Should Arsenal make a move for Christian Eriksen in January?

Following Arsenal’s 0-0 draw with newly promoted Leeds United on Sunday, it is now seven hours and 56 minutes since the Gunners scored from open play in the Premier League. 

This equates to the North London side’s lowest tally in 34 years, just nine goals in nine games. The failure to score against the leagues’ worst defence must draw concerns for Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff all be it they were playing with ten men for the best part of half an hour. 

In addition, Mikel Arteta’s side have now not scored in four of their last Premier League matches.  Their one goal came in an impressive 1-0 victory at Old Trafford scored from the penalty spot by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

What is a more startling stat, however, is that the North London club now rank among the bottom six teams so far this campaign for chances creation per match in the top flight. 

German international Mesut Ozil, who has not played for Arsenal this season, ended up ranking second on the list of most creative player for the 2019/20 season. Despite only playing 18 games he created 38 chances for his teammates.  

This begs the question whether Ozil should be recalled from his exile or in fact should Arteta go all out to recruit another creative player in the January transfer window?

Arsenal’s Christian Eriksen link?

One former Arsenal player Kevin Campbell has suggested that the Gunners should sign the ‘superb’ ex-Tottenham star Christian Eriksen. 

The 28-year-old Danish attacking midfielder has reportedly asked to leave his current club Inter Milan and could be sold in January according to the Serie A club’s sporting director Giusppe Marotta. 

Marotta told DAZN:

“We do not certainly have to force a player to stay when he asks to leave.”

Indeed, since moving for £17.5 million from Spurs to the San Siro in January of this year, Eriksen has just managed four goals in 33 matches – including none this season. 

Eriksen has also only started three of the club’s eight league matches so far and has been an unused substitute in Inter’s last two matches, including Sunday’s 4-2 win over Torino.  

The attacking midfielder’s contract with Inter Milan runs until 2024, but when asked about his current role with the club Eriksen told TV2:

This isn’t want I dreamed of, 

It is a strange situation, as the fans want to see me playing more and so would I, but the coach has different ideas and as a player I have to respect that.

“I am concentrating on my football, then when the transfer window opens we will see if something happens or not.”

While Inter Milan manager, Antonio Conte said:

“I will not select my team just to please one player.” 

Eriksen’s record with Tottenham

The Denmark midfielder’s record with Tottenham is significantly more impressive as he played more than 300 games for the club and helped Mauricio Pochettino’s side reach the Champions League final back in 2018. 

Overall he scored 69 goals in his 305 games for the club but perhaps more importantly chipped in with 89 assists for his team. 

When asked about the Eriksen speculation, Campbell said: 

“Christian Eriksen played for the rivals but we all know the quality he possesses, that’s for sure.

“It is not quite working out for him at Inter Milan right now and I am sure he would be a good addition to Arsenal’s squad.” 

Do Arsenal need a player like Eriksen?

Truth be told, a team like Arteta’s could certainly do with someone of Eriksen’s talents.  

The Danish playmaker is certainly someone who has that potential to come up with that spark in the final third and picking that pivotal final pass is something that the Gunners clearly lack at the moment.

It is also clear that Eriksen is a player who currently does not fit in with Conte’s plans at Inter Milan and he has struggled so far to get the best out of the Danish international. 

It certainly worked out well for Eriksen first time round in the Premier League for another North London side, could perhaps it do so again?

Let us know what you think Arsenal fans in the comments below, would you be happy to see your side make a move for the Danish international in the January transfer window? 

WHAT NEXT FOR OLIViER GIROUD?

Often underrated and always scores goals Olivier Giroud is facing a decision over his future. After all, It is imperative that the French World Cup winner plays regular football in order to secure his place in his national side for next year’s Euros.

The 34 year old has appeared just six times this season for Chelsea and this week France manager Didier Deschamps spoke out about the striker who has been an integral part of his plans in recent times despite being on the fringe at Stamford Bridge.

Giroud scored twice in midweek for France against Sweden to move him to within seven goals of the nations record goal scorer Thierry Henry – a mark of the forwards credentials.

However, with the plethora of striking options available to Chelsea boss Frank Lampard, Giroud has been on the periphery of matters in West London this term, leading to plenty of speculation around a move in the upcoming January transfer window.

Fellow Premier League club West Ham are believed to be interested, whilst a host of Serie A sides have also been credited with interest, including a reunion with former manager Antonio Conte at Inter Milan.

The cultured French striker who’s attributes stretch to beyond his prowess in front of goal with his ability to hold up the ball and bring others into play will be desperate for one final hoorah on the internationals stage in the rearranged Euros next summer – therefore may need to move on to pastures new.

France boast a host of high-quality forwards who will all be hoping to oust the tall striker from Deschamps’ plans. The likes of Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezzmann, Anthony Martial, Moussa Dembele, Ousmane Dembele and Marcus Thuram are all in with a shout of leading the line.

