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Trent Alexander-Arnold World Cup push is deja-vu for Jon Flanagan and Liverpool

The Liverpool defender has had his problems on and off the pitch but is performing well at Bolton Wanderers.

Mathew Coull

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Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold has emerged as a late challenger for the England World Cup squad this summer. The teenage defender has been in incredible form for Liverpool in 2018.

His performances against Manchester City in both legs of the recent Champions League win earned mass praise and plenty of Liverpool fans are of the belief that Alexander-Arnold should be in the England squad.

It seems a bit like deja-vu from four years ago. Back then, England were again preparing for a World Cup – this time in Brazil. Once again, Liverpool were in fine form toward the end of that season and narrowly missed out on the Premier League title to Manchester City.

One of the main reasons for their excellent season was the form of young full-back Jon Flanagan. The then 21-year-old defender came in and solved Brendan Rodgers’ left-back problem with aplomb.

He featured in 25 games that season and pushed his way, much like Alexander-Arnold, into England contention.

(Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

In the summer, he was named on the England standby list for the World cup and made his debut in a warm-up game against Ecuador. This should have been the start of something brilliant for the young man.

But the four years since have been a disappointment for the Liverpool man.

That summer a build-up of fluid on his knee led to investigations which in turn led to corrective surgery. Flanagan went on to spend what should have been his crowning years on the treatment table. After spending 18 months on the sidelines he eventually returned, but to a new Liverpool.

Under Jurgen Klopp, first-team football was hard to find. He headed to Burnley on loan last season but found himself not able to break into the first-team at Turf Moor either.

Since that near World Cup miss, football has continuously kicked Flanagan while he has been down and he has also had well-documented problems off the pitch as well.

But there is now a glimmer of hope. In January the defender headed to Bolton Wanderers on loan, to try and help the Trotters fight off relegation to League One and put his recent problems behind him.

Now established as a first-team regular he is getting back to fine form.

Whilst it may come too late to salvage his Liverpool career, there does appear to be a future for Flanagan in the game.

A lot of bad luck has hit the defender so far, whilst his off-field issues have also not helped matters. But, hopefully, he can turn things around and build a career Liverpool fans thought he might back in 2014.

Bolton Wanderers

Analysing Diafra Sakho’s goalscoring return for West Ham against Bolton

Scott Challinor

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Diafra Sakho

Slaven Bilic’s West Ham United barely broke a sweat in their Carabao Cup Third Round tie, easing into the hat for the Fourth Round with a 3-0 over early Championship strugglers Bolton Wanderers at London Stadium.

Angelo Ogbonna, Diafra Sakho, and Arthur Masuaku were all on the scoresheet for the Hammers, Senegalese international Sakho repaying manager and fans with an impressive performance on his recall to the side despite declaring his intentions to leave the club over the summer, featuring as a lone striker flanked by wingers Andre Ayew and the impressive Marko Arnautovic.

Sakho and Arnautovic linked well for the majority of the night, and their chemistry showed its first glimpse as early as the fourth minute, Sakho winning a free-kick which Arnautovic duly stood over out on the right wing.

The Austrian played a perfect ball into the box, and with Sakho amongst others making nuisance of himself in the box, it allowed Angelo Ogbonna the time and space to surge into the area unopposed for a free header which he powered into the goal to give the hosts an early lead.

Sakho then almost turned provider for Arnautovic later in the first-half, latching onto Mark Noble’s clipped ball forward and holding up the ball expertly against Bolton defender Mark Beevers, before laying the ball on for Arnautovic to strike, who saw his initial effort blocked before his follow up effort was parried away by goalkeeper Mark Howard.

Sakho’s movement and hold-up play was beginning to cause Bolton all sorts of problems, and he showed off a glimpse of his ability to run the channels also. Played in down the left, he raced clear of defender Andrew Taylor and cut inside onto the edge of the penalty box before checking back onto his right foot and playing in the onrushing Andre Ayew, who could only drag his first-time effort wide of the right post.

With unwanted profligacy in front of goal seeming to set in, and unwilling to allow that to hand the visitors a route back into the contest, Sakho himself showed his teammates the route to goal with just over half an hour on the clock.

Noble, another impressive performer on the night, played a well weighted clipped ball through to Arnautovic who’d found a pocket of space down the left with acres of space to gallop forward.

Venturing inside, he laid the ball left-footed off for Sakho inside the penalty area, who had the simple task of finishing beyond Howard to put the hosts two goals ahead before the break. His celebration was muted, as he wandered over the byline to thank his teammate.

Sakho was notably quieter after the break, which mirrored West Ham’s team performance in the second-half, with chances fewer and further between until the forward made way for Javier Hernandez on 71 minutes.

The Hammers went on to finish the job in stoppage time, Arthur Masuaku being allowed the time and space on the left of the penalty area to pick his spot and send a left-footed pile-driver into the top right corner and complete Bolton’s misery in East London.

Although Sakho is almost certain to depart the club at the end of the season, if not in January, his hardworking team performance on Tuesday will remind Slaven Bilic that the want-away forward still has something to offer his side, for unlike popular belief, it appears the forward is not willing to allow his desire to leave the club impede his performances.

His performance also says a great deal about the strength in depth of this West Ham side when the players are performing, and the Hammers could prove to be a dark horse in this competition in the hat for the next round.

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Can Bolton Wanderers’ Rob Holding flourish under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal?

The Boot Room

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To say that times have been tough for Bolton Wanderers over the past few years would be an understatement. In just a couple of weeks the Trotters will kick off their League One campaign at home to Sheffield United, just over four years after being relegated from the Premier League. During that time, the club has undergone a number of managerial changes, the sad death of their chairman, as well as flirting with administration on more than one occasion. There have been few highlights along the way, with players becoming disgruntled at not getting paid as the club sank like a stone on its way to a disastrous 24th-placed finish in the Championship last campaign.

