Our match preview What is it? It's the Premier League clash between Brighton and Everton. When is it? Today, Sunday 15 October. What time is kick-off? 1.30pm What TV Channel is it on? Er, well, here's the thing. Despite it being moved to the convenient 1.30pm Sunday slot, it isn't being shown on UK TV. 20 best players in the Premier League: August 2017 Why was it moved then? The Premier League decided not to move it back to the traditional 3pm Saturday slot after neither Sky Sports or BT Sport jumped at the offer of showing it live. If you're in India, you're in luck. It will be shown live at 6pm in Mumbai as India’s Star Sports picked it up.  What's the team news? Phil Jagielka will return from injury for Everton after being sidelined since the Manchester United game. Seamus Coleman and Yannick Bolasie, however, remain ruled out.  Brighton will be missing Sam Baldock, Tomer Hemed and Beram Kayal. Hemed is serving the second of a three-match suspension. Phil Jagielka is expected to return to the Everton line-up Credit: Reuters What are the odds? Brighton to win 23/10 Draw 23/10 Everton 7/5 What's our prediction? Ronald Koeman's men to turn a corner and pick up a slender 1-0 win at the Amex Stadium.

The Verlander Game: Astros' New Ace Delivers Dominance While Embracing Team's Analytical Approach

HOUSTON—In the Houston Astros clubhouse Justin Verlander pulled on a suit—a suit, it must be pointed out given the way he had just pitched Saturday, that did not include a cape—and just kept wrenching postseason baseball further back in time, back to long October shadows, Gibsonian glares, Kodachrome snapshots and bullpen doors that never opened.

“Ice?” he replied to a question about arm care after he became only the seventh man to throw a postseason complete game with as few as five hits and as many as 13 strikeouts. The great Bob Gibson had been the first. “No. I never ice.”

Game 2 of the ALCS, a 2-1 victory for Houston over the Yankees, will go down as The Verlander Game. In one of the rarest exhibitions of pitching and purpose the game allows these days, Verlander threw a complete game with 124 pitches, something that had not been done in 10,776 consecutive regular season and postseason starts, dating to 2015. The last of 71 fastballs he threw, his penultimate pitch, was clocked at 96.7 miles per hour.

All of it—the nerve and verve, the hellacious slider made possible by escaping Detroit for the Astros and their state-of-the-art technology, the purpose and re-commitment he found from an undressing three years ago from his manager—all of it Saturday risked the emptiness of a no-decision if not for something that happened in the Astros’ indoor batting cage before the game.

Designated hitter Carlos Beltran, the team’s wise elder, cranked the pitching machine up to its maximum velocity, then took his place not 60 feet six inches from its missiles but more like 45 to 50 feet. All he could do to get the barrel of his bat on the speeding ball was to keep his lower half quiet and swing compactly and abruptly.

“You’re not training your swing,” he explained before the session. “You’re training your eyes. You want your eyes to get used to tracking velocity, so that when you get out there in the game, with the greater distance, it slows down the ball to your eye.”

Beltran first learned about the drill from Barry Bonds, after Beltran was traded from the Mets to the Giants in 2011. Bonds, out of baseball then, showed Beltran the drill as a way to hit high velocity.

Following Beltran into the cage Saturday was Houston shortstop Carlos Correa. The Astros signed Beltran last December as much for his wisdom as for his bat. Correa has been one of the many young Astros under his counsel. In spring training, Beltran showed Correa the drill. Correa has been using the drill all year.

“It’s made a big difference,” Correa said before Game 2, when he was about to face the game’s hardest throwing starter pitcher, Luis Severino. “I know against his velocity all I have to do is get the barrel to the ball. I don’t need to supply any power myself.”

Bonds to Beltran to Correa—an unbroken line of shared wisdom, the way baseball and its intricacies have been shared generation after generation.

Hitting elite velocity would just so happen to be the key to beating the Yankees, who have pushed people around this year with the hardest throwing staff in recorded history (average heater: 94.5 mph). This is how the Astros beat New York in Game 2 from the offensive side:

* Correa, with his abbreviated swing, punched a 99.3 mph fourth-inning fastball from Severino over the wall in rightfield for a home run. It was the fastest pitch ever hit for a postseason home run since StatCast technology began in 2015.

* Jose Altuve stepped in against Aroldis Chapman, the hardest-throwing dude on the planet, in the ninth inning of a 1-1 game, and promptly smacked the very first pitch, a 100 mph fastball, into centerfield for a single—an impossibility for anyone but this hitting savant who bats .438 against pitches 95 and above.

* Six pitches later, Correa whacked a 99.3 mph fastball from Chapman into the gap in rightcenter, scoring Altuve with the winning run.

“See,” Correa said with a sly grin. “I told you it works.”

(Truth be told, the winning run was made possible by a chain of unkempt play by New York on the relay. Judge took several steps after cutting off the ball and, without truly getting square to his target, made a quick but fairly weak throw toward shortstop Didi Gregorius at second base, rather than getting it to the first cutoff man, second baseman Starlin Castro. The ball bounced on the outfield grass to an alert Gregorius, who spun immediately to throw home. Gregorius was unable to fully step into his throw because Correa, after sliding hard into second, began to pop up and into Gregorius’ midsection.

(Still, Gregorius made a timely throw that arrived on a bounce to catcher Gary Sanchez just as an apparently doomed Altuve had reached the cutout circle of the home plate area. It was a proper and easy send for third-base coach Gary Pettis because Altuve is Houston’s best baserunner and because even with an out the Astros would have had the winning run at second base. Sanchez, choosing to play a difficult in-between hop, peeked toward Altuve just as the ball hit his glove and dropped it. The ball lay stopped into the dirt in from of home as Altuve slid in with the winning run.)

“That,” Correa said, “was the most fun I’ve ever had on a baseball field.”

The average major league fastball these days is 93 miles an hour. No team is better at slugging against above-average velocity (94+) than Houston (.485). Even throwing fireballers Severino, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson and Chapman, New York was able to strike out only four Astros—only the seventh time in 170 games this year the Yankees struck out so few batters. The Yankees can’t get fastballs past these superb Houston hitters, the toughest bunch of hombres to strike out in all of baseball this year.

The scores in this taut ALCS thus far favor the Astros in games, 2-0, and in runs scored, 4-2, but it is a lopsided affair when it comes to strikeouts by each pitching staff, 27-9. It’s the first time all year Yankees pitchers had no more than five strikeouts in back-to-back games.

Verlander, Gibson-like, piled up 13 strikeouts himself. One day three years ago, in the middle of a down year in which he would post a 4.54 ERA for the Tigers, Verlander was called into the office of manager Brad Ausmus.

“I don’t see you throwing with conviction behind your pitches,” Ausmus said.

A surprised Verlander snapped back at him.

“I guarantee you can pick any pitch that I’ve thrown and I can tell you exactly what I was trying to do with it,” Verlander said.

The two men began to talk, and as they did, Ausmus figured out what truly was missing in his ace’s game: Verlander still was relying only on his instincts and observations to get people out, when an entire world of data was out there to help him. The conversation opened Verlander’s eyes and mind. He began seeking out pitch data, keeping his own hand-written statistics and notes, and visiting a pitching guru of modern data-based mechanics to learn about spin rates, release points and arm health.

When the Tigers traded Verlander to Houston Aug. 31, another world opened for Verlander. The Astros are one of the most forward-thinking, resourceful teams when it comes to analytics, and Verlander not only embraced it all, he also asked for more. The joke among the quants in the organization was that Verlander was the first guy to actually ask for more than the reams of information they already were crunching.

“Before a game,” Beltran said, “you come in here [in the clubhouse] and he’s at a table with 25 pieces of paper spread out and all kinds of other stuff. He is the most prepared pitcher I’ve ever been around.”

In Houston, Verlander found another tool to improve and modernize his game: a super high-speed camera that shows in clear frame-by-frame detail how a baseball leaves a pitcher’s hand on every pitch. The camera showed Verlander the position of his hand on his slider that needed improvement to give it more tilt. Verlander had always thrown his slider in a way that more resembled a cutter. But with the camera’s help, he began to carve off nasty sliders that bore to the back foot of lefthanded hitters.

Last night the Yankees saw a Verlander nobody had ever seen before. He threw 40 sliders, the most he had ever thrown in the 404 times he pitched a big league game. Thirty-one of those 40 sliders were strikes. Verlander’s precision with elite stuff was mind-boggling. He threw 31 balls to the 32 batters he faced.

“This,” teammate Dallas Keuchel said, “is the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen in the postseason to date.”

Keuchel and Verlander have become not just your clichéd narrative of “a pair of aces,” they also have become fast friends, in great part because of their thirst for the most intricate pitching knowledge. They throw with dissimilar stuff, but have a shared passion for a professorial approach to the art and science of pitching.

“One of the things we’ve talked about is having a plan pitch to pitch,” Keuchel said. “Sometimes it may look like a guy is on you with a swing, but you can’t give up on that pitch. If you don’t have to change, you don’t have to change. And he does that with his fastball. He’s got that high-spin fastball that gets on hitters, and you saw tonight how he kept going to it. If they can’t hit that high fastball, keep throwing it.”

It’s been a series of beautiful, pulsating baseball so far, which harkens back to classics such as the 1980 NLCS, when the Phillies and Astros were never separated by more than three runs in their five games, four of which were tied after nine innings. The Yankees and the world are finding out not just about Keuchel and Verlander and the art of pitching, but also the extreme hitting intelligence of this Houston team. If you needed one at-bat to understand the talent and intellect of these hitters, you could not do better than examining the last.

Correa had never seen Chapman before when he stepped in to bat in the ninth. Chapman, of course, introduced himself to Correa with velocity: first 99.3 and then 99.9. Both pitches missed up and away. Correa decided there at 2-0 to go to “auto-take” mode; he made up his mind he wanted to see another pitch. Chapman threw him a slider—a 2-and-0 breaking ball from the fastest throwing man on earth! Chapman had thrown only five 2-0 sliders all year. It dropped over the heart of the plate for a strike.

“I went, ‘Whoa!’” Correa said, “and realized it was a good thing I was in auto-take.”

Chapman then doubled up on the slider. This one wasn’t nearly as good, as it fell off the plate and down for a ball.

At 3-and-1, Chapman threw a challenge fastball, keeping his fifth straight pitch away to Correa. This time the shortstop swung, and fouled it back.

“I just got under it,” Correa said. “So I told myself I would have to make an adjustment. After seeing that pitch, and hitting the bottom of the ball, I knew I would have to get on top of the ball. So I told myself to swing for the top of it, to stay over the baseball.”

It was an incredible piece of data processing in mere seconds with such little information on which to work. Correa had swung at one fastball from Chapman in his life, and now had forged a game plan on how to hit it.

Now the count was full, a count in which Chapman throws 88 percent fastballs. The odds were even greater because he was pitching in a tied playoff game in the ninth inning with a runner at first. He was not going to get beat with his second best pitch when he knew Correa was in swing mode.

That last fastball was 99.3, on the lower edge of the strike zone and the outer edge of the plate. Correa swung as if he were back in the indoor batting cage before the game, executing the drill he learned from Beltan, who learned it from Bonds. At that moment, as the ball sizzled toward the yawning, green space of the outfield, and as the diminutive Altuve began pumping his arms and legs like a boy who feels the joy of what it’s like to run fast and free, you just knew there was no stopping this team.

The Verlander Game: Astros' New Ace Delivers Dominance While Embracing Team's Analytical Approach

HOUSTON—In the Houston Astros clubhouse Justin Verlander pulled on a suit—a suit, it must be pointed out given the way he had just pitched Saturday, that did not include a cape—and just kept wrenching postseason baseball further back in time, back to long October shadows, Gibsonian glares, Kodachrome snapshots and bullpen doors that never opened.

“Ice?” he replied to a question about arm care after he became only the seventh man to throw a postseason complete game with as few as five hits and as many as 13 strikeouts. The great Bob Gibson had been the first. “No. I never ice.”

Game 2 of the ALCS, a 2-1 victory for Houston over the Yankees, will go down as The Verlander Game. In one of the rarest exhibitions of pitching and purpose the game allows these days, Verlander threw a complete game with 124 pitches, something that had not been done in 10,776 consecutive regular season and postseason starts, dating to 2015. The last of 71 fastballs he threw, his penultimate pitch, was clocked at 96.7 miles per hour.

All of it—the nerve and verve, the hellacious slider made possible by escaping Detroit for the Astros and their state-of-the-art technology, the purpose and re-commitment he found from an undressing three years ago from his manager—all of it Saturday risked the emptiness of a no-decision if not for something that happened in the Astros’ indoor batting cage before the game.

Designated hitter Carlos Beltran, the team’s wise elder, cranked the pitching machine up to its maximum velocity, then took his place not 60 feet six inches from its missiles but more like 45 to 50 feet. All he could do to get the barrel of his bat on the speeding ball was to keep his lower half quiet and swing compactly and abruptly.

“You’re not training your swing,” he explained before the session. “You’re training your eyes. You want your eyes to get used to tracking velocity, so that when you get out there in the game, with the greater distance, it slows down the ball to your eye.”

Beltran first learned about the drill from Barry Bonds, after Beltran was traded from the Mets to the Giants in 2011. Bonds, out of baseball then, showed Beltran the drill as a way to hit high velocity.

Following Beltran into the cage Saturday was Houston shortstop Carlos Correa. The Astros signed Beltran last December as much for his wisdom as for his bat. Correa has been one of the many young Astros under his counsel. In spring training, Beltran showed Correa the drill. Correa has been using the drill all year.

“It’s made a big difference,” Correa said before Game 2, when he was about to face the game’s hardest throwing starter pitcher, Luis Severino. “I know against his velocity all I have to do is get the barrel to the ball. I don’t need to supply any power myself.”

Bonds to Beltran to Correa—an unbroken line of shared wisdom, the way baseball and its intricacies have been shared generation after generation.

Hitting elite velocity would just so happen to be the key to beating the Yankees, who have pushed people around this year with the hardest throwing staff in recorded history (average heater: 94.5 mph). This is how the Astros beat New York in Game 2 from the offensive side:

* Correa, with his abbreviated swing, punched a 99.3 mph fourth-inning fastball from Severino over the wall in rightfield for a home run. It was the fastest pitch ever hit for a postseason home run since StatCast technology began in 2015.

* Jose Altuve stepped in against Aroldis Chapman, the hardest-throwing dude on the planet, in the ninth inning of a 1-1 game, and promptly smacked the very first pitch, a 100 mph fastball, into centerfield for a single—an impossibility for anyone but this hitting savant who bats .438 against pitches 95 and above.

* Six pitches later, Correa whacked a 99.3 mph fastball from Chapman into the gap in rightcenter, scoring Altuve with the winning run.

“See,” Correa said with a sly grin. “I told you it works.”

(Truth be told, the winning run was made possible by a chain of unkempt play by New York on the relay. Judge took several steps after cutting off the ball and, without truly getting square to his target, made a quick but fairly weak throw toward shortstop Didi Gregorius at second base, rather than getting it to the first cutoff man, second baseman Starlin Castro. The ball bounced on the outfield grass to an alert Gregorius, who spun immediately to throw home. Gregorius was unable to fully step into his throw because Correa, after sliding hard into second, began to pop up and into Gregorius’ midsection.

(Still, Gregorius made a timely throw that arrived on a bounce to catcher Gary Sanchez just as an apparently doomed Altuve had reached the cutout circle of the home plate area. It was a proper and easy send for third-base coach Gary Pettis because Altuve is Houston’s best baserunner and because even with an out the Astros would have had the winning run at second base. Sanchez, choosing to play a difficult in-between hop, peeked toward Altuve just as the ball hit his glove and dropped it. The ball lay stopped into the dirt in from of home as Altuve slid in with the winning run.)

“That,” Correa said, “was the most fun I’ve ever had on a baseball field.”

The average major league fastball these days is 93 miles an hour. No team is better at slugging against above-average velocity (94+) than Houston (.485). Even throwing fireballers Severino, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson and Chapman, New York was able to strike out only four Astros—only the seventh time in 170 games this year the Yankees struck out so few batters. The Yankees can’t get fastballs past these superb Houston hitters, the toughest bunch of hombres to strike out in all of baseball this year.

The scores in this taut ALCS thus far favor the Astros in games, 2-0, and in runs scored, 4-2, but it is a lopsided affair when it comes to strikeouts by each pitching staff, 27-9. It’s the first time all year Yankees pitchers had no more than five strikeouts in back-to-back games.

Verlander, Gibson-like, piled up 13 strikeouts himself. One day three years ago, in the middle of a down year in which he would post a 4.54 ERA for the Tigers, Verlander was called into the office of manager Brad Ausmus.

“I don’t see you throwing with conviction behind your pitches,” Ausmus said.

A surprised Verlander snapped back at him.

“I guarantee you can pick any pitch that I’ve thrown and I can tell you exactly what I was trying to do with it,” Verlander said.

The two men began to talk, and as they did, Ausmus figured out what truly was missing in his ace’s game: Verlander still was relying only on his instincts and observations to get people out, when an entire world of data was out there to help him. The conversation opened Verlander’s eyes and mind. He began seeking out pitch data, keeping his own hand-written statistics and notes, and visiting a pitching guru of modern data-based mechanics to learn about spin rates, release points and arm health.

When the Tigers traded Verlander to Houston Aug. 31, another world opened for Verlander. The Astros are one of the most forward-thinking, resourceful teams when it comes to analytics, and Verlander not only embraced it all, he also asked for more. The joke among the quants in the organization was that Verlander was the first guy to actually ask for more than the reams of information they already were crunching.

“Before a game,” Beltran said, “you come in here [in the clubhouse] and he’s at a table with 25 pieces of paper spread out and all kinds of other stuff. He is the most prepared pitcher I’ve ever been around.”

In Houston, Verlander found another tool to improve and modernize his game: a super high-speed camera that shows in clear frame-by-frame detail how a baseball leaves a pitcher’s hand on every pitch. The camera showed Verlander the position of his hand on his slider that needed improvement to give it more tilt. Verlander had always thrown his slider in a way that more resembled a cutter. But with the camera’s help, he began to carve off nasty sliders that bore to the back foot of lefthanded hitters.

Last night the Yankees saw a Verlander nobody had ever seen before. He threw 40 sliders, the most he had ever thrown in the 404 times he pitched a big league game. Thirty-one of those 40 sliders were strikes. Verlander’s precision with elite stuff was mind-boggling. He threw 31 balls to the 32 batters he faced.

“This,” teammate Dallas Keuchel said, “is the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen in the postseason to date.”

Keuchel and Verlander have become not just your clichéd narrative of “a pair of aces,” they also have become fast friends, in great part because of their thirst for the most intricate pitching knowledge. They throw with dissimilar stuff, but have a shared passion for a professorial approach to the art and science of pitching.

“One of the things we’ve talked about is having a plan pitch to pitch,” Keuchel said. “Sometimes it may look like a guy is on you with a swing, but you can’t give up on that pitch. If you don’t have to change, you don’t have to change. And he does that with his fastball. He’s got that high-spin fastball that gets on hitters, and you saw tonight how he kept going to it. If they can’t hit that high fastball, keep throwing it.”

It’s been a series of beautiful, pulsating baseball so far, which harkens back to classics such as the 1980 NLCS, when the Phillies and Astros were never separated by more than three runs in their five games, four of which were tied after nine innings. The Yankees and the world are finding out not just about Keuchel and Verlander and the art of pitching, but also the extreme hitting intelligence of this Houston team. If you needed one at-bat to understand the talent and intellect of these hitters, you could not do better than examining the last.

Correa had never seen Chapman before when he stepped in to bat in the ninth. Chapman, of course, introduced himself to Correa with velocity: first 99.3 and then 99.9. Both pitches missed up and away. Correa decided there at 2-0 to go to “auto-take” mode; he made up his mind he wanted to see another pitch. Chapman threw him a slider—a 2-and-0 breaking ball from the fastest throwing man on earth! Chapman had thrown only five 2-0 sliders all year. It dropped over the heart of the plate for a strike.

“I went, ‘Whoa!’” Correa said, “and realized it was a good thing I was in auto-take.”

Chapman then doubled up on the slider. This one wasn’t nearly as good, as it fell off the plate and down for a ball.

At 3-and-1, Chapman threw a challenge fastball, keeping his fifth straight pitch away to Correa. This time the shortstop swung, and fouled it back.

“I just got under it,” Correa said. “So I told myself I would have to make an adjustment. After seeing that pitch, and hitting the bottom of the ball, I knew I would have to get on top of the ball. So I told myself to swing for the top of it, to stay over the baseball.”

It was an incredible piece of data processing in mere seconds with such little information on which to work. Correa had swung at one fastball from Chapman in his life, and now had forged a game plan on how to hit it.

Now the count was full, a count in which Chapman throws 88 percent fastballs. The odds were even greater because he was pitching in a tied playoff game in the ninth inning with a runner at first. He was not going to get beat with his second best pitch when he knew Correa was in swing mode.

That last fastball was 99.3, on the lower edge of the strike zone and the outer edge of the plate. Correa swung as if he were back in the indoor batting cage before the game, executing the drill he learned from Beltan, who learned it from Bonds. At that moment, as the ball sizzled toward the yawning, green space of the outfield, and as the diminutive Altuve began pumping his arms and legs like a boy who feels the joy of what it’s like to run fast and free, you just knew there was no stopping this team.

Milan Derby: A Preview of This Classic Encounter

Inter face off with arch-rivals AC Milan this Sunday, in what promises to be one of the most exciting Milan derbies in a long time. The duo will face off at San Siro under Chinese ownership for the second time, with Inter the nominal hosts.

The Nerazzuri have made an encouraging start to the season under new manager Lucanio Spalletti, and will be looking to continue that on Sunday, but Milan have looked far less assured, and after the 2-0 loss to Roma at home before the international break, manager Vincenzo Montella is under considerable pressure.

The abundance of new faces to integrate has been a problem for the Italian, and he will be hoping the international break will have helped them to refresh so they can kickstart their season with a derby win.

Both harbour genuine hopes of emerging from the depths to challenge again this season, with Champions League football imperative for both clubs after being absent for far too long. It promises to be an intoxicating encounter.

Classic Encounter

With such a rich history, there have been so many classic games between these two over the years.

From the infamous Champions League clash in 2005, called off when flares rained down on the San Siro pitch from Inter fans after a disallowed goal, one striking Milan keeper Dida, all the way to the pulsating 2-2 draw from last April - this fixture has had everything.

However, a game that particularly resonates is Inter's famous 4-3 win in 2006.

The action was played at a breakneck speed, as Inter raced to a three-goal lead thanks to goals from Hernan Crespo, Dejan Stankovic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic before Clarence Seedorf replied. Materazzi then made it 4-1 as Alberto Gilardino and Kaka added late consolations.

Not only was this a spectacular game, it was also one of the most star-studded and anticipated in history. AC Milan boasted a fierce back line with Cafu and Nesta, as well Kaka in his prime and Pirlo behind him.

Meanwhile Inter had an equally fearsome team; Javier Zanetti and Ivan Cordoba at the back, Patrick Viera in midfield and Ibrahimovic up front. An unbelievable collection of talent all round, summoning up extreme nostalgia for the glory days of Italian football.

Form

Inter are second in Serie A after an unbeaten start that has seen them pick up 19 points from a possible 21. While they haven't been blowing teams away, and Spalletti is still experimenting with his team, they have been still been able to get the results to back it up.

AC Milan have had a far more hesitant start to the season; seventh in the league table, having lost three of their seven games in Serie A. Their vast set of new players have had indifferent starts to life in Milan, and coach Montella will be hoping Sunday's derby can coax them into life.

Team News

Inter playmaker Marcelo Brozovic picked up an injury during the international break with Croatia and won't be fit in time for Sunday.

For Milan, recent Turkish signing Hakan Calhanoglu will miss out through suspension after his red card against Roma, and Andrea Conti and Luca Antonelli both remain absent with injury.

Defender Mateo Musacchio picked up a knock in training, but is still expected to start for the Rossoneri.

Predicted Inter XI: Handanovic, Nagatomo, Miranda, Škriniar, D'ambrosio, Vecino, Valero, Candreva, Joâo Mario, Periši?, Icardi.

Predicted AC Milan XI: Donnarumma, Romagnoli, Bonucci, Musacchio, Abate, Suso, Kessié, Biglia, Rodríguez, Silva, Kalini?.

Prediction

There is no doubt that home team Inter are favourites going in, but form is usually irrelevant on occasions such as these. If Milan can win the midfield battle, and 20-year-old Franck Kessié can impose himself on the game, then they have a definite chance.

However, with new signings still acclimatising, and coming up against a settled Inter side that possesses a lot of firepower, you fear for the Rossoneri.

Inter 2-1 AC Milan

Milan Derby: A Preview of This Classic Encounter

Inter face off with arch-rivals AC Milan this Sunday, in what promises to be one of the most exciting Milan derbies in a long time. The duo will face off at San Siro under Chinese ownership for the second time, with Inter the nominal hosts.

The Nerazzuri have made an encouraging start to the season under new manager Lucanio Spalletti, and will be looking to continue that on Sunday, but Milan have looked far less assured, and after the 2-0 loss to Roma at home before the international break, manager Vincenzo Montella is under considerable pressure.

The abundance of new faces to integrate has been a problem for the Italian, and he will be hoping the international break will have helped them to refresh so they can kickstart their season with a derby win.

Both harbour genuine hopes of emerging from the depths to challenge again this season, with Champions League football imperative for both clubs after being absent for far too long. It promises to be an intoxicating encounter.

Classic Encounter

With such a rich history, there have been so many classic games between these two over the years.

From the infamous Champions League clash in 2005, called off when flares rained down on the San Siro pitch from Inter fans after a disallowed goal, one striking Milan keeper Dida, all the way to the pulsating 2-2 draw from last April - this fixture has had everything.

However, a game that particularly resonates is Inter's famous 4-3 win in 2006.

The action was played at a breakneck speed, as Inter raced to a three-goal lead thanks to goals from Hernan Crespo, Dejan Stankovic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic before Clarence Seedorf replied. Materazzi then made it 4-1 as Alberto Gilardino and Kaka added late consolations.

Not only was this a spectacular game, it was also one of the most star-studded and anticipated in history. AC Milan boasted a fierce back line with Cafu and Nesta, as well Kaka in his prime and Pirlo behind him.

Meanwhile Inter had an equally fearsome team; Javier Zanetti and Ivan Cordoba at the back, Patrick Viera in midfield and Ibrahimovic up front. An unbelievable collection of talent all round, summoning up extreme nostalgia for the glory days of Italian football.

Form

Inter are second in Serie A after an unbeaten start that has seen them pick up 19 points from a possible 21. While they haven't been blowing teams away, and Spalletti is still experimenting with his team, they have been still been able to get the results to back it up.

AC Milan have had a far more hesitant start to the season; seventh in the league table, having lost three of their seven games in Serie A. Their vast set of new players have had indifferent starts to life in Milan, and coach Montella will be hoping Sunday's derby can coax them into life.

Team News

Inter playmaker Marcelo Brozovic picked up an injury during the international break with Croatia and won't be fit in time for Sunday.

For Milan, recent Turkish signing Hakan Calhanoglu will miss out through suspension after his red card against Roma, and Andrea Conti and Luca Antonelli both remain absent with injury.

Defender Mateo Musacchio picked up a knock in training, but is still expected to start for the Rossoneri.

Predicted Inter XI: Handanovic, Nagatomo, Miranda, Škriniar, D'ambrosio, Vecino, Valero, Candreva, Joâo Mario, Periši?, Icardi.

Predicted AC Milan XI: Donnarumma, Romagnoli, Bonucci, Musacchio, Abate, Suso, Kessié, Biglia, Rodríguez, Silva, Kalini?.

Prediction

There is no doubt that home team Inter are favourites going in, but form is usually irrelevant on occasions such as these. If Milan can win the midfield battle, and 20-year-old Franck Kessié can impose himself on the game, then they have a definite chance.

However, with new signings still acclimatising, and coming up against a settled Inter side that possesses a lot of firepower, you fear for the Rossoneri.

Inter 2-1 AC Milan

Milan Derby: A Preview of This Classic Encounter

Inter face off with arch-rivals AC Milan this Sunday, in what promises to be one of the most exciting Milan derbies in a long time. The duo will face off at San Siro under Chinese ownership for the second time, with Inter the nominal hosts.

The Nerazzuri have made an encouraging start to the season under new manager Lucanio Spalletti, and will be looking to continue that on Sunday, but Milan have looked far less assured, and after the 2-0 loss to Roma at home before the international break, manager Vincenzo Montella is under considerable pressure.

The abundance of new faces to integrate has been a problem for the Italian, and he will be hoping the international break will have helped them to refresh so they can kickstart their season with a derby win.

Both harbour genuine hopes of emerging from the depths to challenge again this season, with Champions League football imperative for both clubs after being absent for far too long. It promises to be an intoxicating encounter.

Classic Encounter

With such a rich history, there have been so many classic games between these two over the years.

From the infamous Champions League clash in 2005, called off when flares rained down on the San Siro pitch from Inter fans after a disallowed goal, one striking Milan keeper Dida, all the way to the pulsating 2-2 draw from last April - this fixture has had everything.

However, a game that particularly resonates is Inter's famous 4-3 win in 2006.

The action was played at a breakneck speed, as Inter raced to a three-goal lead thanks to goals from Hernan Crespo, Dejan Stankovic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic before Clarence Seedorf replied. Materazzi then made it 4-1 as Alberto Gilardino and Kaka added late consolations.

Not only was this a spectacular game, it was also one of the most star-studded and anticipated in history. AC Milan boasted a fierce back line with Cafu and Nesta, as well Kaka in his prime and Pirlo behind him.

Meanwhile Inter had an equally fearsome team; Javier Zanetti and Ivan Cordoba at the back, Patrick Viera in midfield and Ibrahimovic up front. An unbelievable collection of talent all round, summoning up extreme nostalgia for the glory days of Italian football.

Form

Inter are second in Serie A after an unbeaten start that has seen them pick up 19 points from a possible 21. While they haven't been blowing teams away, and Spalletti is still experimenting with his team, they have been still been able to get the results to back it up.

AC Milan have had a far more hesitant start to the season; seventh in the league table, having lost three of their seven games in Serie A. Their vast set of new players have had indifferent starts to life in Milan, and coach Montella will be hoping Sunday's derby can coax them into life.

Team News

Inter playmaker Marcelo Brozovic picked up an injury during the international break with Croatia and won't be fit in time for Sunday.

For Milan, recent Turkish signing Hakan Calhanoglu will miss out through suspension after his red card against Roma, and Andrea Conti and Luca Antonelli both remain absent with injury.

Defender Mateo Musacchio picked up a knock in training, but is still expected to start for the Rossoneri.

Predicted Inter XI: Handanovic, Nagatomo, Miranda, Škriniar, D'ambrosio, Vecino, Valero, Candreva, Joâo Mario, Periši?, Icardi.

Predicted AC Milan XI: Donnarumma, Romagnoli, Bonucci, Musacchio, Abate, Suso, Kessié, Biglia, Rodríguez, Silva, Kalini?.

Prediction

There is no doubt that home team Inter are favourites going in, but form is usually irrelevant on occasions such as these. If Milan can win the midfield battle, and 20-year-old Franck Kessié can impose himself on the game, then they have a definite chance.

However, with new signings still acclimatising, and coming up against a settled Inter side that possesses a lot of firepower, you fear for the Rossoneri.

Inter 2-1 AC Milan

Milan Derby: A Preview of This Classic Encounter

Inter face off with arch-rivals AC Milan this Sunday, in what promises to be one of the most exciting Milan derbies in a long time. The duo will face off at San Siro under Chinese ownership for the second time, with Inter the nominal hosts.

The Nerazzuri have made an encouraging start to the season under new manager Lucanio Spalletti, and will be looking to continue that on Sunday, but Milan have looked far less assured, and after the 2-0 loss to Roma at home before the international break, manager Vincenzo Montella is under considerable pressure.

The abundance of new faces to integrate has been a problem for the Italian, and he will be hoping the international break will have helped them to refresh so they can kickstart their season with a derby win.

Both harbour genuine hopes of emerging from the depths to challenge again this season, with Champions League football imperative for both clubs after being absent for far too long. It promises to be an intoxicating encounter.

Classic Encounter

With such a rich history, there have been so many classic games between these two over the years.

From the infamous Champions League clash in 2005, called off when flares rained down on the San Siro pitch from Inter fans after a disallowed goal, one striking Milan keeper Dida, all the way to the pulsating 2-2 draw from last April - this fixture has had everything.

However, a game that particularly resonates is Inter's famous 4-3 win in 2006.

The action was played at a breakneck speed, as Inter raced to a three-goal lead thanks to goals from Hernan Crespo, Dejan Stankovic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic before Clarence Seedorf replied. Materazzi then made it 4-1 as Alberto Gilardino and Kaka added late consolations.

Not only was this a spectacular game, it was also one of the most star-studded and anticipated in history. AC Milan boasted a fierce back line with Cafu and Nesta, as well Kaka in his prime and Pirlo behind him.

Meanwhile Inter had an equally fearsome team; Javier Zanetti and Ivan Cordoba at the back, Patrick Viera in midfield and Ibrahimovic up front. An unbelievable collection of talent all round, summoning up extreme nostalgia for the glory days of Italian football.

Form

Inter are second in Serie A after an unbeaten start that has seen them pick up 19 points from a possible 21. While they haven't been blowing teams away, and Spalletti is still experimenting with his team, they have been still been able to get the results to back it up.

