All posts by Adam Stephens

Women’s Super League Round Up: Week Two

Title contenders Manchester City and Arsenal both maintained their unbeaten starts to the season with wins at Reading and Manchester United respectively. Fellow title hopefuls Chelsea however could only manage a draw at Brighton.

Meanwhile surprise package Everton also made it two wins from two games against Bristol City, having only won three games in the league all of last season. 

Elsewhere Tottenham picked up their first ever points in the Super League against Liverpool and last year’s FA Cup finalists, West Ham picked up their first win of the campaign by beating Birmingham.

 Everton’s (The Toffees) unexpected start

The place to begin with is The Toffees, who maintained their unbeaten start to the season by beating Bristol City 2-0.  Two terrific strikes from 21 year old, Chloe Kelly either side of half time secured the points, as the Merseyside club backed up their 1-0 win over Birmingham on the opening day of the season in impressive fashion.

Their unbeaten run however will certainly be put to the test when they next face Manchester City at home.

Manchester City continue to impress

German international, Pauline Bremer continued her prolific start to the season, following up her two goals in mid-week during the 7-1 Champions League win over Lugano, with a double in a 2-0 victory over Reading at Adams Park.

Bremer’s recent displays is certainly a major plus considering the fact that they will be without star player Georgia Stanway for the next six weeks through injury.

Arsenal (The Gunners) made to work

The Gunners left it late against newly promoted Manchester United It took a 89th minute winner from substitute, Danielle Van der Donk to maintain Arsenal’s perfect start to the season, following up on their 2-1 victory over West Ham on the opening weekend.

Casey Stoney’s side have now given a good account of themselves against both of last season’s top two Super League sides, Manchester City and Arsenal.  They will hope to get their first points of the season when they face winless Liverpool in the next round of matches.  Arsenal’s next Super League match is against Brighton at home.

Chelsea (The Blues) held by Brighton

Chelsea had to rely on a stoppage time equaliser from substitute, Adelina Engman after Aileen Whelan had put Brighton ahead with just six minutes to go.

The Blues however, will certainly see this as dropped points and will look to get back to winning ways when they travel to Bristol City.

Tottenham and West Ham pick up first wins

Tottenham meanwhile picked up their first ever Super League win, 1-0 against Liverpool, thanks to a Rachel Furness penalty just before half time.

Liverpool also had to play the last 30 minutes with ten players after centre-back Niamh Fahey was sent off for a foul on Rosella Ayane when the forward was clean through on goal.

Finally West Ham also picked up a 1-0 over Birmingham win thanks to a goal from Canadian international, Adriana Leon.

The London rivals will face each other in the next round of matches at West Ham’s Olympic Stadium.

Dates of the next WSL fixtures

Saturday 28th September

Manchester United vs Liverpool Kick Off (12pm)

Sunday 29th September

Arsenal vs Brighton (12:30pm)

Everton vs Manchester City (12:30pm)

Birmingham City vs Reading (2pm)

West Ham United vs Tottenham Hotspur (2:30pm)

Bristol City vs Chelsea (3pm)

Advertisements

How crucial will David De Gea’s role at Manchester United be following his new contract signing?

Finally after a period of prolonged negotiations stretching roughly two years, the Spanish number one goalkeeper has signed a new deal at Manchester United this week until 2023.

This latest contract ensures that the Spanish international becomes the highest earner at the club, earning around £375,000 per week.

That in mind, it begs the question, how important will his role be in trying to get Manchester United back to competing again for premier league titles?

Following on from this, should he subsequently be made club captain?

Background and achievements to date

De Gea is currently one of the clubs longest serving players, having signed for The Red Devils back in 2011/12 from Atletico Madrid. The Spanish goalkeeper was scouted and hand picked as a replacement for veteran goalkeeper, Edwin Van Der Saar, by none other than legendary manager, Sir Alex Ferguson.

During that time he has played over 300 games for the club and has helped them win a Premier League title – which he considers to be his career highlight so far, a League Cup, FA Cup and Europa League crown.

In terms of individual achievements, De Gea is the only Manchester United player to date to win the prestigious Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award on four separate occasions.

