Swansea City boycott Social Media following online abuse

Following recent online abuse, Championship side Swansea City have decided to take club-wide stance by boycotting all forms of social media for one week.

This boycott will include players in the first team, academy sides, women’s team as well as the club’s official accounts, who will stop posting from 5pm on April 8. 

The Swans have become the first club to take this stance against racial abuse on social media. Indeed, over the past two months the Welsh sides players’: Jamal Lowe, Ben Cabango and Yan Dhanda have all been targets of discrimination online.  

The club made this historic announcement via the official twitter account this week and Swansea City captain Matt Grimes said: 

“As a close and diverse group of players this is something that we are extremely passionate about.

“Social media has provided so many positives over the last decade, however, the sickening and vile abuse that we are seeing on a daily and weekly basis is wholly unacceptable, and we hope that this stance across the club will be supported by everyone.

“We are a family, and we will always stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, whether that’s on the pitch or helping to fight injustice off it.”

The club’s chief executive Julian Winter, meanwhile, has sent letters to Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, and Facebook’s founder, chairman and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, to ask for “more stringent policing and punishments for those guilty of the appalling and cowardly abuse”.

This club-wide stance will cover the Swans forthcoming matches against Millwall on April 10 and their trip to Sheffield Wednesday on April 13. During this period the club news will be posted via the official website before a return to social media activity at 5pm on April 15.

Following this announcement, should more clubs follow Swansea City’s example to get Social Media platforms to do more to prevent online abuse? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…. 

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Gunners’ fans voice displeasure at rumoured ‘Ajaxenal’ kit

Arsenal’s reported new home kit for the 2021-22 season has been shared online and many fans have already made their feelings known regarding the new design.  

The shirt was shared by FootyHeadlines and will be mainly red, with white sleeves and side panels.  It will also feature navy stripes on the collar.  The kit is reportedly set to go on sale in July. 

The strip has prompted much talk among Gunner’s fans, however, who are comparing it to the Dutch side Ajax’s famous colour. Indeed, many believe that the strip looks more like four-time Champions League winners rather than the team from North London. 

One fan has already tweeted saying: 

Dressing up as Ajax won’t get us playing in the UCL lads” 

Another, meanwhile, named it:

“Ajaxenal”

While one supporter even went as far as praising the Dutch side, who are set to face Roma in the Europa League quarter-finals this week. 

They wrote:

“It’s Ajax FC we’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen.” 

Finally, another said: 

“If we’re going to commit to relying on a bunch of youngsters, may as well go 100% Ajax.”

Some supporters have also jokingly suggested that it was in fact a ploy to get fan favourite Marc Overmars to return to North London.  

Overmars is currently the Director of football at the Dutch club, but is rumoured to be leaving before too long and fans would clearly welcome the chance for the Dutch winger to replace their current Director Edu, whose position has come under intense scrutiny.  

The Gunners reported third kit design, meanwhile, has gone down much better with the supporters as it is invoking memories of a classic jersey from 1994-1996, referred to as ‘Blue Lightening’. It will perhaps rekindle memories of the likes of Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright. 

For the current crop of players and manager Mikel Arteta, they will hope that this new kit change sparks a substantial improvement and better things to come next season. 

What are your thoughts on the rumoured new kits Arsenal fans? Feel free to give us your thoughts in the comments below….

Leicester City Win Promotion to FA WSL

Leicester City Women secured promotion to the WSL with a 2-0 win over London City Lioness on Sunday 4th April. Goals in the second half from Samantha Tierney and Natasha Flint ensured them of a historic win. It means the club will play in the WSL for the first time in their history.

With two games to go the Foxes have run away with the league having lost just one of their 18 games. They have been on a run of 12 straight wins as they secured the title at the weekend.

Leicester City Manager Jonathan Morgan, told LCFC TV after Sundays game:

“To say we are officially WSL, it’s awesome really. We’ve got to the pinnacle of the women’s game in England and we just want to keep pushing ourselves and getting further and further with it and getting better and better.

“It’s been a long journey. It’s been seven years, where we were playing, in all honesty, off parks and out of tin sheds for changing rooms. I remember when I first started, I didn’t have even a squad. I think we only had 12 players, so to see that growth, it’s been a fantastic achievement.”

The club turned professional in August 2020 after being taken over by King Power (parent company of Leicester City). Leicester City will now be able to look forward to playing the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in the WSL next season.

Morgan hopes this will inspire more local girls to take up football saying:

“I think, for me, with the women’s game, it’s still about growing it,” he explained. “It’s still about encouraging the next generation of young female athletes and now the girls of Leicester have got a top team in the best league to look up to and to aspire to.

“I think that does more wonders than anything that we can ever think about really.”

Leicester born defender Ashleigh Plumptre admitted to becoming emotional as they closed in on the victory against London City telling LCFC TV:

“I literally looked at the badge before I walked out and then, with five minutes to go, I looked at it again and I ended up tearing up when I was on the pitch with five minutes left!

 “I don’t just play football just because I want to do well in it. I like to represent something that’s bigger than me and I’ve grown up here.

“I had to go away and then to America and then I’ve come back I’ve been able to come back to the only team that I wanted to come to. I’ve managed to do it with literally my hometown team. I have shirts [from] when I was like four years-old, going to games when the men were in the Championship.

“Now to think I’m representing my club, where I’m from, and to win… like I said, I play for something bigger than me and I play to win and to think that I’ve done that here, I literally cannot ask for anything better.”

Being the only fully professional side in the league gave Leicester added pressure, but Plumptre stated that just made the squad come together:

“Nobody wanted us to win really because we’re the only team that are fully professional. We’re provided with everything. So people want to get a one up on us and we’ve just got through all of it and now we’ve come out winners.

“Everybody’s in there celebrating together, and rightly so. It’s a season to be celebrated because I definitely think we deserve it. We’ve worked so hard and there were times where you can see it in the way that we play and the way that we talk to each other on the pitch.

“We gear each other up because we know that we can’t just win with 10, we just can’t win with 11, we have to win with everybody and, I put it out to all the girls, within the first five minutes, we were doing headers and clearances and I could hear the subs from the off.

“I really think, for me personally, it’s hard to get through a season with everything we’ve been through without things like that, without people being there when you need them. It’s not just the players, it’s the staff, too. It’s just been a huge collective effort and it’s finally come to fruition.”

Leicester can look towards next season and playing in England’s top flight as they test themselves against some of the best players in the world.

FA WSL Round up: The Blues remain top of Women Super league

Champions Chelsea remain top of the WSL after two goals from Sam Kerr earned them a win over struggling Aston Villa.

Manchester City kept the gap at the top to two points with a 87 minute winner from Chloe Kelly helped them to a one nil win over Reading.

Manchester United, meanwhile, remain in third spot as Lauren James and Cristen Press scored in a two nil win over West Ham.

Arsenal also won the North London derby by three goals over Tottenham with goals from Caitlin Foord, Vivianne Miedema and Katie McCabe.

Elsewhere, Everton hit Brighton for five, Hayley Raso getting a hat trick, while Birmingham and Bristol City drew 1-1, with Bristol moving into tenth place.

Manchester United 2 – 0 West Ham United

It was a historic day for Manchester United as they played at Old Trafford for the first time.

United had an early chance as Lauren James turned on the edge of the box and looked to put the ball into the top corner. Her effort however was comfortable for West Ham keeper Courtney Brosnan.

West Ham’s Martha Thomas made a decent run at the home side defence but put her shot wide of the goal.

United took the lead not long after half time with James scoring. West Ham failed to clear a United corner, and Maria Thorisdottir headed back across the six yard box towards James who’s flicked header from close range found the net.

It was 2-0 just six minutes later with Press getting onto Jackie Groenen’s though ball. Groenen ran at the West Ham defence and despite having her shirt tugged was able to slide the ball into the box finding the run of Press who finished with the inside of her left foot.

The home side were in control of the second half were helped as Laura Vetterlein was shown a second yellow for cynical foul.

A good win for United on their first appearance at old Trafford, midfielder Ella Tonne living the dream told BBC Sport:

“As a Manchester United fan it was a dream come true to play on such an amazing pitch so it was a special occasion and I’m glad we went out there and got the three points.”

Manager Casey Stoney was more concerned with her side performance than the venue:

“We weren’t good in the first half – that was probably the worst I’ve seen us in a long, long time, so I think there was definitely a case of the occasion. That’s done now. They know what it’s like.

“Players know when they are not good enough. I said [at half-time] if you want to qualify for Champions League football, you have to play at a Champions League standard and we weren’t.

“When we started playing collectively in the second half we were better.”

Tottenham Hotspur 0 – 3 Arsenal

Arsenal secured 3-0 win over Tottenham in the North London Derby, which was played at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Caitlin Foord linked with Noelle Martiz down the Tottenham right to give The Gunners the lead after 25 minutes.

Arsenal were on top as the first half went on with Jordan Nobbs twice trying from outside the box forcing Rebecca Spencer into action. Spencer making two good saves to keep her side in the game.

The visitors pressure did tell as Vivianne Miedema made it two nil. Katie McCabe’s whipped in a corner which was met on the volley by Miedema and riffled into the top corner.