With competition for places at the attacking end of the France squad as such, it is inconceivable Giroud could expect to be picked without regular football behind him.

One thing is for certain is Giroud’s representatives believe their player deserves to be seeing more action, this week the players agent questioned Lampard’s preference of Tammy Abraham whilst hinting at a January exit.

At 34 years old and with Timo Werner and Abraham clearly above him in the pecking order, a mid-season move seems the most viable option in order for the cultured frontman to get the football he needs for the rest of the season.

Its back: Premier league weekend preview

After the final international break of the calendar year top flight domestic football is back and heading into the most hectic part of an already condensed 2020/21 schedule.

The Premier League has already seen plenty of shock results this campaign and as things stand the top of the table is delicately poised with a host of clubs vying for supremacy.

Here are your big match previews for the weekend…

Premier League

Newcastle United v Chelsea Saturday 12.30pm

Frank Lampard’s side were in fine form before the break and the Blues legend will be hoping his side can pick up where they left off as they head to the North East.

Lampard will be without Ka Havertz and Christian Pulisic for the clash at St James’ Park while experienced centre-back Thiago Silva is a doubt.

Steve Bruce’s Magpies have been typically inconsistent so far this term without setting the world alight. However with the attacking threats of Ryan Fraser, Allan Saint Maximin and Callum Wilson, they can be confident of stopping the visitors heading to the top of the table.

Tottenham v Manchester City Saturday 5.30pm

A huge test of Tottenham’s early title credentials as Jose Mourinho’s men look to seize the opportunity to reach the summit of the table, albeit potentially for just 24 hours.

Spurs have been a tough team to beat this season and with the likes of Harry Kane, Gareth Bale and Heung Min-Son in attack they pose a danger to any team.

Pep Guardiola, fresh off the back of a new contract, will be looking for more consistency from his side as they look to close the small gap to the league leaders. Gabriel Jesus is likely to be available whilst Sergio Aguero is a doubt.

Manchester United v West Brom Saturday 8.00pm

United went into the break on the back of a morale boosting victory over Everton, a victory that arguably saved Ole Gunnar Solskjær from a difficult conversation over this job.

Slaven Bilic’s Baggies meanwhile are desperate for points already as they flounder in the relegation zone without a win in their opening eight matches.

Leeds United v Arsenal Sunday 4.30pm

Perhaps evevery neutral’s favourite side to watch, Leeds United have made for enthralling viewing this season, unless you’re a fan of stout defending.

Marcelo Bielsa’s charges are a fast flowing bunch who always look to play on the front-foot, occasionally to their detriment. The Yorkshire side have already shocked the big boys this season, taking a point from the game with Man City.

Mikel Arteta’s Gunners could almost do no wrong until they came unstuck in a big way against Aston Villa before the break. The North Londoners sit 11th in the table and will be desperate to start clawing their way up.

Liverpool v Leicester City Sunday 7.15pm

Arguably the game of the weekend as the reigning champions host the current leagues leaders at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp’s side come into this game with almost an unprecedented amount of injuries with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez out for the majority of the season at least. Captain Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara, Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold are all major doubts for the clash whilst Fabinho has returned to full training.

The Foxes, not without their own injury concerns, must fancy their chances of taking a positive result back to the Midlands as former Reds boss Brendan Rodger’s pits his wits against Klopp.

Wolves v Southampton Monday 8.00pm

The weekend’s action rounds up at Molineux as this seasons surprise package Southampton head to Wolverhampton hoping to continue their positive start.

Ralph Hassenhutl’s Saints sit fourth in the table heading into the weekend after a 2-0 victory over Newcastle before the international hiatus. The visitors are likely to be without talismanic striker Danny Ings however as he recovers from a knee issue.

Wolves meanwhile haven’t quite hit the heights perhaps many expected this term so far as they struggle to get going with a host of new signings in their ranks. Nuno Espirito Santo will be hoping this period can bring about a new level of consistency from his talented squad.

Other Fixtures

Aston Villa v Brighton & Hove Albion Saturday 3.00pm

Fulham v Everton Sunday 12.00pm

Sheffield United v West Ham United Sunday 2.00pm

Burnley v Crystal Palace Monday 5.30pm

Pep Guardiola signs new contract with Manchester City

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has signed a new two- year deal with the club that will extend his stay until the summer of 2023.

The former Spanish and Barcelona defensive midfielder has been in charge of the ‘Sky Blues’ since 2016 and his previous deal was set to expire at the end of the season. 

During that period Guardiola has guided City to two Premier League titles, the FA Cup and three League Cups.  While to date the team has won 181 of the 245 games that the 49-year-old has taken charge of, which equates to an impressive win ratio of 73.87%.

Indeed, Guardiola’s five-year commitment with City is already the longest he has stayed at a football club since becoming a manager in 2008. 