Challenging Times

Following a difficult first season with Manchester United, up until the World Cup in Russia 2018, he was widely considered to be the World Best Goalkeeper alongside Bayern Munich and German international keeper, Manuel Neuer.

A standout performance that immediately comes to mind is the remarkable 3-0 win against Liverpool at Old Trafford in 2014. What made this performance so special is that it is the first time that I can remember a goalkeeper being made man of the match.

He has also been responsible for evolving the importance of the goalkeeper position by constantly making remarkable saves with his feet as well as using his remarkable hand reflexes.

The previous season however has shown that his standards have notably slipped following his poor performances for Spain in Russia. This was followed by the latter disappointing games for Manchester United. Most importantly, his below par performance against Barcelona in the Champions League Quarter-final second leg where Lionel Messi’s second goal came from a shot going through De Gea’s legs. There was a similar goal conceded against Chelsea in the league at Old Trafford.

What was also apparent was the low number of Manchester United clean sheets he kept throughout the season.  De Gea only managed seven in the league out of a possible 38 matches and conceded 54 goals.  This was almost twice the number of the 2017/18 campaign where he achieved 18 clean sheets and only let in 28 goals.

The most likely cause of this lack of confidence was due to his uncertain future at the club, and also his inability to recover from his average performances for Spain at last summer’s World Cup.

What next for De Gea and what role should he play for Manchester United?

Manchester United fans must now be hoping that following the resolution of De Gea’s future; he will begin to go back to his previous excellent form.

He does have a key role to play in helping form a “new, more solid spine of the team,” according to former club captain, Gary Neville.

De Gea is now one of the more experienced players at the club and as his current manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer constantly stresses, “he is still one of the world best goalkeepers and holds him in the highest esteem at the club.”

Stats will show that this season De Gea has already managed to match the number clean sheets that he had at Old Trafford from last season (two).

This has been aided by the fact there has been a consistent centre back pairing in Harry Maguire and Victor Lindeloef, a luxury that he did not have in the last campaign.

I believe he should also be made captain, as he is now one of the few Manchester United players who have experienced winning a Premier League title, as well as being one of their most constant performers.

Not only that, but I also liked his answer on his approach to leading a team that he gave in his interview on Monday following the confirmation of his new contract, that also indicates a more positive attitude that should reflect in his performance over the coming months. De Gea said,

“I think that it’s important to have your say but, at the same time, not to go too far or say something to your team-mates in a bad-mannered way. I’m always a pretty calm character, but when something needs to be said, I will say it, especially out on the pitch where I think it’s most important, to give bits of advice to everyone.

To always try and help everyone out, especially the younger lads.  So yes like I say, to always help where possibly I can.”

Other Captain Contenders?

Current club captain, Ashley Young, is no longer a guaranteed first choice starter having moved behind both, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the full back pecking order.

While other long serving players such as Chris Smailing have gone on loan to Roma and, like with Ashley Young, Phil Jones is no longer a first choice defender.

New signing, Harry Maguire, while he has potential to be club captain, he has not been at the club for long enough.  There is also the added pressure of dealing with being the world’s most expensive defender.

The only other viable contenders at the moment for the captaincy that I can see are Juan Mata, who is not guaranteed to start every game, however he is widely considered to be a model professional and then there is the enigma that is Paul Pogba.

Conclusion: What does the future hold for the Spanish international?

In the short term, David De Gea will have his eyes on regaining his place as Spain’s number one goalkeeper from Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga as well as getting back to his high standards and performances that he produced for previous managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.

One thing that is clearly apparent however, David De Gea has a crucial role to play in getting Manchester United back to where they feel they should be, that is competing for league titles over the coming years. 

How Women’s Football is beginning to grow within the UK

There seems to be no doubt that the development of women’s football in the UK is beginning to head in the right direction…

For a start, during England’s World Cup Semi-final against the USA the peak audience on the BBC reached a reported 11.5 million.

Opening day of Women’s Super League (WSL) attendance figures

The momentum of the World Cup in France was certainly carried on as demonstrated by the record attendance at the first ever Manchester derby this past weekend in the WSL at the Etihad Stadium. It was revealed that 31,213 attended Manchester City’s 1-0 win over Manchester United.