McCabe made sure of the win with Arsenals third just after the hour. A poor pass from Abbie McManus allowed McCabe into the box and she put the ball past Spencer.

Tottenham had the chance to pull a goal back but were denied by a triple save from Manuela Zinsberger.

The win keeps Arsenal in fourth just three points of Manchester United with a game in hand.

Chelsea 2- 0 Aston Villa

Chelsea cruised to victory over Aston Villa with two goals from Sam Kerr.

Kerr’s first came after 24 minutes after Fran Kirby lifted the ball into the box and Kerr looped her header over Villa keeper Lisa Weiss.

It was Kirby and Kerr who combined for the second after 57 minutes. Kirby finding Kerr in space in the box and Kerr lifted her shot over the keeper.

Kerr had the chance of a hat trick after being played in by Harder but she sent her shot just wide.

Chelsea were always in control of this game but were unable to get a third goal.

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes praised the duo of Kirby and Kerr:

“Both of them are in the form of their lives and that combination is dynamite, it’s telepathic. It’s rare in football to find those things. I know that they are going to get chances in every game and it’s about capitalising on those chances.”

Manchester City 1 – 0 Reading

City left it late to clam victory at home to Reading with Kelly scoring the winner in the 87th minute.

Rose Lavelle forced Grace Moloney into a good save as City looked to gain the advantage. Moloney had to sharpe again turning away Caroline Weir’s low effort.

Reading almost took the lead as Fishlock played Eikeland in and the Norwegian International forced a good save from Ellie Roebuck.

Kelly put a good low cross across the Reading six yard line, but Stanway subsequently put it wide. A real chance to give City the lead.

Lauren Hemp saw her effort come back off the post, again coming from a Chole Kelly cross across the Reading Box.

The second half started like the first as Moloney again denied Lavelle. The American shooting from the edge of the area only to see Moloney turn it away.

It was looking like a frustrating night for City as Weir then shot over the bar.

City did get their breakthrough in the 87th minute with Chole Kelly finishing. After a mesmerizing run from Lauren Hemp, who made her way past four Reading players. She squared the ball to give Kelly a tap in.

A vital win for City in their chase for the title but heart breaking for Reading who battled and defended so well for this game.

Brighton 0 – 5 Everton

Everton put in a dominant performance as they put five past Brighton.

A mix up in the Brighton defence saw Raso fouled and Everton win a penalty. Izzy Christiansen put the penalty into the bottom left corner, Megan Walsh went the right way but unable to stop it.

Hayley Raso made it two after running past several Brighton players into the box to poke the ball into the net.

Raso had her second just after the restart. Claire Emslie taking advantage of an error by Maya Le Tissier to give Raso a easy header on the line.

Simone Magill added a fourth after more sloppy defending from the home side. Raso then got her hat trick shooting though a crowd of players to wrap up a good away day for Everton.

Birmingham City 1 – 1 Bristol City

In a relegation battle Birmingham and Bristol hap to share the points. Ruesha Littlejohn tested City keeper Sophie Baggaley early on, the Bristol keeper pushing the long range effort over the bar.

Bristol took the lead on 13 minutes, Carla Humphrey’s initial effort blocked the ball fell to Charlie Wellings who turned the ball home.

Birmingham levelled on 58 minutes thanks to Christie Murray, firing a shot into the top corner from inside the box.

Gary Bowyer appointed Salford City Manager

The former Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool manager Gary Bowyer has agreed to become the new boss of Salford City until the end of the 2020-21 season. 

The 49-year-old is set to become Salford’s third manager of the campaign after Richie Wellens was sacked on Monday having been in charge for just four months.  

Wellens had led Salford to victory in the EFL Trophy 2019/20 final a little over a week ago, as they were able to overcome Portsmouth. It was his performances in the league, however, that proved the ex-Swindon manager’s undoing and prompted Gary Neville and ‘Class of 92’ to sack him.  

Bowyer is currently set to take charge of Salford’s remaining 11 games before returning to Derby to resume his role as their Under 23s boss.  He is going to be assisted by former Manchester United Coach Warren Joyce, who has also had spells as manager with Wigan Athletic and Melbourne City, and ex-Manchester United and Everton midfielder Darren Gibson.   

Following his appointment, Bowyer said: 

I’m delighted to be here, I’ve got to first and foremost thank Wayne Rooney, Darren Wassall at Derby County for being so helpful to allow me to come here. Obviously today is a case of meeting the players and setting the expectations of what we expect of them from now until the end of the season.

“We want them to be playing aggressive football both with and without the ball, and have a right good go at these remaining 11 games. We have an opportunity like everybody else in this league to try and force our way into the reckoning to try and get into the play offs and see if we can do that.”

During his playing days Bowyer played as a full back for Hereford United and Rotherham United, but he had to retire early due to injury.  He was, however, part of the successful Miller’s side who won the EFL Trophy in 1996.  

As a Manager, meanwhile, one of his main highlights so far has been winning promotion from League Two with Blackpool via the play-offs in 2017.  

Indeed, that is something that Neville and the Class of 92 will want Bowyer to emulate with their Salford side who are six points outside of the play-off places following there 2-0 loss to leaders Cheltenham Town.  His first game in charge will be against fellow play-off hopefuls Exeter City this weekend.  

Can Salford still achieve promotion to League One this season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below….   

The Guardiola Effect

With Portsmouth appointing Danny Cowley and his Brother Nicky as new coaches yesterday and having watched their interview, It was hard not to start thinking of the Guardiola Effect.

In case you haven’t seen the interview, the Cowley brothers were asked how they like their teams to play football.

The answer …

With a High Pressing line, attacking on the front foot and fast, giving the opposition no time to think

Having listened to this, the mind started to wander towards Pep Guardiola. You see his teams have played that way for years. The results are obvious. Trophies!

Now you can argue that he has brought success, but there are many negations for that, because players still have to perform. Although, if you were in charge of a team that had very very rich owners giving you a blank cheque book to buy the best, then I challenge you to not buy them.

Its this transition caused by Guardiola, that has led a number of managers to follow suit. Some examples are: Mauricio Pochettino, now at Paris St Germain, Maurizio Sarri, formerly of Chelsea and Juventus and Jurgen Klopp, of… Oh Yes, Liverpool.

Now these are some more famous examples. Each of course would argue that he has his own ideas behind that philosophy. Lets, however, look closer to home for some more examples of The Guardiola Effect.

In the Championship, Darren Moore now at Sheffield Wednesday, while in League One: Grant McCann at Hull City, Russ Martin at MK Dons. More on MK Dons in a moment. Mark Robinson at AFC Wimbledon and finally Darren Ferguson at Peterborough All of these are managers who, are adapting the Guardiola effect.

Now when you actually stop and think about it, the principle is very simple. Your team has two parts of its game. In Possession and Out of Possession. Simply put, when you lose the ball your have to win it back again and keep control of it so you can dictate the pace of the game and wear the other team down.

Ultimately, you want to be playing in your opponents defensive area, which is your final third because attack is the best form of defence.

Make Sense?…

Games of Football are won by scoring goals and not conceding them. This was embodied by Guardiola’s teams at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City

If you concede more than one every game, then clearly you are not going to be very successful. This brings me on very nicely to two team who through the years, do this very well.

First cast your mind back, waayy back to the mid-eighties. Wimbledon, love them or loathe them, played the game this way. In those days they played the POMO game – Possession Of Maximum Opportunity.

It was successful, though they bypassed the midfield and relied on winning second balls, they gained lots of promotions this way and won an FA Cup Final in 1988 against Liverpool thanks to a Lawrie Sanchez goal.

Bolton Wanderers, years later under Sam Allardyce, were also as successful playing like this. Now fast forward to date and this current season. Currently in League One, MK Dons under the guidance of Russ Martin, they are arguably playing the most successful brand of football throughout the Football League.

They play possession based football, which week in week out causes their opponents no end of problems and Martin’s side invariably win the stats charts by miles compared to other teams.

MK Dons, play the Guardiola Effect very well, wearing teams down and it is no coincidence that they often score last minute goals, simply because the other team are tired from trying to win the ball back.

The transition is fairly smooth and the opposition very rarely get to touch the ball. A testament to how effective this style of play is demonstrated by regular appearances of MK Dons players’ names appearing in the League One Team of the Week.

Now they may not win promotion this season, but the play-offs are a possibility along with Portsmouth. They will be strong favourites for automatic promotion, possibly even as champions next season from League One.

Whether Portsmouth do get Promotion this season via the play-offs, due to the Guardiola effect remains to be seen, but it will be an exciting period in PO4 for the next 12 games.

So, who else will the Guardiola Effect… Affect?

DONS Youth Show The Way

AFC Wimbledon’s Youth side last night showed the Senior Team just how to win a football match by beating Burnley 1-0 in the FA Youth Cup at Plough Lane.

The team has been together for a few years now and they successfully took the game to their Premier League counterparts. The result was all the more enjoyable because Burnley are a Category One Premier League Youth set up unlike AFC Wimbledon.

In another twist of irony, the game at Plough Lane last night was AFC Wimbledons Youth sides first appearance at the Stadium

In addition, it also came some 46 years after the original Wimbledon Travelled to Lancashire in the FA Cup and defeated Burnley 1-0. The goal on that memorable occassion was scored by Mick Mahon.

