MX23RW : Tuesday, December 11 09:41:39

Live Commentary: Croatia 0-0 England - as it happened

Relive Sports Mole's live text coverage of England's 0-0 draw with Croatia in Rijeka, as the Three Lions picked up their first UEFA Nations League point.
Live Commentary: Croatia 0-0 England - as it happened
© Reuters

England wasted a couple of big chances as they played out a goalless draw with Croatia in Friday evening's UEFA Nations League clash.

Following a low-in-quality first half, which ended with Eric Dier clipping the post with his flicked header, Marcus Rashford failed to take a couple of openings when they fell his way.

Harry Kane also headed the ball against the crossbar at the Stadion HNK Rijeka as his scoreless run in a Three Lions top reached six matches.

Relive how the 90 minutes of action unfolded with Sports Mole's live text coverage below.


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6.45pmHello and welcome to Sports Mole's live text coverage of the UEFA Nations League clash between Croatia and England at the Stadion HNK Rijeka. Ninety-three days on from meeting in a gripping World Cup semi-final at the Luzhniki Stadium, these two sides face off once again in a behind-closed doors match. From 80,000+ in the Luzhniki Stadium three months ago to roughly 500 people this evening - it is quite the contrast!

6.47pmAround 150 members of the media and 75 staff members from each side have been granted entry this evening, so this is a game with a difference for Gareth Southgate's men. In fact, it is the first time in the Three Lions' history that they have played a match behind closed doors, with UEFA imposing the sanction after a swastika was marked into the turf before a Euro 2016 qualifier between Croatia and Italy.

6.49pmENGLAND TEAM NEWS!

STARTING XI: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Chilwell; Dier, Henderson, Barkley; Sterling, Kane, Rashford

SUBS: Trippier, Butland, Alexander-Arnold, Dunk, Winks, Chalobah, Mount, Maddison, Bettinelli, Sancho


6.51pmStarting with a look at the visiting team, Southgate appears to have reverted back to a four-man defence following a year-long experiment with a back three. If that is the case, Kyle Walker will shift across to his more traditional right-back position, on the opposite side to Ben Chilwell, who comes in for his full senior debut. The Leicester City defender was not even included in Southgate's initial squad, but Danny Rose and Luke Shaw are both injured.

6.53pmThere is also news of a first England appearance in nearly two years for Ross Barkley, who has been in good form for Chelsea since Maurizio Sarri arrived in the summer. Barkley looks likely to start alongside Liverpool's Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier in a three-man midfield, with Southgate deciding against throwing in one of his four newbies from the off. James Maddison, Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount are instead named on the bench, as is Lewis Dunk.

6.55pmHarry Kane leads the line for England, aiming to improve on a record that has seen him go five matches without netting for the national side. Not since between June and September 2016 has he been on a worse run, although he does head into this match on the back of four goals in four matches for club side Tottenham Hotspur. Marcus Rashford alongside him as scored in successive England games, meanwhile, matching his record from his previous 24 Three Lions games.

6.57pmRaheem Sterling is also included in the forward line, having been left out for the September internationals, and he will be keen to improve on a disappointing record in an England top. A pretty big selection call from Southgate to go with four at the back, then, meaning that Kieran Trippier is only on the bench, while Trent Alexander-Arnold - another regular for a big-six Premier League club - must also watch on.

6.59pmCROATIA TEAM NEWS!

STARTING XI: Livakovic; Jedvaj, Vida, Lovren, Pivaric; Kovacic, Rakitic; Perisic, Modric, Rebic; Kramaric

SUBS: Badelj, Bartolec, Bradaric, Livaja, Milic, Mitrovic, Pasalic, Pjaca, Rog, Santini, Sluga


7.01pmCroatia boss Zlatko Dalic actually announced his starting lineup on the eve of the match, so we knew exactly what we were going to get as far as the hosts are concerned. The Vatreni have had to contend without a trio of players since reaching the final of the World Cup, as forward Mario Mandzukic, goalkeeper Danijel Subasic and veteran defender Vedran Corluka have all called time on their international careers.