If he were to see out the new contract, the Spaniard would become City’s second longest serving post-war manager, behind Les McDowall, who managed the club between 1950 and 1963.

Speaking to the club website, Guardiola said:

“Ever since I arrived at Manchester City I have been made to feel so welcome to the club and in the city itself – from the players, the staff, the supporters, the people of Manchester and the Chairman and the Owner. 

“Since then we have achieved a great deal together, scored goals, won games and trophies and are all very proud of that success. 

“The challenge for us is to continue improving and evolving, and I am very excited about helping Manchester City do that.”

Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, meanwhile added:

“Pep’s contract extension is the natural next step in a journey which has evolved over many years.”

Record as manager

In his 11 full seasons as manager, Guardiola has in total won an incredible 29 major trophies.  During his four year stint with Barcelona he won a grand total of 14, which included the club’s first ever treble in 2009. 

After taking a year out of the game, Guardiola went to German side Bayern Munich where he won three Bundesliga titles and two DFB-Pokal Cups. 

Then in 2016 Guardiola arrived at Manchester City and after finishing third in his first season in charge, the 2017-18 campaign saw him set a new Premier League points record of 100 points on his way to winning his first title with the club.

The following year, Guardiola would guide the Citizens to another title, making them the first side to win back-to-back Premier League trophies this decade. 

What will the contract extension mean for City?

The news that Guardiola has now committed his future to the club will clearly delight City fans and the team can now focus on their quest to secure their first ever Champions League title. 

This is something that Guardiola will clearly be determined to achieve as he has not won the biggest prize in European football since 2011 with Barcelona. 

While there is also the question of whether Lionel Messi will arrive at the Ethiad in the summer of 2021? The Argentine was blocked from leaving the Nou Camp this year and with Messi’s contract officially expiring the prospect of him moving to Manchester is certainly looking more and more likely. 

Indeed, a reunion with the manager who he won so much with must be an exciting proposition for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner and truth be told, would be terrific to witness for fans of the English Premier League.  

Will Guardiola finally be able to lead City to Champions League glory this season? Will Messi join the club in the summer? Feel free to give us your thoughts in the comments below….

FA Womens Football Weekend Round up

Womens Football took centre stage this weekend with the FA’s Women’s Football Weekend. A thrilling Manchester derby, Second City derby and a London derby all part of this weekends action.

Second City is Blue

Villa Park was the venue for the Second City derby between Aston Villa and Birmingham City. Villa had the first chances, Birmingham failing to fully clear a corner but a tame shot went wide. Villa had real chance to break the deadlock when Shania Hayles dispossessed Rachel Corsie on the edge of the box. Hayles’ shot though was straight at Birmingham keeper Hannah Hampton.

Birmingham’s first chance came from Mollie Green, a curling effort from the edge off the box taken comfortably by Lisa Weiss in the Villa goal. Green had another chance after being played in behind the Villa defence. Again though an easy one for the Villa Keeper.

The Blues continued to look for the opener in the second half. A poor clearance from the Villa keeper found Mollie Green but her shot went wide. Villa’s first chance of the second half came from a free kick out on the right. Whipped high towards the far post the ball was met on the volley by Marisa Ewers, but once again the shot was wide.

The deadlock was broken on 72 minutes by Birmingham with Claudia Walkers fifth goal of the season. Lucy Whipp crossing from the byline, Elisha N’Dow’s headed clearance only found Walker who smashed her shot on to the underside of the bar and in the back of the net.

Despite pressing for an equalizer Birmingham disciplined performance restricted Villa to a few half chances. A good day for the blue side of the City this weekend.

Saturday’s other matches saw Everton and Reading draw 1-1. Everton open the scoring on 39 minutes thanks to Simone Magill. Some good interplay from Everton down the right saw Nicoline Sorenson in space inside the box. Her shot was saved by Reading keeper Grace Moloney, but the loose ball was headed in by Magill. Reading leveled before half time. Jess Fishlock long pass found Welsh team-mate Natasha Harding free on the right. Harding lifted the ball over into the far corner of the goal. Both teams pushed for a winning goal in the second half.

First Point for Bristol City

Bristol City hosted Tottenham and Bristol took the lead on 37 minutes from a Chole Logarzo penalty. A back heel from Ebony Salmon found Florence May Allen in the box, she was brought down by Siri Worm. Bristol who were hit for 8 last week by Man City couldn’t hold on to the lead. Just five minutes late it was Worm getting Tottenham level. With a free-kick deep on the right side her curling cross flew past everyone in to the net.

Tottenham took the lead on 64 minutes Worm involved again. A floated cross into the box was headed in from close range by Ashleigh Neville. Rianna Dean got a straight red for a late challenge on Bristol keeper sophie Baggaley. Bristol were able to clam their first point of the season with a second in stoppage time. A hopeful long ball from Jemma Purfield found Ebony Salmon who had got ahead of the Spurs defence. As the ball came down she fired it into the net to make it 2-2.