Fast forward to the present day, however, and it was Wimbledon who took the game to their Premier League opponents.

In yet another ironic twist, The Dons formation for last night’s game was a 3-5-2 formation. Yes!!!… the very same much maligned formation the first team were playing before Glyn Hodges left by mutual consent.

On this occassion the 3-5-2 formation was made up like this: Three central defenders, two holding midfielders-to give cover to the back line while also allowing the left and right sided central defenders to provide overlaps for the midfield, four midfielders, which comprised two wing backs and two central midfielders, one of which was an attacking midfielder and finally one lone striker.

From the outset The Dons took the game to Burnley and were unlucky not to be leading at the break.

It should also be pointed out, that AFC Wimbledon’s youngsters are no strangers to getting good results. In the past they have also won significant victories against Newcastle and Chelsea.

They have also won a trophy this season by beating Rotherham on their own patch, courtesy of a goal from Matthew Cox… Their Goalkeeper, who used to to play, of all things… Rugby!!

Last night, however, he was just one of the stars as Wimbledon scored their 81st minute winner through Paris Lock.

What is clearly very evident, is that the Youth team are showing the Senior Team the way forward and are in a lot of ways better to watch than the seniors, though that is a matter for another day.

For now though, the Dons Youth March on!

Portsmouth aPPOINT Danny Cowley as new boss

Portsmouth FC, who are currently looking for a new manager, have gone strangely quiet on this topic in the last few days. Joe Gallen, was the Interim coach for Tuesday night’s game at Peterborough.

The club, however, say they have had a number of applications, but despite their being several names linked to the job, two appear to have rules themselves out completely. Those being Neil Harris and Daniel Stendel. This was on the basis of the appointment Portsmouth are keen on, which is short term until the end of the season. While both Harris and Stendel, wanted longer term contracts.

All of which has apparently left the path clear for the Cowley Brothers. Danny and Nicky Cowley, who have been out of work since leaving Huddersfield. It is understood the club have held extensive talks with the pair and have named them as new coaches of Pompey until the end of the season.

It is not understoood what role if any Joe Gallen will play in the new set up. Gallen has been Kenny Jackett’s right hand man, for several years, but in the wake of Jacketts departure, he was put in sole charge. And judging by the way he donned more formal clothing on Tuesday sees himself as a candidate, but with the Cowleys set to be appointed it might be a different picture.

Fan Excitement

Will the Cowleys appointment give the fans excitement? They certainly were not the coaches that perhaps many were expecting, however, they are still none the less very successful at lower league level

Every club they have been with since starting out at Concord Rangers they have improved and more importantly from Portsmouth’s view, achieved promotion to a higher league.

Their last notable success was with Lincoln City, before the Cowleys’ appointment Lincoln were a non-league side, but under the Cowleys they got promoted back into the Football League & subsequently gained promotion to League One.

This success attracted Huddersfield Town to come calling. The Brothers then left Lincoln, who at the time were riding high in League One to take over at the Yorkshire based club. Sadly for them despite saving The Terriers from relegation, the Cowleys were sacked and have been out of work ever since.

Success

Right now though they may not star names as some other managers are, but if they bring success to Pompey and achieve promotion to the Championship then the Fratton Faithful will be very happy indeed!

The brand of football the Cowleys will bring to Pompey is expansive and attacking so you can be sure given the talented squad the South Coast club have, in my opinion if not automatic promotion, then at the very least the play offs are a certainty. Either way though it is going to be a very exciting end to the season for the club.

Do you think Pompey will be promoted to the Championship at the end of the season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…..

Remember The Name: Jack Rudoni

This is not a name you will be familiar with, outside of South West 19. Fans of AFC Wimbledon have, however, been drooling over the latest academy product to make an impression in the first team.

His Name?

Jack ‘Rudi’, Rudoni

An absolutely outstanding attacking midfielder, come winger at just 18- years- old, but playing with the maturity of a senior professional.

Unphased or so it seems playing in League One, Rudoni has yet to make 50 appearances for the Dons and so far has already scored two goals. But don’t be misled by these unflattering stats. This is a lad destined for great things

When things start happening for him as they surely will with the grounding Wimbledon are giving him then expect a big side to make a bid for him. If that happens, Wimbledon will find it hard to resist. Lesser talents have been sold in previous years for big amounts and gone on too have good careers

By comparison, Rudoni is different class. Though he is very young, he is the first name on the team sheet most weeks and he will be itching to start and score against Hull today

So…Remember the Name

Jack Rudoni

White Scores HAT-trick As England Secure Thumping Friendly Win over Northern Ireland

Ellen White stole the show as England triumphed 6-0 over Northern Ireland in their first fixture of the year at St George’s Park earlier today. 

Lucy Bronze, Rachel Daly and debutant Ella Toone also got on the scoresheet as interim boss Hege Riise got her tenure underway with a comfortable victory. 

The Lionesses dominated the encounter from start to finish, with Kenny Shiels’ side struggling to get out of their own half for large periods of the game. They will also be grateful to goalkeeper Becky Flaherty for keeping the scoring in single digits. 

Riise raised a few eyebrows with her first starting line up, as Chloe Kelly was only named on the bench. Houston Dash’s Rachel Daly was afforded a start on the wing with Georgia Stanway and Jordan Nobbs joining Jill Scott in the centre of the park. The on loan Everton midfielder was given the captain’s armband on her 150th appearance for England. 

Keira Walsh pulled out of the squad late yesterday after a thigh injury and will now be assessed by Man City. 

Kenny Shiels gave Birmingham full back Rebecca Holloway her first cap, with striker Simone Magill, as expected, coming back into the side after injury to lead the line. A late injury to Jackie Burns also saw Sheffield United goalkeeper Beckie Flaherty starting in goal. 

With the Olympics coming up in the summer and the vast majority of the squad being made up of English players, the Lionnesses intent to stake their claim to be on the plane to Tokyo was clear from the off. 

They hassled and hurried the Northern Irish defence and had a number of chances before the eventually broke the deadlock on 18 minutes. 

Man City striker White met Daly’s cross with just three minutes of the contest gone, but couldn’t direct her header on target.  The 31-year old had another opportunity moments later when Scott slipped her through, but she was denied by Flaherty, before the goalkeeper reacted well to save from Nobbs on the follow up. 

England could have been three goals to the good inside the first ten minutes were it not for Flaherty, who pulled off another good save to prevent Bronze’s header from finding the top right hand corner.

Shiels will be disappointed in the manner in which Northern Ireland conceded the opener. White capitalising on a misplaced pass from McCarron, intercepting the ball  before driving into the area and firing a effort into the far corner.

That goal opened the flood gates, and Riise’s side got two more in quick succession. On 23 minutes, Bronze burst down the right and delivered a pinpoint cross for White, who glanced a header into the net for her and England’s second.

Their third game just five minutes later, again from a good cross into the box which Northern Ireland struggled to deal with. This time it was Hemp on the opposite flank putting in a tantalising delivery which Bronze at the back post slid into to tap home. 

The Lionesses’ were hungry for more and had one more clear cut chance late in the half to further extend their lead. Jordan Nobbs swung in a free kick to the near post, and the unmarked Hemp got on the end of it, but her header went wide.

Riise opted to make one change at the break, with Manchester United midfielder Ella Toone making her international bow in place of Jordan Nobbs. 

England continued to dominate the early proceedings of the second period as White’s spurned a glorious opportunity for her hat-trick. Toone was involved almost immediately, finding White in the box, who lifted the ball over the onrushing Flaherty, but off-target. 

She didn’t have to wait for her third for long however, with the hat-trick goal coming just two minutes later on 49 minutes. Scott threaded the ball through to the striker and she did the rest, wriggling past Nelson and rifling the ball into the top corner for her 39th England goal.

She had the ball in the back of the net for a fourth time just after the hour mark, by which time Everton keeper Sandy MacIver, had come on for her debut in place of Roebuck, but the goal was ruled out for offside. The former Birmingham forward had just strayed beyond Nelson before latching onto Kelly’s cross. 

England got their fifth not long after however, with Rachel Daly, who was a thorn in Northern Ireland’s side all game, sweeping home from close range after Bronze had surged down the right and put it on a plate for her.

They almost had a sixth on 72 minutes after a well worked short corner routine presented Kelly with a chance to strike from distance. The Man City winger tried to bend her effort into the far corner but it whistled wide of the far post. 

The final goal of the day came with just fifteen minutes of the game remaining. Kelly, who looked lively when she came off the bench, went down under a challenge from Holloway and the referee pointed to the spot.

Up stepped young Toone, who coolly slotted the ball into the bottom corner, sending Flaherty the wrong way to complete the route and net her first international goal on her first appearance.

Debuts then followed for Arsenal’s Lotte Wubben-Moy and Bristol City’s Ebony Salmon as England saw out the game, with Northern Ireland failing to register a single shot on target on a difficult afternoon for Shiels side. 

Speaking post match, the former Derry City manager told the BBC:

“There were some positives and some negatives. England are stronger and quicker than us and that was a big obstacle for us to overcome,

“We made three uncharacteristic mistakes for the three goals and I wish we could have been a bit more competitive,” he concluded. 

