The Premier League's big-money clubs are circling for Aston Villa's Jack Grealish.

The England midfielder is drawing interest from multiple suitors keen to lure him away from Villa Park.

Could a move be on the cards after the Euros? 

 

TOP STORY – BLUES WANT GREALISH

Chelsea are strong contenders to sign Jack Grealish from Aston Villa, Football Insider reports. 

The England international has also drawn interest from Manchester City, but the Blues' involvement could change the dynamic. 

Football Insider claims owner Roman Abramovich has approved the type of expenditures that would be necessary to land players like Grealish, and winning the Champions League will only loosen the reins on Chelsea's spending. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Kylian Mbappe wants to move on from Paris Saint-Germain, according to RMC Sport, which says the France international will depart on a free transfer when his contract expires next year if he does not move during this window. 

- Lionel Messi's long-anticipated new contract with Barcelona could be announced as soon as Thursday, according to Le 10 Sport. 

- If Man City are to complete a deal to land Harry Kane from Tottenham, they will need to do it without using Raheem Sterling in a swap deal. Sterling has no interested in joining Spurs as part of the reported £100million move for Kane, ESPN said. 

- Sergio Ramos plans to join PSG, AS reports, spurning interest from City and Manchester United

- Chelsea see Villarreal's Gerard Moreno as a fall-back option if they cannot sign Erling Haaland, according to Fichajes. 

- Milan are looking at Rafinha of PSG as a potential addition as Hakan Calhanoglu moves on, Calciomercato reports. 

- England defender James Tarkowski is drawing interest from Wolves and West Ham, the Telegraph reports, while the Mail says Leicester City also are eyeing the Burnley man. 

- Scott Parker is set to depart Fulham and become Bournemouth's new manager, The Athletic reports. 

When Luke Shaw lifted a delightful ball over the top of the Czech Republic defence during the early stages of England's 1-0 Euro 2020 win on Friday, Raheem Sterling was away.

Of course he was. The Manchester City's forwards intelligent, incisive movement has been a vital asset for club and country over the past five years – a period in which he has become one of his country's most decorated footballers in terms of major honours.

But what would happen next?

Could it be as bad as that time he blazed over two clear chances in the Manchester derby on a day City were 2-0 up and set to win the league against their bitter rivals and lost 3-2?

Maybe it would end up as wince-inducing as the open goal he missed when his club crashed out of the Champions League against Lyon in 2020 at the quarter-final stage, or the two-yard miss that persuaded Pep Guardiola to immediately substitute him at Burnley two years earlier?

Or the full campaign at Russia 2018 when he did not find the net during England's run to the semi-finals?

Yes, Sterling misses chances. Quite a lot of quite good ones.

 

According to Opta, he scored 11 but missed 19 of the 'big chances' that fell his way for the Premier League champions in all competitions last season. It was part of the reason Guardiola increasingly left him on the bench.

But Sterling is the sort of player who always comes back for more. The sort who never hides – a quality that starts to look increasingly valuable amid the vicious maelstrom that is England at a major tournament.

Joy delayed but not denied

As it happened, the shot was not one to fit in with that catalogue of misses. Sterling dispatched a deft lob over Tomas Vaclik and was unfortunate to see the effort ricochet clear off the post, continuing a strange quirk for England games in this tournament. In the early knockings versus Croatia and Scotland, Phil Foden and John Stones each rattled uprights.

As was the case in both of those games, even the dour draw with Scotland – where Sterling created the best chance of the night for Mason Mount and had a reasonable late penalty claim rejected – the forward was a nuisance.

Gareth Southgate's decision to bow to the Jack Grealish clamour and give Bukayo Saka a surprise start gave England a little more vibrancy, also allowing Sterling to pester the opposition defence more centrally and ensure Harry Kane was a less isolated figure. The England captain went close but remains without a goal in this tournament. Only one player has manged to score for the Three Lions.

You might struggle to remember Sterling was the matchwinner on the opening weekend against Croatia. Calls for Grealish and the perplexingly sidelined Jadon Sancho have left Sterling as a casualty in the XIs of many a pundit and fan.

 

The 26-year-old's vile treatment by a section of the tabloid press has been well documented. But Sterling scepticism goes far beyond such reactionary outposts.

After his second-half strike sunk Croatia and sent England on their way to top spot in the group, the BBC television interviewer asked whether Sterling had justified his place in the team, despite being the Three Lions' top scorer from open play since Russia 2018.

The Athletic, very much the antithesis of the UK red tops, ran an article in the build-up to the Czech Republic game where eight of its writers picked their England XI. Two featured Sterling.

The annoying one

He is, at times, an annoying footballer. That is not just down to the catalogue of horror misses outlined above.