Arsenal Miss Chance to go Top

Arsenal missed a chance to go top on Sunday after drawing at home with Chelsea. Arsenal hit the bar twice from Foord’s long range effort latching on to a loose pass from Sophie Ingle. The shot bouncing off the bar twice before Chelsea cleared.

The first chance in the second half fell to Chelsea with Beth England shooting over the bar. Katie McCabe made an important block from a shot form Erin Cuthbert. Arsenal had the lead on 86 minutes as Miedema beat Millie Bright for pace down the left. Miedema played the ball across the box for Beth mead to put the ball into the net. Chelsea levelled on 90 minutes, Pernille harder whipping a cross from the by-line which took a wicked defection of Carlotte Wubben-Moy.

The draw means Arsenal stay second a point behind Manchester United. Chelsea are third but have a game in hand which if they win could see them go top.

Sundays other game saw Brighton beat West Ham by a goal to nil. Rianna Jarrett getting the only goal of the game on 69 minutes. Lifting the ball over the Hammers keeper, Jarrett headed in from close range. Brighton are eighth on eight points while West Ham are ninth on four points.

Marine AFC make history

Eighth-tier Marine from Crosby in Liverpool produced a faultless penalty shootout to stun League Two Colchester United on Saturday to reach the Emirates FA Cup Second Round.

The Northern Premier League Division One North West side nicknamed the Mariners held the U’s to a 1-1 draw after extra time after going ahead in the first half through Anthony Miley.

In the shootout it was the visiting semi-professionals who held their nerve from the spot, firing home five from five and reaching the second round with a 5-3 win on penalties.

The 21-year-old midfielder James Devine slotted the winning spot-kick and subsequently sent rapturous joy through the Marine ranks. Before which former Liverpool, Tranmere Rovers and Carlisle United defender David Raven was also successful from the spot.

Marine were in the first round for the first time in 25 years winning their first away match in the competition proper in their history, and are now in the second round for the first time ever.

Marine will host Havant and Waterlooville in the next round with second round ties due to take place on the weekend of 28 November.

Despite their now historic cup run already, the side who play their games at the Marine Travel Arena now won’t play another match due to COVID-19 restrictions until their second round clash.

Manager Neil Young and most certainly Raven, who played one Premier League game as well as one FA Cup outing during his time at Anfield, will likely be dreaming of a Third Round tie against one of the local big boys.

Liverpool and Everton both enter the completion at the next stage, whilst a clash with number 13 would see the Mariners face a side from just over the Mersey River, Tranmere Rovers.

Regardless of the outcome it’s been a fairy tale thus far for Marine, one they only hope continues.

AFC Wimbledon HIT BY COVID

AFC Wimbledon, literally a few days after celebrating their momentous return to Plough Lane, have been hit by the COVID Bug.

Following the game against Doncaster Rovers, a number of the first team squad, returned positive tests.

As a result of this the weekends FA Cup first round tie at Barrow was postponed, to allow the affected players time to self isolate and recover.

24 Hours after this news was announced, the club then implemented a 14 day Fire Breaker, and everyone at AFC Wimbledon, is now isolating as a precaution

What this means is that the clubs next home game at Wigan, has also been postponed, till the results are known.

It isn’t known how the players contracted the virus, though in the games previously to being back at Plough Lane, the club were playing fixtures in the North, which as is known at this time, is where the majority of the worst cases are.

How Does This Affect The FA CUP for Wimbledon

Because this is a different competition to the EFL and as it was the the first round, it means that the club will treat the game as if were a replay and it will take place on a later date

So Both Barrow and AFC Wimbledon will be in the draw taking place tonight on BBC2, with them both having the Number 30 ball.

AFC Wimbledon’s next scheduled league game, ironically, is back in the north against Rochdale at the Crown Oil Arena. At this time the game is planned to go ahead

Who has impressed in the EFL Championship so far?

The latest episode of the writers podcast features writer and Cardiff City fan Martin Townley.

We discuss his opinion on which sides have impressed in the EFL Championship so far as well as what he has made of the start to the Premier League season.

Link to the Writers Podcast below: https://soundcloud.com/adam-stephens-425096853/24-7-football-episode-8

In addition, we are also proud to announce that we have been ranked by Feedspot in their Top 40 UK Football Blogs

WHAT HAS CHANGED AT FOREST

SinceI last wrote about Nottingham Forest quite a lot has changed, not at least their manager, new signings departures, and a new style of play. All of these were done with the right intentions and looked like positive changes at the time, and still yet maybe, but have resulted in a poor start to the season which leaves Forest languishing towards the wrong end of the table.


The managerial change was half expected as Sabri Lamouchi’s positive spell in charge declined dramatically towards the end of last season and even more so with 4 defeats to start the new campaign. Sabri had brought positivity and hope back to Forest Fans and left with a message of thank you from the fans. His replacement’s record in the Championship is second to none and I believe his availability and willingness to take the job contributed to the change. It seems like Chris Hughton must have been in discussions with Forest for a while before the change as it was announced almost immediately after Lamouchi’s departure.