Opposition number Riise was delighted with England’s performance in her first game in charge:

“Obviously I’m pleased with six goals, four players getting their first cap and that we pushed for 90 minutes and wanted more goals. We tried to find the pockets in between, run at them and I think we showed character” stated the former Norwegian international.

She continued, “We probably could’ve scored more goals but the performance and energy that we put into the game was good.”

Northern Ireland now have to regroup ahead of their historic Euro 2022 two legged play off game, and they will discover their opponents of that tie next month.

As for the Lionesses, they will take on Canada in April as the squad gear up for the rescheduled Olympic Games.

Will Harry Kane’s loyalty for Spurs be tested?

A few months is a long time in football, especially it appears this season where so many sides are experiencing fluctuating fortunes.  

Take Liverpool for example, up until the last two months could do no wrong, but have now suffered back-to-back defeats against Manchester City and Brendan Rodger’s Leicester.  They subsequently face a battle to qualify for next season’s Champions League. 

Then there is Tottenham Hotspur. Back in November they produced a Jose Mourinho masterclass to secure a 2-0 win over Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side.  They were in fact setting the pace at the top of the Premier League, both Son-Heung min and Harry Kane were the most prolific pairing in the division and there appeared a new found reliance, which was installed by Mourinho.  

Fast forward, however, to what is commonly referred to as the business end of the campaign and Spurs now find themselves down in ninth in the table, 17 points behind league leaders City following a rather chastening experience of a 3-0 loss at the Etihad.  

Indeed, since that previously highlighted 2-0 loss in November Guardiola’s men have now gone 16 games unbeaten in all competitions and during that time have just conceded three goals, while scoring 36. 

The North London side, meanwhile, have only won four games in 14 since that impressive 2-0 win, the goals have dried up and Kane has looked an increasingly fore lawn figure leading the line. 

During Tottenham’s latest defeat, the England captain failed to register a single touch in the opposition penalty area.  In fact Kane put in an impressive performance as a defender having registered four clearances during yesterday’s 3-0 loss, which was the joint highest of any Spurs player.  

Following the game, however, Jamie Redknapp in the Sky Studio said:

“Harry Kane must look at that and think: ‘I want touches, I want to be the main man, not just taking free-kicks!’ He won’t be happy doing that.”

Redknapp is not the only former Spurs player to have highlighted that Kane would not be happy to be feeding off limited service.  

Prior to the match at the Etihad former fans favourite Clive Allan, who coached Kane during his days in the Tottenham academy raised the point that the England striker will not want to end his career without getting his hands on silverware.   

Allan said on TalkSport: 

“He is integral to Spurs achieving any sort of success, because without him they are not as strong a team. The way he links the play, the way he scores goals, the way he creates chances for other players.

“But, I have no doubt he has had thoughts about it [leaving].

“He’s been fantastic at the club from the first moment he walked in as a 16-year-old. I worked with him at that early age, and you could see he had the most incredible appetite and desire to improve himself, to get the best out of himself, which obviously we have seen he has done.

“But I think he will want a career where he has won something.”

This then leads on to where would Kane go if he were to leave his beloved boyhood club? 

Well, Manchester City are certainly one of the few clubs who can afford the England international and will almost certainly be in the market for a world class striker despite managing so impressively without Sergio Aguero.   

Then there is City’s rivals Manchester United, who have long been reported admirers of Kane and he would certainly provide them with a more cutting edge that times appears to be missing at crucial moments in big games.  

Abroad, meanwhile, there is Real Madrid who are the obvious candidates and Zinedine Zidane’s men are currently experiencing one of the club’s most disappointing season’s to date as they are eight points behind city rivals Atletico Madrid and have already been eliminated from the Copa Del Rey this year.

The likes of Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona would also undoubtedly be interested, despite not being as good as previous Catalan teams they are still a side that offer an obvious attraction. 

In short, Kane will have no shortage of options should he choose to leave his boyhood club and a lot will depend on what happens in the remaining months of the season and also whether he fancies a crack at pastures anew. 

Do you think that Harry Kane will leave his boyhood club this summer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…..

Football bodies Send Letter to Social Media CEOS

Football bodies across England have released an open letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The letter is in response to the increased levels of abuse received by players on the social media platforms in recent weeks.

Swansea City midfielder Yan Dhanda being the latest victim after Swansea’s FA Cup game against Manchester City. Dhanda posted on twitter “How can this still be happening in 2021?“.

Dhanda’s club Swansea City released a statement saying:

“Swansea City is appalled and saddened by racist abuse received by Yan Dhanda via social media following tonight’s Emirates FA Cup game against Manchester City.

“As a club, we pride ourselves on working with the community and our supporters, as well as the EFL and the FA, on all anti-racism and anti-discriminatory campaigns because it has no place in society.

“Swansea City condemns racism and abuse of all kinds, and we urge social media companies to go above and beyond to stamp out this abhorrent level of behaviour that continues to tarnish football and society.

“An official report has been made with South Wales Police and the club will assist them in their investigation.

“Yan has our unwavering support in this matter as we and the relevant authorities strive to eradicate this mindless behaviour.”

This come after Manchester United players, Axel Tuanzebe, Antony Martial, Lauren James and Marcus Rashford had experienced abuse on social media. Premier League Referee Mike Dean’s family were sent death threats.

The platform recently announced that user’s who send abusive message will face having their accounts permanently removed.  Facebook’s (who own the platform) content policy manager, Fadzai Madzingira who said:

“Currently, we will set a specific ban or what we call a block for a set amount of time when someone violates those rules and we extend that time should they continue to do so,

“We’re taking tougher measures on people who violate those rules in Instagram direct messaging, so instead of just extending the time, we’ll be removing the accounts altogether.”

The letter has called for more to be done and has been sent by, The FA, The Premier League, The EFL, The FA WSL, The FA Women’s Championship, PFA, LMA, PGMOL and Kick it Out.

The letter has called on the companies to do the following,

Messages and posts should be filtered and blocked before being sent or posted if they contain racist or discriminatory material.

You should operate robust, transparent, and swift measures to take down abusive material if it does get into circulation.

All users should be subject to an improved verification process that (only if required by law enforcement) allows for accurate identification of the person behind the account. Steps should also be taken to stop a user that has sent abuse previously from re-registering an account.

Your platforms should actively and expeditiously assist the investigating authorities in identifying the originators of illegal discriminatory material.

The letter also welcomes:

“The comments made on Twitter by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, that the UK Government is going to change the law to make social media companies more accountable for what happens on their platforms”.

“We call for meetings with your organisations to discuss the evidence of abuse on your platforms, the action you are taking, and how you plan to directly address the matters outlined in this letter.”

At the time of writing neither Facebook or Twitter have responded to the open letter.

Bamford Chalks Up Century of Career Goals

Should the Leeds United striker be an outside shout for the England Squad?

Patrick Bamford netted his 100th goal of his career on Monday night as Leeds eased to a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace at Elland Road. The 27 year old is enjoying life back in the top flight along with his teammates, with that victory taking Marcelo Bielsa’s side up to 10th in the table.

Despite doubts surrounding whether Bamford could cut it in the Premier League, after previous failed stints in the top flight, where he endured barren spells at Palace, Norwich and Burnley, he’s hit the ground running on Leeds’ return to the big time after a 16 year absence and is starting to gain the plaudits he deserves.

Often playing as a lone striker, Bamford is already in double figures for goals so far with a tally of 12 strikes in 22 Premier League appearances. In his current vein of form, Bamford is on course to match and maybe even eclipse his impressive 16 goal haul from last year, a figure which was crucial in helping to lift Leeds to the Championship title and promotion to the Premier League.

It’s not just Bamford’s goals which have drawn praise from various sections of the media, but his all round game. Whilst he may not be the most prolific, with his feeble attempt at dinking the ball over Vicente Guaita in the first half on Monday sailing well off target a clear example of this, he does well holding the ball up as a lone striker and bringing others into play as well as creating chances for his teammates.

His decision to unselfishly square the ball to Jack Harrison to allow him to tap into an empty net in Leeds’ recent win over Leicester was the striker’s sixth assist of the season and shows he is very much a team player.

He leads Leeds’ press and works tirelessly for the cause, with his direct running into the channels, great strength despite his seemingly slender stature and his aerial threat, some other key attributes.

His dozen strikes so far places him as the third highest scoring Englishman in the league this campaign, with only Harry Kane and Dominic Calvert-Lewin ahead of him by a single goal.

Whilst those two, (barring injury), are nailed on inclusions for Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad for the European Championships scheduled to take place this summer, the third space reserved on the plane for a striker is seemingly still up for grabs, and the uncapped Bamford should be worth mentioning.

The forward is not ruling out a first senior call up for World Cup qualifiers in March, ahead of the Euro tournament which kicks off in June, although was coy on his prospects of it coming in the next few months, telling Sky Sports after Monday’s game, “If you had said that at the start of the season I would’ve brushed it off and said ‘you’re mad’, but now people are talking about it.

“We have four or five strikers that have not been involved in the England squad many times and they are doing well so it will be interesting to see who gets called up.”

Rumours of the Nottingham born striker earning a first England call up does seem ‘mad’ when one remembers that Bamford was on the cusp of switching international allegiances and declaring for the Republic of Ireland just 18 months ago.