A source told Stats Perform last year that an aspect of improvement identified for Sterling by Guardiola's coaching staff was his control of the ball, which seems a staggeringly basic thing for a star forward in a high-end football team. There was an example of this when he sold Kalvin Phillips short with a very routine pass after half-time, forcing the Leeds United midfielder into a foul for which he was fortunate not to be booked.

But again, we return to that capacity to make things happen, which feels vital for an England team constructing 90-minute portions where not much happens.

When things do happen, it is thrilling and you wish they happened more often.

Saka tore at the Czech Republic in the 12th minute – left-back Jan Boril will not reflect too fondly upon having shared a pitch with the livewire Arsenal youngster.

His eventual delivery found its way to Grealish, who clipped a delightful left-footed cross to the back post. Sterling couldn't miss. Well, as discussed above, he could. But he didn't, nodding home to stand tall in a time of need for Southgate once more.

Saka and Grealish hogged the initial post-match conversation, not undeservedly. Stones and the returning Harry Maguire marshalled the backline superbly and Luke Shaw impressed going backwards and forwards.

Three clean sheets out of three are not to be sniffed at. But England's tendency for lulls in-game and to trudge through some stodgy moments still feels regrettable given the attacking talent at Southgate's disposal.

 

The Czech Republic were beaten 5-0 in the opening qualifier for Euro 2020 and England looked a team to be feared in a way they don't right now. Sterling, in red-hot form, scored a hat-trick.

Whether his national team are soaring high or quietly plugging, time and again he has shown his worth.

There are plenty of causes for concern around this England team. The man who has scored the winning goal in each of their victories and always makes life miserable for opposition defenders is absolutely not one of them.

Stop dropping Sterling from the XIs you put on Twitter. It makes you look silly.

Raheem Sterling scored his second goal of Euro 2020 as England beat the Czech Republic 1-0 to win Group D and ensure they will play at Wembley in the round of 16.

Sterling headed home in the first half of the Three Lions' final group game to move Gareth Southgate's side above their opponents and set up a showdown with France, Germany, Portugal or Hungary next Tuesday.

The Czech Republic had their chances and must wait to discover their next opponents after slipping to third as a result of Croatia's 3-1 win over Scotland.

Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka impressed as they came into the side along with Harry Maguire, who played 90 minutes on his return from an ankle injury for an England side that have not conceded a goal in the tournament.

The Three Lions started with great intensity and they were almost in front when Sterling lobbed Tomas Vaclik but struck the far post after he was picked out by a clever pass from Luke Shaw.

Sterling did not have long to wait for the opening goal, though, nodding home from close range 12 minutes in when the influential Grealish stood up a delightful cross from the left to the back post in a move that started with an incisive run from Saka.

Vaclik denied Harry Kane with a reflex save following a brilliant pass from Maguire, but the Czech Republic also had their chances in an entertaining first half.

Tomas Holes forced a fine reflex save from Jordan Pickford with a powerful strike and Tomas Soucek flashed a shot just wide, before Kane called Vaclik into action once again.

Both sides made a change at the break, Jordan Henderson replacing Declan Rise and Petr Sevcik on for Jakub Jankto.

The Czech Republic suffered a blow when Jan Boril was booked for a foul on the lively Saka, ruling him out of his side's last-16 tie.

Henderson had a late goal disallowed, but England responded to a lacklustre display in a goalless draw with Scotland with a second 1-0 win of the tournament.

Raheem Sterling urged calm and offered some perspective amid criticism of England's 0-0 draw with Scotland in their second game at Euro 2020.

England have come under intense pressure for their underwhelming performance against Scotland, with expectations high about the team's prospects having reached the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.

Sterling said the doom and gloom needed to subside, pointing to previous champions at both European Championships and World Cups who had started slowly.

England have four points from their opening two games in Group D, with Sterling scoring the winner in their opening 1-0 victory over Croatia, ahead of Tuesday's group finale against the Czech Republic.

"[England manager] Gareth [Southgate] showed us some stats on teams that have gone on to do well in the tournament and where they were after the first two games," Sterling said.

"It just shows that it's still early days and we've got a lot to build on and I truly do believe we can do that."

He added: "This was another scenario where we've got four points, it's not the end of the world. He tried to make us look at all the positives.

"He's just showing us in previous tournaments that it's not every team that wins their first few games that goes on to win.

"Sometimes, teams that have drawn their first two games have gone on to win so we've just got to stay motivated, be happy and enjoy our football."

Portugal drew all three of their group games at Euro 2016, before storming home and beating hosts France in the final.

Denmark's 1992 European triumph as well as the Netherlands in 1988 were other examples of eventual champions starting slow.

"I do feel there's a bit of an overreaction … there's more of a panic on the outside than inside the building," Sterling said.

"I don't see anyone in the camp that feels any pressure or feels hard done by. The best thing we can do is focus on the training field.

