All posts by Lauren McCann

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.

Community Shield Preview: Can FA Cup winners Arsenal upset Champions Liverpool?

Arsenal take on Liverpool on Saturday in the traditional English football curtain raiser with a noticeable difference this year. For the first time ever the Community Shield will be played behind closed doors.

Although many see the game as a glorified friendly, with silverware on offer and the chance to iron out any withstanding issues from pre season in a competitive fixture, both managers will be using the game to make their final preparations for the upcoming Premier League season, which kicks off on the 12th September.

Factor in new signings and returning loan players looking to stake a claim for a starting berth for the new campaign and it becomes clear that this game will provide more than just a run out for both teams.

Liverpool will hope to go one better than last year, when they were beaten finalists at Wembley, losing out to Man City on penalties. They haven’t won the competition since 2006 and will be looking to add the Shield to the Premier League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup which they won last year.

Jurgen Klopp has almost a full squad available for the game, with two stars missing out through injury. PFA Young Player of the Year Trent Alexander-Arnold has been nursing a minor injury, which forced him to miss the entirety of Liverpool’s pre season training camp and fixtures in Austria.

He is expected to return to full training after the Shield final along with captain Jordan Henderson, who has been out since sustaining a knee injury against Brighton in July. He did travel with the Reds to Austria but completed his own rehabilitation training.

A look at Klopp’s starting eleven for the champions’ final pre season fixture, a 2-2 draw with RB Salzburg, gives a huge indication to the team he is likely to select on Saturday, bar any last minute injuries.

Alisson started in goal with Gomez and Van Dijk at centre back, Andy Robertson at left back and young Welshman Neco Williams deputising for Alexander-Arnold at right back.

A midfield three of Keita, Fabinho and Wijnaldum was deployed along with the attacking trio of Mané, Salah and Firmino, arguably Liverpool’s best XI with the players available.

Van Dijk could be a doubt for the game however, after suffering a nasty cut to the eye which left him bloodied and forced Klopp to withdraw him as a precaution.

One player pushing for a start is Rhian Brewster who has continued his goal scoring exploits for Swansea in the Reds’ pre season fixtures. He netted three in two games, and has impressed Klopp and his coaching staff since returning to Merseyside.

He will likely make an appearance off the bench in the final along with new signing Kostas Tsimikas, who arrived for a £12 million fee earlier in the month. Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliot, Takumi Minamino, James Milner and Adrian should also be named on the bench.

Arsenal meanwhile, will be looking to get their hands on the shield for the first time since 2017 and send out a warning to the league that they will be top four challengers this season.

Mikel Arteta’s men have been preparing for the upcoming campaign at home and played their first friendly on Tuesday, just 24 days after they lifted the FA Cup at Wembley.

They defeated MK Dons 4-1 at the MK Stadium with relative ease as forgotten man Mohamed Elneny opened the scoring and youngsters McGuinness, Nketiah and Nelson also got in on the act.

The Gunners also named a strong starting eleven, with goalkeeper Bernd Leno returning between the sticks after a spell on the sidelines through injury.

Cedric Soares, a permanent acquisition from Southampton started at right back, with William Saliba making his first appearance for Arsenal after spending last season on loan in France with St Etiene.

His centre back partner was Rob Holding who unfortunately scored an own goal whilst Kieran Tierney played left back.

Maitland-Niles, who is linked with a move away from the Emirates started in midfield along with Elneny, Xhaka and Saka, whilst Aubameyang and Nketiah were paired up top.

Reiss Nelson made an impressive cameo from the bench, (which was made up predominantly of youth players) and is pushing to start at the weekend. Nicholas Pepe, new signing Willian and David Luiz weren’t included in the squad, but are likely to be handed starting roles for Saturday’s final.

Héctor Bellerin also missed out against MK Dons but is sure to start if Arsenal opt to play a back four. Chambers, Mustafi, Mari and Martinelli are all still out with injuries.

Lacazette is also set to be named in the squad, but will in all likelihood appear from the bench later in the game. Özil and Guendouzi will miss out, having fallen out of favour under Arteta.

It is the perfect dress rehearsal for the league meeting between the two heavyweights, scheduled to take place just four weeks later on the 26th September.

If previous meetings between these two sides are anything to go by then goals in abundance should be expected.

Liverpool dominated proceedings at Anfield early in the season, beating the Gunners 3-1 at Anfield, before Arsenal got revenge after the restart, defeating the Reds 2-1 at the Emirates, converting the only two real chances they had in the game.

