Womens FA Cup quarter Final Preview

2019/2020 FA Cup Resumes

As strange as its sounds to talk about FA Cup Quarter Finals in September, with all that’s going on in the world credit to the FA for finishing last season Women’s FA Cup.

FA Director of the women’s professional game Kelly Simmons said:

“A significant amount of work has been going on behind the scenes to ensure the Women’s FA Cup can be completed and I am delighted that we have received the necessary approval for its conclusion”.

Simmons continued:

“The Women’s FA Cup is a showpiece fixture in the football calendar and because of that there was a huge appetite for the remaining rounds to be played”.

The show piece final will take place at Wembley Stadium on Saturday 31st of October. But before that we have the quarter and semi finals to be played.

The quarter finals will take place this weekend starting with the north London derby on Saturday (Kick off 17:15). The winners of this will face the winners of Leicester City v Manchester City who met on Sunday at 14:00. Also on Sunday Everton host Chelsea at 13:00 with the winners facing Brighton or Birmingham who will face off at 14:00.

All games will be played behind closed doors. Arsenal’s game with Tottenham will be shown on BBC2 from 5pm on Saturday. While Everton v Chelsea will be streamed on the FA Player.

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur

Arsenal head into this derby fixture having gotten off to a flying start in the WSL. With 9-1 and 6-1 wins over West ham and Reading respectively. The gunners have been on fire in front of goal. Tottenham however have suffered defeat to Everton 1-0 and drew with West ham 1-1.

New Arsenal player Steph Catley spoke to the clubs website about the competition:

“Its a brand new experience for me. the reason you play football is to win trophies, so to come in at such a late stage and be really close to winning one is really exciting”

Arsenal boast a wealth of international talent within their squad. Dutch midfielder Jill Roord has had a great start with six goals in two games. While fellow Netherlands international Vivianne Miedema has scored four goals so far. The Gunners also boast the likes of England stars Beth Mead and Jordan Nobbs, Dutch attacker Danielle Van de Donk and Scotland international Kim Little. Joe Montemurro’s side, therefore, must be considered heavy favourites.

Tottenham will be no push over’s, however, after recently signing US legend and World Cup winner Alex Morgan. Alex spoke to the club website about coming to play in England:

“I’ve heard so many great things about the WSL and some of my team-mates from the national team have come over and signed with other clubs in the WSL”. “I wanted to challenge myself and play in a different league”.

Players To Watch

For Arsenal Jill Roord and Vivianne Miedema have been scoring for fun. Jordan Nobbs and Danielle Van de Donk will also play an important part for Arsenal. As for Tottenham Australia defender Alanna Kennedy will need to be at her best. Anna Filbey will be looking to continue her good form, after Wales’ narrow 1-0 defeat to Norway. But there could be a staring role for Alex Morgan who may make her first appearance.

Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Tottenham

Everton V Chelsea

Everton host Chelsea in Sundays early game Kick off 13:00. The game will be streamed live on the FA Player.

Everton head into this game on the back of two wins in the WSL. A 1-0 victory over Tottenham and a 4-0 win over Bristol City. Lucy Graham scored twice in the win over Bristol while Isobel Christiansen got the winner against Tottenham.

Chelsea opened the WSL with at draw away to Manchester United (1-1) with a goal from Sam Kerr. In their second game they hammered Bristol City by nine goals. Kirby, Mjelde, Leupolz, Cuthbert, Bright, England, Charles, Harder and Kerr all getting on the scoresheet.

In the last five meeting between these side Chelsea have won four and there has been one draw. Everton’s last win was in 2013 when they won 3-2.

Players To Watch

For Everton Ingrid Wold the Norwegian international helped Norway to a 1-0 win over Wales on Tuesday will be key to stopping Chelsea’s So-Yun Ji, Fran kirby and Beth England. Scotland international Lucy Graham has two goals for the season and will be looking to add more.

For Chelsea they have world stars right across the squad. Norwegian trio Maren Mjelde, Maria Thorisdottir and Guro Reiten. Sophie Ingle, So-Yon Ji, Fran Kirby can all change games. While Sam Kerr is one of the best strikers in the world.

Prediction: Everton 0-4 Chelsea

Brighton V Birmingham City

These sides met each other on the opening day of the WSL season. Brighton won the game by two goals to nil, with stikes from Megan Connolly and Inessa Kaagman. The score flattered the Blues as Brighton hit fifteen attempts to their four.

Brighton’s second game saw them hold Man City to a goalless draw. They sit in sixth place after two games. After finishing ninth at the early end of last season Brighton will want to push on this season.

Birmingham’s poor start continued with a 5-2 defeat to Manchester United. They did lead in the match after conceding early. A Claudia Walker equaliser and an own goal from Abbie McManus giving them a brief lead. United leveled before the break, then hit three without reply in the second half.

Players to Watch

For Brighton Inessa Kaagman and Kayleigh Green will be important. Also 18 year old english defender Maya Le Tissier has looked a great talent in the first two rounds of the WSL. Birmingham will be looking for more goals from Claudia Walker.

Prediction: Brighton 2-0 Birmingham City

Leicester City v Manchester City

Leicester enter the quarter finals as the only Championship side remaining in the competition. They have begun their season with a 3-0 win over Blackburn and a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United. They sit second in the championship on goal difference.

FA Cup holders Manchester City have a win and draw in their opening WSL fixtures. City boss Gareth Taylor spoke to clubs website ahead of this game saying:

“The girls are under no illusions that we need to be better in the final third with our decision-making and final action where it matters”.

Taylor continued:

“Goals are important and of course, we don’t want to concede any. Its a positive in that respect- we’ve had two clean sheets”.

Aoife Mannion, Megan Campbell and Lauren Hemp are all confirmed to be out of contention though injuries. In positive news though Rose Lavelle may get her first start.

Players to Watch

For Leicester Natasha Flint has three goals in two games for the season. Millie Farrow has one goal in one and is another Leicester player to watch. Manchester City have an outstanding squad of international players, however, keep an eye on American pair Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis.

Prediction: Leicester City 0-3 Manchester City

DOES NEW LIVERPOOL SIGNING MEAN Something’s jota give?

Liverpool’s recruitment kicked into gear in dramatic fashion last weekend as they unveiled the signing of Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich, quickly followed by Diogo Jota from fellow Premier League club Wolves.

It was the latter which caught many by surprise, without being linked to the Portuguese star, suddenly he was a Liverpool player as the Premier League champions tied up a £41 million deal to sign the 23-year-old.

Often used as a wide forward Jota ticks the ‘need backup for the front three’ box in Jurgen Klopp’s squad. Although it remains to be seen who may depart Anfield in the coming weeks, coupled with options such as Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri, Takumi Minamino as well as a host of youngsters, it seems the Reds have now got all backup bases covered.

Just where will Jota fit in with the title holders?

Often used as a left inside forward throughout his career in Portugal and since his arrival in England, Jota is capable of operating through the middle although it seems likely he will mainly be used out wide.

Although currently occupied by Sadio Mane, Jota will see his fair share of match action. It has long been used as a stick to beat Klopp’s Reds but their apparent nonplussed attitude towards domestic cup competitions could well change with additional strength in depth.

Jota could well make his Liverpool debut in such a competition when they travel to Lincoln City on Thursday night for the Carabao Cup Third Round.

Whilst the infallible Liverpool front three are arguably the best in the world it is a fair argument to say without one the others fail, as well as the drop off in quality with the previous understudies being too high to afford to rest anyone during even the most strenuous periods.

Now, however, with quality of the likes of Jota waiting in the wings, Klopp will be far more willing to perhaps rest his star men in certain matches, as well as having the capabilities from the bench to change the direction of travel of a match should it not be going his side’s way.

The Stats

From a numbers perspective whilst Jota doesn’t quite match up with the current Liverpool wide men, although neither Mane or Salah were hitting the numbers they are now prior to their Anfield arrival. Klopp and his staff could well be about to take another prestigious talent up a number of levels.

Jota struck 33 goals in 111 league Wolves performances, and has also recently bagged his first international goal amidst his first four caps.

In 34 Premier League appearances last term, the Portuguese star scored seven times and assisted once. By comparison Mane scored 18 times and assisted seven in just one more outing.

Clear to see the position sharers are somewhat apart on the numbers front, although that gap could be accentuated by the differing levels of teams they were in.

Summary

Ultimately Jota is unlikely to be a regular starter to begin with and at just 23, the Portuguese international has plenty of time to grow into his Reds career, without any pressure to begin with.

Jota will most likely be utilised at the forefront of what Liverpool will hope to be a prolonged cup run, whilst providing an energetic and slightly alternative option off the bench in Premier League action.

Should, god forbid, any of the front three pick up an injury, Jota at least offers high quality backup with proven English top flight experience. Something almost everybody can agree was previously missing from the squad, despite the unrivalled success of the last 18 months.

THE PREMIER LEAGUE DEBUTANTS – WHO IMPRESSED?

The first week of Premier League fixtures has passed and we got a look in into some of the new talents that will be on offer during the season. In this article I’ll go over some of the more impressive debuts team by team.

Newcastle United – Jeff Hendrick and Callum Wilson

Newcastle have done some tidy business this summer, and two of their signings scored both goals in a comfortable win over West Ham United.

Hendrick was impressive all round with his work rate and passing from midfield, his efforts were rewarded with an emphatic strike to seal their win in the dying minutes. Callum Wilson caused issues with his forward runs and looked fairly decent up front with Andy Carroll.

His goal really showed off his poachers instinct and how crucial he could be for the Toon this season. Getting the first goal helped the team push on and he could be that man for them this season.

Arsenal – Willian and Gabriel Magalhaes

Wow. What a debut for these boys.Arsenal wanted some Brazilian flair and they certainly got it. Gabriel made a fairly slow start to the game, looking shaky on the ball and not full of confidence. He soon, however, grew into the game and even scored from a corner just after the break.

His defensive prowess shined through further as he made himself difficult to get past and was calm and composed in possession. He certainly looks value for money in Arteta’s system.

The catalyst to their goals against Fulham was of course Willian, who grabbed three assists in his first match as a Gunner. After making the switch from Chelsea on a free many fans questioned the decision, few probably would’ve held the same opinions after this game. The winger was unplayable and Arsenal fans will be hoping for more of the same.

Everton – Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure, James Rodriguez

This midfield really could be something special for Everton this season. After all the issues they had in the middle of the park last year they could have really struck gold this time around.

Doucoure and Allan offered ways to frustrate Spurs and broke up play very well. Doucoure offered an outlet throughout the pitch with a more box to box display, whilst Allan was superb as a defensive anchor.

The team looked more solid as a unit with them playing and with their technical ability (very underrated aspects of their game) they were able to transition with greater effect.

The biggest name was of course James Rodriguez. A player Everton wouldn’t have dreamed of signing five/six years ago, but he was certainly what they’d hoped for. Technically gifted and fantastic in possession, his vision and talent was clear to see – he was even close to getting a goal on a couple of occasions.

Carlo Ancelotti looks to have built an impressive first team, whether they have the depth to compete is yet to be seen.

Leicester City – Timothy Castagne

Castagne was superb at Atalanta last season, and he made a great start in the Premier League too as he contributed heavily to their 3-0 win over West Brom.

Castagne scored the opening goal of the game and was a threat throughout the game offering a great outlet from full-back. He looks like a player that will adapt well to the league and is an exciting addition to what is a talented attacking Leicester team.

Wolves – Fernando Marcal

Fernando Marcal was part of the Lyon team that impressed so much in the Champions League last season, and his defensive rashness made it a strange choice for Nuno to start him at Left-wing-back. He played best at the left of a back three last season.

The Brazilian gave an assured and defensively solid performance and his side strolled to a 2-0 win over Sheffield United. With Jonny out injured Wolves would’ve been reassured with this performance, and Marcal’s experience could prove very important in such a young side.

Chelsea – Timo Werner

The hype surrounding Timo Werner has been no secret, the striker was superb during his time at RB Leipzig and plenty of fans are excited to see him perform in the Premier League.

Whilst he didn’t score on debut, he was lively and caused Brighton all sorts of issues with his pressing and direct runs in between their centre- backs.

He even won the penalty that Jorghino scored to give them the lead, and continued to look a constant threat. He’ll be a useful player to press teams back as his pace will force opponents to take caution. Out of the debutants he was the real bright spark as Kai Havertz flattered to deceive.

He’ll come good in front of goal and this was a good start for him.

Thiago Alcantara joins Liverpool – Who is the Spanish Midfielder?

Premier League Champions Liverpool have signed Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara for an initial £20 million, which could potentially rise to £27 million through add-ons. 

The 29-year old is in the final year of his contract with Bayern Munich, but Thiago had already made it clear to the European Champions that he wanted a new challenge.

Equally Bayern Munich have decided that they would like to recoup some of the money for some of the money they paid for the midfielder rather than risk him leaving for nothing at the end of the season. 

Thiago’s arrival at Anfield would potentially pave the way for Giorginio Wijnaldum to join his former national team manager Ronald Koeman, at Barcelona. 

Who is Thiago Alcantara?

Thiago was born to Brazilian parents. His father was a World Cup winner while his mother was a volleyball player.  He moved to Spain at a young age and at the age of 14 he signed for FC Barcelona. 

The Spanish midfielder made his debut at the Nou Camp in 2009 against RCD Mallorca. In 2011 he made his first appearance for the Spanish national side in a friendly against Italy.

In total, Thiago played 68 matches for the Catalan side and scored seven goals. He then, however, made the switch from the Spanish La Liga to the German Bundesliga, joining Pep Guardola at Bayern Munich in 2013. 

During his time with the Bundesliga giants, as well as securing last season’s Champions League trophy by beating Paris Saint Germain, he won an impressive seven consecutive Bundesliga titles, four German Cups and the Club World Cup.  

What kind of player is he?

Thiago Alcantara is a top quality deep lying playmaker that is composed on the ball and keeps things ticking over in the centre of the park. His range of passing is nothing short of phenomenal. 

The Spanish international certainly represents terrific value for the Premier League Champions, and he will certainly provide them some much-needed control in the midfield area.  

Indeed, when Thiago was 22-years-old former manager Pep Guardola has previously said that he can play three or four positions. The midfielder, however, is well accustomed to playing in a 4-3-3 system, so he would easily slot into the reds midfield. 

In short, he will give Jurgen Klopp’s side another top quality option in a vital area of the pitch. 

What do you think? Do you believe that Thiago Alacantara will be a success at Liverpool?

five youngsters to watch in the Premier League

As the Premier League season kicks back into full gear with everyone in action this weekend, what better time than to look at five youngsters who could be set for breakthrough campaigns in 2020/21.

Rhian Brewster – Liverpool

Liverpool player for now, but a lot perhaps depends on where the 20-year-old does end up. Should he remain with the Premier League champions? It is unlikely the former Under-17 World Cup Golden Boot winner will get the game time required to have an impact, however, should his much talked about departure come to fruition – this could well the year Brewster makes it on the biggest stage.

Jamie Shackleton – Leeds United

Leeds born and raised. Jamie Shackleton made 22 Championship appearances during the Whites title-winning campaign and could be set to have a big impact on the highest level. An England Under-20 international with a forward-thinking nature from midfield, the 20-year-old who possesses bags of energy could well be one to impress from the eye-catching Marcelo Bielsa side.

Tyrick MitchellCrystal Palace

The left-back from the Palace academy. After joining at a young age from Brentford, Mitchell looks set for a big season in Roy Hodgson’s squad. The 21-year-old looks set to put serious pressure on Patrick van Aanholt for the number one choice and started in the absence of the Dutchman in the opening day win against Southampton at Selhurst Park.

Khanya LeshabelaLeicester City

South African born 20-year-old who has been around the first-team squad during pre-season. To date Leshabela’s appearances have been restricted to Under-23 outings, however, do not be at all surprised to see his name make its way onto at least Brendan Rodgers’ bench during the season. A powerful runner who is tricky on the ball and blessed with pace and can play both centrally and out wide.

Regan Slater – Sheffield United

A product of the Blades youth system who has captained numerous academy sides at Bramall Lane. There are extremely high hopes Slater. The 21-year-old made his first-team debut way back in 2016 against Grimbsy Town, becoming the youngest Sheffield United debutante in the process. Slater has since spent successful loan spells at Carlisle United and Scunthorpe United, expected to stay with Chris Wilder’s squad this time and could have a major impact on the season.

When you are forced to put these lads in your FPL team later in the season, don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Sergio Regulión completes Spurs Transfer- Who is the Spanish Left Back?

Tottenham have announced the signing of Real Madrid’s Sergio Regulión.

The defender arrived in North London for €30 million (£27.5 million) on a five year deal, with Spurs winning the race to secure the signature of the highly rated Spaniard ahead of Premier League rivals Man United, who also held a strong interest in the left back.

The Red Devils were looking to strengthen their options at left back and saw Reguilón, who had a successful spell on loan at Sevilla last year, as the ideal candidate to compete with Luke Shaw for a starting berth.

The stumbling block for United was Real Madrid’s insistence on including a buy back clause in the deal, whilst Los Blancos also wanted a payment of €30 million up front, with United only willing to do a deal of €20 million plus add ons.

Their hesitance allowed Spurs to swoop in, with the Lilywhites accepting a buy back clause active for two years, believed to be in the region of €45 million depending on various incentives, according to the Guardian.

Regulión is an attack minded full back who joined Real Madrid’s La Fabrica academy at the age of eight and worked his way up through the various youth ranks.

He got his first taste of senior football in 2015 when he was loaned out to Segunda Division B outfit UD Logroñés for the entirety of the 2015-16 campaign. He featured sparingly, making just nine appearances before returning for a more successful loan spell the following season.

He played 30 games as a more advanced left winger and scored eight goals, establishing himself as a regular in the third division.