AC Milan have had a far more hesitant start to the season; seventh in the league table, having lost three of their seven games in Serie A. Their vast set of new players have had indifferent starts to life in Milan, and coach Montella will be hoping Sunday's derby can coax them into life.

Team News

Inter playmaker Marcelo Brozovic picked up an injury during the international break with Croatia and won't be fit in time for Sunday.

For Milan, recent Turkish signing Hakan Calhanoglu will miss out through suspension after his red card against Roma, and Andrea Conti and Luca Antonelli both remain absent with injury.

Defender Mateo Musacchio picked up a knock in training, but is still expected to start for the Rossoneri.

Predicted Inter XI: Handanovic, Nagatomo, Miranda, Škriniar, D'ambrosio, Vecino, Valero, Candreva, Joâo Mario, Periši?, Icardi.

Predicted AC Milan XI: Donnarumma, Romagnoli, Bonucci, Musacchio, Abate, Suso, Kessié, Biglia, Rodríguez, Silva, Kalini?.

Prediction

There is no doubt that home team Inter are favourites going in, but form is usually irrelevant on occasions such as these. If Milan can win the midfield battle, and 20-year-old Franck Kessié can impose himself on the game, then they have a definite chance.

However, with new signings still acclimatising, and coming up against a settled Inter side that possesses a lot of firepower, you fear for the Rossoneri.

Inter 2-1 AC Milan

Milan Derby: A Preview of This Classic Encounter

Inter face off with arch-rivals AC Milan this Sunday, in what promises to be one of the most exciting Milan derbies in a long time. The duo will face off at San Siro under Chinese ownership for the second time, with Inter the nominal hosts.

The Nerazzuri have made an encouraging start to the season under new manager Lucanio Spalletti, and will be looking to continue that on Sunday, but Milan have looked far less assured, and after the 2-0 loss to Roma at home before the international break, manager Vincenzo Montella is under considerable pressure.

The abundance of new faces to integrate has been a problem for the Italian, and he will be hoping the international break will have helped them to refresh so they can kickstart their season with a derby win.

Both harbour genuine hopes of emerging from the depths to challenge again this season, with Champions League football imperative for both clubs after being absent for far too long. It promises to be an intoxicating encounter.

Classic Encounter

With such a rich history, there have been so many classic games between these two over the years.

From the infamous Champions League clash in 2005, called off when flares rained down on the San Siro pitch from Inter fans after a disallowed goal, one striking Milan keeper Dida, all the way to the pulsating 2-2 draw from last April - this fixture has had everything.

However, a game that particularly resonates is Inter's famous 4-3 win in 2006.

The action was played at a breakneck speed, as Inter raced to a three-goal lead thanks to goals from Hernan Crespo, Dejan Stankovic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic before Clarence Seedorf replied. Materazzi then made it 4-1 as Alberto Gilardino and Kaka added late consolations.

Not only was this a spectacular game, it was also one of the most star-studded and anticipated in history. AC Milan boasted a fierce back line with Cafu and Nesta, as well Kaka in his prime and Pirlo behind him.

Meanwhile Inter had an equally fearsome team; Javier Zanetti and Ivan Cordoba at the back, Patrick Viera in midfield and Ibrahimovic up front. An unbelievable collection of talent all round, summoning up extreme nostalgia for the glory days of Italian football.

Form

Inter are second in Serie A after an unbeaten start that has seen them pick up 19 points from a possible 21. While they haven't been blowing teams away, and Spalletti is still experimenting with his team, they have been still been able to get the results to back it up.

AC Milan have had a far more hesitant start to the season; seventh in the league table, having lost three of their seven games in Serie A. Their vast set of new players have had indifferent starts to life in Milan, and coach Montella will be hoping Sunday's derby can coax them into life.

Team News

Inter playmaker Marcelo Brozovic picked up an injury during the international break with Croatia and won't be fit in time for Sunday.

For Milan, recent Turkish signing Hakan Calhanoglu will miss out through suspension after his red card against Roma, and Andrea Conti and Luca Antonelli both remain absent with injury.

Defender Mateo Musacchio picked up a knock in training, but is still expected to start for the Rossoneri.

Predicted Inter XI: Handanovic, Nagatomo, Miranda, Škriniar, D'ambrosio, Vecino, Valero, Candreva, Joâo Mario, Periši?, Icardi.

Predicted AC Milan XI: Donnarumma, Romagnoli, Bonucci, Musacchio, Abate, Suso, Kessié, Biglia, Rodríguez, Silva, Kalini?.

Prediction

There is no doubt that home team Inter are favourites going in, but form is usually irrelevant on occasions such as these. If Milan can win the midfield battle, and 20-year-old Franck Kessié can impose himself on the game, then they have a definite chance.

However, with new signings still acclimatising, and coming up against a settled Inter side that possesses a lot of firepower, you fear for the Rossoneri.

Inter 2-1 AC Milan

Milan Derby: A Preview of This Classic Encounter

Inter face off with arch-rivals AC Milan this Sunday, in what promises to be one of the most exciting Milan derbies in a long time. The duo will face off at San Siro under Chinese ownership for the second time, with Inter the nominal hosts.

The Nerazzuri have made an encouraging start to the season under new manager Lucanio Spalletti, and will be looking to continue that on Sunday, but Milan have looked far less assured, and after the 2-0 loss to Roma at home before the international break, manager Vincenzo Montella is under considerable pressure.

The abundance of new faces to integrate has been a problem for the Italian, and he will be hoping the international break will have helped them to refresh so they can kickstart their season with a derby win.

Both harbour genuine hopes of emerging from the depths to challenge again this season, with Champions League football imperative for both clubs after being absent for far too long. It promises to be an intoxicating encounter.

Classic Encounter

With such a rich history, there have been so many classic games between these two over the years.

From the infamous Champions League clash in 2005, called off when flares rained down on the San Siro pitch from Inter fans after a disallowed goal, one striking Milan keeper Dida, all the way to the pulsating 2-2 draw from last April - this fixture has had everything.

However, a game that particularly resonates is Inter's famous 4-3 win in 2006.

The action was played at a breakneck speed, as Inter raced to a three-goal lead thanks to goals from Hernan Crespo, Dejan Stankovic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic before Clarence Seedorf replied. Materazzi then made it 4-1 as Alberto Gilardino and Kaka added late consolations.

Not only was this a spectacular game, it was also one of the most star-studded and anticipated in history. AC Milan boasted a fierce back line with Cafu and Nesta, as well Kaka in his prime and Pirlo behind him.

Meanwhile Inter had an equally fearsome team; Javier Zanetti and Ivan Cordoba at the back, Patrick Viera in midfield and Ibrahimovic up front. An unbelievable collection of talent all round, summoning up extreme nostalgia for the glory days of Italian football.

Form

Inter are second in Serie A after an unbeaten start that has seen them pick up 19 points from a possible 21. While they haven't been blowing teams away, and Spalletti is still experimenting with his team, they have been still been able to get the results to back it up.

AC Milan have had a far more hesitant start to the season; seventh in the league table, having lost three of their seven games in Serie A. Their vast set of new players have had indifferent starts to life in Milan, and coach Montella will be hoping Sunday's derby can coax them into life.

Team News

Inter playmaker Marcelo Brozovic picked up an injury during the international break with Croatia and won't be fit in time for Sunday.

For Milan, recent Turkish signing Hakan Calhanoglu will miss out through suspension after his red card against Roma, and Andrea Conti and Luca Antonelli both remain absent with injury.

Defender Mateo Musacchio picked up a knock in training, but is still expected to start for the Rossoneri.

Predicted Inter XI: Handanovic, Nagatomo, Miranda, Škriniar, D'ambrosio, Vecino, Valero, Candreva, Joâo Mario, Periši?, Icardi.

Predicted AC Milan XI: Donnarumma, Romagnoli, Bonucci, Musacchio, Abate, Suso, Kessié, Biglia, Rodríguez, Silva, Kalini?.

Prediction

There is no doubt that home team Inter are favourites going in, but form is usually irrelevant on occasions such as these. If Milan can win the midfield battle, and 20-year-old Franck Kessié can impose himself on the game, then they have a definite chance.

However, with new signings still acclimatising, and coming up against a settled Inter side that possesses a lot of firepower, you fear for the Rossoneri.

Inter 2-1 AC Milan

Travis Pastrana, le cascadeur de l’extreme, réalise un nouvel une 1ere mondiale complètement dingue en moto !

Cette semaine, dans le Top10 Riders Match des dix meilleures vidéos de sport extrême, vous retrouverez sur la première marche du podium l'exploit de Travis Pastrana, de la team Nitro Circus, qui saute par dessus la Tamise en FMX, puis une video des douze meilleures wakeboardeuses de la team O’Neill qui se lâchent sur des modules bien engagés et en 3e position la part super créative du skateur pro Tom Karangelov. Une fois de plus, ce Best of Riders Match va vous surprendre, vous effrayer, vous faire voyager … bref, vous allez en mettre plein les yeux : accrochez votre ceinture, c’est parti !

Travis Pastrana, le cascadeur de l’extreme, réalise un nouvel une 1ere mondiale complètement dingue en moto !

Cette semaine, dans le Top10 Riders Match des dix meilleures vidéos de sport extrême, vous retrouverez sur la première marche du podium l'exploit de Travis Pastrana, de la team Nitro Circus, qui saute par dessus la Tamise en FMX, puis une video des douze meilleures wakeboardeuses de la team O’Neill qui se lâchent sur des modules bien engagés et en 3e position la part super créative du skateur pro Tom Karangelov. Une fois de plus, ce Best of Riders Match va vous surprendre, vous effrayer, vous faire voyager … bref, vous allez en mettre plein les yeux : accrochez votre ceinture, c’est parti !

Travis Pastrana, le cascadeur de l’extreme, réalise un nouvel une 1ere mondiale complètement dingue en moto !

Cette semaine, dans le Top10 Riders Match des dix meilleures vidéos de sport extrême, vous retrouverez sur la première marche du podium l'exploit de Travis Pastrana, de la team Nitro Circus, qui saute par dessus la Tamise en FMX, puis une video des douze meilleures wakeboardeuses de la team O’Neill qui se lâchent sur des modules bien engagés et en 3e position la part super créative du skateur pro Tom Karangelov. Une fois de plus, ce Best of Riders Match va vous surprendre, vous effrayer, vous faire voyager … bref, vous allez en mettre plein les yeux : accrochez votre ceinture, c’est parti !

Travis Pastrana, le cascadeur de l’extreme, réalise un nouvel exploit complètement dingue en moto

Cette semaine, dans le Top10 Riders Match des dix meilleures vidéos de sport extrême, vous retrouverez sur la première marche du podium l'exploit de Travis Pastrana, de la team Nitro Circus, qui saute par dessus la Tamise en FMX, puis une video des douze meilleures wakeboardeuses de la team O’Neill qui se lâchent sur des modules bien engagés et en 3e position la part super créative du skateur pro Tom Karangelov. Une fois de plus, ce Best of Riders Match va vous surprendre, vous effrayer, vous faire voyager … bref, vous allez en mettre plein les yeux : accrochez votre ceinture, c’est parti !

'He broke me' - Rickie Lambert reveals the extreme levels Mauricio Pochettino goes to in training

'He broke me' - Rickie Lambert reveals the extreme levels Mauricio Pochettino goes to in training

'He broke me' - Rickie Lambert reveals the extreme levels Mauricio Pochettino goes to in training

'He broke me' - Rickie Lambert reveals the extreme levels Mauricio Pochettino goes to in training

'He broke me' - Rickie Lambert reveals the extreme levels Mauricio Pochettino goes to in training

'He broke me' - Rickie Lambert reveals the extreme levels Mauricio Pochettino goes to in training

'He broke me' - Rickie Lambert reveals the extreme levels Mauricio Pochettino goes to in training

'He broke me' - Rickie Lambert reveals the extreme levels Mauricio Pochettino goes to in training

The England dream team by eras: which decade comes out on top?

Scroll to the bottom of the article for Rob Bagchi's all-time 23-man England squad August is traditionally silly season for journalism but on the football beat the two-week autumn and spring international breaks are the cue for extreme resourcefulness. Watching England toil through yet another developmental stage, the slimness of their options and assets in central midfield and the heart of defence as blatant as the consoling promise of Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, made us wonder in which eras each part of the team have been at their strongest? Was English goalkeeping, say, at its apex in the 1970s or have the wide players of the Forties never been surpassed? For once a decision to truncate the period for analysis is not motivated by either sloth or rampant neophilia. England rejoined Fifa only in 1946 and their first international tournament was the 1950 World Cup, having spurned the first three.  Therefore it makes sense to start in the immediate post-war years and to help the process we will look at each phase for every sector - goalkeeper, full-backs, central defenders, midfielders, wide players and strikers - look at the players picked and the breadth of quality alternatives. Some will represent generations or decades, others distinct stages in the team’s evolution. We’ll begin in goal and chart the progression, chronological at least, from Frank Swift and his primrose polo neck sweater to Joe Hart and his binman chic high-vis short-sleeves, concluding with our stab at an answer. Goalkeepers If you’ve been paying attention to anything involving England without being so bored you’ve felt compelled to make a paper plane, our first contender will be obvious. Frank Swift, the wok-handed, spring-heeled Manchester City goalkeeper who pioneered the throw-out, was the first keeper to captain England and as the man in goal when England travelled to Turin to defeat the double world champions Italy (a pre Superga full-strength Azzurri side) 4-0, is our candidate from the Forties. He won 19 caps despite the war depriving him of his career from the age of 25 to 32, let in 18 goals and played in other memorable victories over France, Sweden, Scotland and Portugal. Other standouts from the truncated decade include Tottenham’s title-winning Ted Ditchburn, who won six caps, and the brave, acrobatic, sure-handed Bert Williams of Wolves who succeeded Swift after his international retirement and earned 24 caps over the next six years. Our Fifties options begin with Williams and Gil Merrick of Birmingham City who earned the most caps (23) of the decade and kept five clean sheets. It was Merrick’s misfortune to be in goal for the mortifying, 3-6 defeat by Hungary at Wembley in 1953 and the 7-1 thrashing in the Nepstadion a year later. Admittedly he appeared rattled on both occasions but only because the Magnificent Magyars and his shaky defence left him horribly exposed. The sight of him picking the ball out of the net 13 times have haunted English football ever since but he was not responsible. Those defeats should have marked a paradigm shift but the England system - once again propped up by a crop of excellent players - did not significantly change until much later.  Other notable stalwarts of the decade were Bolton’s 5ft 8in Eddie Hopkinson, the master of one-on-ones who won 13 caps, and Colin McDonald of Burnley who kept goal at the 1958 World Cup and was a dominant, cross-catching doyen of the old school. The Sixties begin with Sheffield Wednesday’s, quick, agile Ron Springett who played 33 times including all four at the 1962 World Cup where he repeatedly saved Walter Winterbottom's side from a proper drubbing in the 3-1 quarter-final defeat by Brazil, and end with Banks of England, Springett’s understudy in Chile, justly recognised as the greatest goalie in the world. It wasn’t just his majesty during England’s 1966 campaign, it was his general safehandedness - helped, trivia fans, in a pre-gloves age, with a generous rub of Beechnut chewing gum-laced saliva on the palms - his rare ability to save gymnastically equally well whether his goal was attacked high or low and his courage. He was so supreme that he restricted other fine goalkeepers such as Peter Bonetti, Gordon West, Alex Stepney and Springett to a handful of caps after Alf Ramsey made him first choice in 1964. Gordon Banks remained Ramsey’s default selection until he lost an eye in a car crash at the age of 34 in Oct 1972, taking in the save against Pele in 1970, the world’s greatest keeper defying the game’s best player by diving downwards, like an hour hand pointing to seven o’clock, and twisting his wrist to ensure he flicked it over the bar to prevent the great striker pouncing on the rebound. But Leicester City did not rate the marginal differentials between an established world-class player and an emerging one as highly as Ramsey and sold Banks to Stoke in 1967 to clear the way for 17-year-old Peter Shilton who owned the Eighties but duelled with the agile, commanding and astute Ray Clemence throughout the preceding decade to be England’s No1. Shilton was a brilliant shot-stopper and all the hours of dedicated, unrelenting practice gave him uncommon agility and aerial mastery. From about 1978 onwards, the error against Poland in 1973 long overcome, Shilton has the right to be considered Banks’ equal and probably superior. The reign of the duopoly left those other excellent keepers, Joe Corrigan, Phil Parkes and Stepney feeding off scraps. When it game to goalkeepers Ron Greenwood had a touch of the Jimmy Armfields at Leeds (“the manager’s indecision is final) but at the start of 1982 after rotating them for five years, he eventually plumped for Shilton who stayed undisputed first choice for the whole of the Eighties. Clemence carried on as the first reserve until 1983 and from 1985 Chris Woods began to make the No13 shirt his second skin during international weeks. Woods made 14 starts in the decade but was mostly stuck on the bench occasionally conceding opportunities for the stand-by role to Gary Bailey, Nigel Spink, Dave Beasant and David Seaman. Poor Martin Hodge, Tony Coton and John Lukic never even got a sniff. Peter Shilton at the start of his international career Credit: Malcolm Croft/PA Bobby Robson stood by Peter Shilton for Italia 90 and kept the 40-year-old keeper between the sticks for the semi-final shootout against West Germany despite having not used all his substitute options and Shilton’s poor record at saving spot-kicks (one from 15). The veteran retired from international football at the end of the tournament but carried on playing for a variety of clubs until 1997. Woods, who once went 1196 minutes without conceding a goal for Rangers in successive matches, became Graham Taylor’s No1 and played at Euro 92 backed up by David Seaman and England’s first million-pound goalie, Nigel Martyn. Seaman came into his own under Terry Venables and proved himself a wonderfully athletic goalkeeper with great agility, positional awareness, sound judgment and, above all, consistency at Euro 96. He saved penalties, too. Glenn Hoddle logically opted for continuity but awarded caps to Ian Walker, David James, Tim Flowers and Martyn when injury or the need to see how the others shaped up demanded.   Seaman continued through the proto-Golden Generation era until his mistakes were compounded by his age, particularly, like Shilton in 1990, a leaden-footedness in reverse. Paul Robinson was anointed for the 2006 World Cup when David Beckham metamorphosed into Sally Bowles in Baden-Baden but Sven Goran-Eriksson also tried out Martyn, James (the Euro 2004) starter and Rob Green. If we consider the McClaren era a coda to the Golden Generation, The Together Again tour after Dean Martin had bailed on Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis to be replaced by Liza Minelli, small wonder that it was largely a Robinson hangover with supporting roles for Scott Carson, Chris Kirkland, James and Ben Foster. Fabio Capello took a look at James and Green, didn’t like what he saw, blooded Joe Hart then went back to swapping between the other two, £4m a year not being enough to deliver decisiveness. Jack Butland, John Ruddy, Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton have made appearances under Roy Hodgson and Gareth Southgate. Foster, too, has returned from temporary retirement but the seven years since the 4-1 defeat by Germany in Bloemfontein have been the Hart hegemony, under whose dominion we linger. Poor old Whitney Houston did not live long enough for an answer to her question - where do broken Harts go? It’s West Ham, pet. Full backs Now we have established the decades we are going to compare, let us breeze through the options rather than dwelling in such detail to outline the parameters. First choices for full-backs of the Forties are Laurie Scott of Arsenal on the right and captain in all 13 appearances, George Hardwick of Middlesbrough on the left. Depth is added by Derby’s Bert Mozley as a back-up down the right and Manchester United’s Johnny Aston at left-back with 17 caps. George Hardwick, right, greets the Sweden captain Erik Nilsson in  1947 Credit: Reg Birkett/Keystone/Getty Images In the Fifties the selection panel had Spurs’ Alf Ramsey at the beginning of the decade to play on the right and Blackburn’s Bill Eckersley on the left. Birmingham’s Jeff Hall and West Brom’s Don Howe made the right-back slot the preserve of the West Midlands for the rest of the decade while Manchester United’s majestic and adventurous Roger Byrne played 33 successive matches at left-back until his death at Munich during a period when the selection committee made consistency virtually unknown. Tommy Banks, Bolton’s tank, did his best to replace the irreplaceable at the 1958 World Cup and Sheffield United’s Graham Shaw filled in the following year. Take your pick from the Sixties beginning with the two 1966 imperishables George Cohen and Ray Wilson, Jimmy Armfield, a former captain who played on the right at the 1962 World Cup, Keith Newton, who succeeded Cohen and Terry Cooper who took over from his fellow Yorkshireman Wilson at left-back. Add on all those reduced to a handful of caps because of Ramsey’s loyalty - Bob McNab, Paul Reaney, Chris Lawler, Gerry Byrne, Tommy Wright and Cyril Knowles - and you have the kind of riches that would make Gareth Southgate turn green with envy beneath his beard.   George Cohen, left, and Ray Wilson, holding the Jules Rimet Trophy, celebrate victory in 1966 Credit: PA Photos England’s least successful decade in terms of qualification is also, paradoxically, one remembered with a fondness for the quality of English teams – the best of which were bolstered by Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen. England’s full-backs in the Seventies numbered the Liverpool pair Phil Neal and Emlyn Hughes (not that Hughes played there for his club as frequently as he did for the national side). Their versatility was a virtue, as it was for Ipswich’s Mick Mills and Leeds’ Paul Madeley and Trevor Cherry. More orthodox full-backs were plentiful, too: the magnificent Viv Anderson on the right and Don Revie’s choices, Leicester’s Steve Whitworth and QPR’s Dave Clement. On the left Frank Lampard, Alec Lindsay, David Nish, Mike Pejic and Ian Gillard won caps, as did Kevin Beattie playing out of position but in masterly fashion, particularly in the 5-1 thrashing of Scotland in 1975. Kenny Sansom began the Eighties in possession of the No 3 shirt and held it for eight years, playing consistently and with real skill to hold off the challenge of West Brom’s Derek Statham, until the claims of Stuart Pearce in 1988 could be resisted no more. The right side was more problematic once Mills, Neal and Anderson entered their mid thirties. Mick Duxbury had a run there, Danny Thomas could have been the long-term solution save for that rotten injury inflicted by Kevin Maguire while Gary Stevens won 45 caps after his debut during Everton’s title-winning campaign in 1984-85 including Mexico ’86, Euro ’88 and the beginning of Italia 90. Kenny Sansom made the left-back position his own in the Eighties Credit:  Duncan Raban/Allsport/Getty Images Pearce was key at the start of the next decade, becoming captain under Graham Taylor, taking a position in a back three for Euro 96 when Steve McManaman and Darren Anderton played wide, and was recalled at the age of 37 for a couple of starts under Kevin Keegan. Terry Venables initially preferred the Blackburn Rovers left-back Graeme Le Saux and but for injury he would have started Euro 96. Glenn Hoddle restored him as first-choice after a cameo from Andy Hinchcliffe but by the end of the Nineties the left side, in defence and midfield, had become something of a national neurosis. Phil Neville filled in there, playing alongside his brother, Gary, the undisputed No2 when fit. For club and country he succeeded Paul Parker and the challenges of Gary Charles and Rob Jones for the spot were sadly snuffed out by personal problems and injury respectively. Sven Goran-Eriksson promoted Ashley Cole as the man to solve the malaise on the left and over the 12 years of his international career from 2001 onwards he won 107 caps and held Wayne Bridge at bay. Gary Neville missed the 2002 World Cup where Danny Mills stood in but was back straight afterwards and carried on until 2007. Luke Young and Micah Richards stated their claims to be paired with Cole but ultimately Glen Johnson won the contest under Fabio Capello. Johnson stayed in situ under Roy Hodgson until the 2014 World Cup and was even recalled to the squad last year but Kyle Walker, Nathaniel Clyne and Kieran Trippier are now the default options after experiments with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones out wide. Leighton Baines played so well from 2012-14 that he essentially forced Cole into international retirement before the more athletic claims of Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand did for him. Central defenders   Here we face a problem with the first two post-war decades before the four-back system really took off. A bodged solution for the Forties and Fifties, rather than trying to corral in a wing-half, would be to list the options at centre-half even though normally only one was picked. We don’t even have to do that for the Forties because Billy Wright, the centre-half for much of the Fifties, captain for 11 years and England’s first 100-cap player, played at wing-half for his country at the beginning of his international career, alongside the exemplary Neil Franklin at No 5. Franklin abandoned Stoke in 1950 to move to Colombia and circumvent the maximum wage but his wife did not settle there and he faced the opprobrium of his club and the FA on return, not adding to the 27 caps he earned before he left. Breadth of talent for the decade would be provided by Blackpool’s Harry Johnston, Allenby Chilton of Manchester United and Liverpool’s Bill Jones. Wright made the position his own after the 1954 World Cup where Bill McGarry and Syd Owen had taken the role. Johnston, too, continued to make appearances at the start of the Fifties and Liverpool’s Laurie Hughes stood in for Franklin at the 1950 World Cup. Jim Taylor of Fulham, Burnley’s Mal Barrass and Charlton’s Derek Ufton were also tried but no one could dislodge the 5ft 8in Wright, captain of Wolves and England, golden-haired paragon of the post-war game. The finest partnership of the Sixties, Jackie Charlton and Bobby Moore, came together only a year before they won the World Cup and had it not been for the disgrace of Peter Swan - who won 19 caps as a cultured but powerful stopper between 1960-62 - Charlton may never have joined his brother as a cornerstone of 1966 and all that. Maurice Norman, the Spurs Double-winning centre-half, joined forces with Moore for the 1962 World Cup because Swan was confined to quarters with dysentery in Chile and Brian Labone both preceded Charlton and succeeded him as first choice towards the end of the decade. Norman Hunter served as Moore’s understudy but the consistency of the captain restricted ‘Bites Yer Legs’ to 28 caps over nine seasons. Moore at his peak Credit: AP Photo/files Moore made the last of his 108 appearances in 1973 and by that point there were plenty of contenders for his position, notably Derby County’s Colin Todd, Hunter and Emlyn Hughes. Roy McFarland earned 28 caps in the centre-half slot from 1971-76 before injuries ruined his career and gave Dave Watson a long run as first choice until 1981. Watson won the last of his 65 caps at the age of 35 in June 1982 but was omitted from the final squad for the Spain World Cup, the first for which he had qualified after failures to reach West Germany and Argentina. Phil Thompson of Liverpool and Manchester United’s Brian Greenhoff were given their debuts by Don Revie but only the former flourished after he left for Abu Dhabi. Watson’s role as the tall, raw-bone aerial colossus was filled by Terry Butcher throughout the Eighties though we forget how good his left foot was, his skill overwhelmed by the ‘up and  at ‘em’ patriotism of his persona. Thompson led Liverpool to the 1981 European Cup and partnered the Ipswich defender at the Spain World Cup but Bobby Robson struggled to find a regular foil for Butcher thereafter and worked his way through Alvin Martin, Graham Roberts, Mark Wright, Terry Fenwick, Gary Pallister and a callow Tony Adams before settling on Des Walker for Italia 90 and a return for Wright in a back three. At the start of the Nineties Graham Taylor used Walker, Adams and Pallister but it was his successors, Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle, who got the best out of Adams. Venables managed it at Euro 96 when Adams was white-knuckling his sobriety for the duration of the tournament and Hoddle benefited from Adams stopping drinking and finding a new poise. Both also used Gareth Southgate in a back three while Sol Campbell, given his debut by Venables, became a regular when Hoddle took charge. Taylor and Hoddle used Martin Keown but Venables never picked him and though Steve Howey, Neil Ruddock, Steve Bould, John Scales, Colin Cooper and David Unsworth were tried, none established himself. The so-called Golden Generation had three stalwarts in Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Campbell while injuries prevented Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King from the long international careers their talent deserved. Jamie Carragher won 31 caps over 11 years, Matthew Upson became a favourite of Fabio Capello’s and Steve McClaren gave Joleon Lescott his debut in 2007. Rio Ferdinand and John Terry before the latter racially abused the former's brother Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien Ferdinand failed to re-establish himself after missing the 2010 World Cup through injury and ended his England career with 81 caps in 2011, Terry retired from the international game in 2012 after an FA Commission went ahead with charging him over racially abusing Ferdinand’s brother, Anton. Since then we’ve had shaky alliances involving Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Lescott, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, John Stones and Michael Keane. Central midfielders Again we need to make an adjustment here for the Forties and Fifties and will restrict it to wing-halfs, elevating most inside-forwards to forwards for the sake of this exercise. The immediate post-war era used Billy Wright most often as the right-half and Manchester United’s Henry Cockburn as the left pivot. Portsmouth’s hard-tackling tyro Jimmy Dickinson succeeded Cockburn and played 48 times from 1949-56 while Phil Taylor of Liverpool and Villa’s Eddie Lowe shared six caps on the right. Before the emergence of the Busby Babes - and we must include Eddie Colman here as well as Duncan Edwards because he would have been an international but for his death at Munich at the age of 21 - Wright and Dickinson formed the regular partnership. The claims of Edwards  - simply the most complete player England has ever produced, skilful, forceful, bursting with stamina and natural authority - could no longer be ignored in 1955 and he won 18 caps before he was killed, also at the age of 21. Ron Flowers, who won three titles with Wolves in the Fifties, played once in tandem with Edwards and took over after the 1958 World Cup with Blackburn’s efficient Ronnie Clayton his usual foil after Clayton had seen off Wolves’ Eddie Clamp. Nobby Stiles played at centre-back for Manchester United but was magnificent as Ramsey’s midfield destroyer in the 1966 side, providing the platform from which Bobby Charlton could glide through the gears, the ball under his immaculate control, and ping passes, whip in crosses or fire thunderous shots at goal. Before the two of them joined up, Flowers and Bobby Robson had been the main men with Charlton out on the left wing and after injuries and age diminished Stiles, Tottenham’s Alan Mullery was given the job. Colin Bell, Man City’s Nijinsky, was blooded in 1968 and proved irreplaceable when Martin Buchan effectively ended his career in 1975 after 48 caps. For the first part of the Seventies Martin Peters tucked in from the left and Bell played the dynamic right-half role, sadly without as much freedom as he had to pelt forward for City. Trevor Brooking made his first start in Ramsey’s last match and became the co-key player with Kevin Keegan under Greenwood with his clever passing and penetrative movement. He was so good that he kept the magnificent Glenn Hoddle on the peripheries following his debut in 1978. Hoddle, as brilliant a playmaker as he is rotten as a pundit, would have a system tailored to his strengths for England’s last three games at the 1986 World Cup when crisis forced Robson’s hand. Gerry Francis, Revie’s second captain, would have given both stiff competition had he stayed fit after his 12th cap. Tony Currie and Alan Hudson join the list of inexpertly harnessed talents while Terry McDermott, so intrepid for Liverpool, was denied a consistent run in the side by Ray Wilkins who ended the decade a dynamic box-to-box midfielder with the skill, control and vision that would later make him so comfortable as a ‘sitter’ in Serie A. The entire Eighties can be considered the Bryan Robson years. Bobby was besotted by him but for understandable reasons, as Alex Ferguson outlined: "He had good control, was a decisive tackler, passed the ball well and his combination of stamina and perceptive reading of movement enabled him to make sudden and deadly infiltrations from midfield into the opposition's box." His fitness became a national preoccupation and he lasted two games each of the 1986 and 1990 World Cups after driving England to qualification at both. We saw him at his very best only in 1982 and Euro 88 when he needed support that his team-mates could not provide. Wilkins was his regular partner, replaced by Hoddle for 1988 and Neil Webb thereafter until Paul Gascoigne finally charmed the sceptical Bobby Robson in 1990. Peter Reid, Everton’s tigerish beating heart, took centre stage in 1986 when Robson’s shoulder popped out again but the promise of his Goodison colleague Paul Bracewell was ravaged by  an ankle injury that took almost two years out of his career. England's all-action 'Captain Marvel' Credit: David Cannon/Getty Images Italia 90 began with Robson, Gascoigne and Chris Waddle in a midfield three and ended in unforgettable drama with David Platt in for the captain, having seen off Steve McMahon. Graham Taylor initially stuck with the Platt-Gascoigne axis for the victory over Poland but went with his Aston Villa pairing of Platt and Sid Cowans for the trip to Dublin. Gascoigne’s injuries and drinking alarmed Taylor who kept him around the squad when fit but his absences provoked some of the strangest selections in memory, noticeably Geoff Thomas, Andy Gray and Carlton Palmer. David Batty and Paul Ince injected some quality, the latter a mainstay for Venables and Hoddle - playing with Platt and Gascoigne at Euro 96, Paul Scholes at the 1998 World Cup. Jamie Redknapp was ill-served by injury, Nicky Butt ill-served by managers until Sven Goran-Eriksson’s hand was forced in 2002 by Steven Gerrard’s absence and Ray Parlour by the wrong-headed perception that he was well, in Lovejoy’s words, ‘only Ray Parlour’. Gascoigne lights up Wembley v Scotland at Euro 96 Credit: Stu Forster/Allsport Frank Lampard made his debut in 1999 but did not become a regular for four seasons when his class tempted Eriksson to fudge the biggest decision of his England career and stick Scholes on the left to start the ‘Lampard-Gerrard’ compatibility saga that was to run for the next 11 years. Once Scholes decided he’d had enough after Euro 2004 (ending a 29-game goal drought in his penultimate match), Gerrard and Lampard, Lampard and Gerrard held their positions until Steve McClaren recalled Gareth Barry, who impressed Capello so firmly that he put Gerrard on the left. The Golden Generation and its hangover phase featured cameos from Danny Murphy, Owen Hargreaves (though he normally played wide), Scott ‘Scottie’ Parker, Michael Carrick and Jermaine Jenas though none could either usurp Gerrard or Lampard or make the combination look convincing in tournament football.    Both were still in the squad at the 2014 World Cup though age had taken the shine off them. Lampard was reduced to the bench, Gerrard captained the side but his one-paced partnership with Jordan Henderson left a dodgy defence too exposed to cope with Italy and Uruguay. Capello gave Jack Wilshere his debut at the age of 18 yet seven years later we are still waiting for him, probably forlornly, to be blessed with the physical resilience to regain his verve. Eric Dier has been the default starter with Henderson for the past 18 months but Jake Livermore is currently back in the squad, Tom Cleverly has been and gone, Fabian Delph gets in whenever he manages a couple of games for Man City while James Ward-Prowse and Harry Winks put the twinkle in Gareth Southgate’s eye.   Wide men Should we just end this segment here? Stan Matthews and Tom Finney in the Forties and Fifties are the best pair of wingers England have ever had. In 1948 a forward line of Matthews, Stan Mortensen, Tommy Lawton, Wilf Mannion and Finney put on arguably England’s greatest performance in the 4-0 away victory over Italy but never played together again. Finney was an England regular for 12 years, playing on the right, left and through the middle until 1958 but Matthews, seven years Finney’s senior, was eased out only a year earlier at the age of 42 with 54 caps. He was not deemed as indispensable by myopic selectors who gave run-outs on the wings in his stead to Peter Harris, Les Medley, Billy Elliott and Johnny Berry. Blackburn’s Bryan Douglas took the No7 shirt 36 times and scored 11 goals from 1975-63 and Bobby Charlton won the majority of his caps until 1964 on the left flank, seeing out the decade in a Lancs touchline hegemony.   In the Sixties, after the end of the Douglas-Charlton years, Ramsey tried John Connelly, Terry Paine, Peter Thompson, Derek Temple and Ian Callaghan before deciding on a narrower road to triumph. Alan Ball, essentially an auxiliary central midfielder, edged out to patrol the right for the latter stages of the 1966 World Cup, driving England on with his stamina, skill and heart but victory convinced the manager to stick to his system, using the full-backs for width with Peters augmenting the strikers from a nominal position on the left and Ball from the right. Wingers were out of vogue for most of decade after 1966 - Ian Storey Moore kept the flame flickering briefly and Revie tried with QPR’s Dave Thomas and Merlin himself. Gordon Hill, but it wasn’t until Ron Greenwood picked Manchester City’s Peter Barnes and United’s Steve Coppell together in 1977 that England took flight again. Coppell evolved into a solid right-sided player but at that point was an out and out winger who held the position for five years. Laurie Cunningham made three starts alongside him but by the start of the following decade Greenwood had cramped his own style. John Barnes at the Maracana Credit: David Cannon/Allsport The Eighties should have been the decade of Waddle and John Barnes and in popular memory it remains so but England started the decade with a tighter system, using Coppell and Graham Rix at the 1982 World Cup, and got to the quarter-finals of the 1986 tournament having ditched the wingers for Trevor Steven and Steve Hodge. Villa’s European Cup-winner Tony Morley briefly enraptured Bobby Robson and Mark Chamberlain preceded Waddle into the side by two years but it was largely a Barnes-Waddle duopoly from then on, though rarely in tandem and both, despite their brilliance and that goal at the Maracana, the first scapegoats. Lee Sharpe was the great left hope of the Nineties but faded away, Venables got the best out of Darren Anderton and Steve McManaman to provide hope of a more expansive future until David Beckham took freehold of the No7 shirt and front pages for eight years with a revolving cast of Nick Barmby, Paul Merson or a wing-back on the left. Eriksson blanked McManaman at the start of the 2000s and tried Trevor Sinclair, Scholes and Joe Cole out there to give some balance for Beckham. Stewart Downing became a mainstay of Steve McClaren’s squads while Aaron Lennon and David Bentley were tried out on the right. Ultimately he went back to Beckham. Capello got the best out of Theo Walcott for a few games, pulled Gerrard out to the left and employed James Milner as a Steady Eddie solution. Hodgson switched to 4-2-3-1 and used Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Adam Lallana to provide width which is largely, with the exception of Rooney, where we remain apart from the saving grace of Rashford. Forwards To the summit … and, controversially, I am going to include some inside-forwards for the first three eras. So, for our post-war pioneers we will go with the aforementioned Mortensen, scorer of 23 goals in 25 games, Lawton, who scored 22 times in 23 starts, and Mannion, ‘the Mozart of football’ as Matthews put it. Len Shackleton and ‘Wor’ Jackie Milburn straddled the Forties and Fifties while Mortensen played on until 1953. The No9 shirt fell vacant in 1948 when Lawton told Walter Winterbottom that the coach didn’t know enough to be giving him advice, Milburn filled it for a spell before Nat Lofthouse won 33 caps and scored 30 goals, including the two at the Praterstadion that made him forever ‘The Lion of Vienna’. Tommy Taylor, one of the eight ‘Flowers of Manchester’ among the 23 victims of the Munich Air Crash, shot powerfully with both feet, had pace, guile and spatial awareness, and the fast-twitch reflexes of the thoroughbred goalscorer. He bagged 16 goals in 19 appearances as the other out-and-out England centre-forward of the decade. Lofty and Tommy were supported by Ivor Broadis and the finest, most astute passer in the team’s history, Johnny Haynes, who was only 27 in 1962 when he played his 56th and final game for England (his 22nd as captain) in the 1962 World Cup quarter-final. He was never as fluent again after a car crash on his return from Chile. Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final overshadows anything any other England striker can match. Roger Hunt, the other Wembley immortal, was so crucial to Ramsey’s system because his tireless movement made space for Bobby Charlton to fill that it is forgotten that he scored 18 times in 34 appearances, and Jimmy Greaves, English football’s most cold-hearted and deadly finisher, gave the manager a richness of options. By the end of the Sixties Franny Lee had taken over from Hunt and Greaves as Hurst’s partner for Mexico Sniffer Clarke, the heir to Greaves, made his debut in 1970, Peter Osgood made only a couple of starts and Martin Chivers became Ramsey’s preferred No9 for two years, scoring 13 times in 24 appearances. Rodney Marsh exasperated his manager, Malcolm MacDonald thrashed five past Cyprus for Revie but made his distaste for the man who picked him well known, which meant the search for an ‘oppo’ for Kevin Keegan - the human dynamo, a rampaging forward who could leap, head, shoot and pass with distinction - lasted too long. Bob Latchford found favour for a while as did Stuart Pearson, Mick Channon moved over from the right, Paul Mariner began the international career that would yield 35 caps and 13 goals and Tricky Trevor Francis beguiled us all with his positioning and vision. Kevin Keegan scores against Scotland in 1979 Credit: Steve Powell/Allsport Cyrille Regis would have made more than two starts in the Eighties had he moved to Manchester United from West Brom instead of Coventry but he couldn’t displace the Keegan-Mariner-Woodcock-Francis usual suspects for the World Cup in Spain. Robson ushered Keegan into retirement but kept faith with the others until Gary Lineker, the quicksilver scavenger, gave him no excuse in 1984 and began the march to the Mexico Golden Boot, a World Cup quarter- and semi-final and 48 goals in 80 games. He was at his best with Peter Beardsley - who brought out the best in everyone - but also fed off Mark Hateley, Alan Smith,  and Steve Bull. The Nineties began with Lineker and Italia 90, Taylor then gave him the captaincy and slim pickings to work with up front and he left the scene in 1992 when shown the managerial big curly finger despite England desperately requiring a goal against Sweden. Taylor turned to Ian Wright who made a terrific return under Hoddle after being ignored by Venables and Les Ferdinand. Alan Shearer, impressive at Southampton, unstoppable except by injury at  Blackburn, won his first cap  in 1992 but had scored only five times in 23 appearances before the start of Euro 96 and hadn’t managed an international goal for 21 months. He hit five in the five games, was elevated to the captaincy for four years and ended still the talisman, though far less mobile, in 2000 with 30 goals. Teddy Sheringham played the Beardsley role for him perfectly and kept Andy Cole out of the squad and Robbie Fowler out of the side until Michael Owen came off the bench to score against Romania at France 98 and could not be left out again. Two games later he scored the wonder goal against Argentina that sounded the trumpets for his charge to the Ballon d’Or three years later. Michael Owen scores against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup Credit: Pawel Kopczynski REUTERS Owen was never really considered part of the Golden Generation because of a certain diffidence but he was its spearhead, when fit, and its yearned for king over the water when absent. He began the decade with Shearer, combined with club-mate Emile Heskey for the 1-5 in Munich and spent time up-front with Fowler and Darius Vassell before Eriksson promoted Wayne Rooney in 2003. Over 14 years Rooney would surpass Bobby Charlton’s England goalscoring record, beginning by playing off the cuff with boundless zip and chutzpah, maturing into that rarity, a workhorse with ebullient, irrepressible swagger and ending up a shadow of electrifying presence he once had been. During the decade Rooney played up top with Owen, Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch most frequently. Dean Ashton seemed to fit the part but it wasn’t to be. Rooney has been the key striker and player of this last decade, too and very much undroppable until Southgate took charge. Opportunities for Jay Rodriguez, Andy Carroll and Daniel Sturridge have been curtailed by long-term injuries, Hodgson thought it wise to take Rickie Lambert to the World Cup but in 2015 Harry Kane was given a chance and grabbed it. Jamie Vardy remains among the alternatives along with Sturridge and the second (third and fourth) coming of Defoe.   Conclusion How do you come up with a decision on the relative strengths and weaknesses over eight decades? Subjectively, obviously, but without prejudice:  Goalkeepers: Seventies - Banks, Shilton, Clemence. Full-backs: Sixties - Armfield, Cohen, Wilson, Cooper. Central defenders: Seventies - Moore, Labone, Todd, McFarland, Thompson. Central midfielders: Eighties - Robson, Wilkins, Gascoigne, Hoddle. Wide men: Fifties - Matthews, Finney, Charlton R.   Strikers: Nineties - Lineker, Shearer, Owen, Beardsley.  Please feel free to dispute this 23-man squad selection in the comments section. 