Through all of the doom and gloom surrounding the Macron Stadium has risen 20-year-old defender Rob Holding. Whilst many of his more experienced teammates failed to stand up and be counted last term, the youngster came out of nowhere to provide a spark of hope during what is surely a dark age for many Bolton supporters. Holding only made his debut last August, in a 1-0 defeat to Burton Albion in the League Cup, but managed to pick up the club’s Player of the Season just nine months later. A big future lies ahead and a number of  Premier League clubs have expressed an interest in signing him, including a £2 million bid from Arsenal this week, which has subsequently been accepted by the Trotters.

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The approval of Arsene Wenger is huge for any youngster, but the news of the Gunners interest has also surprised many this week. Not least Arsenal supporters, who were expecting the club to pursue a big-name centre-back, not one who has made just 31 career appearances, with none of those being above Championship level. Laurent Koscielny’s performances in the European Championships this summer have consolidated him as one of the continent’s best in his position, and many supporters believe that another centre-back of a similar calibre, as well as a clinical goalscorer, would give them a good chance of challenging for the league title. Holding does not fit this description just yet, and it would be fair to say that many would be somewhat underwhelmed if he were to be the only defender signed this transfer window.

Nevertheless, Holding is tipped to have a big future in the game with Everton and Bournemouth two of the clubs rumoured to have been interested in his signature. He has been compared to England defender Gary Cahill, and although this may merely be due to the fact that Cahill was also at Bolton, it shows just how highly-rated he is in some quarters. Whether he can make it at the Emirates Stadium is a different matter, with Calum Chambers being an example of a young defender who has struggled to make a real impact during his time with the Gunners.

Of course, it is not expected that he will be first choice should he make the move to the Emirates, but with a lot of talk that Chambers will be heading out on loan, Wenger may see Holding as a like-for-like replacement as Arsenal’s fourth-choice centre-back. The Frenchman has a preference for players comfortable with the ball at their feet and Holding certainly fits the mould. His composure on the ball belies his tender years and in that respect the move makes a lot of sense.

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With Per Mertesacker now 31 and there still being a number of doubts surrounding Gabriel, it is not unfeasible that he could force his way into the first eleven, but with Wenger expected to bring in another defender it would appear as though Holding will have to bide his time before making his big break at the club. He is still extremely inexperienced but possesses a strong set of attributes that Wenger can work with.

Holding’s performances last season attracted the attention of England Under-21s manager Gareth Southgate, who called him up to his squad for this summer’s Toulon Tournament, which England eventually went on to win. Although many Bolton supporters were hopeful that the defender would stay with the club he has been with since the age of seven, they will certainly not begrudge him the chance to make the switch to North London, providing the deal is right for the Whites.

The tendency for clubs to scour the lower leagues for talent has increased in recent years following the success of the likes of John Stones and Dele Alli, who were signed for relatively modest fees but have gone on to excel in the top flight. Whether Holding can enjoy similar success is a big ask but the fact that Wenger seems to think he is capable of it stands him in very good stead.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by Emrah Partal

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Bolton Wanderers

Is Bolton’s resolve to hang onto Rob Holding only delaying the inevitable?

Scott Challinor

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Highly rated Bolton Wanderers defender Rob Holding, an England Under-21 international is once again the centre of transfer speculation after Bournemouth are the latest club to have a bid for the 20-year old rejected Arsenal are another club linked with the player. Bolton value Holding at around £5 million with the Gunners making a roughly £2 million offer for the player according to the Daily Mail back in May, with one year left to run on his contract.

Everton and Bournemouth were thought to be interested in the player but were yet to make an official approach until reports from the Bolton Mail that Bournemouth had been rebuffed by the Lancashire side on Wednesday, with Bolton desperate to maximise Holding’s value given the precarious financial position of the club following its exit from administration.

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Reading had a £750,000 bid rejected during the January transfer window for the versatile Holding who forced his way into Bolton’s first team in 2015-16, making 26 appearances. Bolton took up an option to extend his contract but the Championship seems a far more lucrative destination for the promising youngster rather than ply his trade in League One with the Trotters.

Bolton are still struggling to raise funds after Dean Holdsworth’s Sports Shield consortium took control of the troubled club and are under immense pressure to sell the likes of Holding and other young stars such as Zach Clough to keep the club afloat. Large earners like Emile Heskey and Eidur Gudjohnsen have already been forced off the books with the club finding itself hands tied and in dire need of slashing the wage bill.

It is likely that the club is turning away approaches for their asset not with the intention of keeping him at the club, but merely in anticipation of the right offer. Their valuation of the player and the fee they receive will be vital for the club’s immediate future and new manager Phil Parkinson along with the club’s new hierarchy simply cannot afford to allow their player to leave for any less than the right price.

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Following the takeover and the majority of their supposed £172.9m worth of debt written off by new board member Eddie Davies, Bolton fans should be looking forward to a new chapter and a chance to rebuild go again in the third tier. However what has become apparent is that it will still be testing times at the Macron Stadium as the club tightens its purse strings, and Holding is just one of a few of the clubs promising youngsters who will be forced to make way for the good of the club.

It is only a matter of time as the Lancashire side hold out for the right offer, and they will be biting their nails hoping that it comes sooner rather than later so that Phil Parkinson can begin to assemble a budget squad and identify the areas in need of recruitment. It has been a dark period for the former top flight club, and only time will tell if there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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