Then Ireland boss Mick McCarthy was so confident that Bamford, who qualifies to play for the Boys in Green through his grandmother and who played one game for Ireland’s U18s in 2010, would make the switch, he told the the Irish Independent in March 2019:

“I asked him the question ‘Do you still want to join us?’ – ‘Yes’ was the answer. I’m hoping to meet him. I haven’t given up on it at all.”

Bamford ended up snubbing a call up from McCarthy for Ireland’s games later in June that year to focus on Leeds and whilst he stated he, “hasn’t closed any doors” he recently reiterated his desire to represent England in an interview for Talksport, saying it would “be a dream come true” to play for the Three Lions.

Bamford has played for England at U18, U19 and U21 level, with his last cap for the Young Lions coming in 2014. He has never been in consideration for the Three Lions senior squad, until now.

At 27, there is no doubt he is a late bloomer, but the same can be said for two of his rivals Danny Ings and Callum Wilson who are both 28. Those two strikers, along with Tammy Abraham and Bamford, appear to be the four players battling it out for the final forward spot in the squad, if Southgate does opt to bring three strikers. Based on selection from previous tournaments, it seems that this will be the case.

For the 2018 World Cup Southgate chose three out and out strikers (Kane, Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck) as well as two versatile wide forward players in Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling. Again barring injury, Rashford and Sterling are automatic picks for Southgate given their respective forms for both Manchester clubs this season, leaving one more space for a goal hungry striker.

Of the aforementioned quartet only Bamford (12) and Wilson (10) have hit double figures for goals so far this term. Ings has seven goals and three assists whilst Abraham has six goals and two assists.

Bamford, along with Abraham also boasts the best injury record out of the four. He hasn’t suffered any injury problems in the last two seasons, whilst Abraham has avoided any major absences so far this campaign.

Ings’ injury woes have been well documented. He has remained fit for the majority of the current campaign but did sustain a hamstring injury in December, which saw him miss a number of Southampton’s festive fixtures.

Wilson has similarly suffered a succession of serious injuries like Ings, but had been firing on all cylinders for Newcastle until recently when he limped off against Ings’ side Southampton on Saturday with a hamstring tear.

He has been dealt a sickening blow after the club confirmed he will be ruled out for 6-8 weeks and Wilson now faces a race to build up full fitness ahead of England’s first group game with Scotland on 18th June.

Bamford is the least experienced striker and the only one not to have won an England cap with Ings having 13 caps and Wilson and Abraham amassing four each. It was the Chelsea striker who got the nod and was named in Southgate’s last England squad in November at the expense of the other three.

Abraham has struggled recently under new boss Thomas Tuchel and although Southgate seems to be a fan of his, on current form he doesn’t merit an inclusion. With Wilson, it will be a case of whether he can prove he is up to full fitness and can last the duration of such an intense tournament when he makes his return to action.

Mason Greenwood is another left wing shout who could be included. His form has fluctuated this campaign after his breakout half season last year, and Southgate may wait until after the Euros before trying to integrate him fully into the senior set up.

It therefore seems like it will be a straight shootout between Ings or Bamford for a place on the plane. Ings may just edge the individual battle, if he can keep fit, as he is viewed as the better striker all round, particularly when it comes to his expert finishing ability and given he has been in and around the England set up before.

Bamford at least deserves a call up to the squad ahead of March’s World Cup qualifiers to give Southgate the chance to assess him up close in training and maybe even in games before making his final decision for the Euro squad.

It’s a nice conundrum for Southgate to have and his inclusion in discussion for selection for England caps quite the rise for Bamford, who just last year, was deemed not good enough to lead the line for Leeds in the Championship.

Now he’s scoring goals for fun in the Premier League and could be afforded the chance to make his mark on the international stage very soon.

Dover Athletic To Cease Football Operations

Dover Athletic Chairman Jim Parmenter was warning the clubs supporters that he made need to furlough the clubs staff and cease football operations.

Releasing a message to supporters on the clubs website Parmenter has stated that due to the financial support offered by Sport England being mainly in the form of loans rather than grants it would be “irresponsible to burden a small club like Dover”.

Dover currently sit 22nd in the National League eight points from safety but have games in hand on the teams above them. Like many clubs across the country try have had to play matches behind closed doors and thus have seen their revenue slashed.

Parmenter’s message to supporters comes just days after he resigned from the National League board saying:

I can no longer support the direction of travel that the board is taking and I’m afraid I can no longer be seen to be a party to actions which I absolutely disagree with.

“I accept that the board is a collective and whilst as a member, it is a prerequisite that, in public, the board and its Chairman are supported.  I have therefore chosen to resign, in order to say what I really believe publicly.”

Parameter contined:

“I am in particular disagreement that the executive appears to be encouraging clubs to take large loans to complete the season, as I have said twice at board meetings I believe that the competition rules are being broken by allowing the proposed loans, let alone encouraging them. (Page 155 Appendices 08 of the rule book).

“The league has for ten years insisted that clubs manage their financial affairs prudently and has had great success and received much praise for the results, now that is all to be thrown to the dogs and for what?

“I understand why the bigger, richer clubs with chances of promotion are pushing hard to continue, but in a sense they are asking smaller clubs with no crowds or income who are playing for no reason to take large loans and probably overstretch themselves with dire consequences, to subsidise the larger clubs ambitions. I do not agree with that position.”

The Dover Chairman’s concerns are for the long term future of the club, who were formed in 1983 after Dover FC folded due to debts. Parmenter is clear that he does not wish this to happen and stated that the door is open to interested parties who wish to invest in the club.

Funding for clubs struggling is available from Sport England, but Parmenter is not hopeful of financial help:

“We have applied for a grant from Sport England, but I am not confident that it will be forthcoming and certainly not soon.”

With funding the club had been receiving now ended and no clear plan for a return of supporters Parmenter believes stopping operations is the only way to ensure that the club can continue:

“Funding ended six weeks ago now and without any form of significant income stream I have had to continue to fund the club – this cannot continue and if action is not taken the club will become insolvent.

“I have (as promised) run the club without debt for 15 years and I do not intend to change that now.

“I firmly believe that the survival and future wellbeing of the club, its staff, supporters, and the wider community must come first. Taking the right action now will ensure that we can survive and start again next season assuming our normal revenue streams are available by then.

“Therefore, unless the situation changes in the next couple of days, I will have no option but to furlough all staff, cut all possible expenditure and cease football operations.

“The current situation has taught me one thing; with the costs of surviving in the National league rising exponentially and our income is not, the club needs more backing than I can offer alone. It is my intention to open the door to interested parties who wish to invest in Dover Athletic either partially or in its entirety.

“I continue to do everything I can to help the club navigate this greatly challenging time and hope that together we can get through this and come back stronger.”

Clubs in the tier below (National League North/South) have until 28th February to vote on weather to continue or end the season with some clubs fearing bankruptcy. With the possibility of promotion to the EFL from the National League clubs towards the top of the table will want to continue.

Martin Ødegaard Makes Temporary Switch to the Emirates

Real Madrid midfielder Martin Ødegaard has completed his loan move to Arsenal for the remainder of the season.

The Norwegian has been struggling for game time at the Bernabeu and is desperate to recapture his promising form that he showcased during a fruitful loan spell at Real Socieded last year.

The young playmaker started Los Blancos’ first two La Liga games of the season after being recalled early in the summer from his two year loan deal in San Sebastián, with the view that he was ready to make the step to become a regular under Zidane, his old Real Madrid B coach.

Yet, the attacking midfielder has featured only once as a starter in a league game since, a 1-1 draw against Villareal at the back end of November.

With Zidane still opting for a midfield three of Kroos, Casemiro and Modric and with the likes of Isco and Asensio providing cover, Ødegaard was not prepared to kick his heels on the bench and instead pushed for a move away to get the regular game time he craves.

The Athletic understands that the player’s preferred destination was a return to Sociedad, where Ødegaard shone last year, not least in helping La Real knock his parent club out of the Copa De Rey in a pulsating 4-3 victory at the Bernabeu last February. Madrid were unwilling to let him go to a direct rival, given Real Sociedad’s fine start to the campaign.

Arsenal emerged as another potential destination given their need to recruit competition in the number ten position for Emile Smith-Rowe. The Englishman has been in fine form since being entrusted with a starting birth against Chelsea on Boxing Day, recording three assists and scoring once in the past five games.

Yet, Smith-Rowe is just 20 and has struggled with injuries in the past and, given the condensed nature of the season with games coming thick and fast, the Gunners sought to find an eligible candidate to ease the burden on the academy graduate.

Ødegaard ticks a number of boxes having been one of the most creative players in Spain’s top flight last season. Only five players created more scoring chances than Ødegaard in La Liga last season, and the 22-year-old also ranked in the top 10 for successful dribbles.

The year before, when he was on loan at Vitesse in the Netherlands, he created more chances than any other player in the Dutch top flight, and finishing third in the assists chart behind Dusan Tadic and Hakim Ziyech.

A call from Arteta, detailing how he will fit in at Arsenal, is reported to have persuaded the player to opt to move to London, which is set to be announced later today after the Norwegian undergoes a medical this afternoon. Arteta is hoping to have him available for the Gunners game against Manchester United on Saturday night.