The England dream team by eras: which decade comes out on top?

Scroll to the bottom of the article for Rob Bagchi's all-time 23-man England squad August is traditionally silly season for journalism but on the football beat the two-week autumn and spring international breaks are the cue for extreme resourcefulness. Watching England toil through yet another developmental stage, the slimness of their options and assets in central midfield and the heart of defence as blatant as the consoling promise of Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, made us wonder in which eras each part of the team have been at their strongest? Was English goalkeeping, say, at its apex in the 1970s or have the wide players of the Forties never been surpassed? For once a decision to truncate the period for analysis is not motivated by either sloth or rampant neophilia. England rejoined Fifa only in 1946 and their first international tournament was the 1950 World Cup, having spurned the first three.  Therefore it makes sense to start in the immediate post-war years and to help the process we will look at each phase for every sector - goalkeeper, full-backs, central defenders, midfielders, wide players and strikers - look at the players picked and the breadth of quality alternatives. Some will represent generations or decades, others distinct stages in the team’s evolution. We’ll begin in goal and chart the progression, chronological at least, from Frank Swift and his primrose polo neck sweater to Joe Hart and his binman chic high-vis short-sleeves, concluding with our stab at an answer. Goalkeepers If you’ve been paying attention to anything involving England without being so bored you’ve felt compelled to make a paper plane, our first contender will be obvious. Frank Swift, the wok-handed, spring-heeled Manchester City goalkeeper who pioneered the throw-out, was the first keeper to captain England and as the man in goal when England travelled to Turin to defeat the double world champions Italy (a pre Superga full-strength Azzurri side) 4-0, is our candidate from the Forties. He won 19 caps despite the war depriving him of his career from the age of 25 to 32, let in 18 goals and played in other memorable victories over France, Sweden, Scotland and Portugal. Other standouts from the truncated decade include Tottenham’s title-winning Ted Ditchburn, who won six caps, and the brave, acrobatic, sure-handed Bert Williams of Wolves who succeeded Swift after his international retirement and earned 24 caps over the next six years. Our Fifties options begin with Williams and Gil Merrick of Birmingham City who earned the most caps (23) of the decade and kept five clean sheets. It was Merrick’s misfortune to be in goal for the mortifying, 3-6 defeat by Hungary at Wembley in 1953 and the 7-1 thrashing in the Nepstadion a year later. Admittedly he appeared rattled on both occasions but only because the Magnificent Magyars and his shaky defence left him horribly exposed. The sight of him picking the ball out of the net 13 times have haunted English football ever since but he was not responsible. Those defeats should have marked a paradigm shift but the England system - once again propped up by a crop of excellent players - did not significantly change until much later.  Other notable stalwarts of the decade were Bolton’s 5ft 8in Eddie Hopkinson, the master of one-on-ones who won 13 caps, and Colin McDonald of Burnley who kept goal at the 1958 World Cup and was a dominant, cross-catching doyen of the old school. The Sixties begin with Sheffield Wednesday’s, quick, agile Ron Springett who played 33 times including all four at the 1962 World Cup where he repeatedly saved Walter Winterbottom's side from a proper drubbing in the 3-1 quarter-final defeat by Brazil, and end with Banks of England, Springett’s understudy in Chile, justly recognised as the greatest goalie in the world. It wasn’t just his majesty during England’s 1966 campaign, it was his general safehandedness - helped, trivia fans, in a pre-gloves age, with a generous rub of Beechnut chewing gum-laced saliva on the palms - his rare ability to save gymnastically equally well whether his goal was attacked high or low and his courage. He was so supreme that he restricted other fine goalkeepers such as Peter Bonetti, Gordon West, Alex Stepney and Springett to a handful of caps after Alf Ramsey made him first choice in 1964. Gordon Banks remained Ramsey’s default selection until he lost an eye in a car crash at the age of 34 in Oct 1972, taking in the save against Pele in 1970, the world’s greatest keeper defying the game’s best player by diving downwards, like an hour hand pointing to seven o’clock, and twisting his wrist to ensure he flicked it over the bar to prevent the great striker pouncing on the rebound. But Leicester City did not rate the marginal differentials between an established world-class player and an emerging one as highly as Ramsey and sold Banks to Stoke in 1967 to clear the way for 17-year-old Peter Shilton who owned the Eighties but duelled with the agile, commanding and astute Ray Clemence throughout the preceding decade to be England’s No1. Shilton was a brilliant shot-stopper and all the hours of dedicated, unrelenting practice gave him uncommon agility and aerial mastery. From about 1978 onwards, the error against Poland in 1973 long overcome, Shilton has the right to be considered Banks’ equal and probably superior. The reign of the duopoly left those other excellent keepers, Joe Corrigan, Phil Parkes and Stepney feeding off scraps. When it game to goalkeepers Ron Greenwood had a touch of the Jimmy Armfields at Leeds (“the manager’s indecision is final) but at the start of 1982 after rotating them for five years, he eventually plumped for Shilton who stayed undisputed first choice for the whole of the Eighties. Clemence carried on as the first reserve until 1983 and from 1985 Chris Woods began to make the No13 shirt his second skin during international weeks. Woods made 14 starts in the decade but was mostly stuck on the bench occasionally conceding opportunities for the stand-by role to Gary Bailey, Nigel Spink, Dave Beasant and David Seaman. Poor Martin Hodge, Tony Coton and John Lukic never even got a sniff. Peter Shilton at the start of his international career Credit: Malcolm Croft/PA Bobby Robson stood by Peter Shilton for Italia 90 and kept the 40-year-old keeper between the sticks for the semi-final shootout against West Germany despite having not used all his substitute options and Shilton’s poor record at saving spot-kicks (one from 15). The veteran retired from international football at the end of the tournament but carried on playing for a variety of clubs until 1997. Woods, who once went 1196 minutes without conceding a goal for Rangers in successive matches, became Graham Taylor’s No1 and played at Euro 92 backed up by David Seaman and England’s first million-pound goalie, Nigel Martyn. Seaman came into his own under Terry Venables and proved himself a wonderfully athletic goalkeeper with great agility, positional awareness, sound judgment and, above all, consistency at Euro 96. He saved penalties, too. Glenn Hoddle logically opted for continuity but awarded caps to Ian Walker, David James, Tim Flowers and Martyn when injury or the need to see how the others shaped up demanded.   Seaman continued through the proto-Golden Generation era until his mistakes were compounded by his age, particularly, like Shilton in 1990, a leaden-footedness in reverse. Paul Robinson was anointed for the 2006 World Cup when David Beckham metamorphosed into Sally Bowles in Baden-Baden but Sven Goran-Eriksson also tried out Martyn, James (the Euro 2004) starter and Rob Green. If we consider the McClaren era a coda to the Golden Generation, The Together Again tour after Dean Martin had bailed on Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis to be replaced by Liza Minelli, small wonder that it was largely a Robinson hangover with supporting roles for Scott Carson, Chris Kirkland, James and Ben Foster. Fabio Capello took a look at James and Green, didn’t like what he saw, blooded Joe Hart then went back to swapping between the other two, £4m a year not being enough to deliver decisiveness. Jack Butland, John Ruddy, Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton have made appearances under Roy Hodgson and Gareth Southgate. Foster, too, has returned from temporary retirement but the seven years since the 4-1 defeat by Germany in Bloemfontein have been the Hart hegemony, under whose dominion we linger. Poor old Whitney Houston did not live long enough for an answer to her question - where do broken Harts go? It’s West Ham, pet. Full backs Now we have established the decades we are going to compare, let us breeze through the options rather than dwelling in such detail to outline the parameters. First choices for full-backs of the Forties are Laurie Scott of Arsenal on the right and captain in all 13 appearances, George Hardwick of Middlesbrough on the left. Depth is added by Derby’s Bert Mozley as a back-up down the right and Manchester United’s Johnny Aston at left-back with 17 caps. George Hardwick, right, greets the Sweden captain Erik Nilsson in  1947 Credit: Reg Birkett/Keystone/Getty Images In the Fifties the selection panel had Spurs’ Alf Ramsey at the beginning of the decade to play on the right and Blackburn’s Bill Eckersley on the left. Birmingham’s Jeff Hall and West Brom’s Don Howe made the right-back slot the preserve of the West Midlands for the rest of the decade while Manchester United’s majestic and adventurous Roger Byrne played 33 successive matches at left-back until his death at Munich during a period when the selection committee made consistency virtually unknown. Tommy Banks, Bolton’s tank, did his best to replace the irreplaceable at the 1958 World Cup and Sheffield United’s Graham Shaw filled in the following year. Take your pick from the Sixties beginning with the two 1966 imperishables George Cohen and Ray Wilson, Jimmy Armfield, a former captain who played on the right at the 1962 World Cup, Keith Newton, who succeeded Cohen and Terry Cooper who took over from his fellow Yorkshireman Wilson at left-back. Add on all those reduced to a handful of caps because of Ramsey’s loyalty - Bob McNab, Paul Reaney, Chris Lawler, Gerry Byrne, Tommy Wright and Cyril Knowles - and you have the kind of riches that would make Gareth Southgate turn green with envy beneath his beard.   George Cohen, left, and Ray Wilson, holding the Jules Rimet Trophy, celebrate victory in 1966 Credit: PA Photos England’s least successful decade in terms of qualification is also, paradoxically, one remembered with a fondness for the quality of English teams – the best of which were bolstered by Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen. England’s full-backs in the Seventies numbered the Liverpool pair Phil Neal and Emlyn Hughes (not that Hughes played there for his club as frequently as he did for the national side). Their versatility was a virtue, as it was for Ipswich’s Mick Mills and Leeds’ Paul Madeley and Trevor Cherry. More orthodox full-backs were plentiful, too: the magnificent Viv Anderson on the right and Don Revie’s choices, Leicester’s Steve Whitworth and QPR’s Dave Clement. On the left Frank Lampard, Alec Lindsay, David Nish, Mike Pejic and Ian Gillard won caps, as did Kevin Beattie playing out of position but in masterly fashion, particularly in the 5-1 thrashing of Scotland in 1975. Kenny Sansom began the Eighties in possession of the No 3 shirt and held it for eight years, playing consistently and with real skill to hold off the challenge of West Brom’s Derek Statham, until the claims of Stuart Pearce in 1988 could be resisted no more. The right side was more problematic once Mills, Neal and Anderson entered their mid thirties. Mick Duxbury had a run there, Danny Thomas could have been the long-term solution save for that rotten injury inflicted by Kevin Maguire while Gary Stevens won 45 caps after his debut during Everton’s title-winning campaign in 1984-85 including Mexico ’86, Euro ’88 and the beginning of Italia 90. Kenny Sansom made the left-back position his own in the Eighties Credit:  Duncan Raban/Allsport/Getty Images Pearce was key at the start of the next decade, becoming captain under Graham Taylor, taking a position in a back three for Euro 96 when Steve McManaman and Darren Anderton played wide, and was recalled at the age of 37 for a couple of starts under Kevin Keegan. Terry Venables initially preferred the Blackburn Rovers left-back Graeme Le Saux and but for injury he would have started Euro 96. Glenn Hoddle restored him as first-choice after a cameo from Andy Hinchcliffe but by the end of the Nineties the left side, in defence and midfield, had become something of a national neurosis. Phil Neville filled in there, playing alongside his brother, Gary, the undisputed No2 when fit. For club and country he succeeded Paul Parker and the challenges of Gary Charles and Rob Jones for the spot were sadly snuffed out by personal problems and injury respectively. Sven Goran-Eriksson promoted Ashley Cole as the man to solve the malaise on the left and over the 12 years of his international career from 2001 onwards he won 107 caps and held Wayne Bridge at bay. Gary Neville missed the 2002 World Cup where Danny Mills stood in but was back straight afterwards and carried on until 2007. Luke Young and Micah Richards stated their claims to be paired with Cole but ultimately Glen Johnson won the contest under Fabio Capello. Johnson stayed in situ under Roy Hodgson until the 2014 World Cup and was even recalled to the squad last year but Kyle Walker, Nathaniel Clyne and Kieran Trippier are now the default options after experiments with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones out wide. Leighton Baines played so well from 2012-14 that he essentially forced Cole into international retirement before the more athletic claims of Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand did for him. Central defenders   Here we face a problem with the first two post-war decades before the four-back system really took off. A bodged solution for the Forties and Fifties, rather than trying to corral in a wing-half, would be to list the options at centre-half even though normally only one was picked. We don’t even have to do that for the Forties because Billy Wright, the centre-half for much of the Fifties, captain for 11 years and England’s first 100-cap player, played at wing-half for his country at the beginning of his international career, alongside the exemplary Neil Franklin at No 5. Franklin abandoned Stoke in 1950 to move to Colombia and circumvent the maximum wage but his wife did not settle there and he faced the opprobrium of his club and the FA on return, not adding to the 27 caps he earned before he left. Breadth of talent for the decade would be provided by Blackpool’s Harry Johnston, Allenby Chilton of Manchester United and Liverpool’s Bill Jones. Wright made the position his own after the 1954 World Cup where Bill McGarry and Syd Owen had taken the role. Johnston, too, continued to make appearances at the start of the Fifties and Liverpool’s Laurie Hughes stood in for Franklin at the 1950 World Cup. Jim Taylor of Fulham, Burnley’s Mal Barrass and Charlton’s Derek Ufton were also tried but no one could dislodge the 5ft 8in Wright, captain of Wolves and England, golden-haired paragon of the post-war game. The finest partnership of the Sixties, Jackie Charlton and Bobby Moore, came together only a year before they won the World Cup and had it not been for the disgrace of Peter Swan - who won 19 caps as a cultured but powerful stopper between 1960-62 - Charlton may never have joined his brother as a cornerstone of 1966 and all that. Maurice Norman, the Spurs Double-winning centre-half, joined forces with Moore for the 1962 World Cup because Swan was confined to quarters with dysentery in Chile and Brian Labone both preceded Charlton and succeeded him as first choice towards the end of the decade. Norman Hunter served as Moore’s understudy but the consistency of the captain restricted ‘Bites Yer Legs’ to 28 caps over nine seasons. Moore at his peak Credit: AP Photo/files Moore made the last of his 108 appearances in 1973 and by that point there were plenty of contenders for his position, notably Derby County’s Colin Todd, Hunter and Emlyn Hughes. Roy McFarland earned 28 caps in the centre-half slot from 1971-76 before injuries ruined his career and gave Dave Watson a long run as first choice until 1981. Watson won the last of his 65 caps at the age of 35 in June 1982 but was omitted from the final squad for the Spain World Cup, the first for which he had qualified after failures to reach West Germany and Argentina. Phil Thompson of Liverpool and Manchester United’s Brian Greenhoff were given their debuts by Don Revie but only the former flourished after he left for Abu Dhabi. Watson’s role as the tall, raw-bone aerial colossus was filled by Terry Butcher throughout the Eighties though we forget how good his left foot was, his skill overwhelmed by the ‘up and  at ‘em’ patriotism of his persona. Thompson led Liverpool to the 1981 European Cup and partnered the Ipswich defender at the Spain World Cup but Bobby Robson struggled to find a regular foil for Butcher thereafter and worked his way through Alvin Martin, Graham Roberts, Mark Wright, Terry Fenwick, Gary Pallister and a callow Tony Adams before settling on Des Walker for Italia 90 and a return for Wright in a back three. At the start of the Nineties Graham Taylor used Walker, Adams and Pallister but it was his successors, Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle, who got the best out of Adams. Venables managed it at Euro 96 when Adams was white-knuckling his sobriety for the duration of the tournament and Hoddle benefited from Adams stopping drinking and finding a new poise. Both also used Gareth Southgate in a back three while Sol Campbell, given his debut by Venables, became a regular when Hoddle took charge. Taylor and Hoddle used Martin Keown but Venables never picked him and though Steve Howey, Neil Ruddock, Steve Bould, John Scales, Colin Cooper and David Unsworth were tried, none established himself. The so-called Golden Generation had three stalwarts in Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Campbell while injuries prevented Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King from the long international careers their talent deserved. Jamie Carragher won 31 caps over 11 years, Matthew Upson became a favourite of Fabio Capello’s and Steve McClaren gave Joleon Lescott his debut in 2007. Rio Ferdinand and John Terry before the latter racially abused the former's brother Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien Ferdinand failed to re-establish himself after missing the 2010 World Cup through injury and ended his England career with 81 caps in 2011, Terry retired from the international game in 2012 after an FA Commission went ahead with charging him over racially abusing Ferdinand’s brother, Anton. Since then we’ve had shaky alliances involving Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Lescott, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, John Stones and Michael Keane. Central midfielders Again we need to make an adjustment here for the Forties and Fifties and will restrict it to wing-halfs, elevating most inside-forwards to forwards for the sake of this exercise. The immediate post-war era used Billy Wright most often as the right-half and Manchester United’s Henry Cockburn as the left pivot. Portsmouth’s hard-tackling tyro Jimmy Dickinson succeeded Cockburn and played 48 times from 1949-56 while Phil Taylor of Liverpool and Villa’s Eddie Lowe shared six caps on the right. Before the emergence of the Busby Babes - and we must include Eddie Colman here as well as Duncan Edwards because he would have been an international but for his death at Munich at the age of 21 - Wright and Dickinson formed the regular partnership. The claims of Edwards  - simply the most complete player England has ever produced, skilful, forceful, bursting with stamina and natural authority - could no longer be ignored in 1955 and he won 18 caps before he was killed, also at the age of 21. Ron Flowers, who won three titles with Wolves in the Fifties, played once in tandem with Edwards and took over after the 1958 World Cup with Blackburn’s efficient Ronnie Clayton his usual foil after Clayton had seen off Wolves’ Eddie Clamp. Nobby Stiles played at centre-back for Manchester United but was magnificent as Ramsey’s midfield destroyer in the 1966 side, providing the platform from which Bobby Charlton could glide through the gears, the ball under his immaculate control, and ping passes, whip in crosses or fire thunderous shots at goal. Before the two of them joined up, Flowers and Bobby Robson had been the main men with Charlton out on the left wing and after injuries and age diminished Stiles, Tottenham’s Alan Mullery was given the job. Colin Bell, Man City’s Nijinsky, was blooded in 1968 and proved irreplaceable when Martin Buchan effectively ended his career in 1975 after 48 caps. For the first part of the Seventies Martin Peters tucked in from the left and Bell played the dynamic right-half role, sadly without as much freedom as he had to pelt forward for City. Trevor Brooking made his first start in Ramsey’s last match and became the co-key player with Kevin Keegan under Greenwood with his clever passing and penetrative movement. He was so good that he kept the magnificent Glenn Hoddle on the peripheries following his debut in 1978. Hoddle, as brilliant a playmaker as he is rotten as a pundit, would have a system tailored to his strengths for England’s last three games at the 1986 World Cup when crisis forced Robson’s hand. Gerry Francis, Revie’s second captain, would have given both stiff competition had he stayed fit after his 12th cap. Tony Currie and Alan Hudson join the list of inexpertly harnessed talents while Terry McDermott, so intrepid for Liverpool, was denied a consistent run in the side by Ray Wilkins who ended the decade a dynamic box-to-box midfielder with the skill, control and vision that would later make him so comfortable as a ‘sitter’ in Serie A. The entire Eighties can be considered the Bryan Robson years. Bobby was besotted by him but for understandable reasons, as Alex Ferguson outlined: "He had good control, was a decisive tackler, passed the ball well and his combination of stamina and perceptive reading of movement enabled him to make sudden and deadly infiltrations from midfield into the opposition's box." His fitness became a national preoccupation and he lasted two games each of the 1986 and 1990 World Cups after driving England to qualification at both. We saw him at his very best only in 1982 and Euro 88 when he needed support that his team-mates could not provide. Wilkins was his regular partner, replaced by Hoddle for 1988 and Neil Webb thereafter until Paul Gascoigne finally charmed the sceptical Bobby Robson in 1990. Peter Reid, Everton’s tigerish beating heart, took centre stage in 1986 when Robson’s shoulder popped out again but the promise of his Goodison colleague Paul Bracewell was ravaged by  an ankle injury that took almost two years out of his career. England's all-action 'Captain Marvel' Credit: David Cannon/Getty Images Italia 90 began with Robson, Gascoigne and Chris Waddle in a midfield three and ended in unforgettable drama with David Platt in for the captain, having seen off Steve McMahon. Graham Taylor initially stuck with the Platt-Gascoigne axis for the victory over Poland but went with his Aston Villa pairing of Platt and Sid Cowans for the trip to Dublin. Gascoigne’s injuries and drinking alarmed Taylor who kept him around the squad when fit but his absences provoked some of the strangest selections in memory, noticeably Geoff Thomas, Andy Gray and Carlton Palmer. David Batty and Paul Ince injected some quality, the latter a mainstay for Venables and Hoddle - playing with Platt and Gascoigne at Euro 96, Paul Scholes at the 1998 World Cup. Jamie Redknapp was ill-served by injury, Nicky Butt ill-served by managers until Sven Goran-Eriksson’s hand was forced in 2002 by Steven Gerrard’s absence and Ray Parlour by the wrong-headed perception that he was well, in Lovejoy’s words, ‘only Ray Parlour’. Gascoigne lights up Wembley v Scotland at Euro 96 Credit: Stu Forster/Allsport Frank Lampard made his debut in 1999 but did not become a regular for four seasons when his class tempted Eriksson to fudge the biggest decision of his England career and stick Scholes on the left to start the ‘Lampard-Gerrard’ compatibility saga that was to run for the next 11 years. Once Scholes decided he’d had enough after Euro 2004 (ending a 29-game goal drought in his penultimate match), Gerrard and Lampard, Lampard and Gerrard held their positions until Steve McClaren recalled Gareth Barry, who impressed Capello so firmly that he put Gerrard on the left. The Golden Generation and its hangover phase featured cameos from Danny Murphy, Owen Hargreaves (though he normally played wide), Scott ‘Scottie’ Parker, Michael Carrick and Jermaine Jenas though none could either usurp Gerrard or Lampard or make the combination look convincing in tournament football.    Both were still in the squad at the 2014 World Cup though age had taken the shine off them. Lampard was reduced to the bench, Gerrard captained the side but his one-paced partnership with Jordan Henderson left a dodgy defence too exposed to cope with Italy and Uruguay. Capello gave Jack Wilshere his debut at the age of 18 yet seven years later we are still waiting for him, probably forlornly, to be blessed with the physical resilience to regain his verve. Eric Dier has been the default starter with Henderson for the past 18 months but Jake Livermore is currently back in the squad, Tom Cleverly has been and gone, Fabian Delph gets in whenever he manages a couple of games for Man City while James Ward-Prowse and Harry Winks put the twinkle in Gareth Southgate’s eye.   Wide men Should we just end this segment here? Stan Matthews and Tom Finney in the Forties and Fifties are the best pair of wingers England have ever had. In 1948 a forward line of Matthews, Stan Mortensen, Tommy Lawton, Wilf Mannion and Finney put on arguably England’s greatest performance in the 4-0 away victory over Italy but never played together again. Finney was an England regular for 12 years, playing on the right, left and through the middle until 1958 but Matthews, seven years Finney’s senior, was eased out only a year earlier at the age of 42 with 54 caps. He was not deemed as indispensable by myopic selectors who gave run-outs on the wings in his stead to Peter Harris, Les Medley, Billy Elliott and Johnny Berry. Blackburn’s Bryan Douglas took the No7 shirt 36 times and scored 11 goals from 1975-63 and Bobby Charlton won the majority of his caps until 1964 on the left flank, seeing out the decade in a Lancs touchline hegemony.   In the Sixties, after the end of the Douglas-Charlton years, Ramsey tried John Connelly, Terry Paine, Peter Thompson, Derek Temple and Ian Callaghan before deciding on a narrower road to triumph. Alan Ball, essentially an auxiliary central midfielder, edged out to patrol the right for the latter stages of the 1966 World Cup, driving England on with his stamina, skill and heart but victory convinced the manager to stick to his system, using the full-backs for width with Peters augmenting the strikers from a nominal position on the left and Ball from the right. Wingers were out of vogue for most of decade after 1966 - Ian Storey Moore kept the flame flickering briefly and Revie tried with QPR’s Dave Thomas and Merlin himself. Gordon Hill, but it wasn’t until Ron Greenwood picked Manchester City’s Peter Barnes and United’s Steve Coppell together in 1977 that England took flight again. Coppell evolved into a solid right-sided player but at that point was an out and out winger who held the position for five years. Laurie Cunningham made three starts alongside him but by the start of the following decade Greenwood had cramped his own style. John Barnes at the Maracana Credit: David Cannon/Allsport The Eighties should have been the decade of Waddle and John Barnes and in popular memory it remains so but England started the decade with a tighter system, using Coppell and Graham Rix at the 1982 World Cup, and got to the quarter-finals of the 1986 tournament having ditched the wingers for Trevor Steven and Steve Hodge. Villa’s European Cup-winner Tony Morley briefly enraptured Bobby Robson and Mark Chamberlain preceded Waddle into the side by two years but it was largely a Barnes-Waddle duopoly from then on, though rarely in tandem and both, despite their brilliance and that goal at the Maracana, the first scapegoats. Lee Sharpe was the great left hope of the Nineties but faded away, Venables got the best out of Darren Anderton and Steve McManaman to provide hope of a more expansive future until David Beckham took freehold of the No7 shirt and front pages for eight years with a revolving cast of Nick Barmby, Paul Merson or a wing-back on the left. Eriksson blanked McManaman at the start of the 2000s and tried Trevor Sinclair, Scholes and Joe Cole out there to give some balance for Beckham. Stewart Downing became a mainstay of Steve McClaren’s squads while Aaron Lennon and David Bentley were tried out on the right. Ultimately he went back to Beckham. Capello got the best out of Theo Walcott for a few games, pulled Gerrard out to the left and employed James Milner as a Steady Eddie solution. Hodgson switched to 4-2-3-1 and used Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Adam Lallana to provide width which is largely, with the exception of Rooney, where we remain apart from the saving grace of Rashford. Forwards To the summit … and, controversially, I am going to include some inside-forwards for the first three eras. So, for our post-war pioneers we will go with the aforementioned Mortensen, scorer of 23 goals in 25 games, Lawton, who scored 22 times in 23 starts, and Mannion, ‘the Mozart of football’ as Matthews put it. Len Shackleton and ‘Wor’ Jackie Milburn straddled the Forties and Fifties while Mortensen played on until 1953. The No9 shirt fell vacant in 1948 when Lawton told Walter Winterbottom that the coach didn’t know enough to be giving him advice, Milburn filled it for a spell before Nat Lofthouse won 33 caps and scored 30 goals, including the two at the Praterstadion that made him forever ‘The Lion of Vienna’. Tommy Taylor, one of the eight ‘Flowers of Manchester’ among the 23 victims of the Munich Air Crash, shot powerfully with both feet, had pace, guile and spatial awareness, and the fast-twitch reflexes of the thoroughbred goalscorer. He bagged 16 goals in 19 appearances as the other out-and-out England centre-forward of the decade. Lofty and Tommy were supported by Ivor Broadis and the finest, most astute passer in the team’s history, Johnny Haynes, who was only 27 in 1962 when he played his 56th and final game for England (his 22nd as captain) in the 1962 World Cup quarter-final. He was never as fluent again after a car crash on his return from Chile. Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final overshadows anything any other England striker can match. Roger Hunt, the other Wembley immortal, was so crucial to Ramsey’s system because his tireless movement made space for Bobby Charlton to fill that it is forgotten that he scored 18 times in 34 appearances, and Jimmy Greaves, English football’s most cold-hearted and deadly finisher, gave the manager a richness of options. By the end of the Sixties Franny Lee had taken over from Hunt and Greaves as Hurst’s partner for Mexico Sniffer Clarke, the heir to Greaves, made his debut in 1970, Peter Osgood made only a couple of starts and Martin Chivers became Ramsey’s preferred No9 for two years, scoring 13 times in 24 appearances. Rodney Marsh exasperated his manager, Malcolm MacDonald thrashed five past Cyprus for Revie but made his distaste for the man who picked him well known, which meant the search for an ‘oppo’ for Kevin Keegan - the human dynamo, a rampaging forward who could leap, head, shoot and pass with distinction - lasted too long. Bob Latchford found favour for a while as did Stuart Pearson, Mick Channon moved over from the right, Paul Mariner began the international career that would yield 35 caps and 13 goals and Tricky Trevor Francis beguiled us all with his positioning and vision. Kevin Keegan scores against Scotland in 1979 Credit: Steve Powell/Allsport Cyrille Regis would have made more than two starts in the Eighties had he moved to Manchester United from West Brom instead of Coventry but he couldn’t displace the Keegan-Mariner-Woodcock-Francis usual suspects for the World Cup in Spain. Robson ushered Keegan into retirement but kept faith with the others until Gary Lineker, the quicksilver scavenger, gave him no excuse in 1984 and began the march to the Mexico Golden Boot, a World Cup quarter- and semi-final and 48 goals in 80 games. He was at his best with Peter Beardsley - who brought out the best in everyone - but also fed off Mark Hateley, Alan Smith,  and Steve Bull. The Nineties began with Lineker and Italia 90, Taylor then gave him the captaincy and slim pickings to work with up front and he left the scene in 1992 when shown the managerial big curly finger despite England desperately requiring a goal against Sweden. Taylor turned to Ian Wright who made a terrific return under Hoddle after being ignored by Venables and Les Ferdinand. Alan Shearer, impressive at Southampton, unstoppable except by injury at  Blackburn, won his first cap  in 1992 but had scored only five times in 23 appearances before the start of Euro 96 and hadn’t managed an international goal for 21 months. He hit five in the five games, was elevated to the captaincy for four years and ended still the talisman, though far less mobile, in 2000 with 30 goals. Teddy Sheringham played the Beardsley role for him perfectly and kept Andy Cole out of the squad and Robbie Fowler out of the side until Michael Owen came off the bench to score against Romania at France 98 and could not be left out again. Two games later he scored the wonder goal against Argentina that sounded the trumpets for his charge to the Ballon d’Or three years later. Michael Owen scores against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup Credit: Pawel Kopczynski REUTERS Owen was never really considered part of the Golden Generation because of a certain diffidence but he was its spearhead, when fit, and its yearned for king over the water when absent. He began the decade with Shearer, combined with club-mate Emile Heskey for the 1-5 in Munich and spent time up-front with Fowler and Darius Vassell before Eriksson promoted Wayne Rooney in 2003. Over 14 years Rooney would surpass Bobby Charlton’s England goalscoring record, beginning by playing off the cuff with boundless zip and chutzpah, maturing into that rarity, a workhorse with ebullient, irrepressible swagger and ending up a shadow of electrifying presence he once had been. During the decade Rooney played up top with Owen, Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch most frequently. Dean Ashton seemed to fit the part but it wasn’t to be. Rooney has been the key striker and player of this last decade, too and very much undroppable until Southgate took charge. Opportunities for Jay Rodriguez, Andy Carroll and Daniel Sturridge have been curtailed by long-term injuries, Hodgson thought it wise to take Rickie Lambert to the World Cup but in 2015 Harry Kane was given a chance and grabbed it. Jamie Vardy remains among the alternatives along with Sturridge and the second (third and fourth) coming of Defoe.   Conclusion How do you come up with a decision on the relative strengths and weaknesses over eight decades? Subjectively, obviously, but without prejudice:  Goalkeepers: Seventies - Banks, Shilton, Clemence. Full-backs: Sixties - Armfield, Cohen, Wilson, Cooper. Central defenders: Seventies - Moore, Labone, Todd, McFarland, Thompson. Central midfielders: Eighties - Robson, Wilkins, Gascoigne, Hoddle. Wide men: Fifties - Matthews, Finney, Charlton R.   Strikers: Nineties - Lineker, Shearer, Owen, Beardsley.  Please feel free to dispute this 23-man squad selection in the comments section. 