On his return to Madrid, he featured heavily in the Castilla side, signing a new contract in 2018 after catching the eye, before new boss Julen Lopetegui promoted him to the first team for pre season ahead of the 2018-19 season.

He made his debut in October 2018, starting in a 3-0 defeat to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League before making his league debut in a 2-0 win over Real Valladolid the following month.

He would go on to register a further 11 appearances for Los Blancos, as Marcelo’s form dipped, but the return of Zidane as manager slowed his progress.

Frenchman and fellow left back Ferland Mendy was brought in from Lyon to replace the ageing Marcelo, pushing Regulión down the pecking order given Mendy’s terrific form for Los Blancos.

A reunion with Lopetegui at Sevilla for the 2019-20 campaign allowed Regulión to get regular minutes at the highest level, and he certainly grasped that chance.

He enjoyed an impressive season, featuring in 31 games, scoring twice as Los Palanganas finished fourth in La Liga. He also played a key role in helping them to win the Europa League for the third time in the last five years.

Regulión is made very much in the mould of a modern full back, sound defensively but devastating driving forward. He created 40 chances in the 2019-20 season, the fourth best in Europe’s top five leagues for full backs under the age of 23.

This is an interesting stat considering this was the Spaniard’s first full campaign at the highest level.

He was named in the Europa League team of the season and won his first cap for Spain in the recent international break, starting in the Nations League victory over Ukraine.

He will certainly be an upgrade on Spurs’ current options at left back, Welshman Ben Davies who is solid yet unspectacular, particularly going forward and the engimatic Danny Rose, who has been told to train with the Under 23s after returning from a loan spell at Newcastle.

Real Madrid’s insistence on including a buy back clause highlight that they value Regulion’s clear potential, and don’t want to lose him forever.

They may well exercise the clause if he impresses in London, as he could be the ideal heir to replace Mendy in a few years, with the Frenchman already 25 and often struggling with niggling injuries.

The buy back clause could be a cause for concern for Tottenham, but in the short term (and Mourinho is well known for making signings for the here and now) it represents a good deal for Spurs as they look to transform an ageing squad, which has grown stale with a lack of signings in recent seasons.

Like Doherty on the right, Regulión will be tasked with being a creative outlet on the left, linking up with Son and putting in crosses for Kane to attack. He will also be asked to do his bit defensively, and working under a defensive minded coach like Mourinho would no doubt aid this part of his game.

He may need some time to adapt to the physicality and speed of the Premier League, but for a player with a good injury record and such great potential he should shine in England.

Liverpool have shown the significance of attacking, mobile full backs in the modern game and the combination of Doherty and Regulión should excite Tottenham fans as much as the pairing of Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold on Merseyside.

Jack Grealish commits future to Aston Villa

Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish has ended speculation regarding his future with the club by signing a new five-year deal, keeping him at Villa Park until 2025. 

The England midfielder has been linked with a move to Manchester United this transfer window, but he has now confirmed via the club’s Twitter account that his immediate future will be at Villa Park. 

This news will come as a welcome boost to Villa fans, to secure the services of their captain, who has been at his hometown club since he was eight-years old. 

Grealish made his debut for the club towards the back end of the 2013/14 and stuck by Villa despite their relegation in 2016. 

The England international played a crucial role in his team’s return to the top flight and was their top scorer in their first season back in the Premier League. 

Grealish said:

“I am delighted to make this commitment to Villa. It is my club, my home and I am very happy here. The owners have made it very clear to me how ambitious they are and how they want to build Aston Villa.  There are exciting times ahead and I am glad to be apart of it.”

Villa Chief Executive Christian Purslow, meanwhile, said: 

“We are determined to build a top team around him and are delighted that he is extending his contract and committing to the club that he loves.”

Indeed, the Villa owners have clearly demonstrated their ambition for the club this past week as they not only secured Grealish’s future but they have signed last season’s Championship joint-top scorer, striker Ollie Watkins from Brentford for a club record fee of £28 million. 

The midlands side have also brought in full back Matty Cash from Nottingham Forest and look set to add the likes of goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from Arsenal and former Chelsea striker Betrand Traore.

Despite the influx of signings, the aim for Villa is clearly still remaining in the top flight this season and with these latest additions they certainly look to have a fighting chance of achieving this.

Where do you think Aston Villa will finish this season? Do you think they have what it takes to remain in the top flight for the second season running?

WSL RoundUp Week Two: Champions Chelsea register first win of the 2020-21 Season

The latest round of Women Super League matches incredibly featured two sides scoring nine goals past their respective opponents. 

Indeed, WSL Champions Chelsea registered their first win of the campaign with a 9-0 win over Tanya Oxtoby’s Bristol City side.  

Emma Hayes’ Blues were ruthless in front of goal in an impressive team display, which saw nine different goal scorers.  England International Fran Kirby opened the scoring with her first WSL goal for 16 months since returning from pericarditis. 

The West London club doubled their advantage 16 minutes later through Norwegian defender Maren Mjelde from the penalty spot after Yana Daniels fouled Ji So-yun. 

Scottish winger Erin Cuthbert then ensured that Chelsea’s impressive performance continued as she provided the free kick for Melanie Leupolz to head home, before she scored herself from a long-range strike just outside the penalty area. Millie Bright then headed in the Blue’s fifth just before half time.

Things did not improve for The Robins in the second half as PFA Player of the Year Beth England tapped in from close range, before new signing Niamh Charles got in on the act by scoring on her first appearance for her new club.  

Record signing Pernille Harder then opened her goalscoring account with an impressive backheel into the net before Australian international Sam Kerr completed the rout.

The other team to score nine goals past their opponents was Arsenal, who secured a 9-1 win over London rivals West Ham. 

The match was selected as a test event for the reintroduction of crowds and the 734 fans certainly got their money’s worth. 

The two sides were evenly matched in the first part of the game as Jill Roord put the Gunners ahead with a side-footed finish before the hosts equalised through a Kenza Dali half volley just outside the area. 

The game, however, was effectively over as a contest when Hammer’s captain Gilly Flaherty was sent off just after Arsenal had retaken the lead through Dutch international Vivianne Miedema.

Midfielder Kim Little finished off a fine team move before England striker Beth Mead made it 4-1 to the North London side just before the break.  

The second half saw further misery for the home side and their fans as Roord scored a further two goals to ensure she went home with the match ball for the second game running.  

In between Roord’s goals Miedema was able to add another to her tally before Leah Williamson and Caitlin Foord completed the scoring, which saw the Gunners move to the top of the table, with two wins out of two and managing to score 15 goals in the process.    

New signings Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood meanwhile were unable to inspire Gareth Taylor’s Manchester City side, who, were held to a 0-0 draw in their first home match of the campaign by a stubborn Brighton team.

The other side of Manchester, however, had no such problems as they achieved their first three points of the campaign away at Birmingham City.  Casey Stoney’s Manchester United were successfully able to overturn a 2-1 half-time deficit thanks to two goals from Kirsty Hanson, who inspired United to a 5-2 win.  

Elsewhere, Reading were able to recover from a disappointing 6-1 opening day defeat to Arsenal with a strong first half display against newly promoted Aston Villa.  Goals from Amalie Eikeland, Laura Bruton and a Fara Williams penalty ensured The Royals of a commanding 3-0 lead at half-time.  

Although a penalty from Stine Larsen 11 minutes from the end offered the midlands side a way back into the game they ultimately never looked likely to threaten to get back into the match. 

The final WSL game saw Everton maintain their impressive start to the season with a 1-0 win over Tottenham.  The North London club were minus their new marque signing Alex Morgan, and ultimately did not offer much going forward.  Subsequently, they slumped to defeat on Merseyside, thanks to a header from England international Izzy Christiansen. 

What next?

The Women Super League takes a two-week break with the next round of games being played on Sunday 4thOctober.

Before that though, the weekend of the 26/27thSeptember features Women’s FA Cup Quarter Finals, which includes a North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham. WSL Champions Chelsea, meanwhile, travel to in-form Everton, while Championship side Leicester City take on Gareth Taylor’s Manchester City. 

The remaining Quarter Final sees Hope Powell’s Brighton host Midlands side, Birmingham City. 

Women’s FA Quarter Final Ties

Saturday 26thSeptember

Arsenal Women vs Tottenham Women (12:30pm)

Everton Women vs Chelsea Women (1pm)

Leicester City Women vs Manchester City Women (1pm)

Sunday 27thSeptember

Brighton & Hove Albion Women vs Birmingham City Women (3pm)

Should Lucy Bronze now be considered the best England player of all time?

This week England full back Lucy Bronze returned to the Women Super League, signing a two-year contract with her previous club, Manchester City. 

Bronze concluded her three-year stay with Olympiqe Lyon Feminine by lifting the Champions League last month as the French side secured the trophy with a 3-1 win over Frauen Bundesliga Champions VlB Wolfsburg in San Sebastian. 

During her remarkably successful time with the French Champions, she won all that was available to her: claiming three Champions League titles, three league titles, two Coup de France Feminine and a Trophee des Championnes.

Indeed, the 28-year old also secured a number of individual allocates, including the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year in 2019. 

On Bronze’s return to Manchester, Head Coach Gareth Taylor said:

“She is an unrivalled talent and her endless individual and team awards only scratch the surface of what a superb player she is, not only at Club level, but also internationally with England.”

For the Three Lions Bronze has also produced some memorable moments, one that immediately springs to mind is that stunning goal against Norway in their last 16 game back in 2015.

This, however, begs the question, should she now be considered the best female player that England has ever produced?

Well, when you think of great England Women footballer’s one name that immediately springs to mind is Kelly Smith.

Smith was able to successfully represent the Three Lions for the best part of two decades earning 117 caps. She was one who arguably blazed a trail for future England footballers such as Bronze. 

During her club career she scored a remarkable 125 goals in 144 games for Arsenal Ladies over three separate spells with the Gunners. 

Smith also played for a number of American football teams such as New Jersey Lady Stallions, Philadelphia Charge and New Jersey Wildcats in her eight years in the USA. 

Ultimately, Smith ended her career with 20 trophies in three separate, which included starring in Arsenal’s amazing 2006-07 season where they secured the Quadruple.  She played a key part of this success by scoring 30 goals in 34 matches across those four competitions.  She was also presented the FA Player of Year award twice. 

BBC Match of the Day commentator Jonathan Pearce said:

“She had power, strength, a lovely eye for a pass, finishing of course and was so dynamic in the penalty area. 

“She was a leader because of the way she played, that she demanded respect from her opponents and team-mates.  She was the first England women’s football superstar.” 

In short, what Smith was able to achieve while the English game was not fully professional was terrific but Bronze is certainly on the right path to either match or surpass her.

It is, however, difficult to compare the two players directly as they play different positions.  Bronze is the epitome of the modern day full back, while she can also be utilised in midfield and at times the centre of defence, where as Smith applied her trade typically further forward as a striker.

Overall I would still consider to be Smith to be the greatest player to come from these shores having been able to perform at a consistently high level for a number of years, added to that Bronze has still to win a European trophy with an English club. 

The 28-year old, however, certainly is on the right path and comes back to the WSL at a time when the League has a chance to establish itself as the world’s finest women’s division.  

What do you think? Should Lucy Bronze be considered England’s greatest ever player? Would Kelly Smith still get your vote? Feel free to post in the comments below….

Wanted man: a profile on james tarkowski

As the bids pour in from West Ham United for Burnley centre-half James Tarkowski, what better time than to profile the centre-half, who could end up fetching a hefty fee this summer, with a release clause apparently set an eye-watering £50 million.

A 27 year old Tarkowski may be no spring chicken, but unlike many top flight footballers his rise to prominence came rather later in his career than most.

Now a mainstay in Sean Dyche’s solid Burnley XI, it is safe to say Tarkowski earned his stripes before making it in the big time.

Early Life

Born in Manchester and with Polish family blood, hence the surname, Tarkowski joined the academy at Blackburn Rovers before his release at the age of 14 at his own request.

Following a spell of toughening up in adult football in the North West Counties league for Maine Road, the no nonsense defender was signed by Oldham Athletic when he left school on a two-year scholarship, and was handed a professional contract in 2011 at Boundary Park.

The now Burnley man’s first taste of pro senior football came on  22 January 2011 when he appeared as a second half substitute for the Latics.

Lower League Sensation

Tawkowski went on to make 89 appearances for Oldham in all competitions, but in truth he was showing signs of a far greater level than the club could offer.

Despite this, Oldham attempted to keep their man by offering him a new contract, before a then League One Brentford came calling in 2014. Soon-after the Tic was a Bee after the two clubs agreed an undisclosed fee and the centre-half put pen to paper on a three and a half year deal.

After playing a bit-part role in Brentford’s promotion to the Championship, it was in the second tier of English football when the Englishman began to show his true potential.

His form across his 57 Championship outings in two seasons brought the attention of multiple clubs, with Sean Dyche’s Burnley ultimately being the lucky side to secure his signature.

On 1 February 2016, Tarkowski signed a three-and-a-half-year contract with a promotion chasing Clarets side for another undisclosed fee.

In truth the defender hasn’t always been first choice at Turf Moor, suffering a watching brief for large portions of his early time at the club, until the departure of Michael Keane to Everton opened up a position in the heart of the Burnley defence, Tarkowski has never looked back.

Since 2017/18 he has played 103 Premier League matches, including appearing in each of Burnley’s 38 games last term, underlining his new found importance to Dyche’s side. No wonder the rough speaking manager is desperate to keep hold of his man.

England Honours

Having been eligible to play for Poland through his grandfather, On 15 March 2018, Tarkowski was named in the England squad for friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy, making his debut on 27 March at Wembley Stadium starting in a 1-1 draw with the Italians.

A man of currently only two caps, there is no doubt more will come should he continue his outstanding form in the future, wherever he plies his trade.

Where Next?

With reported major interest from West Ham, including two rejected bids to date, and with Leicester City seemingly monitoring the situation, where next for James Tarkowski? If anywhere.

Whilst there is no doubt his form and levels of consistency make him worthy of a move to perhaps the slightly upper echelons of the Premier League, £50 million seems a little extortionate, although for for £10 million less you’re getting half the player Harry Maguire is, and the 27 year old Burnley man certainly isn’t that.

The West Ham link seems a strange one, not because David Moyes’ squad wouldn’t benefit from the centre back, because they would. More because it’s somewhat of a sideways, arguably backwards move for him. Despite the perceived size of the clubs, the claret and blue of Burnley finished a full six places higher than the claret and blue of West Ham last term.

It could easily be argued the Leicester switch is a more desirable, viable and perhaps suitable one. A team who certainly threatened the top four for much of the season, have Europa League football, and will compete in the domestic trophies, is perhaps whereabouts Tarkowski should be aiming.

Ready For The Elite?

TalkSport host Ally McCoist did recently question why some of the big boys in the top flight weren’t making their enquiries, however a crack at the very elite levels may just be one tiny step too far for the twice capped England man.

That said Tarkowski did make the WhoScored.com European team of the season a line-up is based purely on statistics as Burnley kept the same number of clean sheets as champions Liverpool in 2019/20, largely down to that man leading the defence.

Neco Williams: Liverpool’s latest Kirby star and a new Welsh hero

“England were trying to ring my agent a lot and wanting to speak to me, but I weren’t having none of it,” declared a young Neco Williams not long before he made his senior debut for the Welsh national side on Thursday against Finland.

As if snubbing the old enemy wasn’t enough to endear himself to the Welsh faithful Williams went one better at the weekend, popping up with his first senior goal in the dying seconds to prevent Wales from succumbing to a disappointing draw against Bulgaria.

It was another important milestone in the Wrexham teenager’s fledgling career to date, and it seems as if the only way is up for the right back.

Williams has been at Liverpool since the age of six and has progressed through the various youth ranks. Previously an attacking midfielder or a winger in his younger teenage years, the 19-year old was converted to a right back by Academy coaches to help accelerate his development.

After a back injury ruled him out for almost the entirety of the 2017-18 season he impressed upon his return to action in 2018, making his debut for the U23s and Wales’ U19 side.

The following campaign, 2018-19, was when Williams really began to prosper. He featured for the Reds’ U18s, U19s and U23s that season. He was also an integral member of the squad who lifted the FA Youth Cup, holding his nerve to convert his penalty against Man City as Liverpool defeated the Sky Blues in the shootout.

He stepped up to the first team ahead of the 2019-20 season, featuring in a number of pre season friendlies for Liverpool, before making his official debut in the Carabao Cup game with Arsenal in October.

Williams put in a sublime performance on the night, assisting Divock Origi’s goal to make it 5-5 as the Reds went on to triumph over the Gunners on penalties.

He travelled with Klopp’s side to Qatar as they lifted the FIFA Club World Cup before he starred in the FA Cup third round defeat of Everton in January in which the majority of Liverpool’s starting XI were aged 22 or under.

He started both cup ties against Shrewsbury in the next round and had a hand in the winning goal. His fizzing cross forced Ro-Shaun Williams to head the ball his own net as Liverpool progressed to the fifth round.

He played the full game as Liverpool suffered a 2-1 loss to Chelsea. His Premier League debut followed after lockdown, with Williams coming on for the final fifteen minutes in the 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace and almost scoring, lashing an effort just off target in a lively cameo.

He would go on to feature against Man City and Aston Villa, before making his first Premier League start against Brighton.

Two further appearances against Burnley and Newcastle on the final day of the season meant that Williams played enough games (six in the top flight) to earn a Premier League winners medal as Liverpool wrapped up the title with 99 points.

Whilst on Liverpool’s pre season trip to Austria it was announced that Williams had signed a new 5 year deal with the club, a reward for his terrific transition into the first team set up last year and he will be hoping to continue his upward trajectory this term.

He started the Community Shield loss today Arsenal at the end of August, deputising for Alexander-Arnold who was out injured, and Williams will be hoping to provide strong competition for the Englishman this campaign as Liverpool attempt to hold on to their Premier League crown.