This is significantly more than the previous attendance record that was set during Arsenal’s league win over Brighton, in which 5,265 visited the Amex Stadium towards the end of the 2018/19 season.

Chelsea Football Club went a step further in trying to capitalise on the recent exposure of women’s football by offering free tickets for their opening day game at Stamford Bridge, a game they won 1-0 against their London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in front of 24,000. Meanwhile Bristol City played out a 0-0 draw in front of just over 3,000 against Brighton at Ashton Gate.

Millie Bright, the England and Chelsea centre back, said that “it was not just about the football but a fun day out for the family with fun activities such as face painting and fire engines and police cars to try out.”

Bright however went on to say that “while it was great that more and more people were coming to games, it is a business and fans should be buying tickets with occasional promotional offers.”

The fact  more people chose to watch the match in Manchester at £7 per ticket over the free tickets given out for the game in London shows that the fans are prepared to pay for the day out.

Expansion of the Women’s Super League

The games taking place at high profile men’s grounds such as the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge shows that the Women’s Super League are already trying to improve on the average attendance of games from last season, which averaged 900.

The number of teams in the league also stands at the largest that it has been in the WSL era, at 12 teams. This is one more than last season, where just Yeovil Town were relegated from the last campaign. The addition of high profile clubs such as Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur to the league can only enhance the profile further.  The new £10 million sponsorship deal that the league now has with Barclays this season will also go along way towards helping with this.

Initial discussions are already reported to be on going to arrange double headers with the men’s games on the same day – following the successful Six Nations rugby model.  In addition, WSL games played at the men’s clubs grounds have already encouraged a wider audiences.

A further Super League match is already set to take place at Tottenham’s new stadium between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur later this year, while Manchester United and Liverpool have also recently announced that they would be interested in hosting women’s football at Old Trafford and Anfield respectively. The problems however with this approach are maintaining the engagement of the newfound family audience. The accessibility of getting to the stadiums where regular WSL matches are played remains a challenge.

The regular WSL grounds are sometimes quite a few miles away from the club’s traditional origin.  For instance Arsenal play at Borhamwood (12.2 miles from the Emirates) and perhaps the most challenging is that Manchester United play at Leigh Sports Village, which does not have access to a train station nearby. In the past also the clubs official websites for the women’s teams have proved challenging to navigate in terms of buying tickets and providing up to date information.

All this shows is that the game is still very much a work in progress, however the potential for growth certainly over this upcoming season is very much there.

Extended media coverage and the role of social media

Adrian Farina of VISA, a key sponsor, added at the recent Growing Women’s Football networking event that the media has a role in promoting increased players salary, wider audiences and improving the take up of the game.

Media publications and broadcasters are starting to embrace this responsibility in promoting the sport.  This includes the Daily Telegraph who have released a new editorial initiative this year to help raise the profile of women’s sport, (TWS).

Broadcasters such as the BBC will continue to show England International matches such as qualifiers for the Euros and friendlies.  In addition there is also a Women’s Football Show on BBC Four that provides highlights of the Women’s Super League on Sunday evening and focuses on the topical issues affecting the league.

BT Sport is also going to be showing at least 30 live matches throughout the season, their most yet!  Finally talkSPORT 2 has also launched a new radio show that is dedicated to Women’s football airing every Monday between 6-7pm, hosted by talkSPORT broadcaster Faye Carruthers.

The promotion provided by these media outlets and publications will certainly begin to address bridging the gap between the men and women’s game. It will also promote the stars of the women’s game and will begin to encourage people to follow them on social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram.

What more needs to be done?

It appears that the right actions are being put in place post the World Cup. The key question remains whether or not the bounce from a successful tournament in France can be maintained.

The success of the England team in Canada back in 2015 did not have quite the desired impact on the sport. This may have been due to the subsequent player, manager scandal involving the then England Manager Mark Sampson. An alternative factor could have been the fact the World Cup took place on another continent in Canada, North America.

The promotion of events outside major international tournaments within the game certainly needs to be maintained such as the Women’s Champions League competition and increasing the media coverage of the domestic game. More support from the Premier or Football Leagues could also help with this.

The inclusion of more female pundits within the game is also needed. Former Arsenal defender, Alex Scott being on BBC’s and Sky’s coverage of football is a good start in addressing this.