The England dream team by eras: which decade comes out on top?

Scroll to the bottom of the article for Rob Bagchi's all-time 23-man England squad August is traditionally silly season for journalism but on the football beat the two-week autumn and spring international breaks are the cue for extreme resourcefulness. Watching England toil through yet another developmental stage, the slimness of their options and assets in central midfield and the heart of defence as blatant as the consoling promise of Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, made us wonder in which eras each part of the team have been at their strongest? Was English goalkeeping, say, at its apex in the 1970s or have the wide players of the Forties never been surpassed? For once a decision to truncate the period for analysis is not motivated by either sloth or rampant neophilia. England rejoined Fifa only in 1946 and their first international tournament was the 1950 World Cup, having spurned the first three.  Therefore it makes sense to start in the immediate post-war years and to help the process we will look at each phase for every sector - goalkeeper, full-backs, central defenders, midfielders, wide players and strikers - look at the players picked and the breadth of quality alternatives. Some will represent generations or decades, others distinct stages in the team’s evolution. We’ll begin in goal and chart the progression, chronological at least, from Frank Swift and his primrose polo neck sweater to Joe Hart and his binman chic high-vis short-sleeves, concluding with our stab at an answer. Goalkeepers If you’ve been paying attention to anything involving England without being so bored you’ve felt compelled to make a paper plane, our first contender will be obvious. Frank Swift, the wok-handed, spring-heeled Manchester City goalkeeper who pioneered the throw-out, was the first keeper to captain England and as the man in goal when England travelled to Turin to defeat the double world champions Italy (a pre Superga full-strength Azzurri side) 4-0, is our candidate from the Forties. He won 19 caps despite the war depriving him of his career from the age of 25 to 32, let in 18 goals and played in other memorable victories over France, Sweden, Scotland and Portugal. Other standouts from the truncated decade include Tottenham’s title-winning Ted Ditchburn, who won six caps, and the brave, acrobatic, sure-handed Bert Williams of Wolves who succeeded Swift after his international retirement and earned 24 caps over the next six years. Our Fifties options begin with Williams and Gil Merrick of Birmingham City who earned the most caps (23) of the decade and kept five clean sheets. It was Merrick’s misfortune to be in goal for the mortifying, 3-6 defeat by Hungary at Wembley in 1953 and the 7-1 thrashing in the Nepstadion a year later. Admittedly he appeared rattled on both occasions but only because the Magnificent Magyars and his shaky defence left him horribly exposed. The sight of him picking the ball out of the net 13 times have haunted English football ever since but he was not responsible. Those defeats should have marked a paradigm shift but the England system - once again propped up by a crop of excellent players - did not significantly change until much later.  Other notable stalwarts of the decade were Bolton’s 5ft 8in Eddie Hopkinson, the master of one-on-ones who won 13 caps, and Colin McDonald of Burnley who kept goal at the 1958 World Cup and was a dominant, cross-catching doyen of the old school. The Sixties begin with Sheffield Wednesday’s, quick, agile Ron Springett who played 33 times including all four at the 1962 World Cup where he repeatedly saved Walter Winterbottom's side from a proper drubbing in the 3-1 quarter-final defeat by Brazil, and end with Banks of England, Springett’s understudy in Chile, justly recognised as the greatest goalie in the world. It wasn’t just his majesty during England’s 1966 campaign, it was his general safehandedness - helped, trivia fans, in a pre-gloves age, with a generous rub of Beechnut chewing gum-laced saliva on the palms - his rare ability to save gymnastically equally well whether his goal was attacked high or low and his courage. He was so supreme that he restricted other fine goalkeepers such as Peter Bonetti, Gordon West, Alex Stepney and Springett to a handful of caps after Alf Ramsey made him first choice in 1964. Gordon Banks remained Ramsey’s default selection until he lost an eye in a car crash at the age of 34 in Oct 1972, taking in the save against Pele in 1970, the world’s greatest keeper defying the game’s best player by diving downwards, like an hour hand pointing to seven o’clock, and twisting his wrist to ensure he flicked it over the bar to prevent the great striker pouncing on the rebound. But Leicester City did not rate the marginal differentials between an established world-class player and an emerging one as highly as Ramsey and sold Banks to Stoke in 1967 to clear the way for 17-year-old Peter Shilton who owned the Eighties but duelled with the agile, commanding and astute Ray Clemence throughout the preceding decade to be England’s No1. Shilton was a brilliant shot-stopper and all the hours of dedicated, unrelenting practice gave him uncommon agility and aerial mastery. From about 1978 onwards, the error against Poland in 1973 long overcome, Shilton has the right to be considered Banks’ equal and probably superior. The reign of the duopoly left those other excellent keepers, Joe Corrigan, Phil Parkes and Stepney feeding off scraps. When it game to goalkeepers Ron Greenwood had a touch of the Jimmy Armfields at Leeds (“the manager’s indecision is final) but at the start of 1982 after rotating them for five years, he eventually plumped for Shilton who stayed undisputed first choice for the whole of the Eighties. Clemence carried on as the first reserve until 1983 and from 1985 Chris Woods began to make the No13 shirt his second skin during international weeks. Woods made 14 starts in the decade but was mostly stuck on the bench occasionally conceding opportunities for the stand-by role to Gary Bailey, Nigel Spink, Dave Beasant and David Seaman. Poor Martin Hodge, Tony Coton and John Lukic never even got a sniff. Peter Shilton at the start of his international career Credit: Malcolm Croft/PA Bobby Robson stood by Peter Shilton for Italia 90 and kept the 40-year-old keeper between the sticks for the semi-final shootout against West Germany despite having not used all his substitute options and Shilton’s poor record at saving spot-kicks (one from 15). The veteran retired from international football at the end of the tournament but carried on playing for a variety of clubs until 1997. Woods, who once went 1196 minutes without conceding a goal for Rangers in successive matches, became Graham Taylor’s No1 and played at Euro 92 backed up by David Seaman and England’s first million-pound goalie, Nigel Martyn. Seaman came into his own under Terry Venables and proved himself a wonderfully athletic goalkeeper with great agility, positional awareness, sound judgment and, above all, consistency at Euro 96. He saved penalties, too. Glenn Hoddle logically opted for continuity but awarded caps to Ian Walker, David James, Tim Flowers and Martyn when injury or the need to see how the others shaped up demanded.   Seaman continued through the proto-Golden Generation era until his mistakes were compounded by his age, particularly, like Shilton in 1990, a leaden-footedness in reverse. Paul Robinson was anointed for the 2006 World Cup when David Beckham metamorphosed into Sally Bowles in Baden-Baden but Sven Goran-Eriksson also tried out Martyn, James (the Euro 2004) starter and Rob Green. If we consider the McClaren era a coda to the Golden Generation, The Together Again tour after Dean Martin had bailed on Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis to be replaced by Liza Minelli, small wonder that it was largely a Robinson hangover with supporting roles for Scott Carson, Chris Kirkland, James and Ben Foster. Fabio Capello took a look at James and Green, didn’t like what he saw, blooded Joe Hart then went back to swapping between the other two, £4m a year not being enough to deliver decisiveness. Jack Butland, John Ruddy, Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton have made appearances under Roy Hodgson and Gareth Southgate. Foster, too, has returned from temporary retirement but the seven years since the 4-1 defeat by Germany in Bloemfontein have been the Hart hegemony, under whose dominion we linger. Poor old Whitney Houston did not live long enough for an answer to her question - where do broken Harts go? It’s West Ham, pet. Full backs Now we have established the decades we are going to compare, let us breeze through the options rather than dwelling in such detail to outline the parameters. First choices for full-backs of the Forties are Laurie Scott of Arsenal on the right and captain in all 13 appearances, George Hardwick of Middlesbrough on the left. Depth is added by Derby’s Bert Mozley as a back-up down the right and Manchester United’s Johnny Aston at left-back with 17 caps. George Hardwick, right, greets the Sweden captain Erik Nilsson in  1947 Credit: Reg Birkett/Keystone/Getty Images In the Fifties the selection panel had Spurs’ Alf Ramsey at the beginning of the decade to play on the right and Blackburn’s Bill Eckersley on the left. Birmingham’s Jeff Hall and West Brom’s Don Howe made the right-back slot the preserve of the West Midlands for the rest of the decade while Manchester United’s majestic and adventurous Roger Byrne played 33 successive matches at left-back until his death at Munich during a period when the selection committee made consistency virtually unknown. Tommy Banks, Bolton’s tank, did his best to replace the irreplaceable at the 1958 World Cup and Sheffield United’s Graham Shaw filled in the following year. Take your pick from the Sixties beginning with the two 1966 imperishables George Cohen and Ray Wilson, Jimmy Armfield, a former captain who played on the right at the 1962 World Cup, Keith Newton, who succeeded Cohen and Terry Cooper who took over from his fellow Yorkshireman Wilson at left-back. Add on all those reduced to a handful of caps because of Ramsey’s loyalty - Bob McNab, Paul Reaney, Chris Lawler, Gerry Byrne, Tommy Wright and Cyril Knowles - and you have the kind of riches that would make Gareth Southgate turn green with envy beneath his beard.   George Cohen, left, and Ray Wilson, holding the Jules Rimet Trophy, celebrate victory in 1966 Credit: PA Photos England’s least successful decade in terms of qualification is also, paradoxically, one remembered with a fondness for the quality of English teams – the best of which were bolstered by Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen. England’s full-backs in the Seventies numbered the Liverpool pair Phil Neal and Emlyn Hughes (not that Hughes played there for his club as frequently as he did for the national side). Their versatility was a virtue, as it was for Ipswich’s Mick Mills and Leeds’ Paul Madeley and Trevor Cherry. More orthodox full-backs were plentiful, too: the magnificent Viv Anderson on the right and Don Revie’s choices, Leicester’s Steve Whitworth and QPR’s Dave Clement. On the left Frank Lampard, Alec Lindsay, David Nish, Mike Pejic and Ian Gillard won caps, as did Kevin Beattie playing out of position but in masterly fashion, particularly in the 5-1 thrashing of Scotland in 1975. Kenny Sansom began the Eighties in possession of the No 3 shirt and held it for eight years, playing consistently and with real skill to hold off the challenge of West Brom’s Derek Statham, until the claims of Stuart Pearce in 1988 could be resisted no more. The right side was more problematic once Mills, Neal and Anderson entered their mid thirties. Mick Duxbury had a run there, Danny Thomas could have been the long-term solution save for that rotten injury inflicted by Kevin Maguire while Gary Stevens won 45 caps after his debut during Everton’s title-winning campaign in 1984-85 including Mexico ’86, Euro ’88 and the beginning of Italia 90. Kenny Sansom made the left-back position his own in the Eighties Credit:  Duncan Raban/Allsport/Getty Images Pearce was key at the start of the next decade, becoming captain under Graham Taylor, taking a position in a back three for Euro 96 when Steve McManaman and Darren Anderton played wide, and was recalled at the age of 37 for a couple of starts under Kevin Keegan. Terry Venables initially preferred the Blackburn Rovers left-back Graeme Le Saux and but for injury he would have started Euro 96. Glenn Hoddle restored him as first-choice after a cameo from Andy Hinchcliffe but by the end of the Nineties the left side, in defence and midfield, had become something of a national neurosis. Phil Neville filled in there, playing alongside his brother, Gary, the undisputed No2 when fit. For club and country he succeeded Paul Parker and the challenges of Gary Charles and Rob Jones for the spot were sadly snuffed out by personal problems and injury respectively. Sven Goran-Eriksson promoted Ashley Cole as the man to solve the malaise on the left and over the 12 years of his international career from 2001 onwards he won 107 caps and held Wayne Bridge at bay. Gary Neville missed the 2002 World Cup where Danny Mills stood in but was back straight afterwards and carried on until 2007. Luke Young and Micah Richards stated their claims to be paired with Cole but ultimately Glen Johnson won the contest under Fabio Capello. Johnson stayed in situ under Roy Hodgson until the 2014 World Cup and was even recalled to the squad last year but Kyle Walker, Nathaniel Clyne and Kieran Trippier are now the default options after experiments with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones out wide. Leighton Baines played so well from 2012-14 that he essentially forced Cole into international retirement before the more athletic claims of Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand did for him. Central defenders   Here we face a problem with the first two post-war decades before the four-back system really took off. A bodged solution for the Forties and Fifties, rather than trying to corral in a wing-half, would be to list the options at centre-half even though normally only one was picked. We don’t even have to do that for the Forties because Billy Wright, the centre-half for much of the Fifties, captain for 11 years and England’s first 100-cap player, played at wing-half for his country at the beginning of his international career, alongside the exemplary Neil Franklin at No 5. Franklin abandoned Stoke in 1950 to move to Colombia and circumvent the maximum wage but his wife did not settle there and he faced the opprobrium of his club and the FA on return, not adding to the 27 caps he earned before he left. Breadth of talent for the decade would be provided by Blackpool’s Harry Johnston, Allenby Chilton of Manchester United and Liverpool’s Bill Jones. Wright made the position his own after the 1954 World Cup where Bill McGarry and Syd Owen had taken the role. Johnston, too, continued to make appearances at the start of the Fifties and Liverpool’s Laurie Hughes stood in for Franklin at the 1950 World Cup. Jim Taylor of Fulham, Burnley’s Mal Barrass and Charlton’s Derek Ufton were also tried but no one could dislodge the 5ft 8in Wright, captain of Wolves and England, golden-haired paragon of the post-war game. The finest partnership of the Sixties, Jackie Charlton and Bobby Moore, came together only a year before they won the World Cup and had it not been for the disgrace of Peter Swan - who won 19 caps as a cultured but powerful stopper between 1960-62 - Charlton may never have joined his brother as a cornerstone of 1966 and all that. Maurice Norman, the Spurs Double-winning centre-half, joined forces with Moore for the 1962 World Cup because Swan was confined to quarters with dysentery in Chile and Brian Labone both preceded Charlton and succeeded him as first choice towards the end of the decade. Norman Hunter served as Moore’s understudy but the consistency of the captain restricted ‘Bites Yer Legs’ to 28 caps over nine seasons. Moore at his peak Credit: AP Photo/files Moore made the last of his 108 appearances in 1973 and by that point there were plenty of contenders for his position, notably Derby County’s Colin Todd, Hunter and Emlyn Hughes. Roy McFarland earned 28 caps in the centre-half slot from 1971-76 before injuries ruined his career and gave Dave Watson a long run as first choice until 1981. Watson won the last of his 65 caps at the age of 35 in June 1982 but was omitted from the final squad for the Spain World Cup, the first for which he had qualified after failures to reach West Germany and Argentina. Phil Thompson of Liverpool and Manchester United’s Brian Greenhoff were given their debuts by Don Revie but only the former flourished after he left for Abu Dhabi. Watson’s role as the tall, raw-bone aerial colossus was filled by Terry Butcher throughout the Eighties though we forget how good his left foot was, his skill overwhelmed by the ‘up and  at ‘em’ patriotism of his persona. Thompson led Liverpool to the 1981 European Cup and partnered the Ipswich defender at the Spain World Cup but Bobby Robson struggled to find a regular foil for Butcher thereafter and worked his way through Alvin Martin, Graham Roberts, Mark Wright, Terry Fenwick, Gary Pallister and a callow Tony Adams before settling on Des Walker for Italia 90 and a return for Wright in a back three. At the start of the Nineties Graham Taylor used Walker, Adams and Pallister but it was his successors, Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle, who got the best out of Adams. Venables managed it at Euro 96 when Adams was white-knuckling his sobriety for the duration of the tournament and Hoddle benefited from Adams stopping drinking and finding a new poise. Both also used Gareth Southgate in a back three while Sol Campbell, given his debut by Venables, became a regular when Hoddle took charge. Taylor and Hoddle used Martin Keown but Venables never picked him and though Steve Howey, Neil Ruddock, Steve Bould, John Scales, Colin Cooper and David Unsworth were tried, none established himself. The so-called Golden Generation had three stalwarts in Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Campbell while injuries prevented Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King from the long international careers their talent deserved. Jamie Carragher won 31 caps over 11 years, Matthew Upson became a favourite of Fabio Capello’s and Steve McClaren gave Joleon Lescott his debut in 2007. Rio Ferdinand and John Terry before the latter racially abused the former's brother Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien Ferdinand failed to re-establish himself after missing the 2010 World Cup through injury and ended his England career with 81 caps in 2011, Terry retired from the international game in 2012 after an FA Commission went ahead with charging him over racially abusing Ferdinand’s brother, Anton. Since then we’ve had shaky alliances involving Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Lescott, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, John Stones and Michael Keane. Central midfielders Again we need to make an adjustment here for the Forties and Fifties and will restrict it to wing-halfs, elevating most inside-forwards to forwards for the sake of this exercise. The immediate post-war era used Billy Wright most often as the right-half and Manchester United’s Henry Cockburn as the left pivot. Portsmouth’s hard-tackling tyro Jimmy Dickinson succeeded Cockburn and played 48 times from 1949-56 while Phil Taylor of Liverpool and Villa’s Eddie Lowe shared six caps on the right. Before the emergence of the Busby Babes - and we must include Eddie Colman here as well as Duncan Edwards because he would have been an international but for his death at Munich at the age of 21 - Wright and Dickinson formed the regular partnership. The claims of Edwards  - simply the most complete player England has ever produced, skilful, forceful, bursting with stamina and natural authority - could no longer be ignored in 1955 and he won 18 caps before he was killed, also at the age of 21. Ron Flowers, who won three titles with Wolves in the Fifties, played once in tandem with Edwards and took over after the 1958 World Cup with Blackburn’s efficient Ronnie Clayton his usual foil after Clayton had seen off Wolves’ Eddie Clamp. Nobby Stiles played at centre-back for Manchester United but was magnificent as Ramsey’s midfield destroyer in the 1966 side, providing the platform from which Bobby Charlton could glide through the gears, the ball under his immaculate control, and ping passes, whip in crosses or fire thunderous shots at goal. Before the two of them joined up, Flowers and Bobby Robson had been the main men with Charlton out on the left wing and after injuries and age diminished Stiles, Tottenham’s Alan Mullery was given the job. Colin Bell, Man City’s Nijinsky, was blooded in 1968 and proved irreplaceable when Martin Buchan effectively ended his career in 1975 after 48 caps. For the first part of the Seventies Martin Peters tucked in from the left and Bell played the dynamic right-half role, sadly without as much freedom as he had to pelt forward for City. Trevor Brooking made his first start in Ramsey’s last match and became the co-key player with Kevin Keegan under Greenwood with his clever passing and penetrative movement. He was so good that he kept the magnificent Glenn Hoddle on the peripheries following his debut in 1978. Hoddle, as brilliant a playmaker as he is rotten as a pundit, would have a system tailored to his strengths for England’s last three games at the 1986 World Cup when crisis forced Robson’s hand. Gerry Francis, Revie’s second captain, would have given both stiff competition had he stayed fit after his 12th cap. Tony Currie and Alan Hudson join the list of inexpertly harnessed talents while Terry McDermott, so intrepid for Liverpool, was denied a consistent run in the side by Ray Wilkins who ended the decade a dynamic box-to-box midfielder with the skill, control and vision that would later make him so comfortable as a ‘sitter’ in Serie A. The entire Eighties can be considered the Bryan Robson years. Bobby was besotted by him but for understandable reasons, as Alex Ferguson outlined: "He had good control, was a decisive tackler, passed the ball well and his combination of stamina and perceptive reading of movement enabled him to make sudden and deadly infiltrations from midfield into the opposition's box." His fitness became a national preoccupation and he lasted two games each of the 1986 and 1990 World Cups after driving England to qualification at both. We saw him at his very best only in 1982 and Euro 88 when he needed support that his team-mates could not provide. Wilkins was his regular partner, replaced by Hoddle for 1988 and Neil Webb thereafter until Paul Gascoigne finally charmed the sceptical Bobby Robson in 1990. Peter Reid, Everton’s tigerish beating heart, took centre stage in 1986 when Robson’s shoulder popped out again but the promise of his Goodison colleague Paul Bracewell was ravaged by  an ankle injury that took almost two years out of his career. England's all-action 'Captain Marvel' Credit: David Cannon/Getty Images Italia 90 began with Robson, Gascoigne and Chris Waddle in a midfield three and ended in unforgettable drama with David Platt in for the captain, having seen off Steve McMahon. Graham Taylor initially stuck with the Platt-Gascoigne axis for the victory over Poland but went with his Aston Villa pairing of Platt and Sid Cowans for the trip to Dublin. Gascoigne’s injuries and drinking alarmed Taylor who kept him around the squad when fit but his absences provoked some of the strangest selections in memory, noticeably Geoff Thomas, Andy Gray and Carlton Palmer. David Batty and Paul Ince injected some quality, the latter a mainstay for Venables and Hoddle - playing with Platt and Gascoigne at Euro 96, Paul Scholes at the 1998 World Cup. Jamie Redknapp was ill-served by injury, Nicky Butt ill-served by managers until Sven Goran-Eriksson’s hand was forced in 2002 by Steven Gerrard’s absence and Ray Parlour by the wrong-headed perception that he was well, in Lovejoy’s words, ‘only Ray Parlour’. Gascoigne lights up Wembley v Scotland at Euro 96 Credit: Stu Forster/Allsport Frank Lampard made his debut in 1999 but did not become a regular for four seasons when his class tempted Eriksson to fudge the biggest decision of his England career and stick Scholes on the left to start the ‘Lampard-Gerrard’ compatibility saga that was to run for the next 11 years. Once Scholes decided he’d had enough after Euro 2004 (ending a 29-game goal drought in his penultimate match), Gerrard and Lampard, Lampard and Gerrard held their positions until Steve McClaren recalled Gareth Barry, who impressed Capello so firmly that he put Gerrard on the left. The Golden Generation and its hangover phase featured cameos from Danny Murphy, Owen Hargreaves (though he normally played wide), Scott ‘Scottie’ Parker, Michael Carrick and Jermaine Jenas though none could either usurp Gerrard or Lampard or make the combination look convincing in tournament football.    Both were still in the squad at the 2014 World Cup though age had taken the shine off them. Lampard was reduced to the bench, Gerrard captained the side but his one-paced partnership with Jordan Henderson left a dodgy defence too exposed to cope with Italy and Uruguay. Capello gave Jack Wilshere his debut at the age of 18 yet seven years later we are still waiting for him, probably forlornly, to be blessed with the physical resilience to regain his verve. Eric Dier has been the default starter with Henderson for the past 18 months but Jake Livermore is currently back in the squad, Tom Cleverly has been and gone, Fabian Delph gets in whenever he manages a couple of games for Man City while James Ward-Prowse and Harry Winks put the twinkle in Gareth Southgate’s eye.   Wide men Should we just end this segment here? Stan Matthews and Tom Finney in the Forties and Fifties are the best pair of wingers England have ever had. In 1948 a forward line of Matthews, Stan Mortensen, Tommy Lawton, Wilf Mannion and Finney put on arguably England’s greatest performance in the 4-0 away victory over Italy but never played together again. Finney was an England regular for 12 years, playing on the right, left and through the middle until 1958 but Matthews, seven years Finney’s senior, was eased out only a year earlier at the age of 42 with 54 caps. He was not deemed as indispensable by myopic selectors who gave run-outs on the wings in his stead to Peter Harris, Les Medley, Billy Elliott and Johnny Berry. Blackburn’s Bryan Douglas took the No7 shirt 36 times and scored 11 goals from 1975-63 and Bobby Charlton won the majority of his caps until 1964 on the left flank, seeing out the decade in a Lancs touchline hegemony.   In the Sixties, after the end of the Douglas-Charlton years, Ramsey tried John Connelly, Terry Paine, Peter Thompson, Derek Temple and Ian Callaghan before deciding on a narrower road to triumph. Alan Ball, essentially an auxiliary central midfielder, edged out to patrol the right for the latter stages of the 1966 World Cup, driving England on with his stamina, skill and heart but victory convinced the manager to stick to his system, using the full-backs for width with Peters augmenting the strikers from a nominal position on the left and Ball from the right. Wingers were out of vogue for most of decade after 1966 - Ian Storey Moore kept the flame flickering briefly and Revie tried with QPR’s Dave Thomas and Merlin himself. Gordon Hill, but it wasn’t until Ron Greenwood picked Manchester City’s Peter Barnes and United’s Steve Coppell together in 1977 that England took flight again. Coppell evolved into a solid right-sided player but at that point was an out and out winger who held the position for five years. Laurie Cunningham made three starts alongside him but by the start of the following decade Greenwood had cramped his own style. John Barnes at the Maracana Credit: David Cannon/Allsport The Eighties should have been the decade of Waddle and John Barnes and in popular memory it remains so but England started the decade with a tighter system, using Coppell and Graham Rix at the 1982 World Cup, and got to the quarter-finals of the 1986 tournament having ditched the wingers for Trevor Steven and Steve Hodge. Villa’s European Cup-winner Tony Morley briefly enraptured Bobby Robson and Mark Chamberlain preceded Waddle into the side by two years but it was largely a Barnes-Waddle duopoly from then on, though rarely in tandem and both, despite their brilliance and that goal at the Maracana, the first scapegoats. Lee Sharpe was the great left hope of the Nineties but faded away, Venables got the best out of Darren Anderton and Steve McManaman to provide hope of a more expansive future until David Beckham took freehold of the No7 shirt and front pages for eight years with a revolving cast of Nick Barmby, Paul Merson or a wing-back on the left. Eriksson blanked McManaman at the start of the 2000s and tried Trevor Sinclair, Scholes and Joe Cole out there to give some balance for Beckham. Stewart Downing became a mainstay of Steve McClaren’s squads while Aaron Lennon and David Bentley were tried out on the right. Ultimately he went back to Beckham. Capello got the best out of Theo Walcott for a few games, pulled Gerrard out to the left and employed James Milner as a Steady Eddie solution. Hodgson switched to 4-2-3-1 and used Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Adam Lallana to provide width which is largely, with the exception of Rooney, where we remain apart from the saving grace of Rashford. Forwards To the summit … and, controversially, I am going to include some inside-forwards for the first three eras. So, for our post-war pioneers we will go with the aforementioned Mortensen, scorer of 23 goals in 25 games, Lawton, who scored 22 times in 23 starts, and Mannion, ‘the Mozart of football’ as Matthews put it. Len Shackleton and ‘Wor’ Jackie Milburn straddled the Forties and Fifties while Mortensen played on until 1953. The No9 shirt fell vacant in 1948 when Lawton told Walter Winterbottom that the coach didn’t know enough to be giving him advice, Milburn filled it for a spell before Nat Lofthouse won 33 caps and scored 30 goals, including the two at the Praterstadion that made him forever ‘The Lion of Vienna’. Tommy Taylor, one of the eight ‘Flowers of Manchester’ among the 23 victims of the Munich Air Crash, shot powerfully with both feet, had pace, guile and spatial awareness, and the fast-twitch reflexes of the thoroughbred goalscorer. He bagged 16 goals in 19 appearances as the other out-and-out England centre-forward of the decade. Lofty and Tommy were supported by Ivor Broadis and the finest, most astute passer in the team’s history, Johnny Haynes, who was only 27 in 1962 when he played his 56th and final game for England (his 22nd as captain) in the 1962 World Cup quarter-final. He was never as fluent again after a car crash on his return from Chile. Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final overshadows anything any other England striker can match. Roger Hunt, the other Wembley immortal, was so crucial to Ramsey’s system because his tireless movement made space for Bobby Charlton to fill that it is forgotten that he scored 18 times in 34 appearances, and Jimmy Greaves, English football’s most cold-hearted and deadly finisher, gave the manager a richness of options. By the end of the Sixties Franny Lee had taken over from Hunt and Greaves as Hurst’s partner for Mexico Sniffer Clarke, the heir to Greaves, made his debut in 1970, Peter Osgood made only a couple of starts and Martin Chivers became Ramsey’s preferred No9 for two years, scoring 13 times in 24 appearances. Rodney Marsh exasperated his manager, Malcolm MacDonald thrashed five past Cyprus for Revie but made his distaste for the man who picked him well known, which meant the search for an ‘oppo’ for Kevin Keegan - the human dynamo, a rampaging forward who could leap, head, shoot and pass with distinction - lasted too long. Bob Latchford found favour for a while as did Stuart Pearson, Mick Channon moved over from the right, Paul Mariner began the international career that would yield 35 caps and 13 goals and Tricky Trevor Francis beguiled us all with his positioning and vision. Kevin Keegan scores against Scotland in 1979 Credit: Steve Powell/Allsport Cyrille Regis would have made more than two starts in the Eighties had he moved to Manchester United from West Brom instead of Coventry but he couldn’t displace the Keegan-Mariner-Woodcock-Francis usual suspects for the World Cup in Spain. Robson ushered Keegan into retirement but kept faith with the others until Gary Lineker, the quicksilver scavenger, gave him no excuse in 1984 and began the march to the Mexico Golden Boot, a World Cup quarter- and semi-final and 48 goals in 80 games. He was at his best with Peter Beardsley - who brought out the best in everyone - but also fed off Mark Hateley, Alan Smith,  and Steve Bull. The Nineties began with Lineker and Italia 90, Taylor then gave him the captaincy and slim pickings to work with up front and he left the scene in 1992 when shown the managerial big curly finger despite England desperately requiring a goal against Sweden. Taylor turned to Ian Wright who made a terrific return under Hoddle after being ignored by Venables and Les Ferdinand. Alan Shearer, impressive at Southampton, unstoppable except by injury at  Blackburn, won his first cap  in 1992 but had scored only five times in 23 appearances before the start of Euro 96 and hadn’t managed an international goal for 21 months. He hit five in the five games, was elevated to the captaincy for four years and ended still the talisman, though far less mobile, in 2000 with 30 goals. Teddy Sheringham played the Beardsley role for him perfectly and kept Andy Cole out of the squad and Robbie Fowler out of the side until Michael Owen came off the bench to score against Romania at France 98 and could not be left out again. Two games later he scored the wonder goal against Argentina that sounded the trumpets for his charge to the Ballon d’Or three years later. Michael Owen scores against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup Credit: Pawel Kopczynski REUTERS Owen was never really considered part of the Golden Generation because of a certain diffidence but he was its spearhead, when fit, and its yearned for king over the water when absent. He began the decade with Shearer, combined with club-mate Emile Heskey for the 1-5 in Munich and spent time up-front with Fowler and Darius Vassell before Eriksson promoted Wayne Rooney in 2003. Over 14 years Rooney would surpass Bobby Charlton’s England goalscoring record, beginning by playing off the cuff with boundless zip and chutzpah, maturing into that rarity, a workhorse with ebullient, irrepressible swagger and ending up a shadow of electrifying presence he once had been. During the decade Rooney played up top with Owen, Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch most frequently. Dean Ashton seemed to fit the part but it wasn’t to be. Rooney has been the key striker and player of this last decade, too and very much undroppable until Southgate took charge. Opportunities for Jay Rodriguez, Andy Carroll and Daniel Sturridge have been curtailed by long-term injuries, Hodgson thought it wise to take Rickie Lambert to the World Cup but in 2015 Harry Kane was given a chance and grabbed it. Jamie Vardy remains among the alternatives along with Sturridge and the second (third and fourth) coming of Defoe.   Conclusion How do you come up with a decision on the relative strengths and weaknesses over eight decades? Subjectively, obviously, but without prejudice:  Goalkeepers: Seventies - Banks, Shilton, Clemence. Full-backs: Sixties - Armfield, Cohen, Wilson, Cooper. Central defenders: Seventies - Moore, Labone, Todd, McFarland, Thompson. Central midfielders: Eighties - Robson, Wilkins, Gascoigne, Hoddle. Wide men: Fifties - Matthews, Finney, Charlton R.   Strikers: Nineties - Lineker, Shearer, Owen, Beardsley.  Please feel free to dispute this 23-man squad selection in the comments section. 

