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Premier League helped by early deadline but were teams ready to play?

The Exploding Heads are here to tell you that the more changes a new football season brings, the more things stay the same.
Paul Mariner defends his selections and omissions in the first team of the weekend of the Premier League season.
Former Premier League referee Peter Walton and Stewart Robson discuss the key decisions from the weekend.
Former Premier League referee Peter Walton and Stewart Robson discuss the key decisions from the weekend.

The 2018-19 Premier League season is well and truly underway and for once, that phrase feels appropriate.

The English top-flight always commences in mid-August but, after a significant change to the structure of the transfer window, the new campaign will not feature the disastrous three-week period, in which clubs and media were focused more upon moves than matches. Now deadline day has already passed, the games themselves dominate.

In years gone by, the first month has been compromised by numerous...

World Cup's best age-adjusted young stars: Mbappe, Jesus and more

Episode six of Project Russia takes you through Mexico fans' rollercoaster of emotions before, during and after El Tri's historic win over Germany.
The Three Lions test their knowledge of Tunisia, fans share their predictions and mosquitoes take over Volgograd in episode seven of Project Russia.
Ronaldo joins episode five of Project Russia to discuss Brazil's World Cup hopes and his ambitions for Neymar.
Join ESPN in Russia, as we go on the lookout for one of the World Cup's biggest stars, Cristiano Ronaldo.

For countries around the world, getting to the World Cup is half the battle. The same is true for their players. Even before ever suiting up for a match, being named to a 23-man World Cup roster is a remarkable accomplishment and a sign that you've arrived. For young players, it's also a great indicator of stardom to come.

Take Ronaldo, for example. While Brazil was winning the World Cup in America during the summer of 1994, a 17-year-old Ronaldo was sitting on scorching-hot benches around the...

 By Michael Cox

World Cup entertainment value could suffer from lack of pressing, diminished field

Ian Darke leads an expert panel to assess Spain's World Cup hopes and whether or not Julen Lopetegui will be able to sort out the attack.

Twenty-five years ago, when quizzed about the differences between club football and international football, legendary Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi had one simple conclusion.

"Football should always be played at the highest possible level," he declared, "and no club will ever reach the level as an international side."

That was conventional wisdom back then: International tournaments were considered the pinnacle of football, with clubs playing something of a feeder role.

In recent years, however,...

 By Michael Cox

Liverpool fast start, Madrid late pressure can decide UCL final

As Real Madrid prepare for Kiev we go behind the scenes at the Bernabeu as Ronaldo grabs a lift to training, Zidane speaks about Liverpool and Kroos talks Klopp.
As Liverpool head to Kiev, a look behind the scenes at Anfield as Salah meets Lampard, van Djik nutmegs Lovren and ESPN meets Wijnaldum.

Saturday's Champions League final offers one of the most fascinating tactical clashes in recent memory: Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool, with their astute, intensive, counter-pressing approach, meet the more laissez-faire style of Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid, who concentrate upon possession play.

It has all the makings of a superb match. Here are four key questions waiting to be answered.

1. What formation will Zidane use?

The most remarkable thing about Real Madrid's Champions League record under Zidane...

 By Michael Cox

Carrick is one of Man United, England's most underrated players ever

Michael Carrick reflects on the evolution of Manchester United's rivalries with Manchester City and Liverpool during his time at Old Trafford.
Michael Carrick describes to ESPN FC's Mark Ogden his frustration with his England career and how it affected him at Manchester United.
Michael Carrick tells Mark Ogden Man United's win in the 2008 UCL final produced one of the best feelings of his life and one of the worst.
As Michael Carrick gets set to retire and join Man United's coaching staff, he shares with Mark Ogden his thoughts on eventually becoming a manager.
In an interview with ESPN FC's Mark Ogden, Michael Carrick describes the influence Sir Alex Ferguson had on him at Manchester United.

It's the summer of 2006, and Manchester United are in a crisis.

This is not the usual football "crisis" -- which increasingly means little more than "they've lost their last two matches" -- but a genuine, wide-ranging, major question about how Manchester United are attempting to achieve success. Chelsea have won the last two Premier League titles. Arsenal have reached the Champions League final and are moving to a new home, while Liverpool have followed European Cup success with FA Cup success...

 By Michael Cox

Man City's Premier League win: six keys to their stunning success

Manchester City's Premier League title success has been so inevitable, and has been achieved so comfortably, that their revolutionary style has almost been overlooked. Pep Guardiola's approach has been overwhelmingly technical, unashamedly possession-based and has featured positional nuances barely witnessed before in English football -- all of it combined with some "throwback" tactical principles borrowed from yesteryear.

Here are six key features of City's recipe for success:

1. Possession...