Finally, by showing more games on free to air TV and making the game more accessible to youngsters results in encouraging increased participation and popularity at schools and clubs.

Overall following on from the 2019 World Cup, women’s football is taking significant steps forward and hopefully by the time the SheBelieves Cup in March 2020 and the Summer Olympics in Tokyo later that year come around, more improvements and developments will be on the way!

Women Super League 2019-20 Season Preview: Part Two

In our second of two posts, 24/7 football looks at the potential prospects of football clubs from Liverpool through to West Ham United ahead of the Women’s Super League that kicks-off on the 7/8th September.

No 7: Liverpool

First match of the season: Reading (H)

Last Season: 8th   Predicted Finish: 4th

I think they will certainly improve this season; they were also showing some good signs and developing quite well towards the end of the last campaign and have looked strong in pre-season.

What happened last season?

It proved to be a difficult season for Liverpool, having to contend with several injuries and a change of manager, Vicky Jepson taking over from Neil Redfern. They also had the challenge of several squad players leaving right at the start of the season.  The reds lost twice to their local rivals, Everton over the course of the campaign, which was a major low point.  One of their best results of the season was a 5-2 win over Bristol City.  They will definitely be looking for improvements this time around.

Key Player last season: Sophie Bradley-Auckland

The current club captain was named player’s player of the year for 2018 and the centre back played every single game for the reds last season. She has provided a huge boost for the club by signing a new contract over the summer.

Player to watch: Melissa Lawley

Signed from Manchester City over the summer.  Melissa is a proven Women Super League player and is also an England international.  The winger has impressed during Liverpool’s pre-season tour of the USA and will be looking to continue her good form.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Liverpool scored 58% of their goals in the first half last season.

No 8: Manchester City

First match of the season: Manchester United (H)

Last Season: 2nd  Predicted Finish: Champions

I think they will go one better this time round with Arsenal having to focus on the Champions League this season.

What happened last season?

The Citizens only lost one game all season however ended up finishing seven points behind eventual champions Arsenal.  Ultimately the number of drawn games against the likes of Bristol City and Reading proved costly.

Key Player last season: Steph Houghton

The England and Manchester City Captain was voted player of the year last season and also collected the Goal of the Season award by scoring a crucial late equaliser against Bristol City.

Player to watch: Georgia Stanway

Georgia was named the PFA Young Player of the Year last season, and is one of the most exciting rising talents in the women’s game at the moment.  The 20 year old has been with the club since she was 16 and has recently signed a new deal keeping her at the club until 2022 – definitely one to watch this season.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Steph Houghton was the only Women Super League player to play every minute of the 20 league games in 2018/19.

No 9: Manchester United

First match of the season: Manchester City (A)

Last Season: Women’s Championship Champions  Predicted Finish: 9th

This season will certainly prove a step up in class for The Red Devils, think they will have enough to stay in Super League however the loss of last season’s captain, Alex Greenwood to Lyon is a blow.

What happened last season?

In Casey Stoney’s first season as a manager, The Red Devils clinched the Women’s Championship title with two games to spare.  They were beaten just once in the league all season losing to Durham in December.

Key Player last season: Katie Zelem

Katie proved a crucial part of Manchester United’s Championship winning side last season.  She scored 11 goals from 23 appearances last season resulting in her winning the Player of the Year award.

Player to watch:  Jackie Groenen

Jackie became Manchester United’s first overseas signing this summer.  The 24-year-old Dutch Midfielder has already achieved over 50 caps for her country and played a pivotal role for them at the Women’s World Cup. This included scoring the winner against Sweden in the semi-finals.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Last season Manchester United scored 98 goals in the Women’s Championship and conceded just seven times.  This resulted in them finishing with a goal difference of 91.

No 10: Reading

First match of the season: Liverpool (A)

Last Season: 5th    Predicted Finish: 8th

May struggle to match what they achieved last season.

What happened last season?

Last season proved to be a success for The Royals, achieving a fifth place finish in the league as well making a first ever appearance in the FA Cup semi-finals against West Ham United.

Key Player last season: Rachel Furness

The Northern Ireland midfielder played a key role for The Royals over the course of the season. This included scoring a header in the FA Cup Semi-Final against West Ham United.