The England dream team by eras: which decade comes out on top?

Scroll to the bottom of the article for Rob Bagchi's all-time 23-man England squad August is traditionally silly season for journalism but on the football beat the two-week autumn and spring international breaks are the cue for extreme resourcefulness. Watching England toil through yet another developmental stage, the slimness of their options and assets in central midfield and the heart of defence as blatant as the consoling promise of Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, made us wonder in which eras each part of the team have been at their strongest? Was English goalkeeping, say, at its apex in the 1970s or have the wide players of the Forties never been surpassed? For once a decision to truncate the period for analysis is not motivated by either sloth or rampant neophilia. England rejoined Fifa only in 1946 and their first international tournament was the 1950 World Cup, having spurned the first three.  Therefore it makes sense to start in the immediate post-war years and to help the process we will look at each phase for every sector - goalkeeper, full-backs, central defenders, midfielders, wide players and strikers - look at the players picked and the breadth of quality alternatives. Some will represent generations or decades, others distinct stages in the team’s evolution. We’ll begin in goal and chart the progression, chronological at least, from Frank Swift and his primrose polo neck sweater to Joe Hart and his binman chic high-vis short-sleeves, concluding with our stab at an answer. Goalkeepers If you’ve been paying attention to anything involving England without being so bored you’ve felt compelled to make a paper plane, our first contender will be obvious. Frank Swift, the wok-handed, spring-heeled Manchester City goalkeeper who pioneered the throw-out, was the first keeper to captain England and as the man in goal when England travelled to Turin to defeat the double world champions Italy (a pre Superga full-strength Azzurri side) 4-0, is our candidate from the Forties. He won 19 caps despite the war depriving him of his career from the age of 25 to 32, let in 18 goals and played in other memorable victories over France, Sweden, Scotland and Portugal. Other standouts from the truncated decade include Tottenham’s title-winning Ted Ditchburn, who won six caps, and the brave, acrobatic, sure-handed Bert Williams of Wolves who succeeded Swift after his international retirement and earned 24 caps over the next six years. Our Fifties options begin with Williams and Gil Merrick of Birmingham City who earned the most caps (23) of the decade and kept five clean sheets. It was Merrick’s misfortune to be in goal for the mortifying, 3-6 defeat by Hungary at Wembley in 1953 and the 7-1 thrashing in the Nepstadion a year later. Admittedly he appeared rattled on both occasions but only because the Magnificent Magyars and his shaky defence left him horribly exposed. The sight of him picking the ball out of the net 13 times have haunted English football ever since but he was not responsible. Those defeats should have marked a paradigm shift but the England system - once again propped up by a crop of excellent players - did not significantly change until much later.  Other notable stalwarts of the decade were Bolton’s 5ft 8in Eddie Hopkinson, the master of one-on-ones who won 13 caps, and Colin McDonald of Burnley who kept goal at the 1958 World Cup and was a dominant, cross-catching doyen of the old school. The Sixties begin with Sheffield Wednesday’s, quick, agile Ron Springett who played 33 times including all four at the 1962 World Cup where he repeatedly saved Walter Winterbottom's side from a proper drubbing in the 3-1 quarter-final defeat by Brazil, and end with Banks of England, Springett’s understudy in Chile, justly recognised as the greatest goalie in the world. It wasn’t just his majesty during England’s 1966 campaign, it was his general safehandedness - helped, trivia fans, in a pre-gloves age, with a generous rub of Beechnut chewing gum-laced saliva on the palms - his rare ability to save gymnastically equally well whether his goal was attacked high or low and his courage. He was so supreme that he restricted other fine goalkeepers such as Peter Bonetti, Gordon West, Alex Stepney and Springett to a handful of caps after Alf Ramsey made him first choice in 1964. Gordon Banks remained Ramsey’s default selection until he lost an eye in a car crash at the age of 34 in Oct 1972, taking in the save against Pele in 1970, the world’s greatest keeper defying the game’s best player by diving downwards, like an hour hand pointing to seven o’clock, and twisting his wrist to ensure he flicked it over the bar to prevent the great striker pouncing on the rebound. But Leicester City did not rate the marginal differentials between an established world-class player and an emerging one as highly as Ramsey and sold Banks to Stoke in 1967 to clear the way for 17-year-old Peter Shilton who owned the Eighties but duelled with the agile, commanding and astute Ray Clemence throughout the preceding decade to be England’s No1. Shilton was a brilliant shot-stopper and all the hours of dedicated, unrelenting practice gave him uncommon agility and aerial mastery. From about 1978 onwards, the error against Poland in 1973 long overcome, Shilton has the right to be considered Banks’ equal and probably superior. The reign of the duopoly left those other excellent keepers, Joe Corrigan, Phil Parkes and Stepney feeding off scraps. When it game to goalkeepers Ron Greenwood had a touch of the Jimmy Armfields at Leeds (“the manager’s indecision is final) but at the start of 1982 after rotating them for five years, he eventually plumped for Shilton who stayed undisputed first choice for the whole of the Eighties. Clemence carried on as the first reserve until 1983 and from 1985 Chris Woods began to make the No13 shirt his second skin during international weeks. Woods made 14 starts in the decade but was mostly stuck on the bench occasionally conceding opportunities for the stand-by role to Gary Bailey, Nigel Spink, Dave Beasant and David Seaman. Poor Martin Hodge, Tony Coton and John Lukic never even got a sniff. Peter Shilton at the start of his international career Credit: Malcolm Croft/PA Bobby Robson stood by Peter Shilton for Italia 90 and kept the 40-year-old keeper between the sticks for the semi-final shootout against West Germany despite having not used all his substitute options and Shilton’s poor record at saving spot-kicks (one from 15). The veteran retired from international football at the end of the tournament but carried on playing for a variety of clubs until 1997. Woods, who once went 1196 minutes without conceding a goal for Rangers in successive matches, became Graham Taylor’s No1 and played at Euro 92 backed up by David Seaman and England’s first million-pound goalie, Nigel Martyn. Seaman came into his own under Terry Venables and proved himself a wonderfully athletic goalkeeper with great agility, positional awareness, sound judgment and, above all, consistency at Euro 96. He saved penalties, too. Glenn Hoddle logically opted for continuity but awarded caps to Ian Walker, David James, Tim Flowers and Martyn when injury or the need to see how the others shaped up demanded.   Seaman continued through the proto-Golden Generation era until his mistakes were compounded by his age, particularly, like Shilton in 1990, a leaden-footedness in reverse. Paul Robinson was anointed for the 2006 World Cup when David Beckham metamorphosed into Sally Bowles in Baden-Baden but Sven Goran-Eriksson also tried out Martyn, James (the Euro 2004) starter and Rob Green. If we consider the McClaren era a coda to the Golden Generation, The Together Again tour after Dean Martin had bailed on Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis to be replaced by Liza Minelli, small wonder that it was largely a Robinson hangover with supporting roles for Scott Carson, Chris Kirkland, James and Ben Foster. Fabio Capello took a look at James and Green, didn’t like what he saw, blooded Joe Hart then went back to swapping between the other two, £4m a year not being enough to deliver decisiveness. Jack Butland, John Ruddy, Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton have made appearances under Roy Hodgson and Gareth Southgate. Foster, too, has returned from temporary retirement but the seven years since the 4-1 defeat by Germany in Bloemfontein have been the Hart hegemony, under whose dominion we linger. Poor old Whitney Houston did not live long enough for an answer to her question - where do broken Harts go? It’s West Ham, pet. Full backs Now we have established the decades we are going to compare, let us breeze through the options rather than dwelling in such detail to outline the parameters. First choices for full-backs of the Forties are Laurie Scott of Arsenal on the right and captain in all 13 appearances, George Hardwick of Middlesbrough on the left. Depth is added by Derby’s Bert Mozley as a back-up down the right and Manchester United’s Johnny Aston at left-back with 17 caps. George Hardwick, right, greets the Sweden captain Erik Nilsson in  1947 Credit: Reg Birkett/Keystone/Getty Images In the Fifties the selection panel had Spurs’ Alf Ramsey at the beginning of the decade to play on the right and Blackburn’s Bill Eckersley on the left. Birmingham’s Jeff Hall and West Brom’s Don Howe made the right-back slot the preserve of the West Midlands for the rest of the decade while Manchester United’s majestic and adventurous Roger Byrne played 33 successive matches at left-back until his death at Munich during a period when the selection committee made consistency virtually unknown. Tommy Banks, Bolton’s tank, did his best to replace the irreplaceable at the 1958 World Cup and Sheffield United’s Graham Shaw filled in the following year. Take your pick from the Sixties beginning with the two 1966 imperishables George Cohen and Ray Wilson, Jimmy Armfield, a former captain who played on the right at the 1962 World Cup, Keith Newton, who succeeded Cohen and Terry Cooper who took over from his fellow Yorkshireman Wilson at left-back. Add on all those reduced to a handful of caps because of Ramsey’s loyalty - Bob McNab, Paul Reaney, Chris Lawler, Gerry Byrne, Tommy Wright and Cyril Knowles - and you have the kind of riches that would make Gareth Southgate turn green with envy beneath his beard.   George Cohen, left, and Ray Wilson, holding the Jules Rimet Trophy, celebrate victory in 1966 Credit: PA Photos England’s least successful decade in terms of qualification is also, paradoxically, one remembered with a fondness for the quality of English teams – the best of which were bolstered by Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen. England’s full-backs in the Seventies numbered the Liverpool pair Phil Neal and Emlyn Hughes (not that Hughes played there for his club as frequently as he did for the national side). Their versatility was a virtue, as it was for Ipswich’s Mick Mills and Leeds’ Paul Madeley and Trevor Cherry. More orthodox full-backs were plentiful, too: the magnificent Viv Anderson on the right and Don Revie’s choices, Leicester’s Steve Whitworth and QPR’s Dave Clement. On the left Frank Lampard, Alec Lindsay, David Nish, Mike Pejic and Ian Gillard won caps, as did Kevin Beattie playing out of position but in masterly fashion, particularly in the 5-1 thrashing of Scotland in 1975. Kenny Sansom began the Eighties in possession of the No 3 shirt and held it for eight years, playing consistently and with real skill to hold off the challenge of West Brom’s Derek Statham, until the claims of Stuart Pearce in 1988 could be resisted no more. The right side was more problematic once Mills, Neal and Anderson entered their mid thirties. Mick Duxbury had a run there, Danny Thomas could have been the long-term solution save for that rotten injury inflicted by Kevin Maguire while Gary Stevens won 45 caps after his debut during Everton’s title-winning campaign in 1984-85 including Mexico ’86, Euro ’88 and the beginning of Italia 90. Kenny Sansom made the left-back position his own in the Eighties Credit:  Duncan Raban/Allsport/Getty Images Pearce was key at the start of the next decade, becoming captain under Graham Taylor, taking a position in a back three for Euro 96 when Steve McManaman and Darren Anderton played wide, and was recalled at the age of 37 for a couple of starts under Kevin Keegan. Terry Venables initially preferred the Blackburn Rovers left-back Graeme Le Saux and but for injury he would have started Euro 96. Glenn Hoddle restored him as first-choice after a cameo from Andy Hinchcliffe but by the end of the Nineties the left side, in defence and midfield, had become something of a national neurosis. Phil Neville filled in there, playing alongside his brother, Gary, the undisputed No2 when fit. For club and country he succeeded Paul Parker and the challenges of Gary Charles and Rob Jones for the spot were sadly snuffed out by personal problems and injury respectively. Sven Goran-Eriksson promoted Ashley Cole as the man to solve the malaise on the left and over the 12 years of his international career from 2001 onwards he won 107 caps and held Wayne Bridge at bay. Gary Neville missed the 2002 World Cup where Danny Mills stood in but was back straight afterwards and carried on until 2007. Luke Young and Micah Richards stated their claims to be paired with Cole but ultimately Glen Johnson won the contest under Fabio Capello. Johnson stayed in situ under Roy Hodgson until the 2014 World Cup and was even recalled to the squad last year but Kyle Walker, Nathaniel Clyne and Kieran Trippier are now the default options after experiments with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones out wide. Leighton Baines played so well from 2012-14 that he essentially forced Cole into international retirement before the more athletic claims of Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand did for him. Central defenders   Here we face a problem with the first two post-war decades before the four-back system really took off. A bodged solution for the Forties and Fifties, rather than trying to corral in a wing-half, would be to list the options at centre-half even though normally only one was picked. We don’t even have to do that for the Forties because Billy Wright, the centre-half for much of the Fifties, captain for 11 years and England’s first 100-cap player, played at wing-half for his country at the beginning of his international career, alongside the exemplary Neil Franklin at No 5. Franklin abandoned Stoke in 1950 to move to Colombia and circumvent the maximum wage but his wife did not settle there and he faced the opprobrium of his club and the FA on return, not adding to the 27 caps he earned before he left. Breadth of talent for the decade would be provided by Blackpool’s Harry Johnston, Allenby Chilton of Manchester United and Liverpool’s Bill Jones. Wright made the position his own after the 1954 World Cup where Bill McGarry and Syd Owen had taken the role. Johnston, too, continued to make appearances at the start of the Fifties and Liverpool’s Laurie Hughes stood in for Franklin at the 1950 World Cup. Jim Taylor of Fulham, Burnley’s Mal Barrass and Charlton’s Derek Ufton were also tried but no one could dislodge the 5ft 8in Wright, captain of Wolves and England, golden-haired paragon of the post-war game. The finest partnership of the Sixties, Jackie Charlton and Bobby Moore, came together only a year before they won the World Cup and had it not been for the disgrace of Peter Swan - who won 19 caps as a cultured but powerful stopper between 1960-62 - Charlton may never have joined his brother as a cornerstone of 1966 and all that. Maurice Norman, the Spurs Double-winning centre-half, joined forces with Moore for the 1962 World Cup because Swan was confined to quarters with dysentery in Chile and Brian Labone both preceded Charlton and succeeded him as first choice towards the end of the decade. Norman Hunter served as Moore’s understudy but the consistency of the captain restricted ‘Bites Yer Legs’ to 28 caps over nine seasons. Moore at his peak Credit: AP Photo/files Moore made the last of his 108 appearances in 1973 and by that point there were plenty of contenders for his position, notably Derby County’s Colin Todd, Hunter and Emlyn Hughes. Roy McFarland earned 28 caps in the centre-half slot from 1971-76 before injuries ruined his career and gave Dave Watson a long run as first choice until 1981. Watson won the last of his 65 caps at the age of 35 in June 1982 but was omitted from the final squad for the Spain World Cup, the first for which he had qualified after failures to reach West Germany and Argentina. Phil Thompson of Liverpool and Manchester United’s Brian Greenhoff were given their debuts by Don Revie but only the former flourished after he left for Abu Dhabi. Watson’s role as the tall, raw-bone aerial colossus was filled by Terry Butcher throughout the Eighties though we forget how good his left foot was, his skill overwhelmed by the ‘up and  at ‘em’ patriotism of his persona. Thompson led Liverpool to the 1981 European Cup and partnered the Ipswich defender at the Spain World Cup but Bobby Robson struggled to find a regular foil for Butcher thereafter and worked his way through Alvin Martin, Graham Roberts, Mark Wright, Terry Fenwick, Gary Pallister and a callow Tony Adams before settling on Des Walker for Italia 90 and a return for Wright in a back three. At the start of the Nineties Graham Taylor used Walker, Adams and Pallister but it was his successors, Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle, who got the best out of Adams. Venables managed it at Euro 96 when Adams was white-knuckling his sobriety for the duration of the tournament and Hoddle benefited from Adams stopping drinking and finding a new poise. Both also used Gareth Southgate in a back three while Sol Campbell, given his debut by Venables, became a regular when Hoddle took charge. Taylor and Hoddle used Martin Keown but Venables never picked him and though Steve Howey, Neil Ruddock, Steve Bould, John Scales, Colin Cooper and David Unsworth were tried, none established himself. The so-called Golden Generation had three stalwarts in Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Campbell while injuries prevented Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King from the long international careers their talent deserved. Jamie Carragher won 31 caps over 11 years, Matthew Upson became a favourite of Fabio Capello’s and Steve McClaren gave Joleon Lescott his debut in 2007. Rio Ferdinand and John Terry before the latter racially abused the former's brother Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien Ferdinand failed to re-establish himself after missing the 2010 World Cup through injury and ended his England career with 81 caps in 2011, Terry retired from the international game in 2012 after an FA Commission went ahead with charging him over racially abusing Ferdinand’s brother, Anton. Since then we’ve had shaky alliances involving Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Lescott, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, John Stones and Michael Keane. Central midfielders Again we need to make an adjustment here for the Forties and Fifties and will restrict it to wing-halfs, elevating most inside-forwards to forwards for the sake of this exercise. The immediate post-war era used Billy Wright most often as the right-half and Manchester United’s Henry Cockburn as the left pivot. Portsmouth’s hard-tackling tyro Jimmy Dickinson succeeded Cockburn and played 48 times from 1949-56 while Phil Taylor of Liverpool and Villa’s Eddie Lowe shared six caps on the right. Before the emergence of the Busby Babes - and we must include Eddie Colman here as well as Duncan Edwards because he would have been an international but for his death at Munich at the age of 21 - Wright and Dickinson formed the regular partnership. The claims of Edwards  - simply the most complete player England has ever produced, skilful, forceful, bursting with stamina and natural authority - could no longer be ignored in 1955 and he won 18 caps before he was killed, also at the age of 21. Ron Flowers, who won three titles with Wolves in the Fifties, played once in tandem with Edwards and took over after the 1958 World Cup with Blackburn’s efficient Ronnie Clayton his usual foil after Clayton had seen off Wolves’ Eddie Clamp. Nobby Stiles played at centre-back for Manchester United but was magnificent as Ramsey’s midfield destroyer in the 1966 side, providing the platform from which Bobby Charlton could glide through the gears, the ball under his immaculate control, and ping passes, whip in crosses or fire thunderous shots at goal. Before the two of them joined up, Flowers and Bobby Robson had been the main men with Charlton out on the left wing and after injuries and age diminished Stiles, Tottenham’s Alan Mullery was given the job. Colin Bell, Man City’s Nijinsky, was blooded in 1968 and proved irreplaceable when Martin Buchan effectively ended his career in 1975 after 48 caps. For the first part of the Seventies Martin Peters tucked in from the left and Bell played the dynamic right-half role, sadly without as much freedom as he had to pelt forward for City. Trevor Brooking made his first start in Ramsey’s last match and became the co-key player with Kevin Keegan under Greenwood with his clever passing and penetrative movement. He was so good that he kept the magnificent Glenn Hoddle on the peripheries following his debut in 1978. Hoddle, as brilliant a playmaker as he is rotten as a pundit, would have a system tailored to his strengths for England’s last three games at the 1986 World Cup when crisis forced Robson’s hand. Gerry Francis, Revie’s second captain, would have given both stiff competition had he stayed fit after his 12th cap. Tony Currie and Alan Hudson join the list of inexpertly harnessed talents while Terry McDermott, so intrepid for Liverpool, was denied a consistent run in the side by Ray Wilkins who ended the decade a dynamic box-to-box midfielder with the skill, control and vision that would later make him so comfortable as a ‘sitter’ in Serie A. The entire Eighties can be considered the Bryan Robson years. Bobby was besotted by him but for understandable reasons, as Alex Ferguson outlined: "He had good control, was a decisive tackler, passed the ball well and his combination of stamina and perceptive reading of movement enabled him to make sudden and deadly infiltrations from midfield into the opposition's box." His fitness became a national preoccupation and he lasted two games each of the 1986 and 1990 World Cups after driving England to qualification at both. We saw him at his very best only in 1982 and Euro 88 when he needed support that his team-mates could not provide. Wilkins was his regular partner, replaced by Hoddle for 1988 and Neil Webb thereafter until Paul Gascoigne finally charmed the sceptical Bobby Robson in 1990. Peter Reid, Everton’s tigerish beating heart, took centre stage in 1986 when Robson’s shoulder popped out again but the promise of his Goodison colleague Paul Bracewell was ravaged by  an ankle injury that took almost two years out of his career. England's all-action 'Captain Marvel' Credit: David Cannon/Getty Images Italia 90 began with Robson, Gascoigne and Chris Waddle in a midfield three and ended in unforgettable drama with David Platt in for the captain, having seen off Steve McMahon. Graham Taylor initially stuck with the Platt-Gascoigne axis for the victory over Poland but went with his Aston Villa pairing of Platt and Sid Cowans for the trip to Dublin. Gascoigne’s injuries and drinking alarmed Taylor who kept him around the squad when fit but his absences provoked some of the strangest selections in memory, noticeably Geoff Thomas, Andy Gray and Carlton Palmer. David Batty and Paul Ince injected some quality, the latter a mainstay for Venables and Hoddle - playing with Platt and Gascoigne at Euro 96, Paul Scholes at the 1998 World Cup. Jamie Redknapp was ill-served by injury, Nicky Butt ill-served by managers until Sven Goran-Eriksson’s hand was forced in 2002 by Steven Gerrard’s absence and Ray Parlour by the wrong-headed perception that he was well, in Lovejoy’s words, ‘only Ray Parlour’. Gascoigne lights up Wembley v Scotland at Euro 96 Credit: Stu Forster/Allsport Frank Lampard made his debut in 1999 but did not become a regular for four seasons when his class tempted Eriksson to fudge the biggest decision of his England career and stick Scholes on the left to start the ‘Lampard-Gerrard’ compatibility saga that was to run for the next 11 years. Once Scholes decided he’d had enough after Euro 2004 (ending a 29-game goal drought in his penultimate match), Gerrard and Lampard, Lampard and Gerrard held their positions until Steve McClaren recalled Gareth Barry, who impressed Capello so firmly that he put Gerrard on the left. The Golden Generation and its hangover phase featured cameos from Danny Murphy, Owen Hargreaves (though he normally played wide), Scott ‘Scottie’ Parker, Michael Carrick and Jermaine Jenas though none could either usurp Gerrard or Lampard or make the combination look convincing in tournament football.    Both were still in the squad at the 2014 World Cup though age had taken the shine off them. Lampard was reduced to the bench, Gerrard captained the side but his one-paced partnership with Jordan Henderson left a dodgy defence too exposed to cope with Italy and Uruguay. Capello gave Jack Wilshere his debut at the age of 18 yet seven years later we are still waiting for him, probably forlornly, to be blessed with the physical resilience to regain his verve. Eric Dier has been the default starter with Henderson for the past 18 months but Jake Livermore is currently back in the squad, Tom Cleverly has been and gone, Fabian Delph gets in whenever he manages a couple of games for Man City while James Ward-Prowse and Harry Winks put the twinkle in Gareth Southgate’s eye.   Wide men Should we just end this segment here? Stan Matthews and Tom Finney in the Forties and Fifties are the best pair of wingers England have ever had. In 1948 a forward line of Matthews, Stan Mortensen, Tommy Lawton, Wilf Mannion and Finney put on arguably England’s greatest performance in the 4-0 away victory over Italy but never played together again. Finney was an England regular for 12 years, playing on the right, left and through the middle until 1958 but Matthews, seven years Finney’s senior, was eased out only a year earlier at the age of 42 with 54 caps. He was not deemed as indispensable by myopic selectors who gave run-outs on the wings in his stead to Peter Harris, Les Medley, Billy Elliott and Johnny Berry. Blackburn’s Bryan Douglas took the No7 shirt 36 times and scored 11 goals from 1975-63 and Bobby Charlton won the majority of his caps until 1964 on the left flank, seeing out the decade in a Lancs touchline hegemony.   In the Sixties, after the end of the Douglas-Charlton years, Ramsey tried John Connelly, Terry Paine, Peter Thompson, Derek Temple and Ian Callaghan before deciding on a narrower road to triumph. Alan Ball, essentially an auxiliary central midfielder, edged out to patrol the right for the latter stages of the 1966 World Cup, driving England on with his stamina, skill and heart but victory convinced the manager to stick to his system, using the full-backs for width with Peters augmenting the strikers from a nominal position on the left and Ball from the right. Wingers were out of vogue for most of decade after 1966 - Ian Storey Moore kept the flame flickering briefly and Revie tried with QPR’s Dave Thomas and Merlin himself. Gordon Hill, but it wasn’t until Ron Greenwood picked Manchester City’s Peter Barnes and United’s Steve Coppell together in 1977 that England took flight again. Coppell evolved into a solid right-sided player but at that point was an out and out winger who held the position for five years. Laurie Cunningham made three starts alongside him but by the start of the following decade Greenwood had cramped his own style. John Barnes at the Maracana Credit: David Cannon/Allsport The Eighties should have been the decade of Waddle and John Barnes and in popular memory it remains so but England started the decade with a tighter system, using Coppell and Graham Rix at the 1982 World Cup, and got to the quarter-finals of the 1986 tournament having ditched the wingers for Trevor Steven and Steve Hodge. Villa’s European Cup-winner Tony Morley briefly enraptured Bobby Robson and Mark Chamberlain preceded Waddle into the side by two years but it was largely a Barnes-Waddle duopoly from then on, though rarely in tandem and both, despite their brilliance and that goal at the Maracana, the first scapegoats. Lee Sharpe was the great left hope of the Nineties but faded away, Venables got the best out of Darren Anderton and Steve McManaman to provide hope of a more expansive future until David Beckham took freehold of the No7 shirt and front pages for eight years with a revolving cast of Nick Barmby, Paul Merson or a wing-back on the left. Eriksson blanked McManaman at the start of the 2000s and tried Trevor Sinclair, Scholes and Joe Cole out there to give some balance for Beckham. Stewart Downing became a mainstay of Steve McClaren’s squads while Aaron Lennon and David Bentley were tried out on the right. Ultimately he went back to Beckham. Capello got the best out of Theo Walcott for a few games, pulled Gerrard out to the left and employed James Milner as a Steady Eddie solution. Hodgson switched to 4-2-3-1 and used Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Adam Lallana to provide width which is largely, with the exception of Rooney, where we remain apart from the saving grace of Rashford. Forwards To the summit … and, controversially, I am going to include some inside-forwards for the first three eras. So, for our post-war pioneers we will go with the aforementioned Mortensen, scorer of 23 goals in 25 games, Lawton, who scored 22 times in 23 starts, and Mannion, ‘the Mozart of football’ as Matthews put it. Len Shackleton and ‘Wor’ Jackie Milburn straddled the Forties and Fifties while Mortensen played on until 1953. The No9 shirt fell vacant in 1948 when Lawton told Walter Winterbottom that the coach didn’t know enough to be giving him advice, Milburn filled it for a spell before Nat Lofthouse won 33 caps and scored 30 goals, including the two at the Praterstadion that made him forever ‘The Lion of Vienna’. Tommy Taylor, one of the eight ‘Flowers of Manchester’ among the 23 victims of the Munich Air Crash, shot powerfully with both feet, had pace, guile and spatial awareness, and the fast-twitch reflexes of the thoroughbred goalscorer. He bagged 16 goals in 19 appearances as the other out-and-out England centre-forward of the decade. Lofty and Tommy were supported by Ivor Broadis and the finest, most astute passer in the team’s history, Johnny Haynes, who was only 27 in 1962 when he played his 56th and final game for England (his 22nd as captain) in the 1962 World Cup quarter-final. He was never as fluent again after a car crash on his return from Chile. Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final overshadows anything any other England striker can match. Roger Hunt, the other Wembley immortal, was so crucial to Ramsey’s system because his tireless movement made space for Bobby Charlton to fill that it is forgotten that he scored 18 times in 34 appearances, and Jimmy Greaves, English football’s most cold-hearted and deadly finisher, gave the manager a richness of options. By the end of the Sixties Franny Lee had taken over from Hunt and Greaves as Hurst’s partner for Mexico Sniffer Clarke, the heir to Greaves, made his debut in 1970, Peter Osgood made only a couple of starts and Martin Chivers became Ramsey’s preferred No9 for two years, scoring 13 times in 24 appearances. Rodney Marsh exasperated his manager, Malcolm MacDonald thrashed five past Cyprus for Revie but made his distaste for the man who picked him well known, which meant the search for an ‘oppo’ for Kevin Keegan - the human dynamo, a rampaging forward who could leap, head, shoot and pass with distinction - lasted too long. Bob Latchford found favour for a while as did Stuart Pearson, Mick Channon moved over from the right, Paul Mariner began the international career that would yield 35 caps and 13 goals and Tricky Trevor Francis beguiled us all with his positioning and vision. Kevin Keegan scores against Scotland in 1979 Credit: Steve Powell/Allsport Cyrille Regis would have made more than two starts in the Eighties had he moved to Manchester United from West Brom instead of Coventry but he couldn’t displace the Keegan-Mariner-Woodcock-Francis usual suspects for the World Cup in Spain. Robson ushered Keegan into retirement but kept faith with the others until Gary Lineker, the quicksilver scavenger, gave him no excuse in 1984 and began the march to the Mexico Golden Boot, a World Cup quarter- and semi-final and 48 goals in 80 games. He was at his best with Peter Beardsley - who brought out the best in everyone - but also fed off Mark Hateley, Alan Smith,  and Steve Bull. The Nineties began with Lineker and Italia 90, Taylor then gave him the captaincy and slim pickings to work with up front and he left the scene in 1992 when shown the managerial big curly finger despite England desperately requiring a goal against Sweden. Taylor turned to Ian Wright who made a terrific return under Hoddle after being ignored by Venables and Les Ferdinand. Alan Shearer, impressive at Southampton, unstoppable except by injury at  Blackburn, won his first cap  in 1992 but had scored only five times in 23 appearances before the start of Euro 96 and hadn’t managed an international goal for 21 months. He hit five in the five games, was elevated to the captaincy for four years and ended still the talisman, though far less mobile, in 2000 with 30 goals. Teddy Sheringham played the Beardsley role for him perfectly and kept Andy Cole out of the squad and Robbie Fowler out of the side until Michael Owen came off the bench to score against Romania at France 98 and could not be left out again. Two games later he scored the wonder goal against Argentina that sounded the trumpets for his charge to the Ballon d’Or three years later. Michael Owen scores against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup Credit: Pawel Kopczynski REUTERS Owen was never really considered part of the Golden Generation because of a certain diffidence but he was its spearhead, when fit, and its yearned for king over the water when absent. He began the decade with Shearer, combined with club-mate Emile Heskey for the 1-5 in Munich and spent time up-front with Fowler and Darius Vassell before Eriksson promoted Wayne Rooney in 2003. Over 14 years Rooney would surpass Bobby Charlton’s England goalscoring record, beginning by playing off the cuff with boundless zip and chutzpah, maturing into that rarity, a workhorse with ebullient, irrepressible swagger and ending up a shadow of electrifying presence he once had been. During the decade Rooney played up top with Owen, Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch most frequently. Dean Ashton seemed to fit the part but it wasn’t to be. Rooney has been the key striker and player of this last decade, too and very much undroppable until Southgate took charge. Opportunities for Jay Rodriguez, Andy Carroll and Daniel Sturridge have been curtailed by long-term injuries, Hodgson thought it wise to take Rickie Lambert to the World Cup but in 2015 Harry Kane was given a chance and grabbed it. Jamie Vardy remains among the alternatives along with Sturridge and the second (third and fourth) coming of Defoe.   Conclusion How do you come up with a decision on the relative strengths and weaknesses over eight decades? Subjectively, obviously, but without prejudice:  Goalkeepers: Seventies - Banks, Shilton, Clemence. Full-backs: Sixties - Armfield, Cohen, Wilson, Cooper. Central defenders: Seventies - Moore, Labone, Todd, McFarland, Thompson. Central midfielders: Eighties - Robson, Wilkins, Gascoigne, Hoddle. Wide men: Fifties - Matthews, Finney, Charlton R.   Strikers: Nineties - Lineker, Shearer, Owen, Beardsley.  Please feel free to dispute this 23-man squad selection in the comments section. 