Williams is a marauding full back, made very much in the same mould as Trent Alexander-Arnold, a fellow Kirby graduate. He is quick, strong in the tackle and has an eye for a pass, with his crossing ability particularly impressive even at his young age.

He is solid defensively and wins many of his aerial duels. His positioning sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, as seen in the Community Shield when he stood off Aubameyang allowing him to curl a splendid effort into the far corner, although this should only improve with experience and learning from the likes of Alexander-Arnold and Robertson in training each day.

Jürgen Klopp is certainly a fan of what he sees from the Welshman and is keen to utilise him this season with Liverpool competing on four fronts.

He told Liverpool’s official website last month:

“Neco from the first day he trained with us, he trained like a machine. Every day he became better and better and better and I thought, ‘OK, what’s that?

“He has a lot of things that we really like so I am really, really happy that he signed the contract.”

Many at Liverpool believe Trent Alexander-Arnold’s future lies further forward, in a centre midfield role, and if Williams can reach the dizzying heights Trent has reached in just a few short years, that transition may be made sooner rather than later in order to accommodate both of Liverpool’s prodigious talents.

Williams isn’t looking too far ahead despite the hype surrounding him, aiming to keep his feet firmly on the floor and enjoy the great memories which this week has provided him.

Speaking to BBC Sport after the game Williams said:

“To learn off the best players in the world for club and country is something that a young lad like me has always dreamt of.

“I’ll keep improving as a player and keep showing the dedication, I’ll stay humble and if all that comes together I’ll be a top player.”

Williams certainly believes in his ability and with a committed attitude like that to match his talent he could be the next Liverpool great to step off the production line.

Premier league 2020/21: WHO CAN WIN IT?

The new Premier League season begins this weekend, unbeleivably as it seems like only yesterday we were waving goodbye to the last season.

Ahead of the 2020/21 season, we have some questions surrounding the top of the table. Can Pep’s Manchester City rid themselves of last years frailties and compete for longer this time? Or will Liverpool continue their consistency and defend their title?

Let’s not rule out the possibility of Manchester United’s continuing their progression and it would be almost insanity to dismiss Chelsea, given their spends, wouldn’t it?

Here’s how I think the teams involved in the upper echelons of the Premier League title race will play out in 2020/21…

Liverpool

The reigning champions. Jurgen Klopp’s side may have ended the season in somewhat bizarre fashion as they rather limped over the line following lock-down and title celebrations. That should not take away from the sheer dominance the Reds imparted on the Premier League.

While many people question the business, or lack of business done by the champions up until now, its my belief only minor changes are required, if any at all.

Natural left-back cover for Andy Robertson was required and has been found in Greek international Kostas Tsimikas.

One saga, which rumbles on is the Thiago Alcantara links, now joined by the Gini Wijnaldum to Barcelona rumours. Whilst many Liverpool fans may argue why not have both? I’m not sure there is room both in the current group, a squad that already boasts a plethora of central midfield options and the two players are of a similar mould.

The main bone of contention continues to be the back-up options to the starting XI. Should Klopp face a long-term injury to his front-line options the understudies may not be of a level required, although in truth that is the case of almost every team in world football. Not many can be a suitable understudy to Virgil van Dijk.

Overall, I believe Liverpool will go on to retain their title, the relentless nature in which Klopp has his squad churning out results is very difficult to keep up with week on week. Don’t be surprised by the growing influence of some of the younger players, in particular Curtis Jones, and also Naby Keita may finally find his feet in English football.

Manchester City

The main contenders to take Liverpool’s crown, Pep Guardiola’s well furnished Man City side.

There is little doubt 2019/20 can be viewed as somewhat of a failure from a sky blue perspective in Manchester. As glorious a victory as the Carabao Cup may have been, a side comprised of such talent and expenditure is expected to finish closer than 18 points off the summit. Not to mention the dismal UEFA Champions League exit.

That, however, was last term, how about now? The arrival of Nathan Ake certainly plugs a crack in the issues faced at City, a forced to be reckoned with going forwards, just ask Watford, but defensively they were often found wanting, just ask Adama Traore. However, I’m not sure Ake is the answer, for one the Dutchman is very much a left-sided centre-back, similarly to Aymeric Laporte. On top of which, despite being a more than decent operator at Premier League level, he isn’t elite, and City are operating amongst that level.

Elsewhere, the club has seen the departure of David Silva from the Etihad, a fine servant to the football club who leaves with the knowledge he will be forever immortalised in statue form. On the field, in a more mobile capacity, Silva is likely to be replaced by the much praised but lesser seen Phil Foden.

Pep has also spent £20 million on former Valencia man Ferran Torres, a 20 year old right winger who arrives with plenty of plaudits and provides competition to the likes of Rihad Mahrez, Bernado Silva and Foden himself.

Whilst the transfer window remains open there is always the chance City could strengthen further, although the Lionel Messi links have now subsided, as things stand in the week of the season’s opening day they haven’t addressed the areas of the squad suitable to overcome an 18 point swing.

Manchester United

Despite the obvious improvement in the past six months, particularly since Bruno Fernandes arrived back in January, there are still areas of weakness at Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær is learning on the job somewhat and with that there is bound to come mistakes, certainly when up against seasoned campaigners over a prolonged period.

Despite the frailties, however, it should be another year of progression for the red half of Manchester, who have already bolstered their midfield ranks with the arrival of Donny van de Beek from Ajax. One or two more signings, particularly in defensive positions and they should find themselves cutting the gap to the top two.

Chelsea

Who haven’t they signed? One thing is for sure is the Blues are set to be an enthralling watch with the attacking prowess in their currently huge squad.

Boasting the likes of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, to name but a few, Frank Lampard’s side will give anybody a match on their day, but it’s consistency they may lack to begin with.

They shipped goals all too regularly to maintain prolonged title challenge last term and as things stand that won’t change too much, despite the arrival of the vastly experienced Thiago Silva, it’ll remain a difficult ask to breach the gap to the top two.

Any Other Contenders

Whilst the Premier League has seen Leicester City win the title against the odds, it seems unlikely 2020/21 will see another Claudio Ranieri and Jamie Vardy shaped fairy-tale, but you never know. The main protagonists would of course be Tottenham and Arsenal, although the rivals may be best focusing on breaking into the top four instead of harbouring serious title ambitions.

Outside of the North Londoners, perhaps Wolves could be considered for a tilt for a time being, however a 38 game threat seems unlikely at this stage.

With over a month left in the transfer window anything can happen (Messi), but for now it’s back to back Liverpool glory. After-all, top flight domestic titles are like Mersey Ferries, you wait 30 years for one and two come along at once….

Is the Sky Bet Championship the Best League in the World?

The latest Podcast episode for 24/7 Football features sports journalist Peter Moore discussing his articles, which include the dramatic conclusion to the 2019/20 Sky Bet Championship season, how Leeds United might fair in the Premier League and how VAR can be improved upon for the new season…..

How do you reckon Leeds United will fair in the Premier League this season?

What more do you reckon can be done to improve VAR?

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the link below: https://soundcloud.com/adam-stephens-425096853/24-7-football-episode-5

You can also watch the Webcast here:

Where next for gareth bale?

On Thursday the footballing world was treated to a lesser seen phenomenon, Gareth Bale played football, on an actual football pitch.

The 31 year old perhaps now ex-superstar appeared in the first-half for Wales during their 1-0 victory over Finland. In truth it wasn’t Bale’s finest 45 minutes and his manager Ryan Giggs said the amount of time was all he was fit for given his lack of match fitness, having not played for months on end.

With a CV that matches some of the greats of the game Bale has found himself very much of the periphery of things at Real Madrid for around two seasons now. Having almost secured a move to China last summer, the former Tottenham man could be looking for a way out of the Bernabau once more.

In a recent, honest, interview with Sky Sports, the Welsh forward said Real Madrid: ”make things very difficult” when asked abut his desire to leave the club.

Surely the time has come for the four times Champions League winner to find himself a new club, and with it regular football once more.

Success at Madrid?

There can be no doubt prior to the fallout Bale’s time in the Spanish capital has ultimately been a success, however, fans of the club would perhaps suggest otherwise.

Since completing his £90 million move the forward has won two La Liga titles, one Copa Del Rey, three FIFA Club World Cups, and the aforementioned four UEFA Champions League crowns.

Individually the Cardiff born star has the incredible record of 105 Madrid goals in 251 appearances in all competitions, including one of the greatest goals to ever grace a Champions League final.

Despite falling dramatically out of favour with Zinedine Zidane and the fans, although in truth the fans always seemed to struggle to warm to the Welshman, seemingly because he wasn’t Cristiano Ronaldo and occasionally took the limelight off their darling, nobody can deny Bale still has something to offer at the highest level.

His fleeting international outings have proven his quality remains, often the go to man for a Welsh side which has reached higher than usual heights in recent times.

So where could, and should he end up…

Having been on the verge of a move to the Chinese Premier League last summer many may seem a repeat of that move as the logical switch,. Given his current wages and the two years left on his deal, it is going to take a club with deep pockets as well as some bargaining from all parties to make this move happen.

Without one aspect of the move forgoing some financial loss, Bale could continue to earn his money sitting on the bench and playing golf in his free time.

The romantics and Spurs fans will be dreaming of a return to White Hart Lane where he made his name, having been a struggling left-back before moving up the pitch and setting the Premier League alight.

In truth the powers that be and the wage structure in place is unlikely to see Bale back at Spurs. It is much more likely the Welshman heads to one of the other top six Premier League clubs, Manchester United have often been touted as potential suitors.

Opinion

Simply seeing Bale back playing football is the preferable option, however, not at one of Liverpool’s main rivals as adding a player of his abilltiy would enhance any squad, even if his days of playing two matches a week are behind him.

Whilst there is very little chance of it happening, given his wage demands and the type of player Liverpool sign. I would love to see Bale in the red of Liverpool, although I can’t foresee him being delighted with Jurgen Klopp’s running demands. A player of his immense quality would be beneficially to every team in world football, they simply need to let him play.

Pernille Harder signs for Chelsea Women from VfL Wolfsburg in world record deal

Pernille Harder has officially joined Emma Hayes’ Chelsea side on a three-year deal from VfL Wolfsburg ahead of the 2020/21 FA WSL kick-off this weekend.

The Danish striker played her final game for the club last weekend when VfL Wolfsburg lost 3-1 in the Champions League Final against Olympique Lyon. She is widely considered to be one of the best players in the women’s game.

Following her record move to the WSL, which is believed to be around £300,000, Harder said:

“I’m excited to play for such a big club, to play with so many amazing players and to also be playing in the Women’s Super League.”

Chelsea Manager Emma Hayes, meanwhile, added:

“Pernille is one of the best players in the world. Her record for Wolfsburg and Linkopings as well as internationally with Denmark shows how valuable she has been to her team.”

 

Who is Pernille Harder?

Harder began her career by playing in her native Denmark for first Team Viborg and then IK Skovbakken in the Elitedivisonen before moving to Swedish club Linkopings FC in 2012.

It was there that Harder began to make her name for herself, spending four years at the Swedish side, making 87 appearances.  In the 2015 campaign the striker managed to score an impressive 17 goals in 22 appearances, which resulted in a number of personal accolades including Danish Footballer of the Year for 2015 and the most valuable player of the Damallsvenskan.

During her time with Linkopings FC, Harder also helped her team win the Damallsvenskan in 2016 and also back to back Svenska Cuper’s in 2014 and 2015.

Following her success in Sweden, Harder signed for Frauen Bundesliga Champions and two-times Champions League winners, VfL Wolfsburg on a two and half year contract in 2017.

On the international stage meanwhile, Harder has now made well over 100 appearances and inspired her Danish side to the final of the 2017 European Championships where she ended up scoring in a 4-2 defeat to Holland in the final. She has been named the country’s Player of the Year on six occasions, including each of the past five years.

Harder’s career, meanwhile, continued to go from strength to strength during her four-year stay in the Frauen Bundesliga as she won four league titles and German Cups. The Danish attacker twice ended up as the leading scorer of the division.

One title, however, that continues to allude her is the Women’s Champions League having twice finished a runner-up during her time with the German Club.  Harder was named the UEFA Player of the Year for 2018 and during the disrupted 2019/20 campaign she was the Champions League’s top scorer.

What does this signing mean for Chelsea?

This latest acquisition for the Blues is just the latest in a number of leading players’ joining the side as another of the world’s leading players, Sam Kerr, joined Chelsea back in January after finishing the NWSL season with Chicago Red Stars.

Emma Hayes’ attacking options also include the likes of England international Beth England, who enjoyed another impressive campaign for Chelsea last season, managing 14 goals in just 15 games.

The West London club, meanwhile, have also made further impressive additions to their title winning squad, bringing in the likes of former Bayern Munich captain Melanie Leupolz and Canadian international Jessie Fleming from UCLA Bruins.

There is certainly no doubt, however, that following this latest high profile signing that Emma Hayes’ team will be much fancied to lift the WSL crown once again.

When does the season start?

Harder’s arrival comes just in time for the WSL kick-off this weekend, where the Blues begin their title defence with a trip to Casey Stoney’s Manchester United on Sunday.

https://247-football.com/2020/08/08/the-football-association-announces-opening-two-rounds-of-fixtures-for-2020-21-barclays-women-super-league-season/

Forest looking stronger with transfers

Nottingham Forest have been strengthening following their disastrous final day collapse at the end of the 2019-20 season. They have made 5 summer signings so far and I will assess why and how they will make them stronger and aid their push for promotion.

The first signing was a return of a familiar face in that of Jack Colback. Colback enjoyed 2 successful loan spells with the reds in 2018-19 where he made over 50 appearances and now returns on a permanent contract. Such was the success of his previous spells forest tried to bring him back last summer but were put off by wage demands. The midfielder brings plenty of experience with him having made over 200 appearances in the North East regularly featuring in the Premier League. He will add depth to the defensive midfield options beyond Ben Watson and Samba Sow who are liable to missing matches.

Next to arrive was the signing of defender Tyler Blackett. The 26-year-old moves to The City Ground on a permanent contract having left Reading at the end of last season. Blackett started his career in the youth ranks at Manchester United, making 12 first-team appearances for The Red Devils, and gained experience on loan at Blackpool, Birmingham and Celtic. He will provide needed competition for the left back and centre back positions.

Then came the striker Forest have been looking for, Lyle Taylor. The experienced frontman moves to The City Ground having left Charlton Athletic at the end of last season. Taylor scored 11 times for Charlton last season, a rate of a goal every other game for The Addicks in the Championship, to finish as their joint-top scorer. Forest fans have been crying out for another proven striker to take the burden off Lewis Grabban and give the manager the option of rotating his striker position. Taylor was the obvious choice as he was available on a free transfer and brings excellent scoring rate, a prolific 34-goal season with Concord Rangers earned him a move to Bournemouth in 2010. After a move to AFC Wimbledon in 2015, Taylor settled and regularly found the back of the net, helping The Dons to promotion from League Two and to cement their spot in League One prior to firing Charlton to promotion from the third tier in 2018-19 with 25 goals. Forest would have beaten of plenty of competition for his signature.

Next through the door was the permanent signing of midfielder Fouad Bachirou. e Comoros international moves to The City Ground from Swedish top-flight side Malmo. Bachirou started his career at Paris Saint-Germain before moving to Scottish side Greenock Morton, making over 140 appearances ahead of joining Swedish side Ostersunds. During his time with Graham Potter’s side, he lifted the Swedish Cup in 2016-17, and was a runner-up in the following campaign, before switching to Malmo in 2018. The midfielder has extensive experience of both the Champions League and the Europa League during his time in Sweden, helping Ostersunds reach the Europa League round of 32 in 2017, while reaching the same stage of the competition with Malmo in the past two seasons. He will like Colback provide a defensive midfield option.

The latest signing was the arrival of Luke Freeman on a season-long loan from Sheffield United with an option for a permanent transfer. Freeman, an experienced forward/midfielder who has played over 150 times in the Sky Bet Championship, came through the ranks at Arsenal’s academy and after a couple of loan spells in Leagues One and Two he went on to sign for Bristol City. The 28-year-old featured regularly for The Robins and was instrumental in Lee Johnson’s side gaining promotion to the Championship in 2015, as he played over 100 times in three seasons at Ashton Gate before he joined Queens Park Rangers in 2017. Two successful seasons at Loftus Road followed as Freeman’s impressive midfield performances saw him crowned Rangers’ 2018-19 Player of the Season and earn a move to the newly promoted Premier League Blades. Freeman brings a lot of quality in both creating and scoring goals along with versatility. He could play as a left sided forward or an attacking midfielder. The second option brings me nicely to possible departures from the city grounds as 2 play the role.

Tiago Silva has been linked with a move to Olympiacos, owned by Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis. Silva was a regular in the midfield last season and is a popular figure and one I hope remains at the city ground. Another Portuguese playmaker Joao Carvalho provides much debate amongst Forest fans since his £13 million record breaking signing in 2018. He had a positive start to his Forest career under Aitor Karanka but since then a change in tactics, injury problems and a lack of confidence has hindered him greatly. There is a 50/50 split between fans who think he should be in the team regularly and those who think he should be moved on.

Finally we come to the biggest story of the Forest’s Transfer Window – The future of player of the season Matty Cash. He has attracted interest from premier league sides Sheffield United and Burnley but it Aston Villa who appear to be the closest to signing him. Cash is a product of Forest’s academy a hugely popular figure with the fans, especially since he was switched from right midfield to right back at the start of last season. His performances have been outstanding, a vital part in Forest’s attack and defence. Many attacks develop between him and Joe Lolley on the right side which would be a massive miss if he departs.

The only confirmed departure so far has been Tyler Walker who joined Coventry on a permanent transfer. Further arrivals and departures could be on the cards as rumours are Benfica youngster David Tavares, Birmingham Striker Lukas Jutkiewicz and Newcastle winger Jacob Murphy are on Forest’s radar.