"The more you listen to outside noise, the more it can affect you. The positive is that we can go out on Tuesday, get a good win and that second game is all forgotten about."

The Premier League fixture release for the 2021-22 has thrown up some intriguing opening-day clashes.

Champions Manchester City head to Tottenham, with the future of Harry Kane and speculation over which club he might be representing by August 14 still up in the air.

Arsenal are at newly promoted Brentford, while there is a familiar feel to Liverpool travelling to Championship winners Norwich City.

Manchester United v Leeds United is very much in the conversation when it comes to what might be the pick of the initial games, while Chelsea's quest to add domestic dominance to European glory begins against Crystal Palace.

Here, with help from Opta, Stats Perform looks at some of the landmark numbers thrown up by the big kick-off and who might be gunning for a piece of history this time around.

Chelsea to soar against the Eagles?

Still without a manager and facing a close season of extensive squad turnover, Palace certainly have a daunting assignment in prospect at Stamford Bridge against Thomas Tuchel's Champions League winners.

Chelsea boast the biggest opening-day win in Premier League history, a 6-0 thrashing of West Brom in August 2010.

That result replaced the previous most emphatic triumph by Liverpool, who won 6-1 away from home back in 1994. Their opponents? Crystal Palace.

Klopp and Salah send out another welcome party

For a third consecutive season, Liverpool will face a promoted team in their first match of the campaign, having thumped Norwich 4-1 at Anfield in 2019-20 before sharing a 4-3 thriller with Leeds last time around.

Mohamed Salah fired a hat-trick against Marcelo Bielsa's men – the ninth opening-day treble in the competition – and was also on target versus the Canaries.

Salah's six goals on the first weekend place him joint third in the Premier League's all-time standings, level with Leicester City's Jamie Vardy. Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Alan Shearer (eight) have more matchday one goals than any other player.

Rooney's five assists leave him out in front on 13 goal involvements, ahead of Shearer and Teddy Sheringham (10).

More capital punishment from Sterling?

Alongside Salah, Raheem Sterling is the only other active Premier League star to have an opening-day hat-trick to his name, having claimed the matchball in Manchester City's 5-0 win at West Ham in 2019.

Overall, the England winger has five goals and two assists on matchday one, and Pep Guardiola's side will be looking to continue a habit of making flying starts.

City have won all of their opening day fixtures in Guardiola's previous five seasons in charge. Indeed, they have won each of their past 10 games on the opening weekend, dating back to a 4-0 triumph over newly promoted Swansea City in 2011.

However, the last time they failed to take an initial three points was in a 0-0 draw at Spurs in 2010. Additionally, in three visits to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in all competitions since its 2019 opening, City have suffered three defeats and failed to score a goal.

Gunners must keep cool to avoid Bees sting

History is to repeat itself on a historic day for Brentford. Arsenal's visit will be their first top-flight game for 74 years, since a 1-0 defeat to the Gunners in May 1947.

Thomas Frank might be able to count on ill-discipline afflicting Mikel Arteta's side if Arsenal's previous efforts are anything to go by.

No team in Premier League history has collected as many as the north London club's six opening-day red cards, one more than Charlton Athletic – a fairly remarkable return given the Addicks were relegated in 2007 and are yet to return.

Is Erling Haaland's future close to being resolved?

Borussia Dortmund, up until now, have been unwilling to part with their top asset.

But Chelsea are reportedly making progress to bring Haaland to London.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA CLOSING IN ON HAALAND?

Chelsea have agreed personal terms with Erling Haaland and now just need to agree a fee with Borussia Dortmund, according to the Transfer Window Podcast.

Haaland is a player in demand, linked with Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Juventus.

But Chelsea have reportedly made a breakthrough in their pursuit to prise the Norway forward to Stamford Bridge.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sport claims Madrid are targeting Inter star Nicolo Barella or Sassuolo's Manuel Locatelli. Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips has also been linked. Locatelli is attracting interest this off-season, with Juventus, Arsenal, Inter, Dortmund and City reported admirers.

Arsenal are chasing Leicester City's James Maddison, according to Chris Wheatley. Chelsea and Liverpool are believed to be also tracking the England international.

- Eurosport reports Real Sociedad winger Mikel Oyarzabal is on City's radar. Pep Guardiola's side could make a move if Bernardo Silva – linked with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid – or Raheem Sterling leave.

Atletico are set to sign Rodrigo De Paul from Udinese, says Fabrizio Romano. The Argentina international has been wanted by Liverpool, Juve and Leeds United.

Milan are looking to sign Stuttgart forward Sasa Kalajdzic, according to Calciomercato. Chelsea's Olivier Giroud, Torino star Andrea Belotti and Madrid outcast Luka Jokic have also been linked.

- Bild claims Bayern would be willing to sell Kingsley Coman for the right price amid interest from United and Liverpool. The Bundesliga champions are also considering the futures of Niklas Sule and Corentin Tolisso.