The England dream team by eras: which decade comes out on top?

Scroll to the bottom of the article for Rob Bagchi's all-time 23-man England squad August is traditionally silly season for journalism but on the football beat the two-week autumn and spring international breaks are the cue for extreme resourcefulness. Watching England toil through yet another developmental stage, the slimness of their options and assets in central midfield and the heart of defence as blatant as the consoling promise of Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, made us wonder in which eras each part of the team have been at their strongest? Was English goalkeeping, say, at its apex in the 1970s or have the wide players of the Forties never been surpassed? For once a decision to truncate the period for analysis is not motivated by either sloth or rampant neophilia. England rejoined Fifa only in 1946 and their first international tournament was the 1950 World Cup, having spurned the first three.  Therefore it makes sense to start in the immediate post-war years and to help the process we will look at each phase for every sector - goalkeeper, full-backs, central defenders, midfielders, wide players and strikers - look at the players picked and the breadth of quality alternatives. Some will represent generations or decades, others distinct stages in the team’s evolution. We’ll begin in goal and chart the progression, chronological at least, from Frank Swift and his primrose polo neck sweater to Joe Hart and his binman chic high-vis short-sleeves, concluding with our stab at an answer. Goalkeepers If you’ve been paying attention to anything involving England without being so bored you’ve felt compelled to make a paper plane, our first contender will be obvious. Frank Swift, the wok-handed, spring-heeled Manchester City goalkeeper who pioneered the throw-out, was the first keeper to captain England and as the man in goal when England travelled to Turin to defeat the double world champions Italy (a pre Superga full-strength Azzurri side) 4-0, is our candidate from the Forties. He won 19 caps despite the war depriving him of his career from the age of 25 to 32, let in 18 goals and played in other memorable victories over France, Sweden, Scotland and Portugal. Other standouts from the truncated decade include Tottenham’s title-winning Ted Ditchburn, who won six caps, and the brave, acrobatic, sure-handed Bert Williams of Wolves who succeeded Swift after his international retirement and earned 24 caps over the next six years. Our Fifties options begin with Williams and Gil Merrick of Birmingham City who earned the most caps (23) of the decade and kept five clean sheets. It was Merrick’s misfortune to be in goal for the mortifying, 3-6 defeat by Hungary at Wembley in 1953 and the 7-1 thrashing in the Nepstadion a year later. Admittedly he appeared rattled on both occasions but only because the Magnificent Magyars and his shaky defence left him horribly exposed. The sight of him picking the ball out of the net 13 times have haunted English football ever since but he was not responsible. Those defeats should have marked a paradigm shift but the England system - once again propped up by a crop of excellent players - did not significantly change until much later.  Other notable stalwarts of the decade were Bolton’s 5ft 8in Eddie Hopkinson, the master of one-on-ones who won 13 caps, and Colin McDonald of Burnley who kept goal at the 1958 World Cup and was a dominant, cross-catching doyen of the old school. The Sixties begin with Sheffield Wednesday’s, quick, agile Ron Springett who played 33 times including all four at the 1962 World Cup where he repeatedly saved Walter Winterbottom's side from a proper drubbing in the 3-1 quarter-final defeat by Brazil, and end with Banks of England, Springett’s understudy in Chile, justly recognised as the greatest goalie in the world. It wasn’t just his majesty during England’s 1966 campaign, it was his general safehandedness - helped, trivia fans, in a pre-gloves age, with a generous rub of Beechnut chewing gum-laced saliva on the palms - his rare ability to save gymnastically equally well whether his goal was attacked high or low and his courage. He was so supreme that he restricted other fine goalkeepers such as Peter Bonetti, Gordon West, Alex Stepney and Springett to a handful of caps after Alf Ramsey made him first choice in 1964. Gordon Banks remained Ramsey’s default selection until he lost an eye in a car crash at the age of 34 in Oct 1972, taking in the save against Pele in 1970, the world’s greatest keeper defying the game’s best player by diving downwards, like an hour hand pointing to seven o’clock, and twisting his wrist to ensure he flicked it over the bar to prevent the great striker pouncing on the rebound. But Leicester City did not rate the marginal differentials between an established world-class player and an emerging one as highly as Ramsey and sold Banks to Stoke in 1967 to clear the way for 17-year-old Peter Shilton who owned the Eighties but duelled with the agile, commanding and astute Ray Clemence throughout the preceding decade to be England’s No1. Shilton was a brilliant shot-stopper and all the hours of dedicated, unrelenting practice gave him uncommon agility and aerial mastery. From about 1978 onwards, the error against Poland in 1973 long overcome, Shilton has the right to be considered Banks’ equal and probably superior. The reign of the duopoly left those other excellent keepers, Joe Corrigan, Phil Parkes and Stepney feeding off scraps. When it game to goalkeepers Ron Greenwood had a touch of the Jimmy Armfields at Leeds (“the manager’s indecision is final) but at the start of 1982 after rotating them for five years, he eventually plumped for Shilton who stayed undisputed first choice for the whole of the Eighties. Clemence carried on as the first reserve until 1983 and from 1985 Chris Woods began to make the No13 shirt his second skin during international weeks. Woods made 14 starts in the decade but was mostly stuck on the bench occasionally conceding opportunities for the stand-by role to Gary Bailey, Nigel Spink, Dave Beasant and David Seaman. Poor Martin Hodge, Tony Coton and John Lukic never even got a sniff. Peter Shilton at the start of his international career Credit: Malcolm Croft/PA Bobby Robson stood by Peter Shilton for Italia 90 and kept the 40-year-old keeper between the sticks for the semi-final shootout against West Germany despite having not used all his substitute options and Shilton’s poor record at saving spot-kicks (one from 15). The veteran retired from international football at the end of the tournament but carried on playing for a variety of clubs until 1997. Woods, who once went 1196 minutes without conceding a goal for Rangers in successive matches, became Graham Taylor’s No1 and played at Euro 92 backed up by David Seaman and England’s first million-pound goalie, Nigel Martyn. Seaman came into his own under Terry Venables and proved himself a wonderfully athletic goalkeeper with great agility, positional awareness, sound judgment and, above all, consistency at Euro 96. He saved penalties, too. Glenn Hoddle logically opted for continuity but awarded caps to Ian Walker, David James, Tim Flowers and Martyn when injury or the need to see how the others shaped up demanded.   Seaman continued through the proto-Golden Generation era until his mistakes were compounded by his age, particularly, like Shilton in 1990, a leaden-footedness in reverse. Paul Robinson was anointed for the 2006 World Cup when David Beckham metamorphosed into Sally Bowles in Baden-Baden but Sven Goran-Eriksson also tried out Martyn, James (the Euro 2004) starter and Rob Green. If we consider the McClaren era a coda to the Golden Generation, The Together Again tour after Dean Martin had bailed on Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis to be replaced by Liza Minelli, small wonder that it was largely a Robinson hangover with supporting roles for Scott Carson, Chris Kirkland, James and Ben Foster. Fabio Capello took a look at James and Green, didn’t like what he saw, blooded Joe Hart then went back to swapping between the other two, £4m a year not being enough to deliver decisiveness. Jack Butland, John Ruddy, Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton have made appearances under Roy Hodgson and Gareth Southgate. Foster, too, has returned from temporary retirement but the seven years since the 4-1 defeat by Germany in Bloemfontein have been the Hart hegemony, under whose dominion we linger. Poor old Whitney Houston did not live long enough for an answer to her question - where do broken Harts go? It’s West Ham, pet. Full backs Now we have established the decades we are going to compare, let us breeze through the options rather than dwelling in such detail to outline the parameters. First choices for full-backs of the Forties are Laurie Scott of Arsenal on the right and captain in all 13 appearances, George Hardwick of Middlesbrough on the left. Depth is added by Derby’s Bert Mozley as a back-up down the right and Manchester United’s Johnny Aston at left-back with 17 caps. George Hardwick, right, greets the Sweden captain Erik Nilsson in  1947 Credit: Reg Birkett/Keystone/Getty Images In the Fifties the selection panel had Spurs’ Alf Ramsey at the beginning of the decade to play on the right and Blackburn’s Bill Eckersley on the left. Birmingham’s Jeff Hall and West Brom’s Don Howe made the right-back slot the preserve of the West Midlands for the rest of the decade while Manchester United’s majestic and adventurous Roger Byrne played 33 successive matches at left-back until his death at Munich during a period when the selection committee made consistency virtually unknown. Tommy Banks, Bolton’s tank, did his best to replace the irreplaceable at the 1958 World Cup and Sheffield United’s Graham Shaw filled in the following year. Take your pick from the Sixties beginning with the two 1966 imperishables George Cohen and Ray Wilson, Jimmy Armfield, a former captain who played on the right at the 1962 World Cup, Keith Newton, who succeeded Cohen and Terry Cooper who took over from his fellow Yorkshireman Wilson at left-back. Add on all those reduced to a handful of caps because of Ramsey’s loyalty - Bob McNab, Paul Reaney, Chris Lawler, Gerry Byrne, Tommy Wright and Cyril Knowles - and you have the kind of riches that would make Gareth Southgate turn green with envy beneath his beard.   George Cohen, left, and Ray Wilson, holding the Jules Rimet Trophy, celebrate victory in 1966 Credit: PA Photos England’s least successful decade in terms of qualification is also, paradoxically, one remembered with a fondness for the quality of English teams – the best of which were bolstered by Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen. England’s full-backs in the Seventies numbered the Liverpool pair Phil Neal and Emlyn Hughes (not that Hughes played there for his club as frequently as he did for the national side). Their versatility was a virtue, as it was for Ipswich’s Mick Mills and Leeds’ Paul Madeley and Trevor Cherry. More orthodox full-backs were plentiful, too: the magnificent Viv Anderson on the right and Don Revie’s choices, Leicester’s Steve Whitworth and QPR’s Dave Clement. On the left Frank Lampard, Alec Lindsay, David Nish, Mike Pejic and Ian Gillard won caps, as did Kevin Beattie playing out of position but in masterly fashion, particularly in the 5-1 thrashing of Scotland in 1975. Kenny Sansom began the Eighties in possession of the No 3 shirt and held it for eight years, playing consistently and with real skill to hold off the challenge of West Brom’s Derek Statham, until the claims of Stuart Pearce in 1988 could be resisted no more. The right side was more problematic once Mills, Neal and Anderson entered their mid thirties. Mick Duxbury had a run there, Danny Thomas could have been the long-term solution save for that rotten injury inflicted by Kevin Maguire while Gary Stevens won 45 caps after his debut during Everton’s title-winning campaign in 1984-85 including Mexico ’86, Euro ’88 and the beginning of Italia 90. Kenny Sansom made the left-back position his own in the Eighties Credit:  Duncan Raban/Allsport/Getty Images Pearce was key at the start of the next decade, becoming captain under Graham Taylor, taking a position in a back three for Euro 96 when Steve McManaman and Darren Anderton played wide, and was recalled at the age of 37 for a couple of starts under Kevin Keegan. Terry Venables initially preferred the Blackburn Rovers left-back Graeme Le Saux and but for injury he would have started Euro 96. Glenn Hoddle restored him as first-choice after a cameo from Andy Hinchcliffe but by the end of the Nineties the left side, in defence and midfield, had become something of a national neurosis. Phil Neville filled in there, playing alongside his brother, Gary, the undisputed No2 when fit. For club and country he succeeded Paul Parker and the challenges of Gary Charles and Rob Jones for the spot were sadly snuffed out by personal problems and injury respectively. Sven Goran-Eriksson promoted Ashley Cole as the man to solve the malaise on the left and over the 12 years of his international career from 2001 onwards he won 107 caps and held Wayne Bridge at bay. Gary Neville missed the 2002 World Cup where Danny Mills stood in but was back straight afterwards and carried on until 2007. Luke Young and Micah Richards stated their claims to be paired with Cole but ultimately Glen Johnson won the contest under Fabio Capello. Johnson stayed in situ under Roy Hodgson until the 2014 World Cup and was even recalled to the squad last year but Kyle Walker, Nathaniel Clyne and Kieran Trippier are now the default options after experiments with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones out wide. Leighton Baines played so well from 2012-14 that he essentially forced Cole into international retirement before the more athletic claims of Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand did for him. Central defenders   Here we face a problem with the first two post-war decades before the four-back system really took off. A bodged solution for the Forties and Fifties, rather than trying to corral in a wing-half, would be to list the options at centre-half even though normally only one was picked. We don’t even have to do that for the Forties because Billy Wright, the centre-half for much of the Fifties, captain for 11 years and England’s first 100-cap player, played at wing-half for his country at the beginning of his international career, alongside the exemplary Neil Franklin at No 5. Franklin abandoned Stoke in 1950 to move to Colombia and circumvent the maximum wage but his wife did not settle there and he faced the opprobrium of his club and the FA on return, not adding to the 27 caps he earned before he left. Breadth of talent for the decade would be provided by Blackpool’s Harry Johnston, Allenby Chilton of Manchester United and Liverpool’s Bill Jones. Wright made the position his own after the 1954 World Cup where Bill McGarry and Syd Owen had taken the role. Johnston, too, continued to make appearances at the start of the Fifties and Liverpool’s Laurie Hughes stood in for Franklin at the 1950 World Cup. Jim Taylor of Fulham, Burnley’s Mal Barrass and Charlton’s Derek Ufton were also tried but no one could dislodge the 5ft 8in Wright, captain of Wolves and England, golden-haired paragon of the post-war game. The finest partnership of the Sixties, Jackie Charlton and Bobby Moore, came together only a year before they won the World Cup and had it not been for the disgrace of Peter Swan - who won 19 caps as a cultured but powerful stopper between 1960-62 - Charlton may never have joined his brother as a cornerstone of 1966 and all that. Maurice Norman, the Spurs Double-winning centre-half, joined forces with Moore for the 1962 World Cup because Swan was confined to quarters with dysentery in Chile and Brian Labone both preceded Charlton and succeeded him as first choice towards the end of the decade. Norman Hunter served as Moore’s understudy but the consistency of the captain restricted ‘Bites Yer Legs’ to 28 caps over nine seasons. Moore at his peak Credit: AP Photo/files Moore made the last of his 108 appearances in 1973 and by that point there were plenty of contenders for his position, notably Derby County’s Colin Todd, Hunter and Emlyn Hughes. Roy McFarland earned 28 caps in the centre-half slot from 1971-76 before injuries ruined his career and gave Dave Watson a long run as first choice until 1981. Watson won the last of his 65 caps at the age of 35 in June 1982 but was omitted from the final squad for the Spain World Cup, the first for which he had qualified after failures to reach West Germany and Argentina. Phil Thompson of Liverpool and Manchester United’s Brian Greenhoff were given their debuts by Don Revie but only the former flourished after he left for Abu Dhabi. Watson’s role as the tall, raw-bone aerial colossus was filled by Terry Butcher throughout the Eighties though we forget how good his left foot was, his skill overwhelmed by the ‘up and  at ‘em’ patriotism of his persona. Thompson led Liverpool to the 1981 European Cup and partnered the Ipswich defender at the Spain World Cup but Bobby Robson struggled to find a regular foil for Butcher thereafter and worked his way through Alvin Martin, Graham Roberts, Mark Wright, Terry Fenwick, Gary Pallister and a callow Tony Adams before settling on Des Walker for Italia 90 and a return for Wright in a back three. At the start of the Nineties Graham Taylor used Walker, Adams and Pallister but it was his successors, Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle, who got the best out of Adams. Venables managed it at Euro 96 when Adams was white-knuckling his sobriety for the duration of the tournament and Hoddle benefited from Adams stopping drinking and finding a new poise. Both also used Gareth Southgate in a back three while Sol Campbell, given his debut by Venables, became a regular when Hoddle took charge. Taylor and Hoddle used Martin Keown but Venables never picked him and though Steve Howey, Neil Ruddock, Steve Bould, John Scales, Colin Cooper and David Unsworth were tried, none established himself. The so-called Golden Generation had three stalwarts in Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Campbell while injuries prevented Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King from the long international careers their talent deserved. Jamie Carragher won 31 caps over 11 years, Matthew Upson became a favourite of Fabio Capello’s and Steve McClaren gave Joleon Lescott his debut in 2007. Rio Ferdinand and John Terry before the latter racially abused the former's brother Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien Ferdinand failed to re-establish himself after missing the 2010 World Cup through injury and ended his England career with 81 caps in 2011, Terry retired from the international game in 2012 after an FA Commission went ahead with charging him over racially abusing Ferdinand’s brother, Anton. Since then we’ve had shaky alliances involving Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Lescott, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, John Stones and Michael Keane. Central midfielders Again we need to make an adjustment here for the Forties and Fifties and will restrict it to wing-halfs, elevating most inside-forwards to forwards for the sake of this exercise. The immediate post-war era used Billy Wright most often as the right-half and Manchester United’s Henry Cockburn as the left pivot. Portsmouth’s hard-tackling tyro Jimmy Dickinson succeeded Cockburn and played 48 times from 1949-56 while Phil Taylor of Liverpool and Villa’s Eddie Lowe shared six caps on the right. Before the emergence of the Busby Babes - and we must include Eddie Colman here as well as Duncan Edwards because he would have been an international but for his death at Munich at the age of 21 - Wright and Dickinson formed the regular partnership. The claims of Edwards  - simply the most complete player England has ever produced, skilful, forceful, bursting with stamina and natural authority - could no longer be ignored in 1955 and he won 18 caps before he was killed, also at the age of 21. Ron Flowers, who won three titles with Wolves in the Fifties, played once in tandem with Edwards and took over after the 1958 World Cup with Blackburn’s efficient Ronnie Clayton his usual foil after Clayton had seen off Wolves’ Eddie Clamp. Nobby Stiles played at centre-back for Manchester United but was magnificent as Ramsey’s midfield destroyer in the 1966 side, providing the platform from which Bobby Charlton could glide through the gears, the ball under his immaculate control, and ping passes, whip in crosses or fire thunderous shots at goal. Before the two of them joined up, Flowers and Bobby Robson had been the main men with Charlton out on the left wing and after injuries and age diminished Stiles, Tottenham’s Alan Mullery was given the job. Colin Bell, Man City’s Nijinsky, was blooded in 1968 and proved irreplaceable when Martin Buchan effectively ended his career in 1975 after 48 caps. For the first part of the Seventies Martin Peters tucked in from the left and Bell played the dynamic right-half role, sadly without as much freedom as he had to pelt forward for City. Trevor Brooking made his first start in Ramsey’s last match and became the co-key player with Kevin Keegan under Greenwood with his clever passing and penetrative movement. He was so good that he kept the magnificent Glenn Hoddle on the peripheries following his debut in 1978. Hoddle, as brilliant a playmaker as he is rotten as a pundit, would have a system tailored to his strengths for England’s last three games at the 1986 World Cup when crisis forced Robson’s hand. Gerry Francis, Revie’s second captain, would have given both stiff competition had he stayed fit after his 12th cap. Tony Currie and Alan Hudson join the list of inexpertly harnessed talents while Terry McDermott, so intrepid for Liverpool, was denied a consistent run in the side by Ray Wilkins who ended the decade a dynamic box-to-box midfielder with the skill, control and vision that would later make him so comfortable as a ‘sitter’ in Serie A. The entire Eighties can be considered the Bryan Robson years. Bobby was besotted by him but for understandable reasons, as Alex Ferguson outlined: "He had good control, was a decisive tackler, passed the ball well and his combination of stamina and perceptive reading of movement enabled him to make sudden and deadly infiltrations from midfield into the opposition's box." His fitness became a national preoccupation and he lasted two games each of the 1986 and 1990 World Cups after driving England to qualification at both. We saw him at his very best only in 1982 and Euro 88 when he needed support that his team-mates could not provide. Wilkins was his regular partner, replaced by Hoddle for 1988 and Neil Webb thereafter until Paul Gascoigne finally charmed the sceptical Bobby Robson in 1990. Peter Reid, Everton’s tigerish beating heart, took centre stage in 1986 when Robson’s shoulder popped out again but the promise of his Goodison colleague Paul Bracewell was ravaged by  an ankle injury that took almost two years out of his career. England's all-action 'Captain Marvel' Credit: David Cannon/Getty Images Italia 90 began with Robson, Gascoigne and Chris Waddle in a midfield three and ended in unforgettable drama with David Platt in for the captain, having seen off Steve McMahon. Graham Taylor initially stuck with the Platt-Gascoigne axis for the victory over Poland but went with his Aston Villa pairing of Platt and Sid Cowans for the trip to Dublin. Gascoigne’s injuries and drinking alarmed Taylor who kept him around the squad when fit but his absences provoked some of the strangest selections in memory, noticeably Geoff Thomas, Andy Gray and Carlton Palmer. David Batty and Paul Ince injected some quality, the latter a mainstay for Venables and Hoddle - playing with Platt and Gascoigne at Euro 96, Paul Scholes at the 1998 World Cup. Jamie Redknapp was ill-served by injury, Nicky Butt ill-served by managers until Sven Goran-Eriksson’s hand was forced in 2002 by Steven Gerrard’s absence and Ray Parlour by the wrong-headed perception that he was well, in Lovejoy’s words, ‘only Ray Parlour’. Gascoigne lights up Wembley v Scotland at Euro 96 Credit: Stu Forster/Allsport Frank Lampard made his debut in 1999 but did not become a regular for four seasons when his class tempted Eriksson to fudge the biggest decision of his England career and stick Scholes on the left to start the ‘Lampard-Gerrard’ compatibility saga that was to run for the next 11 years. Once Scholes decided he’d had enough after Euro 2004 (ending a 29-game goal drought in his penultimate match), Gerrard and Lampard, Lampard and Gerrard held their positions until Steve McClaren recalled Gareth Barry, who impressed Capello so firmly that he put Gerrard on the left. The Golden Generation and its hangover phase featured cameos from Danny Murphy, Owen Hargreaves (though he normally played wide), Scott ‘Scottie’ Parker, Michael Carrick and Jermaine Jenas though none could either usurp Gerrard or Lampard or make the combination look convincing in tournament football.    Both were still in the squad at the 2014 World Cup though age had taken the shine off them. Lampard was reduced to the bench, Gerrard captained the side but his one-paced partnership with Jordan Henderson left a dodgy defence too exposed to cope with Italy and Uruguay. Capello gave Jack Wilshere his debut at the age of 18 yet seven years later we are still waiting for him, probably forlornly, to be blessed with the physical resilience to regain his verve. Eric Dier has been the default starter with Henderson for the past 18 months but Jake Livermore is currently back in the squad, Tom Cleverly has been and gone, Fabian Delph gets in whenever he manages a couple of games for Man City while James Ward-Prowse and Harry Winks put the twinkle in Gareth Southgate’s eye.   Wide men Should we just end this segment here? Stan Matthews and Tom Finney in the Forties and Fifties are the best pair of wingers England have ever had. In 1948 a forward line of Matthews, Stan Mortensen, Tommy Lawton, Wilf Mannion and Finney put on arguably England’s greatest performance in the 4-0 away victory over Italy but never played together again. Finney was an England regular for 12 years, playing on the right, left and through the middle until 1958 but Matthews, seven years Finney’s senior, was eased out only a year earlier at the age of 42 with 54 caps. He was not deemed as indispensable by myopic selectors who gave run-outs on the wings in his stead to Peter Harris, Les Medley, Billy Elliott and Johnny Berry. Blackburn’s Bryan Douglas took the No7 shirt 36 times and scored 11 goals from 1975-63 and Bobby Charlton won the majority of his caps until 1964 on the left flank, seeing out the decade in a Lancs touchline hegemony.   In the Sixties, after the end of the Douglas-Charlton years, Ramsey tried John Connelly, Terry Paine, Peter Thompson, Derek Temple and Ian Callaghan before deciding on a narrower road to triumph. Alan Ball, essentially an auxiliary central midfielder, edged out to patrol the right for the latter stages of the 1966 World Cup, driving England on with his stamina, skill and heart but victory convinced the manager to stick to his system, using the full-backs for width with Peters augmenting the strikers from a nominal position on the left and Ball from the right. Wingers were out of vogue for most of decade after 1966 - Ian Storey Moore kept the flame flickering briefly and Revie tried with QPR’s Dave Thomas and Merlin himself. Gordon Hill, but it wasn’t until Ron Greenwood picked Manchester City’s Peter Barnes and United’s Steve Coppell together in 1977 that England took flight again. Coppell evolved into a solid right-sided player but at that point was an out and out winger who held the position for five years. Laurie Cunningham made three starts alongside him but by the start of the following decade Greenwood had cramped his own style. John Barnes at the Maracana Credit: David Cannon/Allsport The Eighties should have been the decade of Waddle and John Barnes and in popular memory it remains so but England started the decade with a tighter system, using Coppell and Graham Rix at the 1982 World Cup, and got to the quarter-finals of the 1986 tournament having ditched the wingers for Trevor Steven and Steve Hodge. Villa’s European Cup-winner Tony Morley briefly enraptured Bobby Robson and Mark Chamberlain preceded Waddle into the side by two years but it was largely a Barnes-Waddle duopoly from then on, though rarely in tandem and both, despite their brilliance and that goal at the Maracana, the first scapegoats. Lee Sharpe was the great left hope of the Nineties but faded away, Venables got the best out of Darren Anderton and Steve McManaman to provide hope of a more expansive future until David Beckham took freehold of the No7 shirt and front pages for eight years with a revolving cast of Nick Barmby, Paul Merson or a wing-back on the left. Eriksson blanked McManaman at the start of the 2000s and tried Trevor Sinclair, Scholes and Joe Cole out there to give some balance for Beckham. Stewart Downing became a mainstay of Steve McClaren’s squads while Aaron Lennon and David Bentley were tried out on the right. Ultimately he went back to Beckham. Capello got the best out of Theo Walcott for a few games, pulled Gerrard out to the left and employed James Milner as a Steady Eddie solution. Hodgson switched to 4-2-3-1 and used Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Adam Lallana to provide width which is largely, with the exception of Rooney, where we remain apart from the saving grace of Rashford. Forwards To the summit … and, controversially, I am going to include some inside-forwards for the first three eras. So, for our post-war pioneers we will go with the aforementioned Mortensen, scorer of 23 goals in 25 games, Lawton, who scored 22 times in 23 starts, and Mannion, ‘the Mozart of football’ as Matthews put it. Len Shackleton and ‘Wor’ Jackie Milburn straddled the Forties and Fifties while Mortensen played on until 1953. The No9 shirt fell vacant in 1948 when Lawton told Walter Winterbottom that the coach didn’t know enough to be giving him advice, Milburn filled it for a spell before Nat Lofthouse won 33 caps and scored 30 goals, including the two at the Praterstadion that made him forever ‘The Lion of Vienna’. Tommy Taylor, one of the eight ‘Flowers of Manchester’ among the 23 victims of the Munich Air Crash, shot powerfully with both feet, had pace, guile and spatial awareness, and the fast-twitch reflexes of the thoroughbred goalscorer. He bagged 16 goals in 19 appearances as the other out-and-out England centre-forward of the decade. Lofty and Tommy were supported by Ivor Broadis and the finest, most astute passer in the team’s history, Johnny Haynes, who was only 27 in 1962 when he played his 56th and final game for England (his 22nd as captain) in the 1962 World Cup quarter-final. He was never as fluent again after a car crash on his return from Chile. Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final overshadows anything any other England striker can match. Roger Hunt, the other Wembley immortal, was so crucial to Ramsey’s system because his tireless movement made space for Bobby Charlton to fill that it is forgotten that he scored 18 times in 34 appearances, and Jimmy Greaves, English football’s most cold-hearted and deadly finisher, gave the manager a richness of options. By the end of the Sixties Franny Lee had taken over from Hunt and Greaves as Hurst’s partner for Mexico Sniffer Clarke, the heir to Greaves, made his debut in 1970, Peter Osgood made only a couple of starts and Martin Chivers became Ramsey’s preferred No9 for two years, scoring 13 times in 24 appearances. Rodney Marsh exasperated his manager, Malcolm MacDonald thrashed five past Cyprus for Revie but made his distaste for the man who picked him well known, which meant the search for an ‘oppo’ for Kevin Keegan - the human dynamo, a rampaging forward who could leap, head, shoot and pass with distinction - lasted too long. Bob Latchford found favour for a while as did Stuart Pearson, Mick Channon moved over from the right, Paul Mariner began the international career that would yield 35 caps and 13 goals and Tricky Trevor Francis beguiled us all with his positioning and vision. Kevin Keegan scores against Scotland in 1979 Credit: Steve Powell/Allsport Cyrille Regis would have made more than two starts in the Eighties had he moved to Manchester United from West Brom instead of Coventry but he couldn’t displace the Keegan-Mariner-Woodcock-Francis usual suspects for the World Cup in Spain. Robson ushered Keegan into retirement but kept faith with the others until Gary Lineker, the quicksilver scavenger, gave him no excuse in 1984 and began the march to the Mexico Golden Boot, a World Cup quarter- and semi-final and 48 goals in 80 games. He was at his best with Peter Beardsley - who brought out the best in everyone - but also fed off Mark Hateley, Alan Smith,  and Steve Bull. The Nineties began with Lineker and Italia 90, Taylor then gave him the captaincy and slim pickings to work with up front and he left the scene in 1992 when shown the managerial big curly finger despite England desperately requiring a goal against Sweden. Taylor turned to Ian Wright who made a terrific return under Hoddle after being ignored by Venables and Les Ferdinand. Alan Shearer, impressive at Southampton, unstoppable except by injury at  Blackburn, won his first cap  in 1992 but had scored only five times in 23 appearances before the start of Euro 96 and hadn’t managed an international goal for 21 months. He hit five in the five games, was elevated to the captaincy for four years and ended still the talisman, though far less mobile, in 2000 with 30 goals. Teddy Sheringham played the Beardsley role for him perfectly and kept Andy Cole out of the squad and Robbie Fowler out of the side until Michael Owen came off the bench to score against Romania at France 98 and could not be left out again. Two games later he scored the wonder goal against Argentina that sounded the trumpets for his charge to the Ballon d’Or three years later. Michael Owen scores against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup Credit: Pawel Kopczynski REUTERS Owen was never really considered part of the Golden Generation because of a certain diffidence but he was its spearhead, when fit, and its yearned for king over the water when absent. He began the decade with Shearer, combined with club-mate Emile Heskey for the 1-5 in Munich and spent time up-front with Fowler and Darius Vassell before Eriksson promoted Wayne Rooney in 2003. Over 14 years Rooney would surpass Bobby Charlton’s England goalscoring record, beginning by playing off the cuff with boundless zip and chutzpah, maturing into that rarity, a workhorse with ebullient, irrepressible swagger and ending up a shadow of electrifying presence he once had been. During the decade Rooney played up top with Owen, Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch most frequently. Dean Ashton seemed to fit the part but it wasn’t to be. Rooney has been the key striker and player of this last decade, too and very much undroppable until Southgate took charge. Opportunities for Jay Rodriguez, Andy Carroll and Daniel Sturridge have been curtailed by long-term injuries, Hodgson thought it wise to take Rickie Lambert to the World Cup but in 2015 Harry Kane was given a chance and grabbed it. Jamie Vardy remains among the alternatives along with Sturridge and the second (third and fourth) coming of Defoe.   Conclusion How do you come up with a decision on the relative strengths and weaknesses over eight decades? Subjectively, obviously, but without prejudice:  Goalkeepers: Seventies - Banks, Shilton, Clemence. Full-backs: Sixties - Armfield, Cohen, Wilson, Cooper. Central defenders: Seventies - Moore, Labone, Todd, McFarland, Thompson. Central midfielders: Eighties - Robson, Wilkins, Gascoigne, Hoddle. Wide men: Fifties - Matthews, Finney, Charlton R.   Strikers: Nineties - Lineker, Shearer, Owen, Beardsley.  Please feel free to dispute this 23-man squad selection in the comments section. 