The deal represents a rather low risk transfer from Arsenal’s perspective, it is a simple six month loan deal, with no option to buy and the Gunners will cover his modest £38,000 salary and pay a poultry £2 million loan fee for the duration of the deal.

They will also be bringing a hugely exciting talent to English shores, six years after the Norwegian had spells training with Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United before opting to sign for Real Madrid.

One should therefore be reminded that it is not long ago since Ødegaard was viewed as one of the most highly sought after youngsters in Europe.

He burst onto the scene in his homeland in April 2014 when he made his debut for Strømsgodset, becoming the youngest player to feature in the Tipperligaen, Norway’s Premier division at 15 years and 118 days. He became the league’s youngest goalscorer just a month later when he found the net in a 4-1 win against Sarpsborg on 16th May.

By the end of the season Ødegaard had scored five goals in 23 league games, in addition to making seven assists, as his side finished fourth. He trained with Real Madrid the following January and they won the race for his signature, announcing his signing at the end of the month.

He initially was put into Real’s B team, Real Madrid Castilla, to help him adapt to his new surroundings, but he regularly trained with the first team, something which caused friction between the player and then boss Zidane.

He made his senior bow for Los Blancos aged just 16 years and 157 days, becoming the club’s youngest debutant. He has since featured just seven more times for the first team, opting to go out on loan, spending three years in Holland, two with Heerenveen and one with Vitesse after a year and a half with Real Madrid Castilla.

He initially struggled at Heereveen and the demands of senior football in a more competitive league. He was in and out of the team and didn’t score his first goal for the club until his 15th appearance, as their president admitted that they were struggling to find his best position.

The following campaign he established himself as a regular and began to show glimpses of what he was capable of. The 2018/19 season at Vitesse was when Ødegaard really stepped up to the plate and thrived in the Eredivise.

He often started on the right wing in a 4-4-2, and under the tutelage of Russian manager Leonid Slutsky, was given the license to be the side’s main attacking outlet. He was often seen dancing past opponents with his quick feet and acceleration before calmly finding the perfect pass or fashioning an opportunity on goal. He ended that season with 8 goals and 11 assists, a healthy return for a 20 year old.

Having proved a point in Holland, Ødegaard was rewarded with another loan spell, (originally agreed to be for two years) at fellow La Liga outfit Real Sociedad and he immediately hit the ground running.

Routinely deployed as an attacking midfielder in a 4-3-3 at San Sebastián, the Norwegian managed 90 minutes in 19 of La Real’s first 21 games last season, putting in a particularly impressive display as a second striker in a 2-0 win over Athletico Madrid.

His mazy runs from midfield, defence-splitting passes and his routinely energetic displays propelled Sociedad into the Champions League places before lockdown hit.

Both his and his club’s form tailed off once football returned, with Sociedad finishing sixth and qualifying for the Europa League. In the 10 games of the season he didn’t play 90 minutes once as he struggled with tendonitis, a problem which has also plagued him recently in Madrid. He ended the campaign with seven goals and nine assists and as one of the standout performers in the league.

Those stats convey just why Ødegaard is frustrated at his lack of opportunities at the Burnabeu and also why Arsenal fans are so excited at his projected arrival. There are some skeptical supporters wary of getting too ahead of themselves, having drawn parallels of Ødegaard’s move with that of Denis Suarez’s two years prior.

The Spaniard, liked Ødegaard arrived with a promising reputation from Real’s rivals Barcelona in January 2019 on a sixth month loan deal to get regular game time before returning to star for his parent club.

It didn’t pan out that way for the now Villareal midfielder, who played just six times over the course of the remainder of the campaign after a pelvic injury in just his second game with the Gunners left him struggling to regain full fitness during the rest of his disappointing spell in North London.

It remains to be seen whether Ødegaard is still affected by that injury, and having not played competitively in two months, patience should be granted upon his arrival as the Norwegian quickly tries to integrate himself to his new teammates and the new league.

Nonetheless, if he can replicate his early season form at Real Sociedad last campaign, he could be the man to really propel Arsenal up the table and deep into the Europa League and may represent a huge coup for the Gunners.

https://247-football.com/2021/01/24/mesut-ozil-completes-fenerbahce-move/

Who is Alfie Devine? Spurs’ Youngest Ever Player and Goalscorer Profiled

Debuts don’t come much better than Alfie Devine’s for Tottenham in their 5-0 thumping of non-league Marine in the FA Cup on Sunday.

The Warrington born midfielder, who is the son of former St Helen’s rugby player Sean Devine, wasn’t even born when Jose Moutinho was revealed as Chelsea boss in the summer of 2004.

At just 16 years and 163 days Devine broke his first record of the day when he was introduced by Mourinho at half time. His first appearance for the club, with Tottenham already 4-0 up and cruising, made him Spurs’ youngest ever player, overtaking his Under-18 teammate Dane Scarlett, who had held the record since his debut in November.

The second record he broke was the icing on the cake. After receiving a pass from Lucas Moura, the young midfielder cut inside and drilled a low effort inside the near post. His name was again written into the history books, this time as the club’s youngest ever goalscorer.

His huge grin after scoring shows just how much it meant to him, and he more than held his own in his cameo appearance, looking comfortable on the ball and strong in the tackle, attributes familiar to anyone who had watched Devine previously at youth level. The game marked the latest milestone in the creative midfielder’s rapid ascent since joining Tottenham in the summer.

Devine started out in Liverpool’s academy, but was released aged 11 and moved on to Wigan, where he really began to make a name for himself. Given his immense talent, which has been evident from a very young age, Devine’s development at Wigan was fast tracked, so much so that he made his debut for the Latics’ Under-23 side aged only 15.

He really caught the eye last year, as did many of his teammates involved in Wigan’s magnificent FA Youth Cup run which was halted by Manchester United at the quarter final stage. Devine started that game at Old Trafford, having appeared as a late sub in Wigan’s fourth round victory over Tottenham.

He signed a new deal with the club in June of last year, but was sold just a month later as a result of the club going into administration and needing to raise funds. The Athletic reported that Spurs had to tussle with the likes of, “Celtic, Rangers, Leeds, Brighton, West Ham and Chelsea” to secure Devine’s signature, evidently displaying that the midfielder was a wanted man.

They also revealed that whilst it was the club’s head scout who pursued the player, the move was, “rubber stamped by Jose Mourinho, who even went to Devine’s medical in the summer to meet him,” conveying just how highly the Portuguese boss rates the midfielder.

Spurs got their man last July, in a transfer which cost them around £300,000. Despite his young age, the club were keen to fast track at every opportunity, and he trained with the first team during pre season before appearing in friendlies against Ipswich and Reading.

He started with the Under-18s this season, scoring twice and assisting another in seven games before quickly moving up to the Under-23s, scoring on his debut against Derby County. He hit the headlines last month after a nasty challenge on Chelsea’s Danny Drinkwater in an Under-23 game, which led to a mass brawl before both he and Drinkwater received their marching orders. He has played four games in total so far for the Under-23s.

That incident with Drinkwater hasn’t deterred Jose Mourinho however, as Devine has been a regular fixture in first team training alongside fellow youngsters Dane Scarlett and Harvey White. Coaches are said to be impressed with both his ability and attitude.

Devine has also caught the eye on the international stage, having represented England regularly at Under-16 level. He played in the Sportchain AGS Cup in December 2019, picking up the player of the tournament.

His former Wigan coach lavished praised on him last year stating:

“Alfie is one of the best players I have worked with; he has a mature head on young shoulders.”

Many Tottenham fans are already drawing comparisons between Devine and the likes of Oliver Skipp, who is currently on loan at Championship side Norwich, and Harry Winks, given his capability of playing as a deep lying playmaker.

His task now will be to establish himself at Under-23 level, and to continue to train well with the first team when presented with the opportunity. Given the condensed nature of this season, he could make his Premier League bow before the season is out and will definitely be in contention for the next FA Cup game depending on the quality of Spurs’ opposition.

The Guardian included Devine in their list of the best 20 talents at Premier League clubs, and on the evidence of his showing in Crosby, it seems justified as there is plenty more to come from the young midfielder.

Former Premier League title winner moves to Belgium

Former Leicester City and Welsh International Andy King has joined OH Leuven until the end of the 2020/21 season. 

King spent 15 years at King Power and was part of that memorable 2015/16 Premier League title triumph. In addition, the 32-year-old won the Championship and League One trophies during his stint with the side. 

The midfielder remains 11thon the club’s all time list of appearance makers having played 378 games and joins Leuven, who are currently sitting sixth in the Belgium Jupiler Pro League and are 10 points behind leaders Club Bruges.  Remarkably though Leuven will be King’s second permanent club of his professional career.  

King made his first appearance for the club way back in October 2007 and scored his first-ever-goal for City against Southampton. Weirdly his last goal for the side also came versus the Saints over 10 years later.    

When he left the King Power back in June 2020 the Leicester City Chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha said:

“He’s been through everything with us and is an amazing guy.  He’s been a massive part of what the Club has achieved in that time and earned the respect of so many people.”