What would Lionel Messi bring to the Premier League?

In our latest 24-7 football podcast we discuss the big story surrounding Lionel Messi and his potential move from FC Barcelona.

What would Messi bring to a club? How much would you pay? And more…

You listen to the podcast by clicking on the links below:

https://soundcloud.com/adam-stephens-425096853/24-7-football-episode-4

You can also watch the webcast here:

How crucial could the signing of Thiago Silva be for Chelsea?

Brazil Centre Back Thiago Silva has officially joined Frank Lampard’s Chelsea on a one-year deal with a further option of 12 months.

The 35-year old follows the likes of Timo Werner, Hakin Zieych and Leicester’s Ben Chilwell to Stanford Bridge in what is proving to be a hugely successful transfer window for the Blues.

Following Champions League final disappointment for the Ligue 1 Champions, Paris Saint Germain, club captain Thiago Silva looks to have played his last game for the French side after his contract has expired and the Brazilian international is subsequently available on a free transfer.

Speaking following PSG’s 1-0 defeat to the German Champions Bayern Munich Silva said:

“It was my last game in Paris. I thank all for the fans for their love.  I will return to Paris and this club that I love in another role.”

Chelsea Manager Frank Lampard is believed to be a keen admirer of the centre back He has also spoken of the need to add someone who is more vocal at the back and Silva would certainly fit the criteria.

It is clear now that Lampard wants to add to his back line that shipped 79 goals across all competitions last season.  The West London side also conceded 54 league goals, which was more than any other top half side.

This is a record that will need to be improved upon if the Blues have designs on challenging the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City for the Premier League crown.

Despite Silva’s advancing age of 35, he will still add some much needed experience and leadership to Lampard’s defence.

Indeed, more experienced players such as German international Antonio Rudiger, who has struggled for both form and fitness during the last campaign.

Silva began his career in Brazil before spending a bit of time with the Porto B side for a year, from 2004-2005.  From their he moved to Russian club Dynamo Moscow for the 2005-06 season before spending a further three years back in Brazil with Fluminense (2006-09).

It was 2009 where Silva secured his big move to Italian giants, AC Milan where he spent three years at the Milan based club. In that time he managed to win the Serie A title in 2011 with the likes of Kaka and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the side.

From there, the Brazilian international moved to Paris in 2012, where he has gone on to win a further seven league titles, five French Cups and six French League Cups.

Silva has also earned 89 caps for Brazil, making his debut in 2008 and has recently won the 2019 Copa America.

This clearly demonstrates that Silva has that winning mentally and he certainly could provide Lampard’s side with the organisational skills that could help the Blues achieve further success.

Silva’s main strength is his passing accuracy, which was a staggering 95.45%, the highest in the Ligue 1 2019/20 season.

In the Champions League final, meanwhile, despite being on the losing side this was also clearly demonstrated having completed more passes (38) and having more touches (57) than any other teammate.  He was also successful at keeping one of Europe’s form strikers, Robert Lewandowski, quiet.

The big draw back with this signing, however, will clearly be Silva’s age and whether he has the ability to adjust to the physical demands of the Premier League week in and week out.

Overall, however, this potential signing for Chelsea has a relatively low element of risk due to it being a free transfer and it only being a one-year deal, if nothing else he could help aid the development of the Blue’s youngsters.

New Premier league fixtures announced

Today fans can start looking forward, planning and getting excited about the new Premier League season as their teams fixtures have been released. The wait is over to find out when your team play their big local derby, crucial relegation and european qualification battles.

Newly promoted Leeds face the toughest challenge possible on opening weekend against Champions Liverpool. Championship play-off winners Fulham will host Arsenal, while West Bromwich Albion, the third promoted side, are at home to Leicester City. A tough start for all the newcomers.

The opening round of fixtures will take place on the weekend of 12 September. However, Manchester City v Aston Villa and Burnley v Manchester United will be rearranged.Those two games will not be played on the opening weekend to give City and United 30 days since their defeats in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and the semi-finals of the Europa League respectively. Chelsea and Wolverhampton Wanderers’ opening matches are both scheduled for Monday, 14 September after their slightly earlier European exits. The Blues are at Brighton, while Wolves go to Sheffield United.

The other opening weekend fixtures are Crystal Palace v Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur v Everton and West Ham United v Newcastle United.

Exact dates and kick-off times will be confirmed when the television selections are made.

When are the key fixtures?

Manchester City, who finished second last season, face title rivals Liverpool at Etihad Stadium on 7 November, with their other game on 6 February.

Selected matches…

  • 19th September – Chelsea v Liverpool
  • 5th December and 13th March – Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal
  • 12th December and 6th March – Manchester United v Manchester City

With the season starting a month later than usual because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the games will come thick and fast.The upcoming campaign will be five weeks shorter than a standard season because of the late end to 2019-20.

Arsenal and Liverpool meet in the Community Shield on 29 August, with players then going on an international break for the Nations League before the Premier League starts.

Spurs start Europa League qualifying on 17 September and could end up with two first-team matches in the same midweek as those are the dates Premier League clubs not in Europe enter the Carabao Cup at the second round.

World Cup Winner Rose Lavelle Links Up With Man City Ahead of 2020-21 WSL Season

Man City have made another statement of intent in the transfer market with their latest summer signing, USA midfielder Rose Lavelle.

Lavelle, was an integral member of the USA squad as they won the FIFA 2019 Women’s World Cup last year, scooping the prestigious Bronze Ball for her performances during the tournament.

She scored three goals in six games, including one in the final as the USA defeated the Netherlands to clinch their fifth world title.

The 25 year old, also finished sixth at The Best FIFA awards last year and was named in the 2019 FIFA FIFPRO World XI.

An Ohio native, Lavelle played college soccer in America at the University of Wisconsin–Madison for the Wisconsin Badgers. She made 19 appearances, netting six and assisting seven in her first year as her side won the Big Ten Women’s Soccer Tournament.

Lavelle was awarded the Big Ten midfielder of the year in both 2015 and 2016 after impressing in the centre of the park. She got her break in the professional game in 2017, as she was selected as the number one pick at the 2017 NWSL College Draft by the Boston Breakers.

At the Breakers Lavelle showed early promise, netting twice in her first eight games and winning April’s Player of the Month award. A hamstring injury would derail her campaign, however, with Lavelle finishing the season with just ten appearances after missing two months.

After the Breakers folded Lavelle was again selected first overall in another draft, this time linking up with Washington Spirit. International duty has restricted her game time in a Spirit shirt but despite playing just six games last year Lavelle was included in the NWSL Best XI.

She recently took part in the NWSL Challenge Cup, organised as a replacement for the NWSL as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. She scored one goal in four games as Washington lost out to Sky Blue FC on penalties in the first knockout round.

On the international stage is where Lavelle has really shown her quality. She won the Golden Ball at the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s U20 Championship before captaining the side at the 2014 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup, scoring once and creating two more goals.

She was handed her debut for the senior side against England in the SheBelieves Cup in March 2017 and has since gone on to amass a near half century of caps.

She has also got her hands on some silverware, in the form of the 2018 Tournament of Nations, 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship, the aforementioned 2019 World Cup and the 2020 SheBelieves Cup earlier this year.

She was traded to OL Reign in the middle of August, with an agreement that she could seek a move abroad, and she chose Manchester as her new destination, linking up with fellow USA import Sam Mewis, who joined the Citizens last week.

Lavelle cited the uncertainty surrounding the league return in America and the allure of playing in the Champions League ahead of the rescheduled Olympics next year as determining factors in choosing WSL runners up, City.

Lavelle told the Guardian:

“I knew I had to stay in the US because the Olympics were coming along. When that didn’t happen and there was no football of any kind happening for months I had to reconsider.

“I am excited at the possibility of playing in the Champions League, I grew up watching that without ever thinking I might get the chance to play in it.”

She credits new City boss Gareth Taylor for convincing her to make the move to England, telling City’s official website:

“After talking with Gareth about the team and how he saw me fitting in, it seemed like a great environment that would really push and develop me as a player.”

With Keira Walsh and USA compatriot Sam Mewis likely to occupy the two holding midfield roles if Taylor opts to play with a three in midfield, Lavelle will likely be pushed on into a more advanced role in the centre of the field, allowing her to roam forward and create chances to devastating effect.

The only cause for concern for City will be ensuring that she stays fit, as she has often struggled with little niggles and injuries which have halted her progress on the club front.

Head coach Taylor was delighted to secure Lavelle’s services as his third signing of the window, after also adding Chloe Kelly and Sam Mewis to City’s ranks as they look to wrestle the WSL crown off Chelsea.

Speaking to Man City’s official website Taylor said:

“We’re thrilled to have secured Rose’s services – with her impressive back catalogue, she is an incredibly exciting player and one we’re all looking forward to working with.”

The Manchester City coach continued:

“I am extremely excited to see her make her mark on the Barclays FA Women’s Super League this season in what will hopefully be a successful campaign for Manchester City Women.”

Having 27 year old Mewis, who Lavelle is very close to, also arriving for a season in the WSL alongside her will surely help Lavelle settle in, and it appears that these two signings are just the tip of the iceberg for USA internationals moving abroad for game time ahead of the upcoming Olympics.

Tobin Heath and Christen Press are also rumoured to be heading to Manchester, with talks ongoing between their representatives and Manchester United.

This will help propel the WSL to new heights with the influx of talented players from abroad and continued investment and coverage of the game it is set to be one of the most competitive seasons the WSL has ever seen.

Aaron Ramsdale joins Sheffield United from Bournemouth on a four-year deal

Sheffield United have confirmed the signing of Aaron Ramsdale for £18.5 million from Bournemouth.

The Cherries had rejected a bid of £12 million for Ramsdale earlier in the month, before Sheffield United decided to return with an increased offer.

The move would see Ramsdale return to Bramall Lane, after leaving Sheffield for the South Coast in January 2017 for a fee of £1 million having made just two appearance for the Blades in the FA Cup.

He would spend his first two seasons at Bournemouth away from the Vitality Stadium, having loan spells at League Two Chesterfield as they suffered relegation to the National League, and at League One AFC Wimbledon as they miraculously stayed in the division.

It was at Wimbledon where Ramsdale really caught the eye, making 20 league appearances and scooping the club’s Young Player of the Year award.

He also has experience on the international stage, having been capped by England from U16 level, right through to U21 level. He started all five games and kept three clean sheets as the Young Lions cruised to victory in the UEFA U19 European Championships in 2017.

Ramsdale made his breakthrough at his parent club this season, becoming Bournemouth’s number one during a tumultuous season.

The 22 year old, made his debut for the club in their opening game of the campaign, a 1-1 draw against his former employers Sheffield United. He would go on to register a further 36 Premier League appearances, missing one game through injury.

He kept five clean sheets and produced a number of impressive displays, despite the Cherries finishing 18th and suffering relegation. He was named Bournemouth’s Player of the Year and his performances certainly merited an immediate return to the top flight.

The move for Ramsdale signifies the end of the Blades’ pursuit for fellow young English goalkeeper Dean Henderson, who looks set to stay at Old Trafford and challenge De Gea for the number one spot.

Sheffield United had hoped to take him on loan for another campaign after his two successful spells at the club but felt priced out of a move as Henderson is set to sign a £100,000 a week contract to remain at the Red Devils for the foreseeable future.

United will reportedly ask any club keen to borrow the player to pay his full wages or at least a substantial amount of them, and Sheffield United didn’t want to break their wage structure to do so.

By taking Henderson on loan once again, Chris Wilder’s side would be in the same position next year as they are now, looking for a permanent goalkeeper with proven quality, as the 23 year old would again be returning to United having signed a long term contract there.

Ramsdale could be snapped up by another Premier a League outfit by that time and so Sheffield United thought it was best to act now, to have their own goalkeeper between the sticks for next season.

The £18.5 million fee will be the third highest in Sheffield United history, which highlights the ambition of Wilder and his owners to help to establish the Blades as a top half side.

Yet, that will not be what United will pay up front after some cute business behind the scenes from the Blades. A 15% sell on clause included in the original deal that brought Ramsdale to the South Coast will be knocked off the price.

As well as that, Bournemouth still owe money to the Blades for the purchase of David Brooks in 2018, whilst United also inserted a sell on clause in that deal, which means that they will not be breaking the bank to sign Ramsdale.

A large part of the deal is incentive based and includes add ons, which will only be paid if requirements are met. It is therefore reported that Sheffield United will pay just £12 million up front, which represents a real bargain.

Ramsdale is an astute addition at that price, given his young age and the fact that he has played in the Premier League before. He is a very capable shot stopper, having saved 67% of the efforts on target he faced last year, which was a total of 129 saves during the course of the season.

While Ramsdale conceded 62 goals last term that number will surely fall with a more settled and defensively solid back three or back five in front of him.

He will be eager to build on his terrific performances last season to stake a claim to travel with England to the European Championships next summer and the only way he will do this is by playing regularly in the Premier League, which Sheffield United are offering him the chance to do.

Ramsdale has made it clear to Bournemouth that he wants to return to South Yorkshire, and Wilder is keen to work with the goalkeeper again having admired him from afar for a number of years after reluctantly selling him during United’s League One title winning season.

Having seen how much Henderson has kicked on under Wilder, Ramsdale will be jumping at the opportunity to work with him and will hope he has a similar impact on his career trajectory as he did on Henderson’s.

All in all, it represents a great deal for all parties involved, with Sheffield United getting themselves a long term number one, Bournemouth a substantial fee which they can invest in their promotion push and Ramsdale the opportunity to show his class at the highest level once again.

Carla Ward appointed Head Coach of WSL side Birmingham City

Carla Ward has been named Head Coach of Women’s Super League team Birmingham City.

The Midlands based club have been without a Head Coach since Marta Tejedor left in March, leaving the blues second from bottom in the WSL.

Ward has joined the club on a two-year deal and has previously managed at Championship side, Sheffield United. She had successfully guided the Blades to their best ever season as they were sitting in second before the campaign was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, just six points behind eventual Champions Aston Villa.

Following the conclusion of the season, however, Ward decided that she needed a fresh challenge having been with Sheffield United since 2017, joining the Blades first as an Assistant Manager before taking the Head Coach role the following year.

The new Blues Head Coach said:

“This is a massive opportunity, Blues are a massive Club with a great history

“I’m a big believer if we’ve got the players smiling and confident and buying into what you’ve got to do then you have got half a chance.”

During her playing career Ward had spells with Bristol Rovers, Sheffield FC, Lincoln City, Leeds United, Sheffield United and Bristol City as well as a stint with Spanish side SPA Alicante.

The 36-year old will be tasked with turning around a club who only managed just two wins and seven points from their 13 games last season, subsequently narrowly avoiding relegation to the second tier.

The Blues also revealed that Charlie Baxter, who was acting as interim manager since March, has been appointed Assistant Head Coach. While Goalkeeping Coach, Tony Elliott has also re-joined the backroom staff from Bristol City.

Ward’s first WSL game in charge is set to be at Hope Powell’s Brighton & Hove Albion when the season gets underway on September 6. 

England Lionesses: Sarina Wiegman to succeed Phil Neville in September 2021

Netherlands Woman’s manager Sarina Wiegman is to take over from Phill Neville as England’s Head Coach from September 2021. 

 The former Dutch midfielder, whose team won The European Championships in 2017, is set to sign a four-year deal, while Neville will leave his Head Coach role next summer. 

Following her confirmed appointment, Wiegman said:

“England is the cradle of football and I’m very much looking forward to contributing my experience and expertise to this ambitious team.”

The first tournament that Wigeman will be in charge of the Lionesses is the Women’s Euro 2021 on home soil, which has subsequently been pushed back until July 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

England-born ex USA Manager Jill Ellis was also said to be in the running for the job whose USA Team has won the past two World Cups.

Last Month The FA reviled that they had 142 Applications for the Job with Head of Woman’s Football Baroness Sue Campbell saying:

“The players deserve the best and I will bring them the best if I can”

Wiegman has a contract with the Dutch FA till the end of 2021.

Neville’s contract, however, runs out at the end of 2021. He could still be in charge though, of Team GB should Wiegman chose to stay with the Dutch during that Tournament.

The Games in Japan are due to take place from July 29th till 8th August.

Having reached the Semi-Finals of their last three Major Tournament’s, the FA wanted to appoint someone who can take the team that one step further and ultimately lead them to World Cup glory. 

Wiegman lead her side to glory as hosts of Euro 2017 where they beat The Lionesses, managed by Mark Sampson 3-0 in the last four.

She also guided the Netherlands to there first World Cup final two years later, even though they lost to Ellis’ USA in the Final

Wiegman is well-acquainted with the English game as many of her star players play in the the Woman’s Super League including: forward Vivianne Miedema and midfielder Danielle Van Da Donk, Both of Arsenal and Manchester United’s Jackie Groenen.

From Northern Italy to South Beach: Blaise Matuidi departs Juventus for Inter Miami

Through the first five games of the season, David Beckham-owned Inter Miami failed to register a single point. For a team with such high expectations, it did not look well and desperation started to kick in. The South Beach side promised to bring in big name players to the club, and they finally we are able to achieve it by landing Beckham’s former PSG teammate, midfielder Blaise Matuidi from Juventus.

 

The 33-year old has won every trophy imaginable for club and country. As a member of PSG, he was able to win four Ligue 1 titles, three Coupe de France’s, four Coupe de la Ligue’s, and five Trophée des Champions as he played an important role in the rise of the Parisians in world football. Meanwhile, for Juventus, he has won three Serie A titles, a Coppa Italia (2017-18) and a Supercoppa Italiana (2018). 

Representing the French national team, Matuidi was a member of the 2018 FIFA World Cup-winning side. He has not the only the only World Cup winner to take his talents to the MLS, which includes fellow Frenchman Thierry Henry (won the 1998 FIFA World Cup), who was a member of the New York Red Bulls and now the head coach of the Montreal Impact.