The nature of forest’s signings were along the lines of Hughton type players, by this I mean experienced quality championship players. Anthony Knockaert was the only official signing made by Chris but the likes of Luke Freeman, Harry Arter, and Cyrus Christie fit this mould. Knockaert is in my opinion a top Championship winger whose delivery cannot be beaten at this level and Houghton got the best out of him at Brighton. He also tried to bring in Kamil Grosicki, a player forest have been linked with ever since January, however, after a long wait they discovered last Thursday that the deal was completed marginally past the 5 pm transfer window deadline. When you look at the squad it’s very strong and the strongest I’ve seen at Forest for about 10 years.


So what’s gone wrong?


Firstly there was a massive hangover from the failure of getting into the playoffs when it seemed certain they would. Then came the uncertainty over the manager’s future during the break and then big changes to the playing and coaching staff. I think the squad has changed too much over the summer break, last season was based on a tight-knit group in which Ben Watson, Thiago Silva, and Matt Cash played a big part. Loosing these 3 is a big blow, their replacements of Jack Colback, Luke Freeman, and Cryus Christie have been good, but the team spirit and togetherness takes time. When you add 13 new players to a squad with a good spirit you risk changing the togetherness and getting a squad that is too big and not everyone feels involved. I would have much preferred to have kept as much of the same squad together as possible and adding extra bits of quality. For example, the signings of Cafu and Fouad Bachirou in particular seem unnecessary.


There has also been a change in the style of play to get used to, Lamouchi stated he wanted to add more creativity and attacking options to the side which he did by bringing in Freeman and Lyle Taylor. But to achieve this a less compact defensive was attempted and this ultimately failed and cost him his job.Hughton is adopting a similar approach with the team playing much higher up the pitch and trying to control possession more than last season. This is ultimately the style of play fans want to see however it will take time to change and perhaps a more pragmatic approach is needed to get results on the board to build confidence.

New TV series with the Ultimate Goal of inspiring Next female footballers

The UK and Ireland sports broadcaster, BT Sport is set to air a six-part reality competition from the 3rd November called ‘Ultimate Goal.’

The ‘Ultimate Goal’ will capture 28 women training and competing for the chance to become the next stars of women’s football. It will also give them the chance to showcase their skills at the England national teams St.George’s Park training facility.

The former Chelsea, Juventus and England player, Eniola Aluko, will present the show and will head up a team of football legends, who will act as mentors for these players throughout the series. 

When asked what makes a top professional footballer, Aluko said:

“I think a successful footballer has to have a work ethic that is relentless through success and failure.” 

Among the mentors Aluko will head up is set to be former England national team goalkeeper, Rachel Brown Finnis and twins Rosie and Mollie Kmita, formally of West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur. 

When asked about the show, Brown Finnis said:

“To provide girls with the opportunity of playing in front of managers, coaches, scouts.  It’s just a priceless opportunity.” 

While during the series the participants will benefit from master classes delivered by the likes of: Rio Ferdinand, Freddie Ljungberg, Peter Crouch, Robin Van Persie, Fara Williams, Faye White and Jill Scott.  

Ahead of the start of the series, former Arsenal, Manchester United and Netherlands striker, Van Persie said:

“Football is a game of mistakes.  It does not matter if you miss as long as you give your maximum you will eventually succeed. ” 

Of the 28 players participating in the show, 14 will be chosen to participate in a trial match against a leading women’s side where scouts from leading teams such as: Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona and Champions League holders Lyon will be in attendance. 

Chief operating officer of BT Sport, Jamie Hindhaugh, meanwhile, added:

“Ultimate goal builds on BT’s commitment, as part of its long term partnerships with each of the four UK ‘Home Nations’ Football Associations, to inspire a new generation of girls and women to participate in football.”

Viewers certainly will get to know the participants and get taken on compelling journeys with them as well as learn about how they have had to overcome issues such as discrimination and equality.       

The first episode in the UK is due to air on Tuesday 3rdNovember at 10:30pm and will air every Tuesday over a six-week period on BT Sport 3. 

Liverpool facing defensive crisis: can they come out on top?

Liverpool, already without talismanic central defender Virgil van Dijk were dealt another huge blow on Tuesday night when Fabinho pulled up, before being forced off with a hamstring problem.

The Brazilian had been deputising, successfully, for the missing Dutchman when he stopped in his tracks whilst defending an FC Midtylland attack in the UEFA Champions League.

Indeed, Reds fans and players alike wait with bated breath for the severity of the injury. It is almost certain they will be without Fabinho for at least the weekends visit of West Ham to Anfield.

Central defender Joel Matip also remains side-lined, leaving Jurgen Klopp with just one senior central defender – Joe Gomez.