Is another move on the cards for Keylor Navas?

Navas felt he had little choice but to leave when Real Madrid signed Thibaut Courtois in 2019.

He is facing a similar situation at Paris Saint-Germain, who are trying to lure Gianluigi Donnarumma to the French capital.

 

TOP STORY – TRIO EYEING NAVAS

Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Keylor Navas is attracting interest from Manchester United, Juventus and Milan, according to Marca.

Navas' future is in doubt, with PSG reportedly poised to sign Milan star Gianluigi Donnarumma on a free transfer.

This comes despite Costa Rica international Navas extending his PSG contract until 2024 in April.

 

ROUND-UP

- Diario AS reports Real Madrid are prepared to offer star captain Sergio Ramos a new contract. Ramos is set to become a free agent and the Spaniard is said to have been unhappy with the club's offering of a short-term deal on a reduced salary. The 35-year-old has been linked with former club Sevilla, United and PSG among others.

- Juventus have started preliminary talks to sign Bayern Munich's Corentin Tolisso, says Sky Sport Italia. Juve are also interested in Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli.

- The Telegraph reports Manchester City are now open to giving Raheem Sterling a new deal. Sterling has been linked with Arsenal and Madrid.

- Atalanta are dreaming of signing Juve defender Merih Demiral, reports Calciomercato. Lille's Sven Botman and Torino defender Lyanco are also targets amid centre-back Cristian Romero's links with United.

- Fabrizio Romano says there have been no talks between Arsenal and United regarding Donny van de Beek. The Netherlands international struggled for game time in his first season at Old Trafford.

- According to the Daily Star, United could tempt Tottenham into selling Harry Kane by offering Anthony Martial, who has also reportedly been offered to Madrid. Kane is believed to be keen on an exit amid links with City, Chelsea, Madrid, Barcelona and PSG.

The Netherlands edged a 3-2 thriller with Ukraine in the pick of the Euro 2020 matches to date, while England and Austria also got off the mark in their opening group games on Sunday.

Denzel Dumfries was the late hero for the Oranje with his first international goal to sink Ukraine, who had battled back from two goals down in Amsterdam to temporarily level things.

Austria also left it late to see off minnows North Macedonia 3-1 in Bucharest earlier in the day and England beat Croatia 1-0 at Wembley through a well-taken Raheem Sterling strike.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform looks at some of the best facts from across Sunday's entertaining action at Euro 2020.

England 1-0 Croatia: Three Lions make winning start at Wembley

Sterling's first goal at a major international tournament in his 13th appearance was enough for England to overcome Croatia in a repeat of the 2018 World Cup semi-final.

Croatia offered very little in response as England made it 11 straight victories in games in which Sterling has scored – the best-such win rate of any player in the nation's history.

The Three Lions are now unbeaten in 12 games at Wembley in major tournaments (exluding penalty shoot-outs), winning eight and drawing four of those matches.

The victory for Gareth Southgate's side in their Group D opener was their seventh in a row in all competitions – their best such run since March 2015 under Roy Hodgson.

It was also the first time England have won their opening game at a European Championship finals in their 10th participation in the tournament.

That is in contrast to Croatia, who lost their first match in the competition for the first time, having won four and drawn one of the previous five.

The contest was also a special occasion for England substitute Jude Bellingham, who at 17 years and 349 days became the youngest ever player to feature at the Euros.

Austria 3-1 North Macedonia: Substitutes strike late to deny tournament debutants

North Macedonia's first ever game at a major tournament ended with a late defeat to Austria in Bucharest.

Aged 37 years and 321 days, 120-cap Goran Pandev became the second-oldest goalscorer in the competition when cancelling out Stefan Lainer's opener.

That was just Lainer's second goal for Austria, with his only other international strike coming against North Macedonia in qualifying.

Michael Gregoritsch and Marko Arnautovic were introduced to snatch the three points for Austria – their first ever win at the European Championships in what was their seventh game.

In doing so, Gregoritsch and Arnautovic became the first pair to score from the bench for the same country in the competition since Michy Batshuayi and Yannick Carrasco for Belgium (v Hungary) in 2016.

Arnautovic's goal to make certain of the win was his 27th for Austria at senior level, with three of those coming against North Macedonia – more than he has managed against any other country.

Netherlands 3-2 Ukraine: Oranje leave it late to edge thriller

The Netherlands ended a run of four straight defeats at the European Championship with a dramatic victory against Ukraine in Amsterdam.

All five goals were scored in the second half, making it the highest-scoring fixture in the competition's history after a goalless first half.

The first half may have ended scoreless, but the tempo was set early on as there were nine shots in the opening 10 minutes – a tournament record since Opta started recording such data in 1980.