Player to watch: Rachel Rowe

The Welsh midfielder has recently made her return in pre-season from a serious cruciate ligament injury that kept her out of most of last season.  Rachel will be looking to repay the faith that the club have shown in her by offering a new contract at the end of the last campaign.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Reading achieved a record attendance in the FA Women’s League Cup Quarter–final last season against Manchester United, 4,835.

No 11: Tottenham Hotspur

First match of the season: Chelsea (A)

Last Season: Women’s Championship Runners– Up     Predicted Finish: 12th

 Not sure they have what it takes to remain in the Super League this season.

What happened last season?

Tottenham secured promotion to the Women Super League for the first time by finishing runners-up in the Championship.  Karen Hill’s side managed it with a game to spare following a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa.

Key Player last season: Rianna Dean

Rianna was the Championship’s joint top scorer last season, scoring 14 goals in 19 appearances, including a hat trick against former club Millwall.  She will be looking to continue that impressive scoring form in the Super League.

Player to watch: Ashleigh Neville

Ashleigh started 19 of Spurs’ 20 games in the Championship last season and scored four goals, including two against Charlton back in April.  This result proved crucial in Tottenham securing promotion to the Super League.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Tottenham Hotspur only had one draw in the whole of the Women’s Championship last season and that was in the second to last game against Aston Villa.

No 12: West Ham United

First match of the season: Arsenal (A)

 Last Season: 7th     Predicted Finish: 10th

Another club who I think may struggle to match expectations and performance from last season.

What happened last season?

The high point of the Hammers’ season was reaching the Women’s FA Cup final where they ended up losing to Manchester City.

Key Player last season: Gilly Faherty

Gilly was chosen as The Hammers’ Player of the Season and the club captain played a crucial part in their run to the FA Cup final.

Player to watch: Alisha Lehmann

The Swiss international was signed from Young Boys last season and is coming from an impressive first campaign for the Hammers.  She contributed nine goals and eight assists in her first campaign, resulting in her being nominated for Young Player of the Year for her efforts.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Managing Director of West Ham United Women, Jack Sullivan – son of West Ham United owner David Sullivan is currently the youngest football boss in football at the age of just 19.

Friendly International: England vs Norway Preview

England’s Lionesses face Norway’s Grasshoppers in Bergin on Tuesday evening in their second match, post the World Cup. (Kick off 5pm BST).

Their last meeting came just over two months ago when England defeated Norway 3-0 in the World Cup Quarter Finals.

The Lionesses will be looking to reach that level of performance again, as Phil Neville’s team begin to step up their preparations for the Olympics and the defence of the SheBelieves Cup next year.

England will certainly need to improve on their 3-3 friendly draw with Belgium last week, a team that are currently ranked 15 places below them.

It was only thanks to a late Nikita Parris penalty that the Lionesses avoided their first defeat to the Red Flames since 1980.

Opponents:

Following the World Cup, Norway have had a strong start to their 2021 Euro campaign by winning 6-0 against Northern Ireland last Friday.  Barcelona winger, Caroline Hansen scored an impressive hat trick and will certainly provide the main attacking threat for The Grasshoppers.

Team News:

Phil Neville will once again not be able to call upon World Cup top scorer, Ellen White. The Manchester City striker is likely to face a period on the side-lines through injury along with regular number one goalkeeper, Karen Bardsley.

In the past few days Reading midfielder, Jade Moore has also withdrawn from the squad with a thigh injury and has been replaced by Liverpool winger, Melissa Lawley. 

Midfielder Jill Scott meanwhile has also been rested for these friendlies.

Neville therefore may be tempted to rotate and hand a first start to Chelsea forward, Beth England, who gave an impressive display as a substitute against Belgium.

Manchester City’s, Aoife Mannion could also have a debut at centre back as well as other first time call-ups that include England Under-20 Bronze Medallists, Sandy MacIver and Anna Patten.

Recent Meetings:

Norway won the last international friendly between the two sides, 1-0 in January 2017.  England however won the last two World Cup matches, 3-0 in June 2019 Quarter-final and 2-1 in the Round of 16 match, 2015.