So how can the Premier League champions cope with such flimsy numbers? I’ve had a look at the options…

Youngsters

Tuesday night saw 19-year-old Rhys Williams play out the remaining hour, and in doing so the powerful looking teenager looked comfortable as he helped the Reds to a clean sheet.

Williams seems most likely to start on Saturday in the absence of Fabinho, although Nat Phillips will be pushing for a place after he spent the 2019/20 campaign season playing senior football for Stuttgart in the German Bundesliga 2.

Versatility

Fabinho himself was operating out of position when his injury came and there is a chance captain Jordan Henderson could be asked to do the same after playing in the role during the FIFA World Club Cup last term.

Missing Henderson’s influence in midfield, however, may be too much of a blow to Klopp’s side.

Should James Milner, Thiago, Naby Keita and Gini Wijnaldum all be fit and available, there is certainly scope for Henderson to drop back into centre-half temporarily.

Time

Albeit an obvious huge blow to Liverpool, and indeed their title chances, with an impended international break and with football a little all over the place at the moment, there is hope the Reds could make it to January without suffering too much damage to their hopes.

In January they would at least have the option of signing reinforcements, with many names linked with the club. The likes of Dayot Upamecano, Ben White and Ozan Kabak to name just a few.

In the mean time Klopp, fans and teammates will be hoping Fabinho’s injury isn’t serious, Matip can get run of fitness, and Rhys Williams can deputise successfully. All of this while not dropping too many points along the way, which with a trip to rivals Manchester City on the horizon, may be easier said than done.

24-7 Football Writer podcast

Our latest episode of the 24-7 Football writer’s podcast features writer Lauren McCann.

We discuss the Project Big Picture Proposal, preview the upcoming Merseyside Derby and the growth of the Women’s Super League.

Link to podcast is here: https://soundcloud.com/adam-stephens-425096853/24-7-football-episode-7

Return of the macc

Macclesfield Town FC are to relauch as Macclesfield FC following the takover from local businessman Robert Smethhurst.

The pre-existing club were wound up in September and expelled from the National League. Macclesfield Town FC were removed from the football pyramid with debts amounting to more than £500,000.

Former Premier League Midfielder Robbie Savage Involved

Former Leicester City, Birmingham, and Derby County midfielder Robbie Savage has been appointed as head of football operations at Moss Rose.

Savage, who also represented Wales on 39 occasions, finished his career at Town’s local rivals Stockport County will also be a board member at the Cheshire based side.

The 45-year-old took to Twitter to express his delight at his involvement in the phoenix club.

Familiar Feel To New Club

The manager at the time of the original club’s demise, Danny Whitaker, will remain in charge of the new club Macclesfield FC, who aims to compete in the North West Counties Football League in 2021/22.

On top of the retained manager, the new club will see the Silkmen retain their historic brand and logo.

Businessman With Local Roots

Smethurst, who hails from the local area released a statement on his takeover and the forming of the new look club: “Over the coming years, our main aim is to move up through the leagues.” 

“This is an extremely exciting opportunity to rebuild a historic football club for Macclesfield and the surrounding areas.”

Positive News for Macclesfield After Turmoil

The club’s relaunch is the light at the end of the tunnel fans had been hoping for.

After months of turmoil over unpaid debts, wages, and bills that ultimately ended in the demise of a football club that had existed since 1874, this will come as music to the ears of Macclesfield football fans who will no doubt be looking forward to the new campaign to watch their beloved club once more, even in its new guise.

Jack Wilshere: What Next?

Once regarded as one of England hottest prospects Jack Wilshere’s fall from grace has been a dramatic one. In one of the most interesting developments of Transfer Deadline Day he left West Ham. But it was with a bitter taste as Wilshere claimed on Twitter that he is fit and available for selection and he can ‘still play at very top’  but not being considered.

When at Arsenal he was billed as the next Cesc Fabregas , An extremely talented player, Wilshere made 197 first-team appearances for Arsenal and was part of the 2014 and 2015 FA Cup-winning sides. He has 34 England caps, the last of which came in the 2-1 defeat by Iceland in the 2016 European Championship last 16.

But injury after injury have ruined his career since then and now it seems the West Ham management don’t see him as worth an opportunity. But can he still cut it in the Premier League, who knows but i’d like to think so. A team at the lower end of the league that need something to survive – Fulham for example should consider him. The Daily Express even claim that Arsenal fans want him to re-sign for their side

A move to the Championship may be more realistic with former club Bournemouth being linked with a move along with Scottish Premiership leaders Rangers. Wherever he ends up it will be one to keep an eye on to see if he can rekindle any of his talent in what remains of his career.

Who can Challenge Liverpool for the title?

Our latest edition of the 24-7 Football Podcast features writer and Liverpool fan Daniel Clubbe.