The England dream team by eras: which decade comes out on top?

Scroll to the bottom of the article for Rob Bagchi's all-time 23-man England squad August is traditionally silly season for journalism but on the football beat the two-week autumn and spring international breaks are the cue for extreme resourcefulness. Watching England toil through yet another developmental stage, the slimness of their options and assets in central midfield and the heart of defence as blatant as the consoling promise of Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, made us wonder in which eras each part of the team have been at their strongest? Was English goalkeeping, say, at its apex in the 1970s or have the wide players of the Forties never been surpassed? For once a decision to truncate the period for analysis is not motivated by either sloth or rampant neophilia. England rejoined Fifa only in 1946 and their first international tournament was the 1950 World Cup, having spurned the first three.  Therefore it makes sense to start in the immediate post-war years and to help the process we will look at each phase for every sector - goalkeeper, full-backs, central defenders, midfielders, wide players and strikers - look at the players picked and the breadth of quality alternatives. Some will represent generations or decades, others distinct stages in the team’s evolution. We’ll begin in goal and chart the progression, chronological at least, from Frank Swift and his primrose polo neck sweater to Joe Hart and his binman chic high-vis short-sleeves, concluding with our stab at an answer. Goalkeepers If you’ve been paying attention to anything involving England without being so bored you’ve felt compelled to make a paper plane, our first contender will be obvious. Frank Swift, the wok-handed, spring-heeled Manchester City goalkeeper who pioneered the throw-out, was the first keeper to captain England and as the man in goal when England travelled to Turin to defeat the double world champions Italy (a pre Superga full-strength Azzurri side) 4-0, is our candidate from the Forties. He won 19 caps despite the war depriving him of his career from the age of 25 to 32, let in 18 goals and played in other memorable victories over France, Sweden, Scotland and Portugal. Other standouts from the truncated decade include Tottenham’s title-winning Ted Ditchburn, who won six caps, and the brave, acrobatic, sure-handed Bert Williams of Wolves who succeeded Swift after his international retirement and earned 24 caps over the next six years. Our Fifties options begin with Williams and Gil Merrick of Birmingham City who earned the most caps (23) of the decade and kept five clean sheets. It was Merrick’s misfortune to be in goal for the mortifying, 3-6 defeat by Hungary at Wembley in 1953 and the 7-1 thrashing in the Nepstadion a year later. Admittedly he appeared rattled on both occasions but only because the Magnificent Magyars and his shaky defence left him horribly exposed. The sight of him picking the ball out of the net 13 times have haunted English football ever since but he was not responsible. Those defeats should have marked a paradigm shift but the England system - once again propped up by a crop of excellent players - did not significantly change until much later.  Other notable stalwarts of the decade were Bolton’s 5ft 8in Eddie Hopkinson, the master of one-on-ones who won 13 caps, and Colin McDonald of Burnley who kept goal at the 1958 World Cup and was a dominant, cross-catching doyen of the old school. The Sixties begin with Sheffield Wednesday’s, quick, agile Ron Springett who played 33 times including all four at the 1962 World Cup where he repeatedly saved Walter Winterbottom's side from a proper drubbing in the 3-1 quarter-final defeat by Brazil, and end with Banks of England, Springett’s understudy in Chile, justly recognised as the greatest goalie in the world. It wasn’t just his majesty during England’s 1966 campaign, it was his general safehandedness - helped, trivia fans, in a pre-gloves age, with a generous rub of Beechnut chewing gum-laced saliva on the palms - his rare ability to save gymnastically equally well whether his goal was attacked high or low and his courage. He was so supreme that he restricted other fine goalkeepers such as Peter Bonetti, Gordon West, Alex Stepney and Springett to a handful of caps after Alf Ramsey made him first choice in 1964. Gordon Banks remained Ramsey’s default selection until he lost an eye in a car crash at the age of 34 in Oct 1972, taking in the save against Pele in 1970, the world’s greatest keeper defying the game’s best player by diving downwards, like an hour hand pointing to seven o’clock, and twisting his wrist to ensure he flicked it over the bar to prevent the great striker pouncing on the rebound. But Leicester City did not rate the marginal differentials between an established world-class player and an emerging one as highly as Ramsey and sold Banks to Stoke in 1967 to clear the way for 17-year-old Peter Shilton who owned the Eighties but duelled with the agile, commanding and astute Ray Clemence throughout the preceding decade to be England’s No1. Shilton was a brilliant shot-stopper and all the hours of dedicated, unrelenting practice gave him uncommon agility and aerial mastery. From about 1978 onwards, the error against Poland in 1973 long overcome, Shilton has the right to be considered Banks’ equal and probably superior. The reign of the duopoly left those other excellent keepers, Joe Corrigan, Phil Parkes and Stepney feeding off scraps. When it game to goalkeepers Ron Greenwood had a touch of the Jimmy Armfields at Leeds (“the manager’s indecision is final) but at the start of 1982 after rotating them for five years, he eventually plumped for Shilton who stayed undisputed first choice for the whole of the Eighties. Clemence carried on as the first reserve until 1983 and from 1985 Chris Woods began to make the No13 shirt his second skin during international weeks. Woods made 14 starts in the decade but was mostly stuck on the bench occasionally conceding opportunities for the stand-by role to Gary Bailey, Nigel Spink, Dave Beasant and David Seaman. Poor Martin Hodge, Tony Coton and John Lukic never even got a sniff. Peter Shilton at the start of his international career Credit: Malcolm Croft/PA Bobby Robson stood by Peter Shilton for Italia 90 and kept the 40-year-old keeper between the sticks for the semi-final shootout against West Germany despite having not used all his substitute options and Shilton’s poor record at saving spot-kicks (one from 15). The veteran retired from international football at the end of the tournament but carried on playing for a variety of clubs until 1997. Woods, who once went 1196 minutes without conceding a goal for Rangers in successive matches, became Graham Taylor’s No1 and played at Euro 92 backed up by David Seaman and England’s first million-pound goalie, Nigel Martyn. Seaman came into his own under Terry Venables and proved himself a wonderfully athletic goalkeeper with great agility, positional awareness, sound judgment and, above all, consistency at Euro 96. He saved penalties, too. Glenn Hoddle logically opted for continuity but awarded caps to Ian Walker, David James, Tim Flowers and Martyn when injury or the need to see how the others shaped up demanded.   Seaman continued through the proto-Golden Generation era until his mistakes were compounded by his age, particularly, like Shilton in 1990, a leaden-footedness in reverse. Paul Robinson was anointed for the 2006 World Cup when David Beckham metamorphosed into Sally Bowles in Baden-Baden but Sven Goran-Eriksson also tried out Martyn, James (the Euro 2004) starter and Rob Green. If we consider the McClaren era a coda to the Golden Generation, The Together Again tour after Dean Martin had bailed on Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis to be replaced by Liza Minelli, small wonder that it was largely a Robinson hangover with supporting roles for Scott Carson, Chris Kirkland, James and Ben Foster. Fabio Capello took a look at James and Green, didn’t like what he saw, blooded Joe Hart then went back to swapping between the other two, £4m a year not being enough to deliver decisiveness. Jack Butland, John Ruddy, Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton have made appearances under Roy Hodgson and Gareth Southgate. Foster, too, has returned from temporary retirement but the seven years since the 4-1 defeat by Germany in Bloemfontein have been the Hart hegemony, under whose dominion we linger. Poor old Whitney Houston did not live long enough for an answer to her question - where do broken Harts go? It’s West Ham, pet. Full backs Now we have established the decades we are going to compare, let us breeze through the options rather than dwelling in such detail to outline the parameters. First choices for full-backs of the Forties are Laurie Scott of Arsenal on the right and captain in all 13 appearances, George Hardwick of Middlesbrough on the left. Depth is added by Derby’s Bert Mozley as a back-up down the right and Manchester United’s Johnny Aston at left-back with 17 caps. George Hardwick, right, greets the Sweden captain Erik Nilsson in  1947 Credit: Reg Birkett/Keystone/Getty Images In the Fifties the selection panel had Spurs’ Alf Ramsey at the beginning of the decade to play on the right and Blackburn’s Bill Eckersley on the left. Birmingham’s Jeff Hall and West Brom’s Don Howe made the right-back slot the preserve of the West Midlands for the rest of the decade while Manchester United’s majestic and adventurous Roger Byrne played 33 successive matches at left-back until his death at Munich during a period when the selection committee made consistency virtually unknown. Tommy Banks, Bolton’s tank, did his best to replace the irreplaceable at the 1958 World Cup and Sheffield United’s Graham Shaw filled in the following year. Take your pick from the Sixties beginning with the two 1966 imperishables George Cohen and Ray Wilson, Jimmy Armfield, a former captain who played on the right at the 1962 World Cup, Keith Newton, who succeeded Cohen and Terry Cooper who took over from his fellow Yorkshireman Wilson at left-back. Add on all those reduced to a handful of caps because of Ramsey’s loyalty - Bob McNab, Paul Reaney, Chris Lawler, Gerry Byrne, Tommy Wright and Cyril Knowles - and you have the kind of riches that would make Gareth Southgate turn green with envy beneath his beard.   George Cohen, left, and Ray Wilson, holding the Jules Rimet Trophy, celebrate victory in 1966 Credit: PA Photos England’s least successful decade in terms of qualification is also, paradoxically, one remembered with a fondness for the quality of English teams – the best of which were bolstered by Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen. England’s full-backs in the Seventies numbered the Liverpool pair Phil Neal and Emlyn Hughes (not that Hughes played there for his club as frequently as he did for the national side). Their versatility was a virtue, as it was for Ipswich’s Mick Mills and Leeds’ Paul Madeley and Trevor Cherry. More orthodox full-backs were plentiful, too: the magnificent Viv Anderson on the right and Don Revie’s choices, Leicester’s Steve Whitworth and QPR’s Dave Clement. On the left Frank Lampard, Alec Lindsay, David Nish, Mike Pejic and Ian Gillard won caps, as did Kevin Beattie playing out of position but in masterly fashion, particularly in the 5-1 thrashing of Scotland in 1975. Kenny Sansom began the Eighties in possession of the No 3 shirt and held it for eight years, playing consistently and with real skill to hold off the challenge of West Brom’s Derek Statham, until the claims of Stuart Pearce in 1988 could be resisted no more. The right side was more problematic once Mills, Neal and Anderson entered their mid thirties. Mick Duxbury had a run there, Danny Thomas could have been the long-term solution save for that rotten injury inflicted by Kevin Maguire while Gary Stevens won 45 caps after his debut during Everton’s title-winning campaign in 1984-85 including Mexico ’86, Euro ’88 and the beginning of Italia 90. Kenny Sansom made the left-back position his own in the Eighties Credit:  Duncan Raban/Allsport/Getty Images Pearce was key at the start of the next decade, becoming captain under Graham Taylor, taking a position in a back three for Euro 96 when Steve McManaman and Darren Anderton played wide, and was recalled at the age of 37 for a couple of starts under Kevin Keegan. Terry Venables initially preferred the Blackburn Rovers left-back Graeme Le Saux and but for injury he would have started Euro 96. Glenn Hoddle restored him as first-choice after a cameo from Andy Hinchcliffe but by the end of the Nineties the left side, in defence and midfield, had become something of a national neurosis. Phil Neville filled in there, playing alongside his brother, Gary, the undisputed No2 when fit. For club and country he succeeded Paul Parker and the challenges of Gary Charles and Rob Jones for the spot were sadly snuffed out by personal problems and injury respectively. Sven Goran-Eriksson promoted Ashley Cole as the man to solve the malaise on the left and over the 12 years of his international career from 2001 onwards he won 107 caps and held Wayne Bridge at bay. Gary Neville missed the 2002 World Cup where Danny Mills stood in but was back straight afterwards and carried on until 2007. Luke Young and Micah Richards stated their claims to be paired with Cole but ultimately Glen Johnson won the contest under Fabio Capello. Johnson stayed in situ under Roy Hodgson until the 2014 World Cup and was even recalled to the squad last year but Kyle Walker, Nathaniel Clyne and Kieran Trippier are now the default options after experiments with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones out wide. Leighton Baines played so well from 2012-14 that he essentially forced Cole into international retirement before the more athletic claims of Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand did for him. Central defenders   Here we face a problem with the first two post-war decades before the four-back system really took off. A bodged solution for the Forties and Fifties, rather than trying to corral in a wing-half, would be to list the options at centre-half even though normally only one was picked. We don’t even have to do that for the Forties because Billy Wright, the centre-half for much of the Fifties, captain for 11 years and England’s first 100-cap player, played at wing-half for his country at the beginning of his international career, alongside the exemplary Neil Franklin at No 5. Franklin abandoned Stoke in 1950 to move to Colombia and circumvent the maximum wage but his wife did not settle there and he faced the opprobrium of his club and the FA on return, not adding to the 27 caps he earned before he left. Breadth of talent for the decade would be provided by Blackpool’s Harry Johnston, Allenby Chilton of Manchester United and Liverpool’s Bill Jones. Wright made the position his own after the 1954 World Cup where Bill McGarry and Syd Owen had taken the role. Johnston, too, continued to make appearances at the start of the Fifties and Liverpool’s Laurie Hughes stood in for Franklin at the 1950 World Cup. Jim Taylor of Fulham, Burnley’s Mal Barrass and Charlton’s Derek Ufton were also tried but no one could dislodge the 5ft 8in Wright, captain of Wolves and England, golden-haired paragon of the post-war game. The finest partnership of the Sixties, Jackie Charlton and Bobby Moore, came together only a year before they won the World Cup and had it not been for the disgrace of Peter Swan - who won 19 caps as a cultured but powerful stopper between 1960-62 - Charlton may never have joined his brother as a cornerstone of 1966 and all that. Maurice Norman, the Spurs Double-winning centre-half, joined forces with Moore for the 1962 World Cup because Swan was confined to quarters with dysentery in Chile and Brian Labone both preceded Charlton and succeeded him as first choice towards the end of the decade. Norman Hunter served as Moore’s understudy but the consistency of the captain restricted ‘Bites Yer Legs’ to 28 caps over nine seasons. Moore at his peak Credit: AP Photo/files Moore made the last of his 108 appearances in 1973 and by that point there were plenty of contenders for his position, notably Derby County’s Colin Todd, Hunter and Emlyn Hughes. Roy McFarland earned 28 caps in the centre-half slot from 1971-76 before injuries ruined his career and gave Dave Watson a long run as first choice until 1981. Watson won the last of his 65 caps at the age of 35 in June 1982 but was omitted from the final squad for the Spain World Cup, the first for which he had qualified after failures to reach West Germany and Argentina. Phil Thompson of Liverpool and Manchester United’s Brian Greenhoff were given their debuts by Don Revie but only the former flourished after he left for Abu Dhabi. Watson’s role as the tall, raw-bone aerial colossus was filled by Terry Butcher throughout the Eighties though we forget how good his left foot was, his skill overwhelmed by the ‘up and  at ‘em’ patriotism of his persona. Thompson led Liverpool to the 1981 European Cup and partnered the Ipswich defender at the Spain World Cup but Bobby Robson struggled to find a regular foil for Butcher thereafter and worked his way through Alvin Martin, Graham Roberts, Mark Wright, Terry Fenwick, Gary Pallister and a callow Tony Adams before settling on Des Walker for Italia 90 and a return for Wright in a back three. At the start of the Nineties Graham Taylor used Walker, Adams and Pallister but it was his successors, Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle, who got the best out of Adams. Venables managed it at Euro 96 when Adams was white-knuckling his sobriety for the duration of the tournament and Hoddle benefited from Adams stopping drinking and finding a new poise. Both also used Gareth Southgate in a back three while Sol Campbell, given his debut by Venables, became a regular when Hoddle took charge. Taylor and Hoddle used Martin Keown but Venables never picked him and though Steve Howey, Neil Ruddock, Steve Bould, John Scales, Colin Cooper and David Unsworth were tried, none established himself. The so-called Golden Generation had three stalwarts in Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Campbell while injuries prevented Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King from the long international careers their talent deserved. Jamie Carragher won 31 caps over 11 years, Matthew Upson became a favourite of Fabio Capello’s and Steve McClaren gave Joleon Lescott his debut in 2007. Rio Ferdinand and John Terry before the latter racially abused the former's brother Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien Ferdinand failed to re-establish himself after missing the 2010 World Cup through injury and ended his England career with 81 caps in 2011, Terry retired from the international game in 2012 after an FA Commission went ahead with charging him over racially abusing Ferdinand’s brother, Anton. Since then we’ve had shaky alliances involving Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Lescott, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, John Stones and Michael Keane. Central midfielders Again we need to make an adjustment here for the Forties and Fifties and will restrict it to wing-halfs, elevating most inside-forwards to forwards for the sake of this exercise. The immediate post-war era used Billy Wright most often as the right-half and Manchester United’s Henry Cockburn as the left pivot. Portsmouth’s hard-tackling tyro Jimmy Dickinson succeeded Cockburn and played 48 times from 1949-56 while Phil Taylor of Liverpool and Villa’s Eddie Lowe shared six caps on the right. Before the emergence of the Busby Babes - and we must include Eddie Colman here as well as Duncan Edwards because he would have been an international but for his death at Munich at the age of 21 - Wright and Dickinson formed the regular partnership. The claims of Edwards  - simply the most complete player England has ever produced, skilful, forceful, bursting with stamina and natural authority - could no longer be ignored in 1955 and he won 18 caps before he was killed, also at the age of 21. Ron Flowers, who won three titles with Wolves in the Fifties, played once in tandem with Edwards and took over after the 1958 World Cup with Blackburn’s efficient Ronnie Clayton his usual foil after Clayton had seen off Wolves’ Eddie Clamp. Nobby Stiles played at centre-back for Manchester United but was magnificent as Ramsey’s midfield destroyer in the 1966 side, providing the platform from which Bobby Charlton could glide through the gears, the ball under his immaculate control, and ping passes, whip in crosses or fire thunderous shots at goal. Before the two of them joined up, Flowers and Bobby Robson had been the main men with Charlton out on the left wing and after injuries and age diminished Stiles, Tottenham’s Alan Mullery was given the job. Colin Bell, Man City’s Nijinsky, was blooded in 1968 and proved irreplaceable when Martin Buchan effectively ended his career in 1975 after 48 caps. For the first part of the Seventies Martin Peters tucked in from the left and Bell played the dynamic right-half role, sadly without as much freedom as he had to pelt forward for City. Trevor Brooking made his first start in Ramsey’s last match and became the co-key player with Kevin Keegan under Greenwood with his clever passing and penetrative movement. He was so good that he kept the magnificent Glenn Hoddle on the peripheries following his debut in 1978. Hoddle, as brilliant a playmaker as he is rotten as a pundit, would have a system tailored to his strengths for England’s last three games at the 1986 World Cup when crisis forced Robson’s hand. Gerry Francis, Revie’s second captain, would have given both stiff competition had he stayed fit after his 12th cap. Tony Currie and Alan Hudson join the list of inexpertly harnessed talents while Terry McDermott, so intrepid for Liverpool, was denied a consistent run in the side by Ray Wilkins who ended the decade a dynamic box-to-box midfielder with the skill, control and vision that would later make him so comfortable as a ‘sitter’ in Serie A. The entire Eighties can be considered the Bryan Robson years. Bobby was besotted by him but for understandable reasons, as Alex Ferguson outlined: "He had good control, was a decisive tackler, passed the ball well and his combination of stamina and perceptive reading of movement enabled him to make sudden and deadly infiltrations from midfield into the opposition's box." His fitness became a national preoccupation and he lasted two games each of the 1986 and 1990 World Cups after driving England to qualification at both. We saw him at his very best only in 1982 and Euro 88 when he needed support that his team-mates could not provide. Wilkins was his regular partner, replaced by Hoddle for 1988 and Neil Webb thereafter until Paul Gascoigne finally charmed the sceptical Bobby Robson in 1990. Peter Reid, Everton’s tigerish beating heart, took centre stage in 1986 when Robson’s shoulder popped out again but the promise of his Goodison colleague Paul Bracewell was ravaged by  an ankle injury that took almost two years out of his career. England's all-action 'Captain Marvel' Credit: David Cannon/Getty Images Italia 90 began with Robson, Gascoigne and Chris Waddle in a midfield three and ended in unforgettable drama with David Platt in for the captain, having seen off Steve McMahon. Graham Taylor initially stuck with the Platt-Gascoigne axis for the victory over Poland but went with his Aston Villa pairing of Platt and Sid Cowans for the trip to Dublin. Gascoigne’s injuries and drinking alarmed Taylor who kept him around the squad when fit but his absences provoked some of the strangest selections in memory, noticeably Geoff Thomas, Andy Gray and Carlton Palmer. David Batty and Paul Ince injected some quality, the latter a mainstay for Venables and Hoddle - playing with Platt and Gascoigne at Euro 96, Paul Scholes at the 1998 World Cup. Jamie Redknapp was ill-served by injury, Nicky Butt ill-served by managers until Sven Goran-Eriksson’s hand was forced in 2002 by Steven Gerrard’s absence and Ray Parlour by the wrong-headed perception that he was well, in Lovejoy’s words, ‘only Ray Parlour’. Gascoigne lights up Wembley v Scotland at Euro 96 Credit: Stu Forster/Allsport Frank Lampard made his debut in 1999 but did not become a regular for four seasons when his class tempted Eriksson to fudge the biggest decision of his England career and stick Scholes on the left to start the ‘Lampard-Gerrard’ compatibility saga that was to run for the next 11 years. Once Scholes decided he’d had enough after Euro 2004 (ending a 29-game goal drought in his penultimate match), Gerrard and Lampard, Lampard and Gerrard held their positions until Steve McClaren recalled Gareth Barry, who impressed Capello so firmly that he put Gerrard on the left. The Golden Generation and its hangover phase featured cameos from Danny Murphy, Owen Hargreaves (though he normally played wide), Scott ‘Scottie’ Parker, Michael Carrick and Jermaine Jenas though none could either usurp Gerrard or Lampard or make the combination look convincing in tournament football.    Both were still in the squad at the 2014 World Cup though age had taken the shine off them. Lampard was reduced to the bench, Gerrard captained the side but his one-paced partnership with Jordan Henderson left a dodgy defence too exposed to cope with Italy and Uruguay. Capello gave Jack Wilshere his debut at the age of 18 yet seven years later we are still waiting for him, probably forlornly, to be blessed with the physical resilience to regain his verve. Eric Dier has been the default starter with Henderson for the past 18 months but Jake Livermore is currently back in the squad, Tom Cleverly has been and gone, Fabian Delph gets in whenever he manages a couple of games for Man City while James Ward-Prowse and Harry Winks put the twinkle in Gareth Southgate’s eye.   Wide men Should we just end this segment here? Stan Matthews and Tom Finney in the Forties and Fifties are the best pair of wingers England have ever had. In 1948 a forward line of Matthews, Stan Mortensen, Tommy Lawton, Wilf Mannion and Finney put on arguably England’s greatest performance in the 4-0 away victory over Italy but never played together again. Finney was an England regular for 12 years, playing on the right, left and through the middle until 1958 but Matthews, seven years Finney’s senior, was eased out only a year earlier at the age of 42 with 54 caps. He was not deemed as indispensable by myopic selectors who gave run-outs on the wings in his stead to Peter Harris, Les Medley, Billy Elliott and Johnny Berry. Blackburn’s Bryan Douglas took the No7 shirt 36 times and scored 11 goals from 1975-63 and Bobby Charlton won the majority of his caps until 1964 on the left flank, seeing out the decade in a Lancs touchline hegemony.   In the Sixties, after the end of the Douglas-Charlton years, Ramsey tried John Connelly, Terry Paine, Peter Thompson, Derek Temple and Ian Callaghan before deciding on a narrower road to triumph. Alan Ball, essentially an auxiliary central midfielder, edged out to patrol the right for the latter stages of the 1966 World Cup, driving England on with his stamina, skill and heart but victory convinced the manager to stick to his system, using the full-backs for width with Peters augmenting the strikers from a nominal position on the left and Ball from the right. Wingers were out of vogue for most of decade after 1966 - Ian Storey Moore kept the flame flickering briefly and Revie tried with QPR’s Dave Thomas and Merlin himself. Gordon Hill, but it wasn’t until Ron Greenwood picked Manchester City’s Peter Barnes and United’s Steve Coppell together in 1977 that England took flight again. Coppell evolved into a solid right-sided player but at that point was an out and out winger who held the position for five years. Laurie Cunningham made three starts alongside him but by the start of the following decade Greenwood had cramped his own style. John Barnes at the Maracana Credit: David Cannon/Allsport The Eighties should have been the decade of Waddle and John Barnes and in popular memory it remains so but England started the decade with a tighter system, using Coppell and Graham Rix at the 1982 World Cup, and got to the quarter-finals of the 1986 tournament having ditched the wingers for Trevor Steven and Steve Hodge. Villa’s European Cup-winner Tony Morley briefly enraptured Bobby Robson and Mark Chamberlain preceded Waddle into the side by two years but it was largely a Barnes-Waddle duopoly from then on, though rarely in tandem and both, despite their brilliance and that goal at the Maracana, the first scapegoats. Lee Sharpe was the great left hope of the Nineties but faded away, Venables got the best out of Darren Anderton and Steve McManaman to provide hope of a more expansive future until David Beckham took freehold of the No7 shirt and front pages for eight years with a revolving cast of Nick Barmby, Paul Merson or a wing-back on the left. Eriksson blanked McManaman at the start of the 2000s and tried Trevor Sinclair, Scholes and Joe Cole out there to give some balance for Beckham. Stewart Downing became a mainstay of Steve McClaren’s squads while Aaron Lennon and David Bentley were tried out on the right. Ultimately he went back to Beckham. Capello got the best out of Theo Walcott for a few games, pulled Gerrard out to the left and employed James Milner as a Steady Eddie solution. Hodgson switched to 4-2-3-1 and used Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Adam Lallana to provide width which is largely, with the exception of Rooney, where we remain apart from the saving grace of Rashford. Forwards To the summit … and, controversially, I am going to include some inside-forwards for the first three eras. So, for our post-war pioneers we will go with the aforementioned Mortensen, scorer of 23 goals in 25 games, Lawton, who scored 22 times in 23 starts, and Mannion, ‘the Mozart of football’ as Matthews put it. Len Shackleton and ‘Wor’ Jackie Milburn straddled the Forties and Fifties while Mortensen played on until 1953. The No9 shirt fell vacant in 1948 when Lawton told Walter Winterbottom that the coach didn’t know enough to be giving him advice, Milburn filled it for a spell before Nat Lofthouse won 33 caps and scored 30 goals, including the two at the Praterstadion that made him forever ‘The Lion of Vienna’. Tommy Taylor, one of the eight ‘Flowers of Manchester’ among the 23 victims of the Munich Air Crash, shot powerfully with both feet, had pace, guile and spatial awareness, and the fast-twitch reflexes of the thoroughbred goalscorer. He bagged 16 goals in 19 appearances as the other out-and-out England centre-forward of the decade. Lofty and Tommy were supported by Ivor Broadis and the finest, most astute passer in the team’s history, Johnny Haynes, who was only 27 in 1962 when he played his 56th and final game for England (his 22nd as captain) in the 1962 World Cup quarter-final. He was never as fluent again after a car crash on his return from Chile. Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final overshadows anything any other England striker can match. Roger Hunt, the other Wembley immortal, was so crucial to Ramsey’s system because his tireless movement made space for Bobby Charlton to fill that it is forgotten that he scored 18 times in 34 appearances, and Jimmy Greaves, English football’s most cold-hearted and deadly finisher, gave the manager a richness of options. By the end of the Sixties Franny Lee had taken over from Hunt and Greaves as Hurst’s partner for Mexico Sniffer Clarke, the heir to Greaves, made his debut in 1970, Peter Osgood made only a couple of starts and Martin Chivers became Ramsey’s preferred No9 for two years, scoring 13 times in 24 appearances. Rodney Marsh exasperated his manager, Malcolm MacDonald thrashed five past Cyprus for Revie but made his distaste for the man who picked him well known, which meant the search for an ‘oppo’ for Kevin Keegan - the human dynamo, a rampaging forward who could leap, head, shoot and pass with distinction - lasted too long. Bob Latchford found favour for a while as did Stuart Pearson, Mick Channon moved over from the right, Paul Mariner began the international career that would yield 35 caps and 13 goals and Tricky Trevor Francis beguiled us all with his positioning and vision. Kevin Keegan scores against Scotland in 1979 Credit: Steve Powell/Allsport Cyrille Regis would have made more than two starts in the Eighties had he moved to Manchester United from West Brom instead of Coventry but he couldn’t displace the Keegan-Mariner-Woodcock-Francis usual suspects for the World Cup in Spain. Robson ushered Keegan into retirement but kept faith with the others until Gary Lineker, the quicksilver scavenger, gave him no excuse in 1984 and began the march to the Mexico Golden Boot, a World Cup quarter- and semi-final and 48 goals in 80 games. He was at his best with Peter Beardsley - who brought out the best in everyone - but also fed off Mark Hateley, Alan Smith,  and Steve Bull. The Nineties began with Lineker and Italia 90, Taylor then gave him the captaincy and slim pickings to work with up front and he left the scene in 1992 when shown the managerial big curly finger despite England desperately requiring a goal against Sweden. Taylor turned to Ian Wright who made a terrific return under Hoddle after being ignored by Venables and Les Ferdinand. Alan Shearer, impressive at Southampton, unstoppable except by injury at  Blackburn, won his first cap  in 1992 but had scored only five times in 23 appearances before the start of Euro 96 and hadn’t managed an international goal for 21 months. He hit five in the five games, was elevated to the captaincy for four years and ended still the talisman, though far less mobile, in 2000 with 30 goals. Teddy Sheringham played the Beardsley role for him perfectly and kept Andy Cole out of the squad and Robbie Fowler out of the side until Michael Owen came off the bench to score against Romania at France 98 and could not be left out again. Two games later he scored the wonder goal against Argentina that sounded the trumpets for his charge to the Ballon d’Or three years later. Michael Owen scores against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup Credit: Pawel Kopczynski REUTERS Owen was never really considered part of the Golden Generation because of a certain diffidence but he was its spearhead, when fit, and its yearned for king over the water when absent. He began the decade with Shearer, combined with club-mate Emile Heskey for the 1-5 in Munich and spent time up-front with Fowler and Darius Vassell before Eriksson promoted Wayne Rooney in 2003. Over 14 years Rooney would surpass Bobby Charlton’s England goalscoring record, beginning by playing off the cuff with boundless zip and chutzpah, maturing into that rarity, a workhorse with ebullient, irrepressible swagger and ending up a shadow of electrifying presence he once had been. During the decade Rooney played up top with Owen, Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch most frequently. Dean Ashton seemed to fit the part but it wasn’t to be. Rooney has been the key striker and player of this last decade, too and very much undroppable until Southgate took charge. Opportunities for Jay Rodriguez, Andy Carroll and Daniel Sturridge have been curtailed by long-term injuries, Hodgson thought it wise to take Rickie Lambert to the World Cup but in 2015 Harry Kane was given a chance and grabbed it. Jamie Vardy remains among the alternatives along with Sturridge and the second (third and fourth) coming of Defoe.   Conclusion How do you come up with a decision on the relative strengths and weaknesses over eight decades? Subjectively, obviously, but without prejudice:  Goalkeepers: Seventies - Banks, Shilton, Clemence. Full-backs: Sixties - Armfield, Cohen, Wilson, Cooper. Central defenders: Seventies - Moore, Labone, Todd, McFarland, Thompson. Central midfielders: Eighties - Robson, Wilkins, Gascoigne, Hoddle. Wide men: Fifties - Matthews, Finney, Charlton R.   Strikers: Nineties - Lineker, Shearer, Owen, Beardsley.  Please feel free to dispute this 23-man squad selection in the comments section. 