Georginio Wijnaldum opened the scoring in the 52nd minute with his 15th goal in 26 appearances for Oranje, having scored only eight times in his first 50 games for his national side.

Wout Weghorst added a second soon after, but Andriy Yarmolenko pulled one back with a sublime strike to end a run of 72 shots without a goal for Ukraine at the Euros.

From the visitors' very next attempt, Roman Yaremchuk headed in an equaliser to seemingly steal a point at the Johan Cruijff ArenA.

But Dumfries found the back of the net in the 85th minute, making it the latest game-winning goal for the Netherlands at the Euros since current boss Frank de Boer scored an 89th-minute penalty against Czech Republic at Euro 2000.

Raheem Sterling felt it was important to "block the outside world off" ahead of his match-winning turn in England's 1-0 Euro 2020 victory over Croatia.

Manchester City forward Sterling was played in for the only goal following some fabulous play by Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips after 57 minutes at Wembley.

The 26-year-old's club future has been the subject of mounting speculation after losing his place as an automatic starter for Pep Guardiola, while there has been little progress in talks over extending his contract at the Etihad Stadium that expires in 2023.

A solitary goal for City since the end of February, allayed with the enviable options Gareth Southgate has in attack for England, led to calls for Sterling to be ditched in favour of Jack Grealish ahead of the Group D opener.

Additionally, Sterling had failed to score in 12 previous outings at major tournaments for his country, but now has 13 in his past 17 appearances for the Three Lions.

"To be honest with you, I think playing football and being in major tournaments for a long time now, one of the things you learn is knowing when to block noise out," he told a post-match news conference after being named UEFA's Star of the Match.

"That's what I've done. I've blocked the outside world off and just tried to focus on coming into this tournament with a clear head, fully focused to help my team and that's the most important thing.

"I've haven't tried to listen to any noise outside – focus on myself, I know what I can bring to the team and it's as simple as that."

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Southgate hailed Sterling's all-round contribution on a sweltering London afternoon, with the winger's 12 duels contested more than any of his team-mates.

"He's been a reliable performer for us for a long period of time and his goals record in the last two-and-a-half years with us and with his club… even this year, I know people are saying he hasn't hit the heights but he's still one-in-three for his club," he said, seemingly joining Sterling in the block-noise-out club.

"We can't have all the scoring burden on Harry [Kane]. You've got to have players in those wide areas and in midfield who can chip in as well.

"I thought he looked a threat the whole day. I have to also say his work without the ball was phenomenal, positionally and the desire to track and stop them advancing."

Phillips was another player to catch the eye with and without the ball.

He was second to Sterling with 11 duels contested and recovered possession more often than any other England player (seven).

The 25-year-old completed 31 of 33 passes overall and 19 of 20 inside the opposition half, including his assist for Sterling at the end of a driving run and a wonderful piece of skill.

"To be able to work with the coach [Marcelo Bielsa] that he has and to have a season of playing in the Premier League will have given him tremendous confidence," Southgate said.

"All those attributes were there – the range of passing, the athleticism, the desire. He's just a very good footballer – high performance, low maintenance. We like that a lot."

Sterling was understandably very appreciative of Phillips' performance.

"He was good in there, he brings a lot of energy to the team. He's on the front foot, at opposition midfielders and always in their faces," he added.

"At the same time he's great with the ball, uses the ball well. For our goal you can see the clever play, the drive with the ball, the little skill at the end and a great weight of pass.

"He brings a lot to the team. It's a credit to him – first major tournament and he's done brilliantly today."

Gareth Southgate hailed Raheem Sterling after the Manchester City forward slayed personal and collective demons in England's 1-0 Euro 2020 win over Croatia.

Sterling latched on to Kalvin Phillips' 57th-minute pass to score the only goal in the Group D opener.

Much of the pre-match speculation had centred around whether Sterling would – or, indeed, should – retain his place in Southgate's forward line, having endured a disappointing end to the season at club level.

He was also without a goal in 12 previous major tournament appearances for the Three Lions, but Sterling also had 12 in 16 appearances since the 2018 World Cup and picked the perfect time to continue that prolific run.

"I'm so pleased for Raheem. He's had this hex in the tournaments not being able to get the goal," Southgate told BBC Sport, after England won their opening game of a European Championship campaign at the 10th time of asking.

"I thought he was dangerous all day.

"He's a good player and his goalscoring records suggests that we should have faith with him, especially over the last few years. I think he was motivated to show that."

Phillips' assist crowned a superb showing from the Leeds United man, who more than justified his selection alongside Declan Rice and Mason Mount – England's midfield three ensuring Luka Modric and Croatia's masterful ballplayers were unable exert their influence upon the contest for any sustained period.

"Kalvin is a player who is so understated and has had a fantastic start to his international career," Southgate said.

"I thought he was immense throughout the game, I though they all were.