7.03pmWith Subasic retired and Lovre Kalinic - the man who started the 6-0 loss to Spain last month - absent through injury, Dalic has three goalkeepers in his squad with just one senior cap between them. It is not that surprising, then, that the most experienced of that trio, Dinamo Zagreb's Dominik Livakovic, is the man who gets the nod between the sticks this evening. What a big occasion this will be for the 23-year-old!

7.05pmCroatia welcome back Dejan Lovren and Ante Rebic this evening, having been without the pair for that humbling defeat to Spain, but Marcelo Brozovic is absent, as is Inter Milan teammate Sime Vrsaljko. The Vatreni are not quite at full strength, then, and they are certainly weaker with Mandzukic no longer involved, yet their midfield is still just about the strongest of any side on the planet. The man at the heart of it all is FIFA Player of the Year, Luka Modric.

Croatia's Luka Modric celebrates with Sime Vrsaljko after scoring their second goal against Argentina on June 21, 2018© Reuters


7.07pmPREVIOUS MEETINGS! These two sides have met on eight previous occasions down the years, with England winning exactly half of those. It was Croatia who came out on top in the biggest match of all, though, as they prevailed 2-1 in July's World Cup semi-final thanks to goals from Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic, coming after Kieran Trippier had opened the scoring for England.

7.09pmEngland could easily have been a couple of goals ahead at half time in that clash, which was watched by more than 80,000 spectators at the Luzhniki Stadium. An inability to keep a hold of the ball would ultimately cost them, however, just like many predicted before a ball had been kicked, so this match - as well as the games against Spain - provide Southgate with a chance to rectify those mistakes. In fact, you could not have handpicked two tougher opponents when taking England's biggest weakness - midfield creativity - into account.

7.11pmCroatia have a chance to beat England in back-to-back matches for the first time since 2007, when they memorably blocked their opponent's path to the following summer's European Championships. Skipping forward to the present day, the Vatreni have been brought back down to earth since reaching the World Cup final in July, having been thumped 6-0 by Spain in that most recent outing. Marco Asensio scored two that day and set up three more in Elche.

7.13pmThat heavy loss to Spain actually leaves Croatia winless in three, as they also drew 1-1 with Portugal in their first match after losing 4-2 to France in Russia. This is not quite the homecoming they had planned, it is fair to say, although thousands of supporters did turn up for a training session earlier this week to cheer on their heroes. The aim for Dalic now is to get his side back on track with all three points from this second UEFA Nations League outing.

7.15pmCroatia may boast the best central midfielder anywhere on the planet right now in Modric, and the four players alongside him are not too bad either, but Dalic is lacking a forward since Mandzukic stepped aside. That is a huge void to fill, and it has been left to Andrej Kramaric - the scorer of two goals in seven matches for Hoffenheim this term - to step up. Ivan Santini, with eight in nine league games for Anderlecht, is among the subs tonight.

7.17pmThe hosts have lost just four of their last 17 matches over the past few years, but half of those defeats have come in their last three matches. Croatia are at risk of losing their way on the back of a hugely impressive summer, putting added significance on this home match against England. Three days from now the Vatreni face Jordan in a friendly, before then preparing for their double-header against the Three Lions and Spain in November.

7.19pmThe Stadio HNK Rijeka holds 8,279 spectators when full, incidentally, although only around 500 people will be inside the stadium tonight. If Twitter is anything to go by (it usually isn't!), we can expect to see plenty of England fans watching on from a hill behind one of the stands. This is something that none of the players on the field have ever had to deal with, and it has never happened in any of England's previous 987 matches.

7.21pmDID YOU KNOW? England has won their last three away games in all competitions and could win four in a row for the first time since September 2011. The Three Lions have kept a clean sheet in each of those matches - against Netherlands, Lithuania and Malta - and they are aiming to make it four shutouts in a row for the first time since a seven-game run that ended in October 1997.

7.23pmCroatia beat England 2-1 at the Luzhniki Stadium when the two sides last faced off 93 days ago, ensuring that it would be they, and not their opponents, who would take on France in the World Cup final. That was a tough defeat to take for the Three Lions, especially as they took an early lead and controlled the first half of the match, but they have a chance to exact some revenge tonight in the UEFA Nations League.

Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic scores the winning goal in the World Cup semi-final against England on July 11, 2018© Reuters


7.25pmEngland's Nations League campaign did not get off to the best of starts, as they fell to a 2-1 loss at home to Spain in their opening Group A4 match. Saul and Rodrigo helped La Roja overturn an early deficit at Wembley Stadium, which they followed up with that 6-0 thumping of Croatia a few days later. It means that the 2010 World Cup winners are in control of the group, leaving the Three Lions and the Vatreni playing catch up.

7.27pmThat loss to Spain made it three in a row for England, having also lost to Croatia and Belgium in a disappointing conclusion to their World Cup campaign. Southgate made mass changes for the friendly against Switzerland in his side's most recent outing and, despite coming away from the King Power Stadium with a 1-0 win - Marcus Rashford scoring the only goal on the night - his side's display was pretty poor on the whole.

7.29pmA lack of midfield creativity remains a problem for Southgate against side's of Croatia's ilk, and the Three Lions boss admitted as much in his pre-match presser when hinting towards a back four for tonight. Southgate hopes that by going with three traditional central midfielders - Dier, Henderson and Barkley - his side can retain possession a lot better than they did in that semi-final loss during the summer.

7.31pmSouthgate is missing a handful of players from the World Cup because of injury, giving him a chance to call up newbies Sancho, Mount and Maddison, each of whom should be given some minutes either against Croatia or Spain. Nathaniel Chalobah is also knocking on the door for a senior debut, as it Lewis Dunk, but central midfield is the area under particular focus over the next few days. Chilwell at left-back also has a chance to nail down a regular spot in the side, with Rose and Shaw not involved across the next two games.

7.33pmSouthgate is already shaping his side for Euro 2020, with the final of that competition being held at Wembley Stadium. The Three Lions will not automatically qualify for the Euros, so they will either have to do it through the traditional qualifiers, the draw for which will be made in two months' time, or via the UEFA Nations League. That backdoor entry looks unlikely at this stage, unless they can beat Croatia and Spain in their next two matches.

7.35pmRelegation into League B is the immediate threat for Southgate, however, which would be a real disappointment on the back of such a successful summer. The Three Lions travel to Seville on Monday night for the return match against Spain, before then preparing for the visit of Croatia to Wembley Stadium in a month's time. There is also a friendly against the United States pencilled in for November, so Southgate has plenty of room to experiment should he wish.

7.37pmMANAGERS' COMMENTS!

Zlatko Dalic: "I would agree with Luka that we felt a little underestimated by the English media [ahead of the World Cup semi-final match], not the head coach or the players. There's always a level of respect between the teams. You always need to respect your opponent but also have a self-belief in your team and your possibilities."

Gareth Southgate: "It is a shame for our travelling fans who were brilliant for us all summer and so many of whom have not missed an England game for years. So that is unfortunate for them in particular. It means Croatia don't get the energy that a home support can give you in those moments when you are under pressure as a team. So it will be different definitely. Whether it is an advantage, who knows?"


7.39pmDalic was responding to claims made by Modric, who implied that England were far too cocky ahead of the nations' semi-final showdown in the World Cup. Modric did stress that he was talking specifically about the media, though, and not the players themselves. Either way, Dalic believes that there is a "level of respect" between the sides, who have got to know each other well over the past decade.

7.41pmSouthgate is unhappy that this game is being played behind closed doors, meanwhile, as he feels that it would have been a good test for his players - especially the younger members of his squad - to play in front of a partisan crowd. As it is, England are playing behind closed doors for the first time in their history as UEFA has imposed a two-game ban on Croatia's supporters - only staff members from both sides and 150 members of the media will be present.

7.43pmPREDICTION! Croatia head into this match on the back of a 6-0 loss to Spain, leaving them without a win in three matches - two of those ending in defeat. England, meanwhile, had lost three in a row before overcoming Switzerland 1-0 in their most recent outing, so neither side can truly consider themselves in form. With that in mind, we are going to back a low-scoring draw in Rijeka this evening. 1-1.

England manager Gareth Southgate watches on during his side's international friendly with Switzerland on September 11, 2018© Reuters


1 minKICKOFF:  Croatia get us up and running at the Stadion HNK Rijeka in this unique international match. Never before have the Three Lions played behind closed doors, and they will have to quickly adapt if they are to put their first UEFA Nations League points on the bored.