Fans of Inter Miami were nervous that the third and final Designated Player spot was being used for Matuidi, as they felt that the spot could have been better occupied. However, it was later revealed that The Herons signed him with Target Allocation Money, meaning it is a hefty pay cut from what he was earning over in Europe. Once Matuidi makes the move to South Beach, he will have to quarantine for 10 days.

Although there is no way for the Inter Miami CF Stadium in Fort Lauderdale to be packed for Matuidi’s arrival due to the country’s ongoing issue with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a much anticipated move that was needed for the fans and the team who were desperate to find help in any way possible.

Portland Timbers defeat Orlando City SC in MLS is Back final

When the World Cup-style tournament began on July 8, no one was quite sure how it would turn out. With FC Dallas and Nashville SC withdrawing due to several COVID-19 results, there was uncertainty if there would ever be an end result. 

However, one month and three days later, the Portland Timbers were crowned the champions of the MLS is Back Tournament with a 2-1 victory over Orlando City SC at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

The victory by the Timbers not only gave them the chance to hoist the coveted trophy but it also guaranteed them a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League as well as $300,000 in prize money.

Portland, who were in their third cup final in six years, were able to get on the board first in the 27th-minute. After left-back Jorge Villafaña won a free kick in the attacking half, club legend Diego Valeri delivered a perfect ball to Larrys Mabiala, who was able to head it in past goalkeeper Pedro Gallese.

 

Moments later, however, the Lions were able to equalise when Mauricio Pereyra found the back of the net after receiving a cross from former Manchester United player Dani.

 

In the 66th-minute, the Timbers were able to score what turned out to be the winner after the ball magically landed in front of Dario Zuparic, who poked it into the net.

 

It was a Cinderella story for Orlando, who were not even supposed to do well in their group, much less make the final. However, after winning their group and getting some impressive victories in the knockout stage, including an upset over tournament favourite Los Angeles FC, head coach Oscar Pareja has a lot to look forward to in the future.

For Portland, their experience in title matches showed as they remained cool, calm, and collected in winning their first piece of silverware since they won the 2015 MLS Cup. It was also an impressive feat because they were able to defeat a team who play approximately 20 miles away from where the matches were being held for this tournament.

 

The MLS is resuming its regular season play today, when FC Dallas host Nashville SC after both teams were disqualified from the tournament in the Sunshine State.

On August 23, the Portland Timbers will return to action as they host rival Seattle Sounders in a much-anticipated matchup. Orlando City, meanwhile, will travel to Fort Lauderdale, where they will take on in-state rival Inter Miami on August 22.

Walt Disney World is known as the place “Where Dreams Come True,” and the Portland Timbers were able to experience that feeling as they are on top of the MLS.

USA World Cup winner joins Manchester City Women

United States World Cup winner Sam Mewis has joined Manchester City from North Carolina Courage.

The 27-year-old has played 67 times for her country and featured regularly during last year’s World Cup.  The American started in her side’s 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in Lyon.

The midfielder becomes City’s second signing this summer after England striker Chloe Kelly joined from Everton.

Mewis follows in the footsteps of her USA team mate Carli Lloyd, who had a brief spell with Manchester City back in 2017.

Standing at 6ft tall gives her presence on set pieces and she also has long athletic strides which has seen her become effective with goals from long range.

Sam was born in Weymouth Massachusetts in 1992. She signed for the Pali Blues in the W League in 2013, where the side went on to lift the Western Conference title as well as the national championships.

Mewis was selected fourth overall by the Western New York Flash in the 2015 National Women’s Soccer League entry draft. She appeared in all twenty regular season games for the Flash scoring four times with four assists.

In 2017 the Western New York Flash was sold to new owners and rebranded as the North Carolina Courage. She had an excellent season for the Courage after appearing in every game she was named to the NWSL Best X1.

Mewis missed the beginning of the 2018 season after recovering from a knee operation. Despite this setback she still featured 17 times as the Courage won their second consecutive shield.

Due to her participation at the 2019 World Cup, she only appeared in 12 regular season games for the Courage, who went on to win the shield for the third consecutive year.

In a successful international career to date which has seen Mewis feature in six of seven matches in the 2019 World Cup, she scored twice in the tournament in a 13-0 annihilation of Thailand in the group stages.

In her six years to date in USA national colours she has made 67 appearances and scored 18 goals.

Her USA team mate Rose Lavelle is heavily linked with City and alongside Caroline Weir and Jill Scott featuring in midfield the signing of Mewis only strengthens the Manchester clubs pursuit of more honours next season.

Premier League Clubs Vote to Scrap Five Subs Rule for Upcoming 2020-21 Season

The Premier League have announced today that the five substitutions regulation will not be implemented for the upcoming top flight season which is set to begin on the 12th September.

At a Premier League shareholders meeting last Thursday featuring all twenty clubs, the decision was taken to get rid of the five changes permitted during a game. It is believed 11 clubs, including the three promoted side rejected the proposal.

The IFAB gave football leagues across the continent the opportunity to bring the rule into the next campaign, with the Scottish Premiership opting to allow clubs to continue to make five changes during the 2020-21 season.

FIFA have extended the use of five substitutions regulation until August 2021, meaning that it could be utilised in next year’s European Championships and the Copa America.

The new rule was originally brought in ahead of Project Restart in May, with clubs agreeing to the change in order to allow players to cope with such a condensed and demanding schedule of games after a three month break due to lockdown. Clubs were allocated three windows to make these changes during the 90 minutes.

From next season, Premier League clubs will revert back to being permitted to make three substitutions per game, whilst the number of players on the bench will be again reduced to seven, and matchday squads to 18 from 20.

Many clubs believed that allowing five substitutions gave bigger teams an unfair advantage, as they have greater squad depth allowing them to rotate players more frequently with the change.

The rule change had allowed younger players to become more involved in the first team set up however, with 22 teenagers featuring off the bench for their clubs’ final nine outings, when it was unlikely they would have been involved in play had only three subs been permitted.

At Thursday’s meeting the clubs also approved a new VAR protocol, which encourages referees to use pitch side monitors more regularly to make the final judgement on tight decisions.

This comes after the world governing body FIFA took control from the IFAB for overseeing the successful implementation of the video assistant referee.

The decisions in question apply specifically to red card offences, penalty awards and those taken on goals given, with officials in the Premier League coming under fire last year for not utilising the monitors more often, like referees in other leagues.

There will also be no tolerance for encroachment from penalties, the Premier League announced. A retake will be ordered if a goalkeeper has saved a penalty with one of their feet over the line.

A player will be judged to have encroached if any body part is on the ground when the spot kick is taken. A retake will only be enforced in this scenario if the player encroaching has an impact on the penalty.

The Football Association announces opening two rounds of fixtures for WSL 2020-21 season

The FA have confirmed that defending champions Chelsea FC will begin their title defence away at Casey Stoney’s Manchester United side on the 6th September.

The season will however begin behind closed doors until it is safe for fans to return and the full fixture list will subsequently be released in early September.

Fans will, however, be able to watch matches live via the online FA Player streaming platform.

The Blues were awarded the title on a point’s per game basis after the season’s remaining matches were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Subsequently, this saw the West London club awarded the title ahead of their rivals, Manchester City.

Emma Hayes team played The Red Devils twice last season coming away with two 1-0 victories, the last win came courtesy of a Maren Mjelde goal in the Continental League Cup Semi Final encounter back in January of this year.

Chelsea women have already had a successful transfer window to date as 2019/20 player of the year, Beth England has already committed to the club by signing a new long-term contract.

While the likes of England international centre-half Millie Bright and Scotland’s Erin Cuthbert have also pledged their futures to the West London side.

Manchester City meanwhile begin their first full season under their new manager, Gareth Taylor and are away at newly promoted side Aston Villa, who are playing in the top flight of women’s football for the first time in their history.  Both of these sides will have the honour of kicking off the new campaign on the 5th September.

Joe Montemurro’s Arsenal, who are looking to reclaim the WSL crown from their London rivals, start their campaign at home to Reading.  Elsewhere, Hope Powell’s Brighton team host Birmingham City, who narrowly avoided relegation last season.

While rounding off the opening series of matches is a London Derby between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United and West Midlands side Bristol City play Everton.

Opening two rounds of WSL fixtures

5th September

Aston Villa v Manchester City – (2:30pm BT Sport 2 HD)

6th  September 

Arsenal v Reading – (12:30pm BBC Red Button)

Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United – (2pm)

Bristol City v Everton – (2pm)

Brighton and Hove Albion v Birmingham City – (2pm)

Manchester United v Chelsea – (2:30pm BT Sport 1 HD)

12th September 

West Ham United vs Arsenal – (5:20pm BT Sport 1 HD)

13th  September 

Chelsea v Bristol City – (12:30pm BBC Red Button)

Everton v Tottenham Hotspur – (1pm)

Birmingham City v Manchester United – (2pm)

Manchester City v Brighton & Hove Albion – (2pm)

Reading v Aston Villa – (2pm)

How will the Signing of Willian Improve Arsenal?

Brazilian winger Willian’s free transfer to Arsenal is set to be announced imminently, with the 31 year-old having agreed a three year contract worth £100,000 per week to move to the Emirates.

He will leave Chelsea once their Champions League campaign is concluded, after talks over a new deal at Stamford Bridge broke down.

The club were unwilling to meet Willian’s demand of a three year extension, which would see him remain a Blues player until he was 35.

According to the Daily Mail, Frank Lampard personally pleaded with Chelsea’s hierarchy to offer Willian the deal that he wanted but they refused to budge, allowing the Gunners to swoop in, making Willian the offer he wanted, with the option of extending his stay in North London for a fourth term.

The Gunners have seemingly won the race to secure the signature of the Chelsea man ahead of the likes of Barcelona and Inter Miami who were also interested, with the transfer set to be completed in the coming days. It represents a huge coup for the supposedly cash strapped club, landing such an established Premier League player for free from their near rivals.

Willian’s importance to Chelsea in recent years shouldn’t be overlooked. He has spent seven trophy laden years at Stamford Bridge, winning two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, an EFL Cup and the Europa League, whilst also scoring 63 goals in 339 games.

He was named Chelsea’s Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year in the 2015-16 season, and scooped Players’ Player of the Year again in the 2017-18 campaign.

Willian is a dynamic winger who has terrorised Premier League defences for years with his quick dribbling, explosive turn of pace and his direct style of play.

Operating on the right wing, Willian loves to dash past his marker and get to the byline before putting in a cross. Although right footed, he can also often be seen cutting inside and having a shot at goal on his weaker left foot. He was also known as a set piece specialists during his time at Chelsea, especially from free kicks.

Willian’s performances this season have shown that despite turning 32 on Sunday, the winger’s productivity hasn’t yet declined, something which would be attractive to Arteta, given that he is abandoning Arsenal’s routine transfer policy of signing younger, unproven players.

He registered nine goals this term, equalling his best ever goalscoring season for Chelsea, whilst also providing seven assists. He ended the season with a flurry, with four of his strikes coming after the restart.

He will add some much needed experience to Mikel Arteta’s young squad and a winning mentality which will serve the Gunners well off the back of their FA Cup win and their ambition to break back into the Top Four.

He will also be the perfect mentor for the likes of Nicholas Pepe, Reiss Nelson and Bukayo Saka, players who would love to emulate half of Willian’s success at Chelsea at the Gunners.

Being able to train with Willian everyday, having the opportunity to study his movements and his decision making up close as well as being able to pick his brains about how he made it to the top will no doubt have a positive impact on all the players, but especially young players coming through.

His arrival will help to create healthy competition, with at least four wingers now vying for two positions, leading players to raise their game to ensure that they retain their place in the side.

He knows the Premier League and London really well, and so won’t need time to adapt to the intensity of the league.

Although often deployed as a winger, he can also operate as an attacking midfielder and this versatility is particularly attractive to Arteta, given that he is actively looking for attacking options as he plans to switch to a more direct 4-3-3 system next season.

With both Dani Ceballos set to return to Real Madrid and Ozil out in the cold, Willian is seen as the ideal man to play the number ten role and add some much needed creativity to Arsenal’s solid midfield of Granit Xhaka and Ainsley Maitland Niles or Lucas Torreria.

He has been much more inventive than any of Arsenal’s attacking players this term, creating more chances than Pepe, Saka and Ceballaos. Arteta sees him as the perfect man to provide quality service to Aubameyang and Lacazette, who often have to feed off scraps for the majority of the game.

Willian also has a tremendous injury record, which seems to be another factor as to why Arsenal have no qualms about offering him a longer deal.

He has missed just four games through injury during his spell at Chelsea, a remarkable stat given the number of explosive movements the Brazilian makes during a game as well as the intensity of the league and congested fixture list.

He played 47 times for Frank Lampard’s men last year and has never played fewer than 40 games for the club in a season since arriving in 2013.

Lampard himself, is a big fan of the Brazilian, stating recently when quizzed on his departure:

“The way he is playing at the moment shows his worth to the squad and I hope we can get something.

“Whichever way, he has been a great servant to the club and if we can get there, I’ll be happy. If not, I will certainly wish him well as I have a lot of time for him.”

The only concerns for Arsenal fans will be Willian’s end product and his age. Although he had his best goalscoring season in the Premier League this term, he hasn’t ever hit double figures, which for a winger at a top club is worrying.

Another worry is of course his age, as whilst Willian is performing well now, will he still be playing as well when he is 35 in his last season at the club?

We have already seen how offering a large salary to a player who then goes off the boil can detrimentally affect the club, with Arsenal the prime example, as they still have Mesut Ozil on their books, earning £350,000.

His wages make it virtually impossible to move him on, as no other club would be willing to match his demands given his peripheral involvement in the first team.

Arsenal will be hoping that Willian can deliver performances which merit them splashing out almost £20 million in wages over the three years his contract would run.

Overall, whilst there are worries about Willian’s age and expected return, his signing should be viewed in a positive light.

Arsenal are getting a player who has experience of playing at the highest level for a number of years, a versatile winger who performs in the big games, will bring a winning mentality to the squad and who is rarely injured, all for free.

If he can be a key cog in Arteta’s midfield and they manage to secure Champions League football next term his signing may go down as one of the Gunners’ best in recent times.

Have Fulham learnt from their disastrous £100m spending spree?

After the celebrations of the return of Fulham back to the Premiership at the first time of asking, it is time to take a step back and access their chances of surviving in the Premiership next season.

It is a well know fact in football that sides who get promoted through the play-off route in the Championship, normally struggle.

In recent times the likes of Aston Villa, Huddersfield, Hull City, Norwich City and QPR all finished in the bottom six places in the division.

Two points that may make it possible for Fulham to survive in next seasons campaign would be the Manager and the experience of being in the top flight of English football before.

In Scott Parker they have an astute man in charge of the Cottagers. In the play-off final against Brentford his master tactics came out on top. By spotting the gap at Brentford’s near post and Joe Bryan’s technical ability to find that gap was a pure master stroke from the former West Ham player.

Since Parker has been put in charge, he has turned around the club’s fortunes. Just two years ago on transfer deadline day in the summer of 2018, five players were signed as the clock ticked down to zero.

Fulham spent an astonishing £100 million on no less than twelve players, only to look considerably worse for signing these players.  In season 2018-19 Fulham sacked Slavisa Jokanovic and Claudio Ranieri but a second play-off victory in three seasons gives them a chance to heal some scars.

For the club to survive next season in the top flight of football they will have to learn by their mistakes of 2018. Pointless splashing out that amount of money to try and survive in the Premiership. In truth, it rarely works out.

Parker needs to keep the spine of this current side to have a chance of surviving. The key player to hold on to has to be Aleksandar Mitrovic. The goal machine will learn by his poor return when Fulham were last back in the top flight. If he does so and can get back to a return of around twenty goals in a season, then the London club have a good chance of staying up.

They also need to keep the likes of Tom Cairney, Aboubakar Kamara, Denis Odoi and Tim Ream. If they can hold on to this talented group, then they could realistically keep out of trouble.

Parker will know that the hard work starts now. It will be an interesting few weeks before next seasons campaign as to what he will do in the transfer market. Key to their chances of survival will also be who they bring in.

In terms of the other two promoted sides Leeds United and West Brom. For the Yorkshire club with the flamboyant Marcelo Bielsa managing at the main table this will b e a massive challenge for him. His toughest assignment to date and hardest task for the upcoming season will be to survive.

Under normal circumstances with Leeds outstanding fan base and home fans would be worth a lot of points for the club but the likelihood of having no full capacities for the foreseeable future, this could well go against the Whites.

West Brom under Slaven Bilic look like a side that could well survive next season. Having the advantage of previously being in the Premiership for eight seasons, the Baggies know exactly what is required not to face a relegation battle.

One thing is for sure, having three shrewd and intelligent managers in the form of Parker, Bielsa and Bilic managing in the biggest league in the world and pitting their wits against other more experienced managers is going to be a sight worth seeing.

 

England’s Jodie Taylor moves to French side Lyon

England’s Jodie Taylor has joined French side Lyon until the end of 2020, the club have announced.

The former Arsenal striker moves to France on a short-term deal from OL Reign in the United States.

The 34-year-old who has also had spells in Australia, Sweden, Canada and the USA will join fellow Lionesses Lucy Bronze, Nikita Parris and Alex Greenwood.

Lyon are currently in the Champions League and face Bayern Munich in a quarter-final in Bilbao on the 22nd August, where  Taylor will be eligible to play.

She told Lyon’s website:

“I can’t wait to play with my new team. I just finished my season with OL reign in the USA, but I kind of stay in the same family.

“I talked a lot with my English teammates like Lucy Bronze who has been at the club for a long time, and I couldn’t refuse the opportunity to play for one of the best teams in the world.”