"Croatia, I think the key is to get pressure on their midfield players and we managed to do that. That limited the supply and the players at the back dealt with the long balls and read the game well.

"I think it was a day where everyone who go onto the pitch did well. We're going to need that for the next four weeks."

Towards the end of a fairly torrid first 15 minutes at Wembley for Croatia, Mateo Kovacic shuffled away from his penalty area with the ball at his feet and boos swelled up.

It was notable that the England supporters had not had cause to goad any significant spell of Croatian possession up until that point. Still, on Kovacic went and found the normally sure-footed Marcelo Brozovic, who duffed the ball out of play.

England gained a measure of revenge for their World Cup semi-final defeat to these opponents three years ago in the 2018-19 Nations League, but the more comparable stakes of this Euro 2020 opener meant talk of a rematch dominated the build-up.

In Moscow, Luka Modric and his midfield cohort deftly cut away England's early advantage via a thousand passes (well, 594 if we're being sticklers for the statistics over 120 minutes) to reach the final.

The spectacle of the Three Lions surrendering central areas to a technically proficient team was very familiar, for all that Gareth Southgate's side threatened a new beginning.

In the interim period, particularly the 12-month delay to the start of this tournament, the England manager has churned through plenty of squad turnover, with fresh faces not scarred by that agonising near-miss.

But new men repeating old mistakes is no way to end 55 years of hurt, and there was something of that in the much-discussed team sheet that Southgate produced.

Vibrant attacking talents such as Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho – the latter not even making the bench – having to look on as a two-man defensive midfield shield lined up, were unpopular notes of caution at a time of national fervour.

Yorkshire Pirlo purrs on the big stage

But having Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips manning central areas was key to passages of play such as Kovacic and Brozovic's ponderous exchange unfolding, as Phil Foden rattled the post and England threatened to fly out of the blocks.

Modric dropped deep to apply a measure of control before the interval and Chelsea's Kovacic found a smooth rhythm, but not to the extent they escaped Phillips. Freed from his usual holding role, the Leeds United man was everywhere – even flagged offside, something that never happened to him during the whole 2020-21 domestic season.

 

From the Stockport Iniesta to the Yorkshire Pirlo, this England team have their share of daft nudge-wink nicknames (shhhh, Modric might think they're being arrogant) but Phillips did all he could to live up to his, completing 95 per cent of his passes in the opposition half.

Bolstered by Mason Mount's clever movement and use of the ball, Croatia's midfield maestros were never allowed to enjoy Wembley's vast expanses.

That is not to say everything Southgate plumped for worked. Harry Kane was a worryingly marginal presence and only had two touches in the Croatia box. With one of those, he failed to convert at the back post when found by a brilliant Mount cross – the sort of first-time delivery usually not available as Kieran Trippier, the right-back playing at left-back, who checked back on to his stronger foot time and again.

But arguably Southgate's most disputed call proved decisive.

Sterling sounds righteous roar for Three Lions

Amid clamour for the dazzling Grealish to be unleashed, popular opinion had turned against Raheem Sterling's presence in the England attack. As Manchester City claimed a third Premier League title in four seasons, he became an unusually bit-part player for Pep Guardiola. His outing in the Champions League final defeat against Chelsea in Porto did plenty to explain why.

The 26-year-old has one goal for his club since February but has been a mainstay for Southgate, who chose to reward those performances. Since the last World Cup, Sterling's 12 goals and six assists were second only to Kane, while no England player had more than his 11 from open play.

Even when he is not in top form, Sterling makes life hell for defenders. On a sweltering day at the national stadium that overlooks his childhood home, he did not stop. His 12 duels contested were more than any team-mate and he forced a promising first-half free-kick from which Trippier hit the wall.

 

As the hour approached, Sterling was still without a goal for England in a major tournament. Then Phillips strode through midfield with poise and power to pick out the forward, who held his nerve to pouch a 1-0 victory.

"I've always said, if I'm playing at Wembley in a major tournament – my back garden – then I'm scoring," the beaming matchwinner told BBC Sport afterwards.

In the wider context of this game, there could not be a more fitting match-winner for a team taking a knee and taking a stand for positive change.

Sterling has been at the forefront of these conversations since calling out unequal media coverage for white and black players in December 2018, the day after he was abused from the stands in a match at Chelsea.

A year earlier, he was attacked outside City's training ground by a man who received prison time for kicking him and hurling racist abuse ahead of a game against Tottenham. Sterling scored twice in a 4-1 win.

He also scored for England while targeted by monkey chants in Montenegro and Bulgaria in 2019. With dignity and eloquence, Sterling has been at his best when faced with the worst of this sport. His roar of righteous joy back on home turf was richly deserved.

Raheem Sterling is delighted to be playing a major part for England after he bookended a difficult time with Manchester City by scoring the winner against Croatia.