3 minConfirmation that England are indeed going with four across the back this evening - the first time that they have done so in a competitive match in a year. The Three Lions have started to get a feel of the ball over the past minute or so.

5 minCroatia are now the side in control of the ball, with England looking to press them high up the pitch. Five members of the Vatreni's World Cup final squad are not involved this evening due to a mixture of injuries and retirements.

7 minYELLOW CARD!  An early caution for Jordan Henderson for tugging back on Ivan Rakitic's top. The Croatia midfielder would have been away had he not been held back by Henderson, who will now sit out the Spain game on Monday evening through suspension.

9 minNothing too threatening from a Croatia perspective so far, as they take a patient approach. The hosts have seen more of the ball, but Southgate will be happy enough with the start that his side have made in front of the four empty stands.

11 minPlenty of passing at the moment with no end product - think Spain against Russia at the World Cup. Harry Maguire sends a long pass down the left for Ben Chilwell to latch on to, and the full-back's cross was nearly converted by Raheem Sterling.

13 minCredit to Josip Pivaric for producing a last-ditch tackle to prevent Raheem Sterling from knocking the ball over the line from that first serious England attack. The possess count is now at 50-50 over the opening 13 minutes.

15 minIt has been a very low key start to this match in Rijeka. Neither side have managed to do much with the ball in the final third of the field. The only real attacking move so far saw Pivaric cut out the ball before Sterling could tap home.

17 minI think both sets of players need to be reminded that this is a competitive fixture - so very little happening at the moment. Never easy playing in front of no fans, of course, as Ante Rebic's cross from the right is cut out.

19 minSHOT!  Ante Rebic attempts to chip the ball over Jordan Pickford, only succeeding in clipping the roof of the net. That was the first real attempt on target so far, as Ivan Perisic's shot from 15 yards was blocked by Eric Dier.

21 minDominik Livakovic has a nice simple catch to make from a floated ball forward. Just a second cap for the senior side this evening for the Dinamo Zagreb stopper, who takes over from the injured Lovre Kalinic.

23 minEngland's best route to goal in the opening quarter of the match has been down their left through Ben Chilwell on his full debut. There has been very little between the two sides so far, as we await the first attempt on target in Rijeka.

25 minYELLOW CARD!  Mateo Kovacic joins Jordan Henderson in the referee's book for illegally halting Marcus Rashford's run. Ben Chilwell is on free-kick duties, but his lofted delivery from 25 yards comes to nothing.

27 minThis match has still yet to spark to life. The World Cup semi-final between these two sides had a bit of everything, but that has not been the case in the opening half an hour of the rerun - still no shots on target here.

29 minSome of the passing in midfield has been pretty terrible so far. It has been an incredibly frustrating first half so far; fingers cross things can only get better! As things stand England are on course for a fourth successive away clean sheet.

31 minVery good defending from Ivan Perisic, who was happy to track back when Kyle Walker was attempting to get in behind. Domagoj Vida then did the rest as England's latest attack came to a disappointing end - no change there!

33 minGood goalkeeping from Jordan Pickford, who read the danger and charged out of his goal to collect Ivan Perisic's intended pass for Ante Rebic. A little over 10 minutes to go until half time and we are awaiting out first proper shot of the night.

35 minBen Chilwell is penalised for handball, around 30 yards from goal. Luka Modric knew the angle was against him so instead lofted the set piece into the middle, where England were able to clear it to safety. Can't recall seeing Harry Kane have a touch of the ball yet.

37 minSAVE!  At long, long last, something has happened! A left-sided cross is left for Andrej Kramaric to strike 12 yards from goal, but he struck the ball into the ground and Jordan Pickford was able to make the game's first save.

39 minCroatia have now had five attempts, one of which tested Jordan Pickford through that Andrej Kramaric effort a couple of minutes ago. England, by comparison, have not had a shot of any note - either blocked or otherwise.

41 minEngland are badly lacking creativity this evening. Kyle Walker is given acres of space to run into, but instead of taking on his man or setting Marcus Rashford free, he goes back on himself and plays a sideways pass.

43 minOFF THE POST!  Marcus Rashford is caught in the face by Mateo Kovacic - nothing the magic sponge can't resolve. The Man United striker then played a part in his side winning a corner, from which Eric Dier flicked the ball onto the post. The awkward bounce meant that none of the three players in white waiting to pounce could get on the end of the rebound.