In this episode we discuss who can stop Jurgen Klopp’s side from winning the Premier League again, Everton’s impressive start to the season, the latest handball controversies and more….

Link to the Podcast here : https://soundcloud.com/adam-stephens-425096853/24-7-football-episode-6

Wrexham afc: hollywood comes to north wales

Its not every day Hollywood films stars worth an estimated £56million, and fifth-tier football Wrexham AFC are mentioned in the same sentence. Well, just as 2020 couldn’t get much stranger, this week it happened.

Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds and Wrexham AFC will now become united after it emerged from the North Wales club the actor wants to invest in the National League team along with Rob McElhenney, an actor are best known for creating It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The duo are set to make the most unlikely of entrances into UK football.

Whilst its no longer uncommon that foreign investors and owners turn up in our beloved football pyramid, the randomness of the duo’s interest in the quiet market town famous for Mickey Thomas’ FA Cup Goal, is almost unparalleled.

The duo unsurprisingly have won approval from 98 per cent of club members to get to this stage and a takeover could see a reported £2million invested in the fan-owned club – not small fry for the level.

Wrexham unveiled the pair as potential new owners in a Tweet yesterday after the those fans involved in the current ownership voted on the likely investors. Director Spencer Harris has said he has spoken to the duo on a Zoom call last night – something I can’t imagine he had envisioned when he took the role.

Reynolds himself took to Twitter following the announcement and replied to a Tweet he received over eight years ago asking if he’d ever be seen in the North Wales town.

Reynolds replied to the question and his 16.5million followers with ‘Yep, you never know.’

A club in truth playing below themselves in the National League, in recent times they have been seen deep in cup competitions and in and around the playoffs of League One.

The Wrexham Supporters Trust Board members have already voted overwhelmingly in favour of the investors at a general meeting and will talk more with the potential new investors in coming weeks.

Both men, famous for their on screen exploits have numerous business interests, although its fair to say none are as random as Wrexham.

The club shop have already bought into the spirit of things by producing Dragons’ shirts with the names of their potential new owners printer on the back.

With the takeover now all but certain to go ahead, we will likely see the famous Hollywood duo at the old Racecourse Ground, and perhaps Wrexham in the Premier League, far sooner than we previously thought possible.

Crazy, crazy times!

DOES NEW LIVERPOOL SIGNING MEAN Something has 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.

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!

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….

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

Championship weekend preview

As ever the Championship season is providing arguably the fiercest competition in world football as a host of clubs look to fight heir way to the promised land of the Premier League.

There has already been one game completed on Friday night as ground sharing Coventry City and Birmingham City played out a rather lacklustre 0-0 draw on Friday night.

Here is your preview of the rest of the big games over the weekend…

AFC Bournemouth v Reading Saturday 12.30pm

Fourth place Bournemouth welcome table toppers Reading to the Vitality Stadium with a chance of overtaking their visitors.

Reading had been unbeatable in thre league until recently, where they are now clinging on to dear life at the summit after losing their last three matches before the break.

Steve Tindall’s Cherries will be without Josh king who tested positive for COVID-19 whilst away on international duty as the relegated south coast club look to bounce back immediately.

QPR V Watford Saturday 3.00pm

An all London affair on Saturday afternoon as second place Watford travel to Loftus Road looking to go top of their table in their quest to make an instant return to the Premier League.

QPR meanwhile have been inconsistent at best during 2020/21 and will be looking to resolve their problems in order to start moving in the right direction and away from the threat of relegation.

Middlesbrough v Norwich City Saturday 3.00pm

Middlesbrough go into this match unbeaten in 10 and with October’s manager of the month, Neil Warnock, at the helm. The hosts are on the cusp of the play-off places but will need to turn a plethora of draws into wins if they are going to challenge.

High-flying Norwich are another side hoping to bounce straight back into he top flight and Daniel Farke’s side are making a decent fist of it as they sit third. Goal scorer Teemu Pukki will be pivotal to the Canaries chances.

Bristol City v Derby County Saturday 3.00pm

Bristol City in fifth are unlikely to be the story of this clash as bottom of the table Derby head to Ashton Gate with Wayne Rooney as their manaager.

Rooney is in temporary charge of the Rams after Phillip Cocu was sacked during the international break, giving Rooney his first role in senior management.

The former Manchester United striker has a huge job on his hands getting a talented Derby squad heading in the right direction.

Other Fixtures

Preston v Sheffield Wednesday Saturday 3.00pm

Stoke City v Huddersfield Saturday 3.00pm

Barnsley v Nottingham Forest Saturday 3.00pm

Millwall v Cardiff City Saturday 3.00pm

Luton Town v Blackburn Rovers Saturday 3.00pm

Swansea City v Rotherham United Saturday 3.00pm

Wycombe Wanderers v Brentford Saturday 3.00pm

millwall v Cardiff city preview: return to the LIONS den

Neil Harris returns to former club Millwall this weekend for the first time since leaving in October 2019. Harris enjoyed a successful period in London as both a player and manager. As a player he is Millwall’s all-time record goalscorer with 138 goals across two spells at the club. He took the club into the Championship in 2017 via the play-offs.