With both teams possessing clinical finishers up top and enjoying quick counterattacks and long periods of possession, it should be a highly intriguing encounter to kick off the 2020-21 campaign.

Liverpool no doubt go into the game as favourites after their terrific season last year, but as the Gunners have shown, they are a match for any top side on their day.

Kick off for this Saturday’s Community Shield Final at Wembley is 4:30 pm and the game is live on BT Sport.

Wolfsburg Edge Past Barcelona to Reach Fourth Champions League Final

Wolfsburg will have the chance to add to their two previous Champions League crowns against French opposition on Sunday, after they overcame Barcelona in a hard fought semi final at the Anoeta Stadium this evening.

Fridolino Rolfo’s goal was the difference between the sides as Wolfsburg managed to hang on to reach yet another final, with underdogs Barcelona missing a host of chances after dominating the game for large spells.

In what was a cagey opening affair, Lluís Cortés team started brighter, enjoying more possession whilst limiting Wolfsburg to few forays forward.

The Blaugrana had an early penalty appeal waved away after Nigerian forward Oshoala’s flicked header hit Kathrin Hendrich on the arm. Wolfsburg goalkeeper Abt was forced to scrambled to parry the ricocheted effort over the bar as it appeared to be looping in.

Despite howls of protests from Barcelona players and a guilty looking Hendrich, the referee opted to give a corner instead of a penalty. VAR was not in operation for the game, but will be brought in for the first time for the final.

If it had have been in use it is likely that it would have overturned the referee’s decision, as replays showed that it was a blatant handball.

Wolfsburg began to find their groove, with Rolfo blazing over on 24 minutes after a swift counterattack. Doorsoun picked the ball up in the middle of the field and drove forward before releasing the Swede with an incisive pass, but she couldn’t keep her effort down.

Just after the half hour mark Barcelona went close to a break through, with Oshoala poking wide after latching onto a superb through ball from Hansen. A combination of Abt and Hendrich managed to put off Oshoala who skewed her shot past the post.

The game really burst into life during the final few minutes of the half, with Rolfo firing wide and Huth heading straight at Panos after Rolfo teed up the German with a pinpoint cross.

At the other end, Hamraoui hooked the ball over the bar from range as the deadlock remained unbroken at half time.

Barcelona missed the first of their guilt edged chances on 51 minutes when former Wolfsburg star Hansen, baring down on goal having broken through the defence, attempted and failed to square the ball to Oshoala. A shot seemed like the better option, and Wolfsburg with bodies back, managed to clear their lines.

They were left to rue that opportunity soon after as Wolfsburg punished them just six minutes later. Barcelona failed to clear Harder’s audacious attempt at an overhead kick, and after pinball in the box, it fell to Rolfo who pounced, stabbing home from a matter of yards out to give Wolfsburg the lead.

Barcelona almost got the equaliser they deserved on the hour when Oshoala met a left-field cross and directed a powerful header goal-ward. Abt was equal to it however, demonstrating her superb reflexes to tip over Oshoala’s effort.

They squandered another marvellous chance when Mariona Caldente somehow put the ball over the bar with the goal at her mercy. She had managed to get on the end of Hermoso’s well timed cutback but couldn’t apply the finish needed to steer it into the bottom corner.

Barcelona continued to launch swathes of attacks, with Wolfsburg happy to sit back and defend their one goal lead.

They again went close when full back Torrejon laid the ball into the path of Hermoso who was in a great position in the box. The winger took one touch to settle herself before dragging her shot off target, as Barcelona’s frustrations continued.

A superb last ditch tackle from Hendrich prevented Hermoso from tapping home from close range a teasing Hansen cross as Wolfsburg held on to reach their first Champions League final since 2016.

They will meet either current holders Lyon or fellow French outfit PSG in Saturday’s final, with those sides contesting the other semi final tomorrow evening at the San Mamés Stadium.

Reflecting on the game, match winner Rolfo told BT Sport:

“We’re really happy with the result. We’ve made it to the final. It was tough game today but I’m proud and happy we’ve made it to the final. We didn’t play our best game today but we still won the game. We were a little bit lucky but I’m still so proud we did it.”

Barcelona’s Hansen also gave an interview after the game and summed up the tie very well:  

“The goals were the difference today. We played a good game and we had enough big goal chances to score at least three goals.

But we scored zero and they had one goal out of nothing so, for me, it feels very hard .. this defeat. But we have to congratulate them and wish them all the best for the final.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lavelle told the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking to Man City’s official website Taylor said:

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

The Manchester City coach continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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