Indeed, since helping The Foxes secure their maiden Premier League crown, King fell out of favour with previous Leicester manager Claude Puel and subsequently went on a series of loan moves at: Swansea City, Derby County, Rangers and Huddersfield before his contact ended in the summer of 2020. 

A statement on Leuven club’s website, meanwhile, added:

“Andy was looking for a new challenge and found it at OH Leuven.  With his experience he can contribute to the further development of the club.” 

King will join three Leicester City loanees at the club in midfielder Kamal Sowah, goalkeeper Daniel Iversen and forward Josh Eppiah. 

Cristiano Ronaldo eclipses Pele’s career goal total

The Portuguese and Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo made a terrific start to 2021 over the weekend by surpassing the legendary Pele’s career goal total with his two goals in ‘The Old Lady’s’ 4-1 win over Udinese.

Pele now subsequently sits third on the list after registering 757 career goals between 1956 and 1977 during his time with Santos, New York Cosmos and Brazil. 

Ronaldo scored his 757thand 758thgoal of his incredible career and now sits second on the all-time list behind only the Czech striker Josef Biscan’s total of 759.  In addition, the 35-year-old took his already impressive Serie A goal tally this season to 14 from only 11 matches.  

The Portuguese forward is currently leading the goalscoring charts and has played a crucial part in moving Andrea Pirlo’s side into fifth place where they are ten points behind leaders AC Milan with a game in hand. Udinese, however, drop to 13thand are without a win in their last four matches. 

The five-time Ballon d’Or Winner scored his side’s first goal of 2021 just half an hour into the encounter with one of his trademark strikes after latching onto former Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey’s pass. He then set up Federico Chiesa for Juve’s second shortly after half time.  

Ronaldo then made it 3-0 after latching onto Rodrigo Bentancur’s through ball.  Udinese did manage to get a goal back throughMarvin Zeegelar, however, Argentine forward Paulo Dybala struck late on in injury time to secure Juventus’ 4-1 win.   

Following the match, the Juventus Manager Pirlo confessed that his team struggled, with the surprise 3-0 defeat to Fiorentina still playing on their minds in the final encounter before the winter break.  

Pirlo said:

“We started frightened after the match against Fiorentina.

“Little by little we grew up and in the second half we did better.  It wasn’t the best Juventus.” 

In total Ronaldo has managed 656 club career goals since making his debut for Sporting Lisbon back in 2002.  

The majority of his goals ultimately though came during his time with Real Madrid where he scored 450 goals in just 438 games. While playing for Manchester United, meanwhile, he still managed 118 goals in 292 appearances, but he is rapidly closing in on that total already for his current side Juventus, having scored 83 times to date. 

For his international side, Ronaldo currently has 102 goals in just 120 matches and the forward will likely add to that impressive tally as he will look to help Fernando Santos’s team to defend their European Championship this summer. 

Indeed, it is surely a matter of when and not if he will eclipse Biscan’s tally with the first opportunity being on Wednesday night when the Serie A Champions visit Milan.

What is your favourite Cristiano Ronaldo goal to date? Feel free to list it in the comments below…..

From failed Rovers move to Worlds Best

Cast your minds back to the 2009/2010 season, when Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn Rovers side were sitting mid-table and were relying on the creative skills of Morten Gamst Pedersen and David Dunn.  The likes of Jason Roberts and Franco Di Santo were not being clinical enough in front of goal and Allardyce was crying out for someone to convert the chances that his midfield were producing. 

Head of Recruitment at the time for the Lancashire club Martyn Glover had reportedly scouted out a promising Polish forward at the time, who had scored 21 goals in 34 appearances for Lech Poznan and Glover envisioned that this striker could perhaps be as good as the man who fired Rovers to the Premier League title in 1995, Alan Shearer.  

Glover, who is now Head of Recruitment at Southampton and has been since 2019, said:

“We had seen a lot of Robert Levandowksi and we knew we were dealing with a top class striker.”

Discussions with the club president went as planned and we had outlined a proposal for him to join Rovers. 

However, the chairman (John Williams) was worried that Poland was not famous for producing prolific goal scorers and there was also questions surrounding the fee, which was £3 million possibly rising to £4 million.

Indeed, Rovers hesitation surrounding the player proved costly as the player had a pal at the Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund and before the Premier League side could do anything Dortmund snapped him up for the same fee. 

Glover added: 

He’s certainly close to the top of the list of the ones that got away!”

Allardyce subsequently bought Croatian Nikola Kalinic instead for a reported £6 million. 

The prolific Polish International striker certainly proved that he was indeed the one that got away.  Having joined Dortmund 2010, under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp he became the complete striker.  He immediately endeared himself to the Dortmund fans by scoring his first goal for the club against fierce rivals Schalke in the Revierderby.     

Lewandowkski spent four seasons at die Schwarzgelben scoring an impressive 103 goals in 187 appearances. He helped his team to the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Bundesliga titles, plus the 2012 DFB-Pokal Cup.  While at the same time also playing a key role in Dortmund’s run to the 2013 Champions League final, which they subsequently lost to Bayern Munich. 

The highlight of that memorable 2012-13 Champions League campaign was undoubtedly his four goals against Real Madrid in the semi-final. 

The Pole broke Dortmund fans hearts, however, by agreeing to move to their fierce rivals, Bayern Munich, in 2014 on a five-year deal.  At Bayern he got to work with the likes of Pep Guardiola and won title after title. 

There were periods, however, where it was not plane sailing but it all came to together last season with manager Hans Flick. League crown thanks to a 1-0 win over French Champions Paris Saint Germain.

The incredible year for Lewandowski was capped off by winning the Best FIFA award for men’s player of the year and finished first in the Guardian’s 100 best male footballers. The past season saw Lewandowski score 55 goals in just 47 games.  

Under the guidance of Flick, Lewandowski has clearly become more of a team player. His team mate Thomas Muller added:

“It has even gone so far that he can almost enjoy an assist now.” 

Jacek Grembocki, the coach of the Pole’s first ever-professional team Znicz Pruszkow, meanwhile, said:

“Players like Lewandowski only think about one thing: success, success and success.  Now he plays not only for Poland, but for Bayern too.  And he is a legend up there with Messi and Ronaldo.  

“He is the best player in the history of Polish football.”

The Future is tangerine!

It’s safe to say that it’s been a tough year for all football fans after the sport was paused for three months earlier in the year, and ever since the majority of grounds haven’t had a return to supporters. But spare a thought for Blackpool fans who spent five years divided over the ownership of their football club. No sooner had they returned against Southend in March 2019, and COVID-19 put paid to the first full season under new ownership earlier this year.    After spending five years staying away from Bloomfield Road as part of a ‘Not a Penny More campaign’, Pool fans are now being forced to stay away due to the risk of COVID and instead forced to watch a new squad, under a new manager, via laptop at home. But there is still a feeling of excitement and optimism building – despite the fact the fans can’t show their support first-hand.

In June 2019, Blackpool-born businessman Simon Sadler bought a 96.2% share of Blackpool Football Club, much to the delight of Blackpool fans after many turbulent years of suffering through the Oyston ownership. The reign of the Oystons, which started in 1987, is commonly renowned for the Seasiders’ downfall from the Premier League down to League Two, in the space of four seasons. In what could only be described as one of the worst ownerships in football history, where the owners sued their own supporters, openly mocked others via text and gloated around the town with OY51OUT as his number plate, on the field the club suffered back-to-back relegations and failed to keep hold of its previously impressive squad, assembled by Ian Holloway. It caused much unrest and discontent throughout the fans, with the majority opting to stay away and refusing to give any more money to the owners. The Oystons were eventually forced to sell the club, after losing a high court case to Latvian businessman Valeri Belekon, a man who previously owned a share in the Tangerines and was found to be owed £32m in court. 

Simon Sadler’s purchase was completed in June 2019, sparking scenes of jubilation across Blackpool and beyond, as fans looked forward to their long anticipated trip back to Bloomfield Road, with some having boycotted the stadium for upwards of four years. Sadler’s purchase allowed fans to feel like their club is finally in the correct hands, after so many years of division and unrest. Sadler proved to the supporters that he was the man to take the Seasiders forward from the start, by interacting, communicating and meeting the fans face to face, something Blackpool were not used to. 

Sadler has not only brought financial stability to the club at the perfect time, but also security for the once suffering fans, in knowing that their club is safe and in the correct hands. The prospect of new ownership was, and still is, an extremely exciting one for Blackpool fans. In aid of pushing the Pool back towards the Championship Sadler has immediately made the Seasiders one of League One’s highest spenders in terms of outgoing transfer fees. In his first transfer window Sadler supplied newly appointed Simon Grayson with over £1m, a fee which was eclipsed this summer as the club brought in 17 new players to support the new manager Neil Critchley. 

It’s not all been plain sailing so far – the return of Simon Grayson last summer was initially seen as a solid appointment, given he’d previously achieved four promotions from League One previously – including once with the Seasiders already in 2007. Unfortunately, Grayson’s return to Bloomfield Road mirrored his poor recent spells with Sunderland and Bradford City rather than the earlier success he’d seen. Grayson departed in February, having been considerably backed in the January transfer window, after a shocking run of just one win in 12 matches

By March, the new man was appointed in the shape of Liverpool under 21’s manager Neil Critchley. The then-41 year old was relatively unknown when appointed, having only managed at academy level with both Crewe Alexandra and Liverpool. But as one of only sixteen coaches worldwide to obtain UEFA’s elite coaching badge, he certainly has an impressive CV – though there were questions over whether he could do it at First Team level. 