Taylor has represented her country in the last two World Cups and was the top scorer at Euro 2017.

It has been quite a journey for the Birkenhead born player, who made her debut for Tranmere Rovers in 2002 at the age of 15. She scored in a 5-1 win over Wolves in the FA Women’s Cup fifth round and has never looked back since.

When Tranmere were relegated in 2004 Jodie accepted a four-year scholarship to Oregon State University. When she left Tranmere, she had an impressive record of 29 goals in 38 appearances, despite missing six months with a broken leg.

After playing for a host of sides in the States, she returned to England in 2011 and signed for Birmingham City but moved on to Lincoln Ladies on loan. Lincoln wanted to keep Taylor but she returned to her parent club Birmingham following a stint with Melbourne Victory.

Following spells with Sydney FC, Washington Spirit and Portland Thorns FC she joined Arsenal where she made twelve appearances for the North London Side.

Less than two years later Taylor left Arsenal to sign for Melbourne City on a short-term contract. OL Reign came in for her services in 2018 where she spent two years in America having made 22 appearances and scoring nine goals.

On the international front Taylor made her debut for England in August 2014 in the sides 4-0 friendly win over Sweden at Hartlepool. At the Euros in 2017 she won the highly acclaimed award of the Golden Boot with five goals in the tournament as England reached the semi-finals.

JT

Odsonne Edouard- Celtic’s ‘French Eddy’ Who is Ripping Up the SPL

Celtic kicked off their charge for a record breaking 10 Scottish Premiership titles in a row by dismantling Hamilton 5-1 at home.

French forward Odsonne Edouard picked up where he left off last season by netting a hat-trick, and picking up the man of the match award after another impressive display.

The 22 year old is subject to Premier League interest, with Arsenal the latest club to be linked to the striker, seeing him as an ideal replacement for Aubameyang should the Gabonese international choose to leave the Gunners this summer.

Celtic are still confident of hanging on to Edouard, with their hopes of becoming the first Scottish side to win 10 league titles in a row, largely hinging on the forward staying at Celtic Park.

This is because Edouard has become such a pivotal figure for Celtic since first arriving at the club on loan in 2017 from PSG.

A relatively unknown entity at the time, aged just 19, Edouard had risen through the ranks at PSG but had failed to break into the first team at the Parc de Princes.

This was through no fault of his own but rather the star studded line up at PSG blocking his path to the starting eleven.

He first showcased his evident talent on a big stage in 2015, when he was named player of the tournament and was top goalscorer with 8 goals as France won the U17 European Championships.

After a failed loan spell at Toulouse the season after, the Frenchman swapped Paris for Glasgow, agreeing a season long loan switch to Brendan Rodgers’ side with an option to buy at the end of it.

A goal on his debut against Hamilton would set the tone for Edouard’s time on Glasgow’s East End to date. He made 29 appearances that season, netting 11 goals and providing 4 assists, a decent return for his first full season in senior men’s football.

The highlight of his and many Celtic fans’ campaign was undoubtedly his winner at Ibrox in March at the Old Firm game, which was a glimpse of what was to come from the Frenchman.

Celtic had come from behind twice in the game before being reduced to 10 men in the second half. With 69 minutes on the clock Eduoard received the the ball on the left hand side. He darted into the area before dropping his shoulder and cutting inside, curling an effort into the far corner to send the travelling Celtic faithful into hysterics.

A month later he would bag a brace against the same opposition, to really endear himself to Hoops fans as Celtic romped to a double treble.

With countryman Moussa Dembele departing in the summer of 2018 to Lyon for a fee of £20 million, Celtic were able to break their transfer record to bring ‘French Eddy’ (as he is fondly known by Celtic fans) back to Celtic Park on a permanent deal.

The deal was reportedly worth £9 million, a sum which Celtic could quadruple now if they were willing to cash in on Edouard, given his performances over the past two seasons.

With Dembele moving on, the Frenchman was now Celtic’s main frontman, with Rodgers, and his successor Neil Lennon opting to play with just a sole striker in either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 formation.

Edouard carried that burden superbly well, registering 22 goals and 8 assists in all competitions as Celtic secured a monumental ‘treble treble.’

He seems like a manager’s dream for a striker. He is strong and his hold up play is great, he can regularly be seen holding off a defender before bringing others into play and continuing his run into the box to get on the end of the cross.

He has an explosive turn of pace, is good at dribbling and in one v one situations and has the eye for a killer pass.

His finishing is first class, he is comfortable on either foot and his goal compilations involve various types of finishes, whether that be long range screamers, curling efforts, tap ins or deft side foot placements into the far corner, Edouard has it all in his locker.

Although in some games he may fend off scraps and be uninvolved in build up play, he comes alive in and around the penalty area. If he is presented with just one opportunity, odds he will pounce.

He showed all these admirable attributes last campaign in what was his best season in green to date. Edouard found the back of the net 27 times and provided a further 19 assists in all competitions.

With the SPL taking the decision to curtail the league with 8 games remaining it is frightening to think how many more goals Edouard could have netted, especially considering his form since the turn of the year.

Lennon’s decision to switch to a 3-5-2 formation after the winter break as well as the up turn in form of full back Greg Taylor all benefitted Edouard tremendously.

Firstly, he struck up a great partnership with fellow frontman Leigh Griffiths. After leading the line on his own for much of the season, having another player around him helped Edouard to become more involved in the game and he linked up really well with Griffiths for a number of his own goals and others scored by the Hoops.

Manager Neil Lennon was full of praise for the duo in February telling Celtic TV:

“He (Edouard) is a mercurial talent. If you look at both his goals at the weekend they are very difficult and he makes them look easy.

“His movement off the ball, I think it helps sometimes having a body around him, him and Griff, particularly at Kilmarnock, the two of them linked up brilliantly. His all-round game is improving all the time.”

Secondly, the three at the back allowed Lennon to deploy the more attack minded full backs Taylor and Jeremie Frimpong further up the pitch, which worked to devastating effect for the champions, and in particular Edouard.

The Frenchman thrives off crosses into the box, and the two full backs are experts at delivering pinpoint balls into dangerous areas.

Given his considerable height he is good in the air but Edouard is also incredibly quick and intelligent. His movement is incredible. He often starts at the edge of the area and makes darting runs across the defenders before arriving on the scene just in time to latch onto the ball and score.

Celtic won nine of their next 10 games after the tactical tweak with Edouard getting on the scoresheet nine times and setting up four other goals, as Celtic landed an unprecedented quadruple treble and Edouard scooped the club’s

Celtic reverted to a back four for their opening game of the 20/21 season, with Edouard again the sole striker, but the outcome was the same, a roaring success as the Frenchman was too hot to handle for the Accies.

Celtic have slapped a £40 million price tag on Eduaord’s head to fend off interest, as they are hell bent on keeping the striker for at least another year, with boss Lennon telling reporters after the game at the weekend:

“We don’t want him to go anywhere!”

Given that the full extent of financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic on clubs have yet to been revealed, it is a hefty price to pay and a huge gamble to take for a Premier League club, especially one like Crystal Palace who are rumoured to be interested, given that that could amount to nearly all their transfer budget.

Edouard will feel indebted to Celtic for giving him his break in football, and he seems settled in Glasgow. He has a great relationship with the fans, who adore him, he is a well liked member of the squad and has embraced the ethos of the club very well, understanding the history and what it means to play for Celtic.

It is therefore difficult to see him leaving this summer with the allure of the opportunity to write his name into Celtic and Scottish folklore looming very large in the background. It will take a huge offer to prise Celtic’s jewel from their all conquering crown.

If a lucky club manages to do so they may have unearthed another gem from Scotland, and Edouard will hope to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Andy Robertson and Virgil Van Dijk before him, fellow exports who have made it to the pinnacle of world football.

Former Real Madrid and Spain keeper calls it a day

As the well-known saying says, all good things must come to an end. That time has come for former Real Madrid and Spain legend Iker Casillas.

The 39-year-old goalkeeper has decided to hang up his gloves for good and will always be remembered for being somebody loved by the Spanish people.

During a 16-year career at the Bernabeu, he made 725 appearances for Real, winning three Champions League titles and five La Liga crowns.

He also helped Spain win the 2010 World Cup and two successive European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

Casillas joined Portuguese side Porto in 2015 making 156 appearances for them, winning two Primeira Liga titles and one Portuguese Cup.

Casillas played for the Spanish national side for six years winning 167 international caps. Only former team mate Sergio Ramos has made more appearances for Spain.

The Spaniard hasn’t played since April 2019 after suffering a heart attack during training. Considering his age and recent health issues it probably comes as no surprise he came to this eventual decision.

He joined Real Madrid at the tender age of nine and the club said recently he was the best goalkeeper in their 118-year history.

The 39-year-old currently holds the record for most Champions League clean sheets and was also part of the Real side that won the Champions League three times in his distinguished career.

To prove what a footballing legend he is, in 2014 he became one of four players to represent Spain at four World Cups. He was also named as the second-best goalkeeper of the 21st century, behind who else but Gianluigi Buffon.

But he will always be remembered by football lovers around the world for his time at Real Madrid. He is without doubt one of the finest keepers ever to play the game and somebody whom strikers at last will be able to breathe a huge sigh of relief that they don’t have to face him anymore.

What was do you think was Iker Casillas greatest moment of his historic career?

Harrogate Town promoted to the Football League for the first time in their history

There must be something in the Yorkshire air this season. First Leeds United gain promotion to the Premier League and now Harrogate Town will be playing in the Football League next season.

What a success story for little Harrogate Town. They pushed National League Champions Barrow all the way all season, before eventually finishing second.

After defeating highly fancied Notts County in Sunday’s play-off final 3-1, it is a fairy tale story for a club living in the shadow of Leeds.

A town more famous for its tea rooms than its football club, will be playing amongst the likes of Bradford City, Forest Green Rovers, Port Vale and Oldham Athletic next season.

For the very first time in their history, Town are a Football League club. Harrogate itself attracts tourists from around the world to sample tea and cake in their famous tea rooms.

The club, who averaged around 1,400 in the National League has spent most of its existence in the Midland Football League, Northern Counties East League and Northern Premier League.

The success of Harrogate is down to the father and son team of the Weaver’s. Father Irving bought the club back in 2011. Two years earlier son Simon was appointed as Manager at the age of 31.

In his first season in charge the club finished bottom of the Conference North and were due to be relegated. However, Northwich Victoria were demoted due to financial problems and Town were reprieved.

During the 2017-18 campaign the club made the decision to turn full time. At the end of the season they won the National League North play-offs after beating Brackley Town, which earned them promotion to the National League.

The club finished sixth in their first National League campaign and were rewarded with a play-off game against AFC Fylde. Unfortunately for the Yorkshire side they were beaten 3-1 and lost out on the chance to become a Football League club.

Fast forward a year and Harrogate and the Weaver’s have been rewarded for their hard work and dedication by securing a place in the English Football League Two.

When the season starts again, little Harrogate will no doubt be written off. But in Yorkshire folk are made of true grit and with the enthusiasm of both father and son this little football club could well climb up the Football League ladder and continue to make Yorkshire proud.

What next for AFC Bournemouth and Eddie Howe?

Bournemouth Manager Eddie Howe has left the club following The Cherries relegation from the Premier League. 

The 42 year old led the South Coast club for more than 450 matches that spanned over more than a decade. 

The decision was ultimately made by mutual consent with both parties coming to the conclusion that the time was right for a fresh approach.

Following his departure, Howe has published an open letter to the fans:

“The club motto is Together anything is possible and that is something that we’ve always firmly believed and strived to implement.

“That quote is representative of everything that we have tried to achieve as a club and it reflects the values that we all have tried to install in each other.  We had a vision and a dream with hard work and unrelenting desire to continuously improve we have always strived to achieve our objectives.”

The Journey

It was just five years ago that AFC Bournemouth completed their journey from the depths of League Two to the promise land of the Premier League.  Eddie Howe’s side sealed their promotion with a 3-0 home win over Bolton.

The win was secured through a Callum Wilson late goal, the England striker had only just signed for three million pounds the previous summer from Coventry City.  Subsequently, it meant that the south-coast club were promoted to England’s top flight for the first time in their history.

Indeed, rewind 11 years prior to the club from Dorset’s promotion to the promise land, the Cherries needed a victory just to stay in the Football League, which thankfully they managed against Grimsby Town. This fact alone, however, shows just how remarkable the club’s rise is to arguably one of the ‘the most prestigious and best leagues’ in the world.’

The Cherries this season sadly saw their five-year stay in the top flight come to an end, as they finished 18th just one point and one place below Aston Villa.

There could be a further twist to come, however, as the Dorset club are considering legal action against the goal line technology company, Hawk-Eye because it failed to give Sheffield United a legitimate goal in the first match of Project Restart – the game itself ended 0-0 between the Yorkshire based club and Aston Villa.  A compensation agreement between the two parties could subsequently be reached just like Sheffield United received back in 2006/07 when they narrowly missed out on staying up to West Ham.

Standout performances in the Premier League

Throughout their five-year stay in England’s top flight the Cherries were known for their inventive and easy on the eye attacking style of play, however, they never were quite able to solve their defensive issues that would ultimately come back to haunt them in the 2019/2020 campaign.

In total they played 190 matches, winning 56 and losing 91 times.  Eddie Howe’s side, however, managed just 38 clean sheets out of those 190 games conceding 330 goals.

Their first season in the Premier League, they managed to finish 16th with a total of 42 points from 38 games, one of their stand out moments that season was achieving a 2-1 victory over Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United side where winger Junior Stanislas somehow managed to score directly from a corner.

The following season they achieved their highest finish in the division, an impressive ninth place with 46 points that was level with their south coast rivals, Southampton.

Eddie Howe’s men produced a number of impressive displays at the Vitality Stadium that year, including a memorable 4-3 victory over Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team, which was only secured in the 93rdminute through the currently in demand Dutch centre back Nathan Ake.

The subsequent two seasons saw finishes of 12thand 14th respectively for the South Coast side, where again they were able produce terrific performances against the ‘established top six’ of the Premier League.  Another standout performance in particular was an impressive 3-0 against Antonio Conte’s Chelsea at Stanford Bridge.  They caused more problems for the Blues the following season by securing a 4-0 win over them at the Vitality.

Where did it go wrong?

The final season for the Cherries in the top flight actually began very well for them as they secured notable 3-1 victories over the likes of Southampton and Everton.  While at the start of November they managed their second win over Manchester United at the Vitality Stadium thanks to a former Red Devils reserve team player, King.  They also caused more problems for Chelsea at Stanford Bridge as they managed to hold on to a 1-0 win curtsey of a Dan Gosling goal.

Ultimately, however, it was results in the second half of the campaign that proved Eddie Howe’s sides undoing.  Poor performances against relegation rivals such as West Ham and Watford where they lost 4-0 and 3-0 respectively proving to be particularly costly in January.  While further heavy defeats to the likes of Burnley and Newcastle saw Bournemouth subsequently slide into the relegation zone, before the final nail in the coffin proved to be a 2-0 home defeat to Southampton in their final home game of the season.

They did, however, manage impressive performances towards the end of the season, a 4-1 win over fifth placed Leicester City and a closing 3-1 victory over Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton that ultimately proved in vain as Aston Villa secured the crucial point that they needed to stay up at West Ham.

The benefits of top-flight football

Following the football club’s relegation to The Championship this past the weekend, The Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council leader Vikki Slade said:

“Nothing can take away the achievement and meteoric rise of the club that we witnessed five amazing seasons ago.

“The appeal of Premier League football to national and international audiences has helped to put our area firmly on the map for attracting inward investment and tourism.”

While the Dorset Chamber of Commerce president, Liz Willingham was keen to stress:

“Overnight, we were put on a global map in such a positive way; I know for a fact that the area received a much needed boost in profile and awareness as a result of the club’s Premiership status.

“One example of the difference has been Bournemouth University’s ability to attract new students.  A significant increase, particularly in international students, was purely attributed to Bournemouth’s presence on screens all over the world.”

 

What next?

Since their relegation to The Championship as well as losing Eddie Howe, Bournemouth will most likely have to accept the fact that centre back Ake and forward King will move on, while there has already been interest from West Ham and Tottenham in another Cherries striker who helped take them up, the England international striker, Wilson.

For the new manager, the task will inevitably be trying to get The Cherries back to the Premier League.  The Championship, however, is always a notoriously competitive and tough division to predict. Next season will certainly be no different with the likes of fellow relegated sides, Watford and Norwich City looking to bounce straight up as well as previous European Cup winners Nottingham Forest, who narrowly missed out on the play-offs it is sure to be as challenging as ever.

Houston Dash defeat Chicago Red Stars in NWSL Challenge Cup final

After being the first professional sports league to return in the United States, the NWSL concluded the Challenge Cup today with the Houston Dash defeating the Chicago Red Stars 2-0.

The Dash got off to quick start when Kristie Mewie drew a penalty after being fouled by Kayla Sharples in the fourth minute. Sophie Schmidt capitalised from the spot to help them take an early lead. That would end up being the only goal in the first half.

 

For much of the second half, both teams were not able to add to the scoresheet. However, in the first minute of extra-time, the Dash were on a breakaway and Shea Groom received a through ball from Rachel Daly, where she was able to put the ball past U.S. national team goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. The goal would end up clinching the title for Houston.

 

The club is owned by several prominent athletes such as boxer Oscar de la Hoya and NBA superstar James Harden  but the Dash have never been able to compete in the NWSL. In fact, since the club was founded on December 11, 2013, they have never qualified for the playoffs. This makes the Challenge Cup the franchise’s first piece of silverware in its history.

 

On the other side, the Chicago Red Stars lost a key player in Sam Kerr. The Australian international departed the NWSL for Chelsea after winning the Golden Boot three years in a row. However, they were able to succeed without the goal-scoring machine and were able to finish up as runners-up in the tournament. 