45 minHALF TIME:  CROATIA 0-0 ENGLAND

8.33pmA very quiet opening 45 minutes at the Stadion HNK Rijeka comes to a close. Both teams did have a lively moment towards the end of the first half, though, as Andrej Kramaric tested Jordan Pickford at one end and Eric Dier hit the post at the other.

8.36pmEngland were playing a match behind closed doors for the first time in their history, a run spanning 987 matches, and the lack of noise from the stands was reflected by the events on the field. England managed just one effort in the opening 45 minutes, coming right at the end when Eric Dier flicked on a corner and hit the far post, which neither Harry Maguire nor Marcus Rashford could convert from the rebound due to the awkward bounce.

8.38pmThe Three Lions lacked any sort of creative ideas from open play, though, and their opponents - coming into this match on the back of a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain - did not fare much better. Ante Rebic clipped the roof of the net with an attempted chip from outside of the box, while Ivan Perisic's shot from 15 yards was blocked by Eric Dier.

8.41pmCroatia should have opened the scoring 37 minutes in through the first half's only real opportunity, only for Andrej Kramaric to hit the ball into the ground when picked out by Perisic's left-sided cross, allowing Jordan Pickford to make the save. Gareth Southgate and opposite number Zlatko Dalic may well be tempted to make a change at the break, so let us remind ourselves of both sides' benches.

CROATIA SUBS: Badelj, Bartolec, Bradaric, Livaja, Milic, Mitrovic, Pasalic, Pjaca, Rog, Santini, Sluga

ENGLAND SUBS: Trippier, Butland, Alexander-Arnold, Dunk, Winks, Chalobah, Mount, Maddison, Bettinelli, Sancho

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic reacts during the match against Argentina on June 21, 2018© Reuters


46 minKICKOFF:  England get us back under way at the Stadion HNK Rijeka, where neither manager has made any changes at the break. A reminder that both teams can make a maximum of three subs, but Southgate and Dalic will hold off from doing so for now.

48 minKyle Walker gives chase down the right, but he was never going to keep the ball in play and it drifts out for a goal kick. Harry Kane had 10 touches of the ball in the first half, none of which were in Croatia's final third.

50 minMarcus Rashford with a poor attempt from range, but an attempt nonetheless. Southgate has clearly told his players to shoot more regularly in this second half, knowing that Croatia's goalkeeper is not the most experienced of stoppers.

52 minSAVE!  Some good play from Croatia looked to have come to little as Andrej Kramaric delayed getting the shot away, before eventually working it to Ivan Perisic. It was a well-struck shot, which Jordan Pickford did well to palm aside.

54 minOFF THE BAR!  Harry Kane finally has a touch of the ball in the final third of the field, and it nearly ended with the ball ending in the back of the net. A right-sided delivery was met by the striker, who could only guide his header against the crossbar when left unmarked.

56 minPENALTY APPEAL!  John Stones is cautioned for his infringement, meaning that he will also miss the Spain game on Monday night. Before that, Ross Barkley went down inside the box and claimed that he had been clipped by clubmate Mateo Kovacic, but the referee felt otherwise.

58 minCHANCE!  England's best chance of the evening by quite some distance, as Marcus Rashford is picked out by Kyle Walker and has just Dominik Livakovic to beat. The striker, on the scoresheet in his side's last two matches, got his first-time shot all wrong and Livakovic had an easy stop to make.

60 minCHANCE!  Two chances in quick succession for Marcus Rashford. This shot was far better than the first, but he made it obvious that he was looking for the bottom corner and Dominik Livakovic got down to push the ball aside. England knocking on the door now!

62 minIt has been a far more entertaining second half compared to the first. Marcus Rashford squandered those two quickfire chances, while Ivan Perisic also came close to making a breakthrough for the home side. More than an hour played here.

64 minEngland are continuing to probe away in search of an opener. The Three Lions have won their last three away matches in all competitions, but Croatia are unbeaten on home soil in 19 matches. Sixteen of those games have ended in victory.

66 minThe match is going through another quiet spell, unfortunately. England have had the better of things in the opening 20 minutes of the second half, turning possession into chances, but that breakthrough goal has so far eluded them.