England started their Euro 2020 Group D campaign with a 1-0 victory at Wembley, Sterling netting in the 57th minute.

It was the 26-year-old's 19th direct goal involvement (13 goals, six assists) in his last 17 appearances for England, while it was his first strike in a major tournament.

Sterling endured a difficult end to the season at City, and regularly found himself out of Pep Guardiola's first XI, though he did start in the Champions League final.

Yet the former Liverpool man, who has been rumoured to be unhappy with his playing time at City, is thrilled to be in the England camp.

"It feels good. I've always said, if I play at Wembley in a major tournament, then I'm scoring, it's in my back garden, I have to score! It's great to finally do that," he told BBC Sport.

"There's a lot of different reasons why I haven't scored for my club, that's totally irrelevant now. I'm here with England, enjoying my football and I'm just happy to score.

"It's been a long season for me, I couldn't wait to get here, couldn't wait to get started because I knew it would be a positive one.

"It's great to get off with a win, that's the most important thing, now we've got the other games to look forward to and we go again."

Sterling – who has played 23 games for England at Wembley without losing, more than any other player – was selected ahead of Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford, but asked if he felt the need to justify Gareth Southgate's choice, he quipped: "Have I justified my selection? I'm trying!"

The winner was teed up by the excellent Kalvin Phillips, who put in a dominant performance in midfield on his major tournament debut.

Phillips completed 95 per cent of his 20 attempted passes in Croatia's half, completing 31 of 33 overall, and dovetailed brilliantly with Declan Rice.

"It was very enjoyable, really warm for a start, it took a toll on us towards the end of the game," Phillips told BBC Sport.

"Obviously a great result, very happy with my performance but there's two more group games left and I need to perform as well as that, if not better.

"I'm just laid back, that's the kind of person I am, regardless of what's been thrown at me I just try to take it in my path and relax as much as possible. If I didn't have the team or coaching staff around me to make me feel like that I don't think it'd be possible.

"I love playing with Declan, I love playing in the role where I can go forward and I know Declan is behind me backing me up in case I get beat. There's a lot of talk about me and Declan fighting for a position but when you look at it we play really well together."

Southgate added: "Kalvin is a player who is so understated, He's had a fantastic start to his international career, he was immense throughout the game, as they all were."

Raheem Sterling's first goal at a major tournament saw England get their Euro 2020 campaign off to a winning start, as they beat Croatia 1-0 at Wembley.

Having never won their opening game at a European Championship, England ended the wait to take a big step towards progression from Group D.

In stark contrast to their World Cup semi-final defeat to Croatia in 2018, Gareth Southgate's side enjoyed a measure of control throughout, albeit Phil Foden's early strike against the upright was the closest they came until the 57th minute when Sterling broke his tournament duck.

Harry Kane squandered a great chance to double England's lead, but the Three Lions were not made to pay by an ineffective Croatia attack.

The pre-match build up was dominated by whether fans at Wembley would boo the taking of the knee, but the vast majority of spectators seemed well on side with England's players ahead of kick-off.

They were almost celebrating a goal in the sixth minute – Foden's curling effort hitting the post at the culmination of a swift attack led by Sterling.

Dominik Livakovic subsequently had to parry away Kalvin Phillips' volley as Croatia failed to clear their lines amid constant pressure.

England failed to keep the momentum up, and the malaise continued into the second half until, just as the Wembley crowd seemed to grow anxious, the breakthrough arrived.

Phillips made an excellent run to inject pace into a move that looked to be going nowhere, with the Leeds United midfielder keeping his poise to find Sterling, whose first-time finish had too much power on it for Livakovic.

Kane seemed set to make it 2-0 from Mason Mount's cross soon after, only for Josko Gvardiol to do enough to block off the England captain, who tumbled into the woodwork.

Ante Rebic and Marcelo Brozovic lashed wide as Croatia rallied, though chances going begging for Mount and Sterling at the other end failed to lift the visitors, who lost a Euro opener for the first time.

Mason Mount is relishing pitting his creative wits against the great Luka Modric when England take on Croatia in their Euro 2020 opener on Sunday.

Real Madrid playmaker Modric was influential as Croatia came from behind to beat Gareth Southgate's side 2-1 after extra time in the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup.

A generation of exciting young talent will try to help England right that wrong at an expectant Wembley, with Chelsea star Mount one of the leading lights.

No Englishman created more goalscoring opportunities than the 22-year-old's 87 in the Premier League in 2020-21. Mount ended the top-flight campaign with six goals and five assists before laying on Kai Havertz's winner in the Champions League final against Manchester City.

Chelsea secured their place in the continental showpiece with a 3-1 aggregate semi-final win over Madrid, and Mount enlisted the help of club team-mate and Modric's international colleague Mateo Kovacic to secure a prized possession – the Ballon d'Or winner's shirt.