These two teams were not supposed to make the finals. The fourth and sixth place finishers were not considered to be serious threats for the tournament, compare to favourites such as the North Carolina Courage or the Washington Spirit. However, both of these clubs ignored where the critics and made some noise in Utah.

The NWSL had the privilege of being the first pro sports league to return in America, and the tournament featured many great stories from upsets to underdog stories. This tournament was a great kickstart to sports in the country and should be a catalyst in the expanding coverage in not only women’s soccer but sports in general.

Jordan Henderson Wins FWA Player of the Year

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is the recipient of this year’s Football Writers Association Player of the Year award, after a stellar season with the Reds.

The England international fended off stiff competition from Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne, Man United’s Marcus Rashford and club teammates Virgil Van Dijk and Sadio Mané to scoop the prize, the oldest individual honour, which has been handed out each year since 1948.

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alisson were also in the running, but Henderson won it comfortably, taking home almost a quarter of the votes.

Speaking to the FWA after the announcement, Henderson said:

“I’d like to say how appreciative I am of the support of those who voted for me and the Football Writers’ Association in general.

You only have to look at the past winners of it, a number of whom I’ve been blessed to play with here at Liverpool, like Stevie (Gerrard), Luis (Suarez) and Mo (Salah) to know how prestigious it is.”

Henderson added:

“I accept it on behalf of this whole squad, because without them I’m not in a position to be receiving this honour. These lads have made me a better player – a better leader and a better person.”

The award takes into consideration a player’s performance both on and off the pitch during the season. Overall, there is no doubt Henderson has played a significant role in both those categories.

On the pitch, Henderson has inspired Liverpool to Premier League glory, netting four goals and providing five assists, as the all conquering Reds left numerous records in their wake. Yet, his influence on the side is much more than stats.

He is the lynchpin of Jürgen Klopp’s midfield and exemplifies the high energy, all action philosophy that Klopp has instilled at Anfield. He is often deployed as a deep lying playmaker, or in the a scene of Fabinho, as a defensive midfielder. He breaks up opposition play before starting Liverpool counter attacks with his excellent passing ability.

His stamina and tenacity, are some more of his admirable qualities along with his exemplary leadership. Many players have lauded his professionalism, evident in each of the interviews he conducts after every game, while they also applaud the way he trains and carries himself.

His importance to the team cannot be underestimated. Liverpool have won 27 games in which he has played this season and in his absence a loss of drive and purpose is felt. This was evident in Liverpool’s draw with Burnley and loss against Arsenal.

Off the pitch, Henderson also gained nationwide plaudits, as the leader of the #PlayersTogether campaign. He contacted each of the 19 other Premier League club captains to explain his vision for setting up the campaign which would help to raise millions for the NHS and various other causes during the coronavirus pandemic.

The initiative has already made a £4 million donation to the NHS, and is firmly behind the Black Lives Matter campaign.

Bournemouth captain Simon Francis explained in an interview how Henderson spearheaded has spearheaded campaign, stating, “He’s effectively been the captain of this group of players involved in the initiative.”

FWA chair Carrie Brown followed that up by commenting:

“Jordan is a player his team-mates look to on the pitch and who his rivals look up to off it.

“The voting criteria for the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year is one who leads by precept and example and in this country’s darkest moment, Jordan, unprompted, personally rallied club captains to establish #PlayersTogether. He is a truly worthy winner of our award.”

Despite Henderson’s great achievements this year, it was one of the closest races for the award in recent years.

Kevin De Bruyne, Marcus Rashford, Virgil Van Dijk and Sadio Mané could all feel aggrieved not have scooped the gong after their terrific showings this campaign.

Runner up De Bruyne has scored 11 and provided a further 22 assists this term despite City’s struggles, whilst Marcus Rashford has enjoyed his best season in front of goal this campaign.

The striker has 17 Premier League goals to his name in 2019-20 and has also contributed significantly off the pitch.

He lobbied successfully to reverse the government decision to end free school meals to vulnerable children during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as teaming up with the charity Fareshare to provide thousands more children with free meals.

Last year’s PFA Player of the Year winner Virgil Van Dijk has largely slipped under the radar this season, although this is through no fault of his own. He consistently performs at such a high level that only his rare mistakes are ever really highlighted.

He rarely seems to break a sweat and is so calm and composed in possession. He has helped Liverpool to keep 15 clean sheets this season and makes the players around him feel more secure.

Sadio Mané, a sure fire front runner for this year’s PFA Player of the Year (which is announced later today) along with Henderson and De Bruyne, will also be disappointed to miss out.

He has been Liverpool’s talisman for most of the campaign, scoring 17 Premier League goals, which has won the Reds a staggering 18 points in their title winning season.

Mané was one of the best players in the league, tormenting defenders with his remarkable turn of pace, his expert first touch, and clinical finishing. He was one of Klopp’s most important signings and his finely getting the recognition his performances over the past few years has deserved. He would be my pick for PFA Player of the Year.

For the FWA Player of the Year award however, I do think it is difficult to look past Henderson for all that he has achieved both on and off the pitch. He is a true leader, a remarkable athlete and fantastic midfielder who will go down as a Liverpool legend and deserving recipient of the award.

Night of drama in Championship as Bees loose out to Baggies to go up

The best league in the world served up more drama on the final round of matches in the Championship on Wednesday evening.

Before kick off there was plenty of issues still to be decided.  Who would be joining Leeds United in the Premiership?  Who could possibly squeeze into the play-offs? Finally which three sides would be playing in League One next season?

West Brom Manager Slaven Bilic had to suffer 96 minutes of unbearable tension before the Baggies were guaranteed Premiership football next season.

After a two-year absence, they are back in the big time but they were pushed all the way by a resilient QPR side. It was the Londoners who took the lead through Ryan Manning, but West Brom hit back to lead 2-1 before Eberechi Eze levelled for Rangers just over the hour mark to leave the Baggies facing an anxious end to their league campaign.

When the final whistle went, West Brom players waited on the pitch to hear what was happening at Griffin Park. When news came through that Brentford had lost, wild scenes erupted around the Hawthorns as West Brom were confirmed as runners up.

You have to feel sorry for Brentford, who up until the last two results had looked the side likely to join Leeds in the top flight of English Football next season.

However, their surprising defeat to Stoke City at the weekend and last night’s shock 2-1 loss to Barnsley has cost them dearly. It will be play-offs for Thomas Frank’s vibrant side. For Barnsley, thanks to Clarke Oduor’s stoppage time winner, it meant that they had left the bottom three, thanks to Wigan Athletic’s 12-point deduction.

Fulham will have to go through the tough grind of the play-offs after a 1-1 draw against Wigan at the DW Stadium.

The draw meant that the Cottagers finished in fourth place in the table, two points outside second place West Brom.

Before last night’s action there would have been very few people who would have bet on both Welsh sides getting to the play-offs. Following an incredible night of action, however, saw both Cardiff and Swansea book their play-off dates with Nottingham Forest agonisingly missing out.

Cardiff relegated Hull City at the Cardiff City Stadium by securing a 3-0 win, while down the M4 Swansea were doing their best to gate crash the play-off mix by heavily beating Reading 4-1.

At the start of the evening, The Swans had to overcome a five-goal swing with Forest. The Welsh side did their bit, so it was down to what Forest could do against Stoke City at the City Ground.

Forest, in the top six for most of the season, capitulated 4-1 against Stoke and missed out on the play-offs. Swansea pipping the East Midland side on goal difference by a mere one goal.

Leeds celebrated being crowned champions  by hammering Charlton Athletic 4-0 at Elland Road. A result that sent Lee Bowyer’s side down to League One.

Luton Town survived a nervy night and escaped relegation after beating Blackburn Rovers 3-2 at Kenilworth Road.

In other matches, Middlesbrough’s impressive form under Neil Warnock continued with a 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, while Millwall ended their campaign on a high with a 4-1 victory against Huddersfield, with Derby County winning at Birmingham 3-1.

Championship play-offs

Swansea City vs Brentford first leg Sunday 26th July second leg Wednesday 29th July.

Cardiff City vs Fulham first leg Monday 27th July second leg Thursday 30th July

Final Tuesday 4th August

Serena Williams One of Seven High-Profile Investors For New LA Based Women’s Football Club

Tennis superstar Serena Williams will join forces with numerous other influential women in order to fund the creation of a new women’s football club in Los Angeles ahead of the 2022 National Women’s Soccer League.

The ownership group, aiming to expand women’s football to Southern California, consists of Williams, her two year old daughter Alexis Olympia, her husband and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian as well as actresses and majority investors Natalie Portman, Eva Longoria, Uzo Aduba, Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain as well as venture capitalist Kara Nortman.

Completing the stellar lineup are fourteen former USA internationals including Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Rachel Buehler, Tisha Venturini-Hoch and two time Olympic champion Abby Wambach. Gaming entrepreneur Julie Uhrman will serve as the club’s president.

The provisional name for the group is ‘Angel City,’ derived from the city they are aiming to base the club in. The team’s official name and venue has yet to be decided, although this should be confirmed by the enf

There are currently no California based clubs in the NWSL, with the group aiming to build the club from scratch and to expand the scope for women’s football in the region. They will become the 11th franchise to play in the NWSL.

Actress Portman, who got involved with the project after the USA lifted the World Cup in France last summer, told the LA Times:

“It just seems like it was ideal to bring women’s soccer to LA because we have such passionate fans here, such robust youth soccer. It’s just an incredible kind of culture shift if we can bring more attention and light and celebration of these incredible athletes.”

NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird also expressed her delight in a statement released today which reads:

“We’ve long sought the right partner in LA considering the NWSL fanbase that already exists in the region and the massive interest in women’s soccer in general.

“Those factors, along with an incredible ownership group make this an ideal situation and we couldn’t be more thrilled to move forward.”

While six of the current NWSL have an affiliation with a men’s professional team, this new franchise, does not as of yet. This could work in their favour however, further enhancing its profile, as an independent club, a unique hub in LA dedicated solely to promoting women’s football in the region.

We have seen first hand in England, how clubs associated and funded by their male counterparts can be left behind and disregarded. Liverpool are the prime example, as while their men’s side will hoist the Premier League trophy tonight, their women’s team were relegated to the Championship and face a struggle to survive as a professional club.

Having such a prestigious group of owners can also be beneficial to the club. The illustrious list of women involved instantly draws some much needed attention to the club, from various sectors, across the globe.

The hype surrounding previous new franchises such as Inter Miami and LA FC was largely generated as result of them having famous owners in David Beckham and Will Ferrell. It is likely that this will be the case for those who are followers of those involved with ‘Angel City.’

Those who are fans of tennis, business, football and showbiz will be looking on, intrigued to see the process of the development of the club as well as the eventual results on the pitch, further boosting the profile and coverage of the NWSL as a whole, which continues to grow rapidly.

The league recorded a 22% increase in attendances last season after the USA’s fifth World Cup win, with the Portland Thorns, the best supported women’s club, averaging 20,000 at home games.

The appetite is clearly there for women’s football in America, particularly in LA, a huge cultural hub in the USA, a particularly attractive location also for a club to be based. Hamm, who already forms part of the ownership group at LA FC, was previously quoted as saying they aimed to form a women’s team.

This view was backed up by an LA FC supporters group 3252, who even flew flags with the NWSL logo stating:

‘Bring the NWSL to LA.’

Whilst this club may be a separate entity to LA FC, as the only female football club created in the area, it is easy to see how many football fans in the region will support this new club, a huge selling point for the group and women’s football as a whole.

Women’s football in America is riding on the wave of the success of the USA National team, and with three new franchises entering into the NWSL for the upcoming season, the Olympics to come next year and the Women’s World Cup in 2023, as Portman nicely summarises the new LA based club is:

“Coming in at an ideal time in 2022.”

Shortest turnaround in football history, but are players benefiting from this?

It is already looking like we could be set for the shortest season ever in football history.

When you consider we had to wait patiently for 100 days before we saw a ball kicked, we are now seeing matches played almost every day.

There are likely to be seven weeks between the end of this Premier League season and the start of the next one. In that time there will be only eight days without games in eight selected tournaments.

The Premier League will finish this weekend, with the Championship play-off semi-final matches being played later that week.

The FA Cup final is on the 1st August, which remarkably will be on the same day as the 2020-21 Scottish Premiership begins. It seems like only yesterday that their season re commenced. Wow doesn’t time fly in football!

The Championship play-off final is on the 4th August with Europa League last 16 ties resuming 24 hours later.

Manchester City and Chelsea play their Champions League last 16 second legs on the following two days. The Champions League final will be held on the 23rd August.

Now, who remembers the Nations League? Yes, I thought so, well the good news is it is back again, 11 days after the Champions League final.

The Premier League is, meanwhile, reportedly due to start on the 12th September.

This is great news for the fans watching but surely not for the players. Premier League and Championship players have been forced to return back.  After the restart there were genuine fears for fitness levels of players having to perform for their clubs in such a short tight schedule.

When the Bundesliga returned fitness levels of players was under question. Admittedly, after the first few weeks of the restart few players were getting injured or suffering cramp. The real test was to come when the Premiership restarted on the 20th June.

In terms of the fitness levels of players involved in the Premier League and Championship it has to be said it has been encouraging, with few major worries.

However, having to cram so many games into such a short space of time before a break of a few weeks before next season will hit us. I am sure this won’t benefit anybody at all.

To ask players at any level to play almost a whole year with just a few weeks break will inevitably mean more injuries next season.

Players welfare has to be taken very seriously indeed, otherwise we are going to lose a crop of outstanding young talent along with the cream of the league to the treatment tables and players will get burned out and lose their appetite for the game. This certainly would not be good for football.

The Watford managerial merry-go-round continues

The sacking of Nigel Pearson was a huge surprise in terms of timing – however very few fans were surprised it happened, considering Watford’s past record.

We all know by now how they club have dismissed coach after coach, with none of them lasting over a year. The only exception is Malky Mackay who led to club from June 2009 to June 2011.

An astonishing trend

Nigel Pearson is unfortunately just one name in a list of victims to feel the wrath of the Watford board. Ever since Mackay left in June 2011 they have been through 11 managers (not including Quique Sanchez Flores twice) and that trend seems to be continuing.

Sean Dyche, Gianfranco Zola, Giuseppe Sannino, Oscar Garcia Sunyent, Billy McKinlay, Slavisa Jokanovic, Quique Sanchez Flores, Walter Mazzari, Marco Silva, Javi Gracia and finally Nigel Pearson.

Sunyent unfortunately had to resign due to medical reasons, however, it doesn’t stop this list being thoroughly astonishing.

Sannino, Sunyent, McKinlay, Jokanovic were all coaching the team between August and October 2014 – a crazy four head coaches in the space of five weeks. Jokanovic was signed on a short term contract and after finishing 2nd in the Championship, he failed to agree a new deal and was replaced with Quique Sanchez Flores.

Flores guided them to a mid-table finish and also took them to an FA Cup semi final. He was sacked at the end of the season and replaced by Walter Mazzarri. He was then sacked after finishing 17th and was replaced by the promising Marco Silva.

Marco Silva had a lot of hype surrounding him at the time after almost keeping Hull City up. This was supposed to be a new era for the club.

After a good start to the campaign he was linked with the Everton job. During this period and in the subsequent two months, the team’s performances became increasingly poor (five points from 30 in 10 Premier League matches), with fans blaming his loss of focus with the club as putting them at risk of relegation.

He was then sacked in January 2018 and the circus continued. Next came Javi Gracia  and with that Watford’s most successful appointment to date. Gracia guided them to safety in the second half of the season and remained for the beginning of the next one (18/19).

In that season they eventually finished 11th but were pushing for a European place for large parts of the campaign. They also reached only their second FA Cup final in history but were smashed 6-0 by Manchester City. He was sacked in September 2019 after a terrible start to the campaign.

The season didn’t get any easier when Quique Sanchez Flores rejoined and failed to lift the team’s form – lasting a measly 10 matches.

This is where Pearson comes in. He managed to completely turn the team’s fortunes around. They were rock bottom with zero confidence and Pearson managed to guide them out of the relegation zone.

Along the way they of course ended Liverpool’s hope of an invincibles season with a stunning 3-0 victory. They were seemingly set to be safe from relegation, three points above the relegation places. However, he was sacked with two games to go and with results going against the club, they now sit inside the bottom three on goal difference.

What now for Watford?

Aston Villa pulled off their result of the season as they beat Arsenal 1-0 to force the Hornets back into relegation peril. With their 4-0 defeat to Manchester City ( a team they have an awful record against) they now have to get a result against Arsenal too and hope Villa lose to West Ham – who are already pretty much safe.

Pearson’s sacking caused plenty of outrage between neutrals and Watford fans. His record of seven wins, five draws and 10 defeats from 22 games was very decent considering how the team were playing before he took over.

Twitter was awash with “they deserve to go down for that” messages aimed at the club. As Premier League fans we have all become accustomed to this constant cycle of sackings – but it is something that fans don’t agree with.

According to Sky Sports:

A “frank exchange of views” between Nigel Pearson and Watford owner Gino Pozzo after Friday’s defeat to West Ham was the catalyst that led to the head coach’s sacking.

Concerns over team selection, substitutions and the team’s performances since the Premier League returned to action had already eaten away at relations between Pearson and Pozzo, along with his technical director Filippo Giraldi.

It is understood Pearson still maintained support among a group of players in the Watford dressing room.

However, despite breathing life into Watford’s troubled season – they were bottom of the league, with just one win from 15 games when he arrived – some players were less supportive.

The owners held serious reservations in particular about their team’s first-half performances, with Watford failing to score the first goal in all seven games since lockdown.

Survival seems very difficult for a club who now need, more than ever, a bit of luck and good fortune to smile upon them. Is this karma for the growing number of managerial casualties? Or just a message that constant change can damage a club eventually?

