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millwall v Cardiff city preview: return to the LIONS den

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

Current Form

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

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

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

Team News

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 Midfielder Shane Ferguson is doubtful following being withdrawn after 36 minutes during Northern Ireland’s defeat to Austria.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

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

Managers Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Players

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

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

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

Prediction: Millwall 1-1 Cardiff City

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

Pep Guardiola signs new contract with Manchester City

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking to the club website, Guardiola said:

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

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

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

Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, meanwhile added:

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

Record as manager

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

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

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

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

What will the contract extension mean for City?

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

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

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

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

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

FA Womens Football Weekend Round up

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

Second City is Blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Point for Bristol City

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

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

Arsenal Miss Chance to go Top

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

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

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

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

ENGLAND v BELGIUM preview

Following Scotland Qualifying for their first major tournament since 1998, England now know that they will face their old rivals at next year’s delayed Euro Championships. Scotland beat Serbia on penalties after Alexander Mitrovic missed the Serb’s final spot-kick to set up an exciting Euro Group Game.

Before then both nations have Nations League business to attend to. England face Belgium away knowing they must win if they are to top their group and repeat the semi-final appearance in 2019. Scotland meanwhile are four points clear at the top of their group with two fixtures remaining meaning promotion to League A is highly likely. England are in the position because of a defeat and draw against Denmark, which under minded their impressive victory against Belgium at Wembley.

Gareth Southgate has announced Jack Grealish will make his first competitive England start after impressing in recent appearances, Grealish is likely to play on the left of a front three and replace Marcus Rashford who withdrew from the squad along with Joe Gomez, and Conor Coady whilst Harry Maguire and Reece James are suspended. This leaves boss Southgate with some tough choices on who lines up in defence. He is likely to stay with a back three with Kyle Walker, Eric Dier, and Michael Keane starting. However, there is a lack of wing-backs available in the squad with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bukayo Saka the only options which may force Southgate to change to a back four. In midfield, I expect to see Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson either as a two or alongside Mason Mount depending on the formation. Harry Kane will return upfront to earn his 50th cap in which he has netted 32 times. Jaden Sancho is the most likely to complete the front three although Phil Foden is an alternative.

Elsewhere there have been mixed fortunes for the Home Nations as Wales are battling with Finland to win Group B4 whilst the Republic Of Ireland are looking to avoid relegation from the same group. The two nations face each other next up before Wales face a group decider against Finland. Northern Ireland lost their Euro play-off final against Slovakia in extra time after equalising late on in the 90 minutes. They are bottom of nations league group B1 and have a huge task to avoid relegation.

Thrilling Manchester Derby ends all square

Kirsty Hanson came off the bench to secure a crucial 2-2 draw for Manchester United, in an absorbing WSL Manchester Derby contest.

The build up to the game was all about how United could potentially close the gap to the big three sides following their terrific 1-0 victory Arsenal last weekend. 

Indeed, Casey Stoney just made one change from that impressive display last weekend, with Jess Singsworth coming in to the Red Devils midfield in place of Kirsty Hanson.

It was, however, City who took the early initiative in the derby encounter as Georgia Stanway caused Stoney’s side a number of problems and forced a relatively cheep corner.

What followed was Chloe Kelly opening the scoring for Gareth Taylor’s Manchester City after United’s failure to deal with the resulting corner. The former Everton striker was able to produce a clever finish into the far corner past the goalkeeper Mary Earps. 

The England striker has been particularly impressive for her new club having scored four WSL goals already this campaign in six league appearances. 

Following the opening goal, City completely controlled the first half with American Sam Mewis once again impressing in midfield. Taylor’s side created a number of chances to put the game beyond the Red Devils.  Former United captain and City defender Alex Greenwood particularly causing problems with her deliveries from set pieces. 

The best of the chances fell to Stanway in the 30thminute, when she ended up taking one touch too many while one on one with Earps, who subsequently made an important save. 

Indeed, just when United thought they would get to half time with only a 1-0 deficit, in first half added time Laura Coombs produced terrific shot from the edge of the area giving Earps absolutely no chance.  

Coombs’ strike made it three goals in her last three games for the midfielder and meant that City held a 2-0 lead at half time in the derby.  

Hanson subsequently came on for Singsworth at half time for the Red Devils in a bid to halt City’s first half momentum. The change certainly produced the reaction that Stoney would have wanted. 

The new Red Devils’ NWSL signing, Tobin Heath produced an unbelievable strike giving Ellie Roebuck no chance in the City goal to half the deficit.  

From there, United continued to increase the pressure on City goal and there efforts were rewarded through substitute Hanson, who bundled in a corner, which the defence failed to deal with.

The home side could have snatched what would have been an unlikely winner at half time, as full back Demi Stokes made a crucial goal line clearance to deny Stoney’s United in second half injury time.

The game, however, finished with both Manchester clubs having to be content with a point a piece.

Derby Reaction

Manchester United Manager Casey Stoney told BT Sport:

 “It [being top of the table] doesn’t matter, it’s November.

“It’s about performing and being at that consistent level week in week out.

That first half was enough motivation to make sure we keep going.

“That second half performance was for our fans, to make sure we got that result in the Manchester derby which is really important for them.

Manchester City’s midfielder and player of the match, Sam Mewis said:

“What we did in the first half was working, but I give Man Utd a lot of credit, they did well [to come back]. It’s testament to the derby and the rivalry.

“I’m definitely feeling the animosity. I was fighting back at the end, and had this feeling of pride for City and wanted to win.

“We’re still growing, we have so much potential as a group, and every game is a learning opportunity for us.

What next?

United’s next WSL game sees them travel to newly promoted Aston Villa on Saturday 5thDecember.  Before then, however, they have another encounter with Taylor’s City in the Continental Tyres League Cup match on Thursday night.   

For City, meanwhile, they travel to Everton in the WSL on Sunday 6thDecember and remain five points behind their city rivals in fifth.