With the Blades only returning to begin their gruelling pre-season schedule earlier this week, it’s been nice to have some football in the World Cup to concentrate on rather than the usual close season boredom of car washing, gardening and shopping. England being a different animal under Gareth Southgate, looking to play a different way with youth being one of the talking points, rather than the same ageing and under-performing “names” – there’s added interest for United fans, with no fewer than three ex-Blades in the England squad.
One of the three, of course, was only on loan for a short spell before going on to lift the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League trophies. Gary Cahill spent a 3 month spell with the Blades in the 2007-2008 Championship season, playing 16 games and scoring 2 goals. Despite being the most decorated, Cahill is yet to play in the World Cup campaign, though Gareth Southgate may choose to give him some game time this Thursday, with England having guaranteed their progression from the group stage even before meeting Belgium.
It’s Shirecliffe products Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire who’ve seen the most action of the three so far, being ever presents in the first two successful group games. Part of a new look defence, the duo have played 180 minutes each in Southgate’s central three. Conceding a goal in each game, the back line has looked shaky at times but is still settling in a side that thankfully so far has had no issues scoring goals, firing in eight, with captain Harry Kane leading the goal scoring charts by bagging five of those.
Maguire has arguably been the more successful of the two, registering an assist and three attempts in the final third whilst proving a handful for opponents in both boxes. Walker meanwhile, attracted the criticism of a few pundits when conceding a penalty due to a flailing arm in Volgograd against Tunisia. Going from strength to strength, it can’t be long before we see a goal in the national side from Maguire, either as a result of one of his marauding, giraffe like runs or from a towering header from one of England’s so far productive set pieces. No one will be prouder to see that day than Blades fans, despite a number having had him down as a top end Championship player who would never have the pace to play higher.
Another ever-present in his sides competition is Ahmed Fathi, who few will remember for his 8-month spell with the Blades in 2007. Making only three appearances for United, Fathi never managed to force his way in contention and ended up going back to Egypt. He later rocked up on loan at Hull City, before in 2014, having an unsuccessful trial with Arsenal. Now 33 years old, the Egyptian holds the honour of being their youngest ever international, gaining his first cap at just 17, going on to have played 126 times for his country. Captaining his national side which boasts the talents of Mo Salah, his side have had a miserable campaign, finishing bottom of Group A without so much as a point for their efforts. Fathi did manage to get on the scoresheet against competition hosts Russia, though sadly for him, it was at the wrong end, deflecting Roman Zobnin’s shot into his own net.
With England due to progress regardless of tonight’s result, it will be interesting to see Gareth Southgate’s line-up, as we’d think he’d give a number of those yet to get any real minutes in their legs at least the second 45 minutes of the game. The outcome of the game deciding who will top Group G, two of the competitions highest scoring teams clash and are separated only by their disciplinary records before kick-off.
Our tip and World cup betting, would be a close game with both teams to score, with cracking odds on an narrow England win and Harry Maguire scoring any time – we’ve almost guaranteed that Gary Cahill will start in his place!