Whatever it is, Watford Football Club are in danger of the drop, and the last weekend of the Premier League will prove hugely significant for the clubs future.

For more reaction to Nigel Pearson’s sacking see our latest YouTube video below:

24-7 Football Webcast and Podcast Series

The next instalment in 24-7 football’s podcast series – This episode features writer Tom Parker and in the first part looks at his background in sports journalism and also how Manchester City were able to overturn their two year European football ban.

The second part of the third episode that features writer Tom Parker. We look at the race for the top four in the Premier League and also examine whether current RB Leipzig coach, Julian Nagelsmann will manage in England’s top flight.

You can listen to both parts of the podcast by clicking on links below:

https://soundcloud.com/adam-stephens-425096853/24-7-football-episode-three-part-one

https://soundcloud.com/adam-stephens-425096853/24-7-football-podcast-episode-three-part-two

You can also watch the webcast here: 

 

Real Madrid win La Liga Title after three year gap

Real Madrid clinched their first La Liga title since 2017 following a 2-1 victory over Villarreal on Thursday.

Real wrapped up the title with a game to spare after a Karim Benzema brace secured victory.

In an empty Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, Benzema opened the scoring in the 29th minute. The forward added a second in the 77th minute from the spot.

Vincente Iborra pulled a goal back late in the game, but it was to late for the visitors.

Zinedine Zidane’s side were crowned La Liga Champions for the 34th time in their history. They head into the final day of the season with a seven-point lead over second place Barcelona.

Since the restart back in Spain in June, Madrid have won ten consecutive matches and have been unstoppable.

Zidane said:

“Today is one of the best days for me as a professional,

“After everything that happened, the three-month break, it is fantastic what has been achieved.”

La Liga titles have been in short supply for Real, this is only their third in the past nine seasons.

However, when it comes to European success it is a different story. They won three consecutive European Cups in Zidane’s first tenure.

What makes Real’s success this season even more remarkable is that last season they were also rans behind Barcelona. Barca finished a notable 19 points clear of their rivals and looked favourites to complete another La Liga triumph this season before a ball was kicked.

However, Zidane’s troops had other ideas. The Frenchman has always been hailed for his man-management abilities and tactics.

Despite virtually having the same squad as last season, Zidane knew there was a problem defensively with the side. This campaign has seen Madrid a much solid unit at the back.

As a result, they currently boast the best defensive record in the league having conceded only 23 goals in 37 games thus far. This is half the number of goals conceded in their last campaign.

Ferland Mendy has looked assured at left back and Raphael Varane having the best season of his career. Thibaut Courtois, meanwhile, is looking back to his best between the sticks and with Sergio Ramos such a competitive leader along with the outstanding Casemiro, this side oozes quality.

Madrid have had goals in them all season with 21 different players getting in on the scoresheet. In fact, their forward line has fired blanks all season.

That said it is an all-round squad that performs in all departments that will win you silverware and Real have proved this.

On a night of high celebrations, it was noticeable that Gareth Bale wasn’t one of those joining in the fun.

The Welshman was pictured standing away from the group. Bale was also spotted tamely punching the air at the end of the back row. He was then caught on camera attempting to trip up his teammates as they jumped around in a circle.

Make of that what you will but could that be a message to the Spanish giants to say I’m off soon, thank you very much?

Meanwhile, Lionel Messi has come out and been critical of his Barca colleagues, saying “things have to change” at the club.

He went on to add:

“We are a weak team who can be beaten with enough intensity and enthusiasm.”

Scathing words indeed from the world’s greatest footballer. That said, the magician has a good point.

Barcelona haven’t performed up to their normal high standards this season. They have looked as always to Messi to lead from the front, which he has and delivered as well.

It is others who are not keeping up to the very hight standards of performances that Barca expect from them.

Overall, Real Madrid have deserved their La Liga title and they will be a difficult act to catch again next season. Barcelona have to raise their standards for the next campaign, otherwise Zidane will be smiling from ear to ear once more.

Chelsea’s Emma Hayes and Beth England honoured with FA WSL awards

After the coronavirus pandemic ended the 2019-20 FA WSL season, with Chelsea winning the league, manager Emma Hayes and star player Beth England were named the Barclays FA WSL Manager and Player of the Year respectively.

 The winners were announced via a virtual award show presented by Barclays Football Ambassadors and football legends/hosts, Kelly Smith and Ian Wright.

Although Chelsea were behind Manchester City by one point, they were able to win the league based on points-per-game. In 15 games this season, The Blues went undefeated with a record of 12-3-0.

Along with winning the league, their glorious campaign included winning the Continental Tyres League Cup in February against cross-city rivals Arsenal.

Hayes, who has been at the helm for the South-London side since 2012, defeated Manchester City’s Nick Cushing, Everton’s Willie Kirk, Karen Hill and Juan Amoros from Tottenham Hotspur, and Casey Stoney from Manchester United. The vote was decided by her fellow WSL managers, a panel of women’s football experts, and a public vote on social media.

 

 

England, meanwhile, had a season to remember. In 15 matches, she had found the back of the net 14 times. This led her to finish second in the league in scoring, only behind Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema, who won her second consecutive Golden Boot after notching 16 goals this season.

 

 

Among the other candidates The Blues’ No. 9 and Lionesses star had to edge out were Arsenal’s Miedema, Manchester City’s Lauren Hemp, Everton’s Chloe Kelly (now at Manchester City), and teammate Guro Reiten.

It was a dominant season for The Blues, and they were honored for their hard work on the pitch, individually and as a unit.

Manchester City see Champions League ban overturned

One of the biggest stories of the season so far has seemingly come to an end with Manchester City avoiding a two year ban from the Champions League, after the Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared them of any wrongdoing.

This has been a long debated topic of whether 5th place would qualify as a Champions League spot, with many people calling for a harsh punishment in order for UEFA to ‘make an example’ of City. They have been criticised for not being strict enough with FFP and this result has left its reputation heavily damaged.

What were City accused of doing?

In November 2018 a German newspaper, Der Speigel, published supposed leaked documents of Manchester City overvaluing their sponsorship deal – misleading football’s top European body.

It was accused that they lied about this valuation in order to mislead UEFA for FFP rules – making it seem as though they were breaking even and not in a loss.

In February, the CFCB, an independent adjudicatory body, claimed that City bent the laws by “overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to Uefa between 2012 and 2016”.

They attempted to investigate but City refused to cooperate as they didn’t trust the CFCB and didn’t believe they were independent. The club were also punished for similar issues in 2014 and fined £49m.

It must be noted the owners always refuted the claims and were adamant they had not broken any rules.

What was the verdict?

The CAS claimed that the club were completely cleared of “disguising equity funds as sponsorship contributions”.

They did, however, state that Manchester City had failed to cooperate with the CFCB investigation and were still subject to a fine.

The original fine of 30m Euros was reduced to 10m Euros – a considerable drop. The two-year Champions League ban imposed on City has also been reversed meaning they will be allowed to play in the competition for future seasons.

What does this mean for FFP and this season?

Many fans have complained about the loopholes in FFP rulings as it allows bigger clubs who generate more revenue to spend more – whilst other clubs may struggle to grow due to financial restrictions on allowed losses.

Whilst the Premier League have different rulings to UEFA they still fall under the same umbrella terms, so the differences are minimal.

With its fractured reputation already, this decision has only exacerbated things for UEFA as people are calling into questions its legitimacy. After all, City broke similar regulations in 2014 and yet they haven’t been banned and have been given a reduced fine.

The failure to punish the richest clubs for breaking the rules means clubs will seemingly be able to get away with spending a bit more. If the fine is only 10m Euros like this case, then you can be sure many clubs would take that hit for success.

Where this leaves the ruling is yet to be seen, a reform in the system seems to be the most effective option, allowing smaller clubs to spend to help grow, whilst debt can be controlled to avoid clubs going into administration.

In terms of this season, it of course means that 5th place is no longer the golden ticket into the Champions League and the race for the top four will be even more intense now.

Whilst most people expected the decision to be overturned, it still offers up a very interesting end to the campaign as top four is absolutely vital. Whilst this damages Wolves and Sheffield United’s hopes of qualification; Manchester United, Chelsea and Leicester will all be fighting more than ever now in these last few games.

For further discussion on what Manchester City’s European ban being overturned means check out the video below:

 

Liverpool Women’s Captain makes tough decision to put football on hold

Most people in sport right now are happy just to get back performing. But for one lady footballer she has made a decision to sacrifice playing at the moment.

Liverpool Women’s captain Sophie Bradley- Auckland has decided not to return back to the Liverpool squad for the time being.

Bradley- Auckland has made the choice of helping her family run their care home back in Nottingham.

The defender, who was named the clubs player of the year last season, is also the manager of Edenhurst care home in Nottingham.

“Unfortunately, with the current situation it’s made me have to make a decision. The fact is I can’t return to Liverpool until a risk isn’t posed on the care home.” she told the clubs website.

“We have got 24 people to look after but now we have got 24 very vulnerable people because of the virus, which is spreading very quickly. The people we look after, it would be very dangerous if any of them were to catch it.

“I’m still a Red. I will be back at Liverpool but unfortunately at this moment in time it is not possible for me to come, so I think it’s very much up in the air.”

Bradley- Auckland, who has played 28 times for England, joined the Merseyside outfit in 2018.

The club were  relegated from the Women’s Super League this season after the 2019-20 season was ended earlier than expected in May.

It is certainly a very brave decision from the 30-year-old defender to put her football career on hold. A decision I am sure she didn’t take lightly.

Overall, it takes a brave person to make a preference like this. Bradley-Auckland should be praised for her choice in putting not just her family first but deciding her football career must come second.

World Cup winner Jack Charlton dies age 85

World Cup winner with England and former Republic of Ireland Manager Jack Charlton has died at the age of 85.

The former Leeds United defender had been diagnosed with lymphoma and also had dementia.

Big Jack as he was affectionately known, passed away peacefully at his Northumberland home on Friday, his family said.

Charlton, the older brother of Manchester United legend Bobby, was part of England’s World Cup winning side of 1966.

He spent his entire club career with one club- Leeds United- from 1950- 1973, making a record 762 total competitive appearances for the Whites.

With his time at Leeds United, he helped them to the Second Division Title (1963-4) and First Division Title (1968-9).

His spell at Leeds also yielded an FA Cup win (1972), League Cup (1968), Charity Shield (1969) and two Inter-Cities Fairs Cup’s in 1968 and 1971.

Charlton was called up to the England team just days before his 30th birthday and went on to make 35 international appearances and scored six goals.

He appeared in two World Cups and one European Championship but will be remembered most for his no nonsense defending as a centre back.

After his playing days were over, he decided to turn his hand to management and led Middlesbrough to the second division title in 1973-4.

He spent four years in the North East before resigning in April 1977, where he took charge of Sheffield Wednesday for six seasons.

Despite a short spell back at Middlesbrough as caretaker manager and one season at Newcastle, he always had aspirations to manage at International level.

He took charge of the Republic of Ireland national side in 1986 and led them to their first ever World Cup in 1990, where they reached the quarter-finals.

In his ten-year stint in charge of Ireland he also led the Irish to qualification at Euro 1998 and the 1994 World Cup.

In January 1996, Charlton resigned from his position and went into retirement.

Big Jack was a football man, loved and adored by everybody in the football world.

To spend an entire career at one club in today’s world is unheard off. To hear so many nice words said about such a gentleman speaks for itself.

Jack Charlton’s name will live forever with not just Leeds fans, but Irish football fans who fittingly called him a legend.

It would be fitting if Leeds United can go on and seal promotion to the Premiership in memory of not just Charlton, but two other greats who passed away this year. Norman Hunter and Trevor Cherry.

 

Champions League, Europa League draw

Manchester City will face Juventus or Lyon in the Champions League quarter-finals if they knock out Real Madrid in their delayed last-16 second-leg tie when the competition resumes in early August. Pep Guardiola’s side, who will learn the fate of their appeal against a two-year ban from UEFA club competitions for Financial Fair Play rule breaches on Monday, hold a 2-1 lead from the first leg in Madrid back in February.

Chelsea, the only other remaining Premier League club left in Europe’s top-tier competition, trail Bayern Munich 3-0 ahead of the return leg in Germany, with the winners drawn to meet either Napoli or Barcelona.

RB Leipzig, who defeated Tottenham to reach the last eight of the Champions League for the first time, will meet Atletico Madrid while Atalanta, playing in the Champions League for the first time, have drawn French champions Paris Saint-Germain.

On Thursday, UEFA announced the remaining last-16 second-leg ties in the Champions League will be single-leg fixtures and are set to take place in Lisbon, Portugal at either Sporting’s Estadio Jose Alvalade or Benfica’s Estadio da Luz between August 12-23.

  • Real Madrid or Manchester City (1-2) vs Lyon or Juventus (1-0)
  • Winners to play Napoli or Barcelona (1-1) vs Chelsea or Bayern (0-3)
  • Atalanta vs PSG
  • RB Leipzig vs Atletico Madrid

Meanwhile Manchester United will play Copenhagen or Istanbul Basaksehir in the Europa League quarter-finals if they overcome Austrian side LASK.United are in a strong position to reach the next stage of the competition as they hold a 5-0 first-leg lead over LASK with the second game still to be played.

Wolverhampton Wanderers will face Sevilla or Roma if they progress in their tie against Olympiakos, which finished 1-1 in the first leg in Greece. The winners of those two quarter-final ties will then meet in the semi-final, meaning an all-Premier League contest in the final four could take place but unlike last season no all-Premier League final is possible.

A game against Inter Milan or Getafe awaits Rangers, but they must overcome a 3-1 deficit against Bayer Leverkusen with the second leg to come in Germany.

 

As the champions league enters the final 8 stage George Clayton talks about the who co on our YouTube channel Now by clicking the link below

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCbgefVH2W0

Quarter and Semi-final draw in full

Should ex-pros help out VAR officiating?

VAR,  not for the first time this season, once again appeared in the spot light  following more controversy surrounding no less than three different incidents this week.

Incorrect penalty decisions were made by the video assistant referee in all three of Thursday’s Premier League games.

Tottenham should have had a penalty when Joshua King clearly shoved Harry Kane in the back, in their goalless draw with Bournemouth.

Bruno Fernandes won a spot kick, which should not have been given against Aston Villa.

James Ward-Prowse hit the bar after being awarded a disputed penalty against Everton.

With so many talking points raised about VAR, there has been a suggestion by former footballer Tim Cahill, than an ex-player should be involved to work alongside the VAR officials at Stockley Park.

Going forward, it would appear to make sense that somebody who has played the game professionally, and knows how players react in circumstances during a game, would know more than a referee, who in most cases would never have played the game before.

The only downside to this in my opinion would be would the VAR officials listen to what that person would have to say, take on board and put into practice.

Overall, on debatable decisions I am sure they would like some impact from the ex pro, but I fear that the final say on the decision would be down to the VAR official.

I am still unconvinced that they would generally be swayed by expert advice from somebody who has played and understands the game more.

It hurts me to say that I genuinely believe quite a few referees don’t know the game of football. It is not just about knowing the laws of football; it is also about knowing the game.

To simplify and eradicate even more controversy going forward, surely the on field official should be allowed to go and check the pitch side monitor, and then make his own decision.

All too often the man in the middle never goes ahead and puts this into practice. It is the VAR crew who in turn make their own decision, therefore undermining the person who is supposed to be referring the game.

My own solution to this mess would be simple really.

When an incident should be reviewed, let VAR tell the on field official how they see it.

The referee should then go straight to the pitch side monitor to make up his own mind and then decide what decision to go with.

The referee who is officiating the actual game must be the sole person in charge of events on and off the field, in my opinion.

Currently, it is a case of somebody many miles away making decisions that really should be made closer to home.

Liverpool v Chelsea: preview

Liverpool continue their title defence on Sunday with a trip to Stamford Bridge on Sunday where they will face a new look Chelsea side.

Jurgen Klopp’s Reds will be looking for a more assured performance from his side after they were involved in a thrilling if a little nervy, opening day clash with newly-promoted Leeds United.

Liverpool came out 4-3 winners thanks in the main to a hat-trick from Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian will be hopeful of continuing his form at his old employers on Sunday afternoon.

Frank Lampard’s Chelsea were perhaps second best for much of their first game of the season against Brighton & Hove Albion. Despite a lacklustre performance, the Blues came out on top as 3-1 winners as summer signings Timo Werner and Kai Havertz both made their Chelsea debuts.

The Match

After an eight goal thriller in July at Anfield between the two neutrals might be hopeful of a similar goal-fest.

However it seems unlikely, albeit Lampard’s side remain a little top heavy and Liverpool have shown possible defensive frailties in recent fixtures.

The clash will also bring together two managers who have been having somewhat of a public spat over transfer fees, although the Blues boss is making most of the noise.

The pairs differing opinions follow a pitch-side argument during Liverpool’s 5-3 victory in July. Lampard showing his displeasure at the awarding of a free-kick, which was subsequently scored by Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Key Men

Mo Salah’s performance last week was of the very highest order and makes him the important player for the Red’s ahead of Sunday’s encounter. Not just a hat-trick but Salah was sublime throughout and look at his sharpest best.

Timo Werner showed moments of his ability on Monday night and Chelsea fans will be excited from what they have seen from their new man. The German forward was widely expected to join Liverpool so this will be an interesting match-up.

Team News

Liverpool report with almost a clean bill of health bar Kostas Tsimikas who is still unavailable after testing positive for COVID-19 on international duty.

The Reds do have their very latest signing Thiago Alcantara available, although he is unlikely to feature having been with the club less than 72 hours.

Chelsea expect to have Werner available after picking up a knock against Brighton. However the Blues could still be without Ben Chilwell, Christian Pulisic, Thiago Silva and Hakim Ziyech.

Prediction

Expect an attacking match between two entertaining sides but the Premier League champions to come out on top 3-1

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