Just two games into his reign, the outbreak of COVID-19 curtailed the rest of the League One season. Rather than sitting and waiting to find out when football would resume, Sadler did not furlough his scouting team and work continued as the board and new manager looked to assemble a squad to compete at the top end of the table this season. That allowed the club to steal a march on its rivals with free agents at the start of the window, as Keshi Anderson, Marvin Ekpiteta, Oliver Sarkic and Ethan Robson all joined by early August. They were accompanied by Jerry Yates and CJ Hamilton for substantial fees in the current climate. Critchley cited the club’s ambitious, forward-thinking direction as one of the key factors that lured him into the managerial role.

There’s no doubt in saying that this isn’t an overnight process. Especially with an almost entirely new squad, that even today are still learning about each other’s strengths, weaknesses and attitudes. This has been reflected by the Seasiders’ bumpy start to the campaign, picking up just one win from their first seven league matches. But more recently, the new squad has started to find its feet and get to know each others’ games. Mistakes were made early in the season as the side looked bereft of cohesion and togetherness, but now they are improving each week in terms of performances and results. Those mistakes helped to shape the squad into a stronger unit as a team, and a force against any side in the division in recent weeks. 

Ahead of Saturday’s trip to Fleetwood Town, the Pool have won eight of their last 10 games in all competitions, with the togetherness, unity and cooperation of the team playing a massive part in some impressive results – particularly against Peterborough and Portsmouth who are up at the top end of the table. Critchley’s fresh, exciting and attacking football that was talked about with the boss’ introduction has been evident, something that is an extremely exciting prospect for all Seasiders fans who have long dreamed of such a reality. 

The main thing for now is that the fans have the club back. Sadler certainly came to the aid of broken Blackpool supporters after times of such misery and despair under the previous regime. It was a very dark period in the club’s history, and simply by walking through the door, the club was already in a far better place. But not only that, Blackpool have been able to really build on the feel-good factor by showing ambition already both on and off the field. The final piece to the jigsaw is for fans to return and show the appreciation to the new group of players first-hand. This was possible once this season after the Seasiders were involved in a pilot event at the start of the season, allowing 1,000 fans into Bloomfield Road against Swindon Town, and hopefully in the coming weeks this will be able to be built on. 

These fans have never stopped fighting for what they believe in, and Sadler – who is one of them himself – has shown just how committed he is to the cause, and how much this town, and football club mean to him. It’s clear to see that Sadler certainly bleeds tangerine, and has allowed the fans to feel at home again at Bloomfield Road – restrictions permitting. With an exciting brand of football in the pipeline and off-the field developments starting to gain momentum, Sadler is rebuilding and galvanising a the football club which has a proud history. Together, the owner, board, players and staff – as well as the fans – are all striving to work together and get this great football club back to where it belongs. The future is bright, the future is tangerine!

Post written by George Wincott of utmp

Will the presence of fans in some stadiums affect results?

March 9, 2020 was the last game that involved fans watching their team live.  The match was Leicester City vs Aston Villa and resulted in a 4-0 victory for The Foxes. 

Who would have thought though that it would have taken until December to see fans to witness competitive sports in some of the lands most famous stadiums again? 

Well, if you’re a supporter of a team living in COVID-19 Tier One or Two areas some fans will be able to watch their side live for the first time in almost nine months. This means 51 of the 104 clubs across the Premier League, EFL and Women’s Super League able to host a maximum of 2,000 supporters.

Which teams can have fans in stadiums again?

This means good news for Premier League’s London clubs: Tottenham, Chelsea, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Arsenal and Fulham. While also on the list are South Coast clubs Southampton and Brighton as well as the Premier League Champions Liverpool and their rivals Everton. 

The other ten sides in the top flight, however, will have to wait to welcome back supporters.  Being in Tier three areas such as Manchester and Yorkshire they will continue to play games behind closed doors.  This means: Manchester United, Manchester City, Burnley, Sheffield United, Leeds United and Newcastle United .  While midlands clubs Leicester City, Aston Villa, Wolverhampton and West Brom will also have to play games without their fans. 

In addition, away fans from tier three areas will be unable to travel to games in tier two stadiums. 

Indeed, on Thursday Arsenal will have the honour of being the first English team to play a competitive match, a Europa League tie against Austrian side Rapid Vienna.  Being in a Tier 2 area, the Gunners will be able to play in front of 2,000 of their own supporters for the first time in nearly nine months. 

Unsurprisingly, however, the 2,000 tickets were sold out within 20 minutes of going on sale.  The first Premier League games, meanwhile, to take place in front of fans are set to be West Ham United’s encounter with Manchester United and Chelsea’s home game with Leeds United. 

Will allowing supporters in certain grounds be fair?

The awkward question remains. Will having supporters back in certain grounds affect the outcome of the match? 

Crystal Palace Manager and former England Coach, Roy Hodgson said:

“It will make a bit of a difference at Selhurst Park than it will do at some other stadiums, where the capacity is so much higher. 

“But I don’t think it is a question really of what difference the fans are going to make, I think it is more of how nice it is going to be for those fans who are selected to be one of those who gets a ticket to see a match live again.”

While Fulham boss Scott Parker said: 

“It’s a breath of fresh air, it’s what we all want. It’s what the fans want and what we want as a team.”

Understandably not everyone is in agreement.  Leeds United Manager Marcelo Bielsa, whose side falls into the category of a tier three area, meaning supporters will have to wait a little longer to see their side live, said:

“It shouldn’t be about the category, or the consequences of being in a category, it should be about trying to maintain the competition as equal as possible with things that are controllable. 

“I am just looking at common sense, which perhaps doesn’t go.  The presence of fans has an effect on the results.” 

Boton Wanders boss Ian Evatt, whose side play in League One and will also have to continue playing without the support of fans in stadiums, said:

“Without getting into a big political debate I just cannot believe the way (it has gone).  For me, we’re a country and we should all be together, regardless.  It should be one for all and all for one.”

What do you think?

It must come, therefore, as no surprise to see the football world split down the middle following this government announcement. There certainly is a compelling case for both arguments, on the one hand watching football without fans in the stadiums is not the same as stated by former Manchester United Manager, Sir Matt Busby. 

Busby was once famously quoted as saying:

“Football is nothing without fans.”

There is, however, the legitimate question of fairness and equal competition when it comes to competitive sport.  How do you create a level playing field?

Personally, however, I can’t wait to see to see fans bring the atmosphere and magic back to the sport again, no matter whom they support! 

Feel free to share your views in the comments below. 

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.

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.

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, 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.

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 PREVIEW: Cardiff City v Nottingham Forest

Cardiff City will welcome Nottingham Forest to Cardiff City Stadium this Good Friday. The Bluebirds are looking to push their way into a play-off spot while Forest are looking to put more room between them and the relegation places.

The Bluebirds returned to winning ways in their game as they beat bitter rivals Swansea thanks to an Aden Flint header. It was the Bluebirds fist win after a run of three without one, however, Cardiff have only lost once since the arrival of Mick McCarthy. Forest are without a win in six with three draws and three defeats.

The sides have met twice this season with City winning in the reverse league meeting and Forest winning in an FA Cup third round tie. Cardiff have won eight out of the last ten league meetings between the sides.

Curtis Nelson and Perry Ng have recovered from injuries and could feature on Friday. Lee Tomlin, meanwhile, suffered a setback prior to a under 23’s games this week which will delay his return. Jordi Osei-Tutu is back in training, but will not play a part at the weekend.

For Forest defender Joe Worrall is still suffering from a rib injury and is a doubt for the trip to Cardiff. Former Cardiff man Harry Arter is still out with a calf injury. Joe Lolley is also likely out for the season, and Gaeten Bong is another who is a doubt for the trip to Wales.

Ahead of the game, Cardiff Manager Mick McCarthy said:

“I would prefer to be top and they are all chasing me! But considering when we played Bristol, we could have gone fourth or fifth bottom.

“You could sense the change around the place, the confidence. We are now nipping at those in front of us.

“If you’re in the top six, all you worry about is falling out of it.

“Even if you’re in the bottom three, you’re chasing to get out. Fourth or fifth bottom, you don’t want to drop in now.”

Forest Manager Chris Hughton told Nottinghamforest.co.uk:

“The only points in my mind at the moment are in the next game and trying to win that. It is such an unpredictable league this season, with performances and those teams that can beat any team on any given day.

“So many of the results show that and it is very difficult, you don’t know how that run in will be. You look at the teams towards the bottom of the table and any team is capable of putting together a decent run.

“We want to finish the season as well as we can and, at any stage of the season, there are always influences that can affect your thinking. There are players that over a short period of time put some better thoughts into your mind or change your mind about them.

“Also, we would rather go into the start of next season after a decent end to the season. Although there is a gap in between, you can psychologically have that little bit of momentum.”

Prediction: Cardiff City 2 – 0 Nottingham Forest

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