Current Form

Millwall currently sit 9th in the Championship with 17 points having only lost two of their 11 matches. Their only defeat in the last five came in a home loss to Huddersfield by three goals to nil. With three draws in their last five they are hard to beat, but are struggling for a winning run.

Cardiff, meanwhile, have two defeats in their last three games with just one win. The Bluebirds have a habit of going behind in games, five of the last six. They often therefore start slow and have to chase games.

The last five league meetings between the sides have been draws. The last win coming for Millwall in 2014, 1-0. With current form this game is likely to be another tight affair. Since 1999 the sides have drawn 11 times.

Team News

Former Cardiff striker Kenneth Zohore will miss the game against his former club with a ankle injury. Midfielder Shane Ferguson is doubtful following being withdrawn after 36 minutes during Northern Ireland’s defeat to Austria. Forward Troy Parrott could return to the squad. He played 45 minutes for the Republic of Ireland under 21’s on Sunday. He also made a brief cameo for the senior side on Wednesday.

Cardiff will be without Lee Tomlin until mid January. Tomlin has had surgery on an ongoing groin issue. Full back Greg Cunningham meanwhile is back in training but this game may come too soon for him. Full back Jordi Osei-Tutu will also be out for at least four weeks, so Cardiff will likely have to play Leandro Bacuna at right back.

Managers Thoughts

Millwall manager Gary Rowett has been glad of the break telling London news Online:

“I’m glad to be going into it [the Cardiff match] off the back of a little bit of a breather. It allows us the chance to at least feel fresh.

“It’s going to be a challenge for the players, just because Cardiff are a good side and it’s Neil and Livers [David Livermore] coming back – their old management team. There’s always that strangeness to it.

“Cardiff are good at what they do. They are trying to play a little bit more but they also have an obvious physical threat that you’ve got to try and deal with.

“They’ve got players like [Harry] Wilson and [Marlon] Pack in there, technical players who move the ball well. It’s a balanced team, like we are.”

The Millwall also boss spoke about his sides home form and how it needs to improve:

“We need to start delivering more wins at home and this is the first one of a group of games which are a tough run. We’ve got a tough-looking run of fixtures over the next period. But the Championship is like that anyway. You’ve got to do your best and try and win it.

“I know Cardiff have maybe not started quite as well as they’d like but that is the same for many teams in the division.”

Neil Harris was asked about his connections to Millwall and how it was disappointing that no fan’s would be at The Den:

Every game is a shame without fans but I understand a Millwall connection. It can work with me or against me. It’s a game of football at the weekend that we want to win.

A lot of similarities in the passion of the fan bases (cardiff and Millwall). Cardiff City Stadium, big games I’ve played there and managed and the fans can be the turning point and I’m sure they would have been a couple of Fridays ago.

The same can be said of Millwall, the fans get behind them and can really spur you on

The Cardiff manager also spoke about the buzz from the returning Welsh players, (Harry Wilson and Kieffer Moore who both scored in Wales’ 3-1 win over Finland):

Yeah! Definitely! Harry and Kieffer have come back into the building with a buzz, Mark Harris, too. (Mark Harris scored for Wales under 21’s)

It lifts the group, lifts our fan base going into Saturday. We feel it and I’m sure the whole of Cardiff City does.

One of Neil Harris’ objectives at Cardiff is to improve the Academy and bring though more youth players. He spoke about his younger players stepping up recently:

Friday was one of the first times we had all the Under-23s, Under-18s, some younger as well, training with us. It was fantastic. It was so good to see. We are a football club that wants to move forward by promoting young players.

We have got to be patient, as I keep saying, but we’ve got some very talented 15, 16 and 17-year-olds that, as soon as they are good enough, I don’t care how old they are, they are in the group.

We have had lads out of school, training with the first team. That’s where we are at, that’s because we believe in good young players coming through.

But that has to run parallel with getting results on a Saturday.

Key Players

For Millwall it is Jed Wallace, who has four goals so far, playing on the right of Millwall’s attacking from three. Speaking ahead of the game about his sides form”

Ultimately it is down to the players, especially myself, to take more responsibility at key moments. We need to show more quality, at times, to turn those 0-0s into 1-0 wins. We don’t need to change too much, we’re doing really, really well.”

For Cardiff they’ll be hoping Harry Wilson carries on from his display for Wales on Wednesday night. It was a stellar performance that even earned praise from Manchester United legend Roy Keane who stated that Wilson’s goal was “outstanding”.

Prediction: Millwall 1-1 Cardiff City

Without any fans at the Den to boost two sides fighting for form, and given recent history this game will only be a draw.

THE FANS PLATFORM

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