"Ever since he was in the Premier League with Tottenham, I have watched him quite closely," Mount said of Modric.

"Playing against him, it was weird because I had watched him so much. I kind of knew his moves and what he was going to do."

Speaking at a pre-match news conference, Modric reprised the row over Croatia's impression of English arrogance at Russia 2018 in the form of the "It's Coming Home" slogan – the chorus line from the Euro 96 song Three Lions, despite it largely being used in self-deprecation by England fans.

"That arrogance is not so much related to the players but the people around them, some of the journalists and commentators," he said.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

England – Raheem Sterling

Southgate looks set to keep faith with Sterling, who only scored one of his 14 Manchester City goals this season after the end of February. If he sees off the claims of Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish for a starting berth, it will be because of his fine form in international colours. Since Russia 2018, no England player has scored more goals from open play than Sterling's 11.

Croatia – Ivan Perisic

Perisic netted the equaliser when the sides met in Moscow and tends to revel on the big stage. The experienced Inter winger is one of three European players to have either scored or assisted in the past for major tournaments since Euro 2012, alongside Andres Iniesta and Cristiano Ronaldo.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- England are taking part in their 10th European Championship finals – no team has played as many games in the tournament without ever reaching the final (31).
- Croatia have lost against the eventual winner in three of their past four major tournaments: Spain at Euro 2012, Portugal at Euro 2016 and France in the final of the 2018 World Cup.
- England have never won their opening game at a European Championship (D5 L4). Croatia, meanwhile, are unbeaten in their five Euro openers (W4 D1).
- Harry Kane was the top scorer in Euro 2020 qualifying, netting in every one of England's eight matches (12 goals), becoming the first player to do this in a single qualification campaign for the Three Lions.
- Since the start of 2019-20, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic (25) has scored more Serie A goals for Milan than Ante Rebic (22).

Raheem Sterling still has the determination and strength of character to make an impact on the biggest stage, according to former Manchester City defender Nedum Onuoha.

Sterling is expected to start England's opening Euro 2020 game against their 2018 World Cup conquerors Croatia at Wembley, even though his club form dwindled during the second half of the 2020-21 campaign.

So often an automatic pick during the Pep Guardiola era, Sterling fell out of favour for Manchester City as they continued their progress towards a third Premier League title in four seasons.

The 26-year-old has only scored once apiece for club and country since February, with rumours over a deterioration of relations with Guardiola and speculation surrounding whether or not he will sign a new contract at the Etihad Stadium providing unhelpful background noise.

However, even allowing for the impressive attacking options at his disposal – including Phil Foden, who has edged Sterling out of the left-wing berth at City – England boss Gareth Southgate still counts the former Liverpool player as a key man.

"I think he'll pull through, he's pulled through difficult situations before," Onuoha told Stats Perform.

"For the last two or three years, Raheem's been playing so well that that's been his position and nobody's been able to [get him out of the City team].

"But a slight drop off in performances, for whatever reason, grants somebody else an opportunity, and [Foden] took the opportunity and he's played exceptionally well.

"I think Raheem understands that because he's somebody who's been at the club long enough. He's happy at the club, it seems. I think he will sign a new long-term deal because it sounds like there's discussions about it.

"This is somebody who, when Fernandinho was not on the field, has worn the captain's armband. So he understands it, he understands the manager and he understands he wants to play and make a big difference."

Since featuring prominently in England's run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, where Sterling's tireless running along Harry Kane did not yield any returns in terms of getting on the scoresheet, he has underlined his importance to Southgate.

Sterling has 12 goals for the Three Lions across all matches post-Russia 2018, bettered only by skipper Harry Kane (15).

When penalties are taken out of the equation, Sterling actually comes out on top by 11 to 10, while his six assists are second to Kane's nine.

Nevertheless, this sample size spans almost three years, taking in a purple patch of career-best form in 2019 that the player is now straining to rediscover.

A surprise recall for City's 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea in Porto last month proved underwhelming, but Onuoha pointed towards Sterling's inclusion in the EFL Cup final win over Tottenham in April.

He turned in an all-action performance for Guardiola, making five attempts on goal and winning the free-kick that led to Aymeric Laporte heading the only goal.

"There were points in the season where people were questioning his performances and then I remember him playing in the League Cup final and I thought he was exceptional," Onuoha said.

"He didn't look like somebody who was lacking confidence, he looked like somebody who was desperate to play well enough to guarantee himself more football going forward.

"And I think when you are driven and competitive in the way that he is, it's a shame that you're not playing [for your club], but you kind of understand it.

"As well as that, it's not something that puts a weight on your shoulders; it's something that inspires you to get better.

"At City, there are people who thrive under that type of pressure - as a consequence, it makes them perform better. I think Raheem falls right into that category."

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