The England dream team by eras: which decade comes out on top?

Scroll to the bottom of the article for Rob Bagchi's all-time 23-man England squad August is traditionally silly season for journalism but on the football beat the two-week autumn and spring international breaks are the cue for extreme resourcefulness. Watching England toil through yet another developmental stage, the slimness of their options and assets in central midfield and the heart of defence as blatant as the consoling promise of Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, made us wonder in which eras each part of the team have been at their strongest? Was English goalkeeping, say, at its apex in the 1970s or have the wide players of the Forties never been surpassed? For once a decision to truncate the period for analysis is not motivated by either sloth or rampant neophilia. England rejoined Fifa only in 1946 and their first international tournament was the 1950 World Cup, having spurned the first three.  Therefore it makes sense to start in the immediate post-war years and to help the process we will look at each phase for every sector - goalkeeper, full-backs, central defenders, midfielders, wide players and strikers - look at the players picked and the breadth of quality alternatives. Some will represent generations or decades, others distinct stages in the team’s evolution. We’ll begin in goal and chart the progression, chronological at least, from Frank Swift and his primrose polo neck sweater to Joe Hart and his binman chic high-vis short-sleeves, concluding with our stab at an answer. Goalkeepers If you’ve been paying attention to anything involving England without being so bored you’ve felt compelled to make a paper plane, our first contender will be obvious. Frank Swift, the wok-handed, spring-heeled Manchester City goalkeeper who pioneered the throw-out, was the first keeper to captain England and as the man in goal when England travelled to Turin to defeat the double world champions Italy (a pre Superga full-strength Azzurri side) 4-0, is our candidate from the Forties. He won 19 caps despite the war depriving him of his career from the age of 25 to 32, let in 18 goals and played in other memorable victories over France, Sweden, Scotland and Portugal. Other standouts from the truncated decade include Tottenham’s title-winning Ted Ditchburn, who won six caps, and the brave, acrobatic, sure-handed Bert Williams of Wolves who succeeded Swift after his international retirement and earned 24 caps over the next six years. Our Fifties options begin with Williams and Gil Merrick of Birmingham City who earned the most caps (23) of the decade and kept five clean sheets. It was Merrick’s misfortune to be in goal for the mortifying, 3-6 defeat by Hungary at Wembley in 1953 and the 7-1 thrashing in the Nepstadion a year later. Admittedly he appeared rattled on both occasions but only because the Magnificent Magyars and his shaky defence left him horribly exposed. The sight of him picking the ball out of the net 13 times have haunted English football ever since but he was not responsible. Those defeats should have marked a paradigm shift but the England system - once again propped up by a crop of excellent players - did not significantly change until much later.  Other notable stalwarts of the decade were Bolton’s 5ft 8in Eddie Hopkinson, the master of one-on-ones who won 13 caps, and Colin McDonald of Burnley who kept goal at the 1958 World Cup and was a dominant, cross-catching doyen of the old school. The Sixties begin with Sheffield Wednesday’s, quick, agile Ron Springett who played 33 times including all four at the 1962 World Cup where he repeatedly saved Walter Winterbottom's side from a proper drubbing in the 3-1 quarter-final defeat by Brazil, and end with Banks of England, Springett’s understudy in Chile, justly recognised as the greatest goalie in the world. It wasn’t just his majesty during England’s 1966 campaign, it was his general safehandedness - helped, trivia fans, in a pre-gloves age, with a generous rub of Beechnut chewing gum-laced saliva on the palms - his rare ability to save gymnastically equally well whether his goal was attacked high or low and his courage. He was so supreme that he restricted other fine goalkeepers such as Peter Bonetti, Gordon West, Alex Stepney and Springett to a handful of caps after Alf Ramsey made him first choice in 1964. Gordon Banks remained Ramsey’s default selection until he lost an eye in a car crash at the age of 34 in Oct 1972, taking in the save against Pele in 1970, the world’s greatest keeper defying the game’s best player by diving downwards, like an hour hand pointing to seven o’clock, and twisting his wrist to ensure he flicked it over the bar to prevent the great striker pouncing on the rebound. But Leicester City did not rate the marginal differentials between an established world-class player and an emerging one as highly as Ramsey and sold Banks to Stoke in 1967 to clear the way for 17-year-old Peter Shilton who owned the Eighties but duelled with the agile, commanding and astute Ray Clemence throughout the preceding decade to be England’s No1. Shilton was a brilliant shot-stopper and all the hours of dedicated, unrelenting practice gave him uncommon agility and aerial mastery. From about 1978 onwards, the error against Poland in 1973 long overcome, Shilton has the right to be considered Banks’ equal and probably superior. The reign of the duopoly left those other excellent keepers, Joe Corrigan, Phil Parkes and Stepney feeding off scraps. When it game to goalkeepers Ron Greenwood had a touch of the Jimmy Armfields at Leeds (“the manager’s indecision is final) but at the start of 1982 after rotating them for five years, he eventually plumped for Shilton who stayed undisputed first choice for the whole of the Eighties. Clemence carried on as the first reserve until 1983 and from 1985 Chris Woods began to make the No13 shirt his second skin during international weeks. Woods made 14 starts in the decade but was mostly stuck on the bench occasionally conceding opportunities for the stand-by role to Gary Bailey, Nigel Spink, Dave Beasant and David Seaman. Poor Martin Hodge, Tony Coton and John Lukic never even got a sniff. Peter Shilton at the start of his international career Credit: Malcolm Croft/PA Bobby Robson stood by Peter Shilton for Italia 90 and kept the 40-year-old keeper between the sticks for the semi-final shootout against West Germany despite having not used all his substitute options and Shilton’s poor record at saving spot-kicks (one from 15). The veteran retired from international football at the end of the tournament but carried on playing for a variety of clubs until 1997. Woods, who once went 1196 minutes without conceding a goal for Rangers in successive matches, became Graham Taylor’s No1 and played at Euro 92 backed up by David Seaman and England’s first million-pound goalie, Nigel Martyn. Seaman came into his own under Terry Venables and proved himself a wonderfully athletic goalkeeper with great agility, positional awareness, sound judgment and, above all, consistency at Euro 96. He saved penalties, too. Glenn Hoddle logically opted for continuity but awarded caps to Ian Walker, David James, Tim Flowers and Martyn when injury or the need to see how the others shaped up demanded.   Seaman continued through the proto-Golden Generation era until his mistakes were compounded by his age, particularly, like Shilton in 1990, a leaden-footedness in reverse. Paul Robinson was anointed for the 2006 World Cup when David Beckham metamorphosed into Sally Bowles in Baden-Baden but Sven Goran-Eriksson also tried out Martyn, James (the Euro 2004) starter and Rob Green. If we consider the McClaren era a coda to the Golden Generation, The Together Again tour after Dean Martin had bailed on Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis to be replaced by Liza Minelli, small wonder that it was largely a Robinson hangover with supporting roles for Scott Carson, Chris Kirkland, James and Ben Foster. Fabio Capello took a look at James and Green, didn’t like what he saw, blooded Joe Hart then went back to swapping between the other two, £4m a year not being enough to deliver decisiveness. Jack Butland, John Ruddy, Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton have made appearances under Roy Hodgson and Gareth Southgate. Foster, too, has returned from temporary retirement but the seven years since the 4-1 defeat by Germany in Bloemfontein have been the Hart hegemony, under whose dominion we linger. Poor old Whitney Houston did not live long enough for an answer to her question - where do broken Harts go? It’s West Ham, pet. Full backs Now we have established the decades we are going to compare, let us breeze through the options rather than dwelling in such detail to outline the parameters. First choices for full-backs of the Forties are Laurie Scott of Arsenal on the right and captain in all 13 appearances, George Hardwick of Middlesbrough on the left. Depth is added by Derby’s Bert Mozley as a back-up down the right and Manchester United’s Johnny Aston at left-back with 17 caps. George Hardwick, right, greets the Sweden captain Erik Nilsson in  1947 Credit: Reg Birkett/Keystone/Getty Images In the Fifties the selection panel had Spurs’ Alf Ramsey at the beginning of the decade to play on the right and Blackburn’s Bill Eckersley on the left. Birmingham’s Jeff Hall and West Brom’s Don Howe made the right-back slot the preserve of the West Midlands for the rest of the decade while Manchester United’s majestic and adventurous Roger Byrne played 33 successive matches at left-back until his death at Munich during a period when the selection committee made consistency virtually unknown. Tommy Banks, Bolton’s tank, did his best to replace the irreplaceable at the 1958 World Cup and Sheffield United’s Graham Shaw filled in the following year. Take your pick from the Sixties beginning with the two 1966 imperishables George Cohen and Ray Wilson, Jimmy Armfield, a former captain who played on the right at the 1962 World Cup, Keith Newton, who succeeded Cohen and Terry Cooper who took over from his fellow Yorkshireman Wilson at left-back. Add on all those reduced to a handful of caps because of Ramsey’s loyalty - Bob McNab, Paul Reaney, Chris Lawler, Gerry Byrne, Tommy Wright and Cyril Knowles - and you have the kind of riches that would make Gareth Southgate turn green with envy beneath his beard.   George Cohen, left, and Ray Wilson, holding the Jules Rimet Trophy, celebrate victory in 1966 Credit: PA Photos England’s least successful decade in terms of qualification is also, paradoxically, one remembered with a fondness for the quality of English teams – the best of which were bolstered by Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen. England’s full-backs in the Seventies numbered the Liverpool pair Phil Neal and Emlyn Hughes (not that Hughes played there for his club as frequently as he did for the national side). Their versatility was a virtue, as it was for Ipswich’s Mick Mills and Leeds’ Paul Madeley and Trevor Cherry. More orthodox full-backs were plentiful, too: the magnificent Viv Anderson on the right and Don Revie’s choices, Leicester’s Steve Whitworth and QPR’s Dave Clement. On the left Frank Lampard, Alec Lindsay, David Nish, Mike Pejic and Ian Gillard won caps, as did Kevin Beattie playing out of position but in masterly fashion, particularly in the 5-1 thrashing of Scotland in 1975. Kenny Sansom began the Eighties in possession of the No 3 shirt and held it for eight years, playing consistently and with real skill to hold off the challenge of West Brom’s Derek Statham, until the claims of Stuart Pearce in 1988 could be resisted no more. The right side was more problematic once Mills, Neal and Anderson entered their mid thirties. Mick Duxbury had a run there, Danny Thomas could have been the long-term solution save for that rotten injury inflicted by Kevin Maguire while Gary Stevens won 45 caps after his debut during Everton’s title-winning campaign in 1984-85 including Mexico ’86, Euro ’88 and the beginning of Italia 90. Kenny Sansom made the left-back position his own in the Eighties Credit:  Duncan Raban/Allsport/Getty Images Pearce was key at the start of the next decade, becoming captain under Graham Taylor, taking a position in a back three for Euro 96 when Steve McManaman and Darren Anderton played wide, and was recalled at the age of 37 for a couple of starts under Kevin Keegan. Terry Venables initially preferred the Blackburn Rovers left-back Graeme Le Saux and but for injury he would have started Euro 96. Glenn Hoddle restored him as first-choice after a cameo from Andy Hinchcliffe but by the end of the Nineties the left side, in defence and midfield, had become something of a national neurosis. Phil Neville filled in there, playing alongside his brother, Gary, the undisputed No2 when fit. For club and country he succeeded Paul Parker and the challenges of Gary Charles and Rob Jones for the spot were sadly snuffed out by personal problems and injury respectively. Sven Goran-Eriksson promoted Ashley Cole as the man to solve the malaise on the left and over the 12 years of his international career from 2001 onwards he won 107 caps and held Wayne Bridge at bay. Gary Neville missed the 2002 World Cup where Danny Mills stood in but was back straight afterwards and carried on until 2007. Luke Young and Micah Richards stated their claims to be paired with Cole but ultimately Glen Johnson won the contest under Fabio Capello. Johnson stayed in situ under Roy Hodgson until the 2014 World Cup and was even recalled to the squad last year but Kyle Walker, Nathaniel Clyne and Kieran Trippier are now the default options after experiments with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones out wide. Leighton Baines played so well from 2012-14 that he essentially forced Cole into international retirement before the more athletic claims of Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand did for him. Central defenders   Here we face a problem with the first two post-war decades before the four-back system really took off. A bodged solution for the Forties and Fifties, rather than trying to corral in a wing-half, would be to list the options at centre-half even though normally only one was picked. We don’t even have to do that for the Forties because Billy Wright, the centre-half for much of the Fifties, captain for 11 years and England’s first 100-cap player, played at wing-half for his country at the beginning of his international career, alongside the exemplary Neil Franklin at No 5. Franklin abandoned Stoke in 1950 to move to Colombia and circumvent the maximum wage but his wife did not settle there and he faced the opprobrium of his club and the FA on return, not adding to the 27 caps he earned before he left. Breadth of talent for the decade would be provided by Blackpool’s Harry Johnston, Allenby Chilton of Manchester United and Liverpool’s Bill Jones. Wright made the position his own after the 1954 World Cup where Bill McGarry and Syd Owen had taken the role. Johnston, too, continued to make appearances at the start of the Fifties and Liverpool’s Laurie Hughes stood in for Franklin at the 1950 World Cup. Jim Taylor of Fulham, Burnley’s Mal Barrass and Charlton’s Derek Ufton were also tried but no one could dislodge the 5ft 8in Wright, captain of Wolves and England, golden-haired paragon of the post-war game. The finest partnership of the Sixties, Jackie Charlton and Bobby Moore, came together only a year before they won the World Cup and had it not been for the disgrace of Peter Swan - who won 19 caps as a cultured but powerful stopper between 1960-62 - Charlton may never have joined his brother as a cornerstone of 1966 and all that. Maurice Norman, the Spurs Double-winning centre-half, joined forces with Moore for the 1962 World Cup because Swan was confined to quarters with dysentery in Chile and Brian Labone both preceded Charlton and succeeded him as first choice towards the end of the decade. Norman Hunter served as Moore’s understudy but the consistency of the captain restricted ‘Bites Yer Legs’ to 28 caps over nine seasons. Moore at his peak Credit: AP Photo/files Moore made the last of his 108 appearances in 1973 and by that point there were plenty of contenders for his position, notably Derby County’s Colin Todd, Hunter and Emlyn Hughes. Roy McFarland earned 28 caps in the centre-half slot from 1971-76 before injuries ruined his career and gave Dave Watson a long run as first choice until 1981. Watson won the last of his 65 caps at the age of 35 in June 1982 but was omitted from the final squad for the Spain World Cup, the first for which he had qualified after failures to reach West Germany and Argentina. Phil Thompson of Liverpool and Manchester United’s Brian Greenhoff were given their debuts by Don Revie but only the former flourished after he left for Abu Dhabi. Watson’s role as the tall, raw-bone aerial colossus was filled by Terry Butcher throughout the Eighties though we forget how good his left foot was, his skill overwhelmed by the ‘up and  at ‘em’ patriotism of his persona. Thompson led Liverpool to the 1981 European Cup and partnered the Ipswich defender at the Spain World Cup but Bobby Robson struggled to find a regular foil for Butcher thereafter and worked his way through Alvin Martin, Graham Roberts, Mark Wright, Terry Fenwick, Gary Pallister and a callow Tony Adams before settling on Des Walker for Italia 90 and a return for Wright in a back three. At the start of the Nineties Graham Taylor used Walker, Adams and Pallister but it was his successors, Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle, who got the best out of Adams. Venables managed it at Euro 96 when Adams was white-knuckling his sobriety for the duration of the tournament and Hoddle benefited from Adams stopping drinking and finding a new poise. Both also used Gareth Southgate in a back three while Sol Campbell, given his debut by Venables, became a regular when Hoddle took charge. Taylor and Hoddle used Martin Keown but Venables never picked him and though Steve Howey, Neil Ruddock, Steve Bould, John Scales, Colin Cooper and David Unsworth were tried, none established himself. The so-called Golden Generation had three stalwarts in Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Campbell while injuries prevented Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King from the long international careers their talent deserved. Jamie Carragher won 31 caps over 11 years, Matthew Upson became a favourite of Fabio Capello’s and Steve McClaren gave Joleon Lescott his debut in 2007. Rio Ferdinand and John Terry before the latter racially abused the former's brother Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien Ferdinand failed to re-establish himself after missing the 2010 World Cup through injury and ended his England career with 81 caps in 2011, Terry retired from the international game in 2012 after an FA Commission went ahead with charging him over racially abusing Ferdinand’s brother, Anton. Since then we’ve had shaky alliances involving Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Lescott, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, John Stones and Michael Keane. Central midfielders Again we need to make an adjustment here for the Forties and Fifties and will restrict it to wing-halfs, elevating most inside-forwards to forwards for the sake of this exercise. The immediate post-war era used Billy Wright most often as the right-half and Manchester United’s Henry Cockburn as the left pivot. Portsmouth’s hard-tackling tyro Jimmy Dickinson succeeded Cockburn and played 48 times from 1949-56 while Phil Taylor of Liverpool and Villa’s Eddie Lowe shared six caps on the right. Before the emergence of the Busby Babes - and we must include Eddie Colman here as well as Duncan Edwards because he would have been an international but for his death at Munich at the age of 21 - Wright and Dickinson formed the regular partnership. The claims of Edwards  - simply the most complete player England has ever produced, skilful, forceful, bursting with stamina and natural authority - could no longer be ignored in 1955 and he won 18 caps before he was killed, also at the age of 21. Ron Flowers, who won three titles with Wolves in the Fifties, played once in tandem with Edwards and took over after the 1958 World Cup with Blackburn’s efficient Ronnie Clayton his usual foil after Clayton had seen off Wolves’ Eddie Clamp. Nobby Stiles played at centre-back for Manchester United but was magnificent as Ramsey’s midfield destroyer in the 1966 side, providing the platform from which Bobby Charlton could glide through the gears, the ball under his immaculate control, and ping passes, whip in crosses or fire thunderous shots at goal. Before the two of them joined up, Flowers and Bobby Robson had been the main men with Charlton out on the left wing and after injuries and age diminished Stiles, Tottenham’s Alan Mullery was given the job. Colin Bell, Man City’s Nijinsky, was blooded in 1968 and proved irreplaceable when Martin Buchan effectively ended his career in 1975 after 48 caps. For the first part of the Seventies Martin Peters tucked in from the left and Bell played the dynamic right-half role, sadly without as much freedom as he had to pelt forward for City. Trevor Brooking made his first start in Ramsey’s last match and became the co-key player with Kevin Keegan under Greenwood with his clever passing and penetrative movement. He was so good that he kept the magnificent Glenn Hoddle on the peripheries following his debut in 1978. Hoddle, as brilliant a playmaker as he is rotten as a pundit, would have a system tailored to his strengths for England’s last three games at the 1986 World Cup when crisis forced Robson’s hand. Gerry Francis, Revie’s second captain, would have given both stiff competition had he stayed fit after his 12th cap. Tony Currie and Alan Hudson join the list of inexpertly harnessed talents while Terry McDermott, so intrepid for Liverpool, was denied a consistent run in the side by Ray Wilkins who ended the decade a dynamic box-to-box midfielder with the skill, control and vision that would later make him so comfortable as a ‘sitter’ in Serie A. The entire Eighties can be considered the Bryan Robson years. Bobby was besotted by him but for understandable reasons, as Alex Ferguson outlined: "He had good control, was a decisive tackler, passed the ball well and his combination of stamina and perceptive reading of movement enabled him to make sudden and deadly infiltrations from midfield into the opposition's box." His fitness became a national preoccupation and he lasted two games each of the 1986 and 1990 World Cups after driving England to qualification at both. We saw him at his very best only in 1982 and Euro 88 when he needed support that his team-mates could not provide. Wilkins was his regular partner, replaced by Hoddle for 1988 and Neil Webb thereafter until Paul Gascoigne finally charmed the sceptical Bobby Robson in 1990. Peter Reid, Everton’s tigerish beating heart, took centre stage in 1986 when Robson’s shoulder popped out again but the promise of his Goodison colleague Paul Bracewell was ravaged by  an ankle injury that took almost two years out of his career. England's all-action 'Captain Marvel' Credit: David Cannon/Getty Images Italia 90 began with Robson, Gascoigne and Chris Waddle in a midfield three and ended in unforgettable drama with David Platt in for the captain, having seen off Steve McMahon. Graham Taylor initially stuck with the Platt-Gascoigne axis for the victory over Poland but went with his Aston Villa pairing of Platt and Sid Cowans for the trip to Dublin. Gascoigne’s injuries and drinking alarmed Taylor who kept him around the squad when fit but his absences provoked some of the strangest selections in memory, noticeably Geoff Thomas, Andy Gray and Carlton Palmer. David Batty and Paul Ince injected some quality, the latter a mainstay for Venables and Hoddle - playing with Platt and Gascoigne at Euro 96, Paul Scholes at the 1998 World Cup. Jamie Redknapp was ill-served by injury, Nicky Butt ill-served by managers until Sven Goran-Eriksson’s hand was forced in 2002 by Steven Gerrard’s absence and Ray Parlour by the wrong-headed perception that he was well, in Lovejoy’s words, ‘only Ray Parlour’. Gascoigne lights up Wembley v Scotland at Euro 96 Credit: Stu Forster/Allsport Frank Lampard made his debut in 1999 but did not become a regular for four seasons when his class tempted Eriksson to fudge the biggest decision of his England career and stick Scholes on the left to start the ‘Lampard-Gerrard’ compatibility saga that was to run for the next 11 years. Once Scholes decided he’d had enough after Euro 2004 (ending a 29-game goal drought in his penultimate match), Gerrard and Lampard, Lampard and Gerrard held their positions until Steve McClaren recalled Gareth Barry, who impressed Capello so firmly that he put Gerrard on the left. The Golden Generation and its hangover phase featured cameos from Danny Murphy, Owen Hargreaves (though he normally played wide), Scott ‘Scottie’ Parker, Michael Carrick and Jermaine Jenas though none could either usurp Gerrard or Lampard or make the combination look convincing in tournament football.    Both were still in the squad at the 2014 World Cup though age had taken the shine off them. Lampard was reduced to the bench, Gerrard captained the side but his one-paced partnership with Jordan Henderson left a dodgy defence too exposed to cope with Italy and Uruguay. Capello gave Jack Wilshere his debut at the age of 18 yet seven years later we are still waiting for him, probably forlornly, to be blessed with the physical resilience to regain his verve. Eric Dier has been the default starter with Henderson for the past 18 months but Jake Livermore is currently back in the squad, Tom Cleverly has been and gone, Fabian Delph gets in whenever he manages a couple of games for Man City while James Ward-Prowse and Harry Winks put the twinkle in Gareth Southgate’s eye.   Wide men Should we just end this segment here? Stan Matthews and Tom Finney in the Forties and Fifties are the best pair of wingers England have ever had. In 1948 a forward line of Matthews, Stan Mortensen, Tommy Lawton, Wilf Mannion and Finney put on arguably England’s greatest performance in the 4-0 away victory over Italy but never played together again. Finney was an England regular for 12 years, playing on the right, left and through the middle until 1958 but Matthews, seven years Finney’s senior, was eased out only a year earlier at the age of 42 with 54 caps. He was not deemed as indispensable by myopic selectors who gave run-outs on the wings in his stead to Peter Harris, Les Medley, Billy Elliott and Johnny Berry. Blackburn’s Bryan Douglas took the No7 shirt 36 times and scored 11 goals from 1975-63 and Bobby Charlton won the majority of his caps until 1964 on the left flank, seeing out the decade in a Lancs touchline hegemony.   In the Sixties, after the end of the Douglas-Charlton years, Ramsey tried John Connelly, Terry Paine, Peter Thompson, Derek Temple and Ian Callaghan before deciding on a narrower road to triumph. Alan Ball, essentially an auxiliary central midfielder, edged out to patrol the right for the latter stages of the 1966 World Cup, driving England on with his stamina, skill and heart but victory convinced the manager to stick to his system, using the full-backs for width with Peters augmenting the strikers from a nominal position on the left and Ball from the right. Wingers were out of vogue for most of decade after 1966 - Ian Storey Moore kept the flame flickering briefly and Revie tried with QPR’s Dave Thomas and Merlin himself. Gordon Hill, but it wasn’t until Ron Greenwood picked Manchester City’s Peter Barnes and United’s Steve Coppell together in 1977 that England took flight again. Coppell evolved into a solid right-sided player but at that point was an out and out winger who held the position for five years. Laurie Cunningham made three starts alongside him but by the start of the following decade Greenwood had cramped his own style. John Barnes at the Maracana Credit: David Cannon/Allsport The Eighties should have been the decade of Waddle and John Barnes and in popular memory it remains so but England started the decade with a tighter system, using Coppell and Graham Rix at the 1982 World Cup, and got to the quarter-finals of the 1986 tournament having ditched the wingers for Trevor Steven and Steve Hodge. Villa’s European Cup-winner Tony Morley briefly enraptured Bobby Robson and Mark Chamberlain preceded Waddle into the side by two years but it was largely a Barnes-Waddle duopoly from then on, though rarely in tandem and both, despite their brilliance and that goal at the Maracana, the first scapegoats. Lee Sharpe was the great left hope of the Nineties but faded away, Venables got the best out of Darren Anderton and Steve McManaman to provide hope of a more expansive future until David Beckham took freehold of the No7 shirt and front pages for eight years with a revolving cast of Nick Barmby, Paul Merson or a wing-back on the left. Eriksson blanked McManaman at the start of the 2000s and tried Trevor Sinclair, Scholes and Joe Cole out there to give some balance for Beckham. Stewart Downing became a mainstay of Steve McClaren’s squads while Aaron Lennon and David Bentley were tried out on the right. Ultimately he went back to Beckham. Capello got the best out of Theo Walcott for a few games, pulled Gerrard out to the left and employed James Milner as a Steady Eddie solution. Hodgson switched to 4-2-3-1 and used Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Adam Lallana to provide width which is largely, with the exception of Rooney, where we remain apart from the saving grace of Rashford. Forwards To the summit … and, controversially, I am going to include some inside-forwards for the first three eras. So, for our post-war pioneers we will go with the aforementioned Mortensen, scorer of 23 goals in 25 games, Lawton, who scored 22 times in 23 starts, and Mannion, ‘the Mozart of football’ as Matthews put it. Len Shackleton and ‘Wor’ Jackie Milburn straddled the Forties and Fifties while Mortensen played on until 1953. The No9 shirt fell vacant in 1948 when Lawton told Walter Winterbottom that the coach didn’t know enough to be giving him advice, Milburn filled it for a spell before Nat Lofthouse won 33 caps and scored 30 goals, including the two at the Praterstadion that made him forever ‘The Lion of Vienna’. Tommy Taylor, one of the eight ‘Flowers of Manchester’ among the 23 victims of the Munich Air Crash, shot powerfully with both feet, had pace, guile and spatial awareness, and the fast-twitch reflexes of the thoroughbred goalscorer. He bagged 16 goals in 19 appearances as the other out-and-out England centre-forward of the decade. Lofty and Tommy were supported by Ivor Broadis and the finest, most astute passer in the team’s history, Johnny Haynes, who was only 27 in 1962 when he played his 56th and final game for England (his 22nd as captain) in the 1962 World Cup quarter-final. He was never as fluent again after a car crash on his return from Chile. Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final overshadows anything any other England striker can match. Roger Hunt, the other Wembley immortal, was so crucial to Ramsey’s system because his tireless movement made space for Bobby Charlton to fill that it is forgotten that he scored 18 times in 34 appearances, and Jimmy Greaves, English football’s most cold-hearted and deadly finisher, gave the manager a richness of options. By the end of the Sixties Franny Lee had taken over from Hunt and Greaves as Hurst’s partner for Mexico Sniffer Clarke, the heir to Greaves, made his debut in 1970, Peter Osgood made only a couple of starts and Martin Chivers became Ramsey’s preferred No9 for two years, scoring 13 times in 24 appearances. Rodney Marsh exasperated his manager, Malcolm MacDonald thrashed five past Cyprus for Revie but made his distaste for the man who picked him well known, which meant the search for an ‘oppo’ for Kevin Keegan - the human dynamo, a rampaging forward who could leap, head, shoot and pass with distinction - lasted too long. Bob Latchford found favour for a while as did Stuart Pearson, Mick Channon moved over from the right, Paul Mariner began the international career that would yield 35 caps and 13 goals and Tricky Trevor Francis beguiled us all with his positioning and vision. Kevin Keegan scores against Scotland in 1979 Credit: Steve Powell/Allsport Cyrille Regis would have made more than two starts in the Eighties had he moved to Manchester United from West Brom instead of Coventry but he couldn’t displace the Keegan-Mariner-Woodcock-Francis usual suspects for the World Cup in Spain. Robson ushered Keegan into retirement but kept faith with the others until Gary Lineker, the quicksilver scavenger, gave him no excuse in 1984 and began the march to the Mexico Golden Boot, a World Cup quarter- and semi-final and 48 goals in 80 games. He was at his best with Peter Beardsley - who brought out the best in everyone - but also fed off Mark Hateley, Alan Smith,  and Steve Bull. The Nineties began with Lineker and Italia 90, Taylor then gave him the captaincy and slim pickings to work with up front and he left the scene in 1992 when shown the managerial big curly finger despite England desperately requiring a goal against Sweden. Taylor turned to Ian Wright who made a terrific return under Hoddle after being ignored by Venables and Les Ferdinand. Alan Shearer, impressive at Southampton, unstoppable except by injury at  Blackburn, won his first cap  in 1992 but had scored only five times in 23 appearances before the start of Euro 96 and hadn’t managed an international goal for 21 months. He hit five in the five games, was elevated to the captaincy for four years and ended still the talisman, though far less mobile, in 2000 with 30 goals. Teddy Sheringham played the Beardsley role for him perfectly and kept Andy Cole out of the squad and Robbie Fowler out of the side until Michael Owen came off the bench to score against Romania at France 98 and could not be left out again. Two games later he scored the wonder goal against Argentina that sounded the trumpets for his charge to the Ballon d’Or three years later. Michael Owen scores against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup Credit: Pawel Kopczynski REUTERS Owen was never really considered part of the Golden Generation because of a certain diffidence but he was its spearhead, when fit, and its yearned for king over the water when absent. He began the decade with Shearer, combined with club-mate Emile Heskey for the 1-5 in Munich and spent time up-front with Fowler and Darius Vassell before Eriksson promoted Wayne Rooney in 2003. Over 14 years Rooney would surpass Bobby Charlton’s England goalscoring record, beginning by playing off the cuff with boundless zip and chutzpah, maturing into that rarity, a workhorse with ebullient, irrepressible swagger and ending up a shadow of electrifying presence he once had been. During the decade Rooney played up top with Owen, Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch most frequently. Dean Ashton seemed to fit the part but it wasn’t to be. Rooney has been the key striker and player of this last decade, too and very much undroppable until Southgate took charge. Opportunities for Jay Rodriguez, Andy Carroll and Daniel Sturridge have been curtailed by long-term injuries, Hodgson thought it wise to take Rickie Lambert to the World Cup but in 2015 Harry Kane was given a chance and grabbed it. Jamie Vardy remains among the alternatives along with Sturridge and the second (third and fourth) coming of Defoe.   Conclusion How do you come up with a decision on the relative strengths and weaknesses over eight decades? Subjectively, obviously, but without prejudice:  Goalkeepers: Seventies - Banks, Shilton, Clemence. Full-backs: Sixties - Armfield, Cohen, Wilson, Cooper. Central defenders: Seventies - Moore, Labone, Todd, McFarland, Thompson. Central midfielders: Eighties - Robson, Wilkins, Gascoigne, Hoddle. Wide men: Fifties - Matthews, Finney, Charlton R.   Strikers: Nineties - Lineker, Shearer, Owen, Beardsley.  Please feel free to dispute this 23-man squad selection in the comments section. 

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