68 minA little over 20 minutes to go in Rijeka and there is no sign of a first change being made by either manager. Southgate has four players waiting to make their debuts, including highly-rated winger Jadon Sancho. Will we see the youngster at some point?

70 minCROATIA SUB! Kramaric was left in a bit of space outside the box to shoot, but he got the contact all wrong and the ball flew wide of Pickford's goal. Here comes the first change of the evening - Marko Pjaca on for Perisic.

72 minSHOT!  So nearly a top-class goal from Ante Rebic, whose shot from range had Jordan Pickford worried. The ball ended inches wide of the target - the closest Croatia have come to a goal in a good 20 minutes. We are now into the final quarter of the contest.

74 minCROATIA SUB! Croatia make their second change of the evening, bringing on Milan Badelj for Mateo Kovacic. Moments before that, Raheem Sterling was shown a yellow card for shooting after the referee had blown his whistle.

76 minHarry Kane with a nice finish under Dominik Livakovic, which will not count as the flag had already gone up for offside. England are looking the more likely to win this match as we enter the final 15 minutes at the Stadion HNK Rijeka.

78 minENGLAND SUB! A big moment for Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho, who is introduced in place of the ineffective Raheem Sterling. The youngster has more assists than any other player in Europe's top five leagues this term - can he carry that form into his international bow?

80 minTen minutes remain for England to make the most of their possession. Southgate will take plenty of positives away from this second-half performance, and the Three Lions boss will argue that his side have done enough to earn all three points.

Marcus Rashford and Mateo Kovacic battle for the ball during England's goalless draw with Croatia on October 12, 2018© Reuters


82 minCROATIA SUB! Marko Livaja is brought on for Ante Rebic for the final stages of the match. This is a result that will suit England more so than their opponents, as the sides face off at Wembley Stadium in a month's time.

84 minLooking more and more likely that this game is going to end goalless. England had their chances early in the second half, neither of which Marcus Rashford could make the most of, meaning that the sides will find themselves on one point apiece after two matches.

86 minSpain are the big winners from this match, as they are already sitting comfortably on six points from six following their first two Group A4 matches. Ben Chilwell does well to nip in and take the ball from Andrej Kramaric's boot.

88 minAll of a sudden there are just two minutes left, plus around three added on to come, for both sides to find a winner. It has been a pretty disappointing contest on the whole, with just a few combined chances at either end of the field.

90 minJadon Sancho has done well since being introduced, maybe enough to warrant a starting spot against Spain in a few days' time. The youngster's cross was a good one, but Livakovic got a touch to the ball to take it out of Harry Kane's path.

90+2 minDespite England making just one of their three changes, the referee has still added on four minutes at the end of the match. The Three Lions are still looking the more likely to score, but they have not done enough to deserve the win over the past half an hour.

90+4 minFULL TIME:  CROATIA 0-0 ENGLAND

9.45pmThis may well be considered an opportunity missed as far as Gareth Southgate is concerned as, following a low-in-quality first half, England created the second half's best opportunities. Marcus Rashford was twice denied from promising positions, while Harry Kane joined Eric Dier in hitting the frame of the goal with his header.

9.47pmThat concludes Sports Mole's live text coverage of events from Rijeka. An on-the-whistle report can be found by clicking here, and be sure to join us on Monday evening for England's meeting with Spain in their third Group A4 outing. Thanks for joining!

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England's Jordan Henderson gestures in the match against Sweden on July 7, 2018
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Liverpool1613303462842
2Manchester CityMan City1613214593641
3Tottenham HotspurSpurs16120430161436
4Chelsea16104233132034
5Arsenal16104235201534
6Manchester UnitedMan Utd167542826226
7Everton166642319424
8Bournemouth167272526-123
9Leicester CityLeicester166462120122
10Wolverhampton WanderersWolves166461719-222
11West Ham UnitedWest Ham166372325-221
12Watford166372023-321
13Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton166371922-321
14Cardiff CityCardiff1642101530-1514
15Newcastle UnitedNewcastle163491322-913
16Crystal Palace1633101323-1012
17Burnley1633101532-1712
18Huddersfield TownHuddersfield1624101027-1710
19Southampton161691330-179
20Fulham1623111640-249

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