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EFL OPENING WEEKEND ROUNDUP

Whilst the eyes of the football world focused mainly on Liverpool against Leeds and Chelsea’s new look squad, under the radar dotted around the UK the English Football pyramid also began the 2020/21 campaign this weekend in earnest.

Here is your roundup of all the goings on and everything you need to know!

Championship

All three relegated clubs kicked off their season with wins as they all look to bounce back at the first time of asking. Norwich striker Adam Idah grabbed an 80th minute winner away against Huddersfield Town, whilst an early Craig Cathcart strike was enough to give Watford an opening day victory against Middlesbrough.

A Bournemouth side under new management after Eddie Howe’s departure got themselves entangled in a classic with Blackburn Rovers, the Cherries running out eventual 3-2 winners thanks to a late goal from Arnaut Danjuma.

Last seasons play-off final runners-up Brentford lost their opening day clash away at Birmingham City. Swansea City who made the play-offs semi-finals in dramatic fashion kicked off their season with an impressive away win at Preston North End, Wolves loanee Morgan Gibbs-White with the only goal.

Other Results

Wycombe Wanderers 0-1 Rotherham United, Barnsley 0-1 Luton Town, Milwall 0-0 Stoke City, Cardiff City 0-2 Sheffield Wednesday, Bristol City 2-1 Coventry, QPR 2-0 Nottingham Forest, Derby County 0-2 Reading.

League One

There was plenty of goals around League One as Sunderland began another season in the third tier with a 1-1 draw at home to Bristol Rovers.

Ipswich Town kicked off what they hope will be a successful season with a 2-0 win against Wigan with Teddy Edwards and Gwion Edwards on the scoresheet, whilst Swindon Town were perhaps most impressive on the day as they ran out 3-1 winners against Rochdale.

Northampton Town and AFC Wimbledon played out a 2-2 draw at Sixfields Stadium with all four goals coming in the first half.

Other Results

Lincoln City 2-0 Oxford United, Doncaster Rovers 1-1 MK Dons, Gillingham 0-2 Hull City, Portsmouth 0-0 Shrewsbury Town, Fleetwood Town 2-1 Burton Albion, Plymouth Argyle 1-0 Blackpool Town, Accrington Stanley 2-0 Peterborough, Crewe Alexandra 0-2 Charlton Athletic.

League Two

The story of the day in League Two came at Roots Hall, but it wasn’t for Southend United. Instead Harrogate Town in their first ever football league game ran out 4-0 winners with a Jack Muldoon brace at the heart of the victory.

Cambridge United went second just a goal behind the newcomers as they beat Carlisle United 3-0 at home. Manchester United legend owned Salford City drew 2-2 with Exeter City.

Morecambe left it very late as they crept past Cheltenham Town, a 92nd minute winner from Carlos Mendes Gomes giving the Shrimps all three points in a 2-1 first day win.

Other Results

Scunthorpe United 1-1 Newport County, Oldham Athletic 0-1 Leyton Orient, Barrow 1-1 Stevenage, Bolton Wanderers 0-1 Forest Green, Port Vale 2-0 Crawley Town, Mansfield Town 0-0 Tranmere Rovers, Walsall 1-0 Grimsby, Bradford City 0-0 Colchester United.

With Carabao Cup action this midweek the EFL ties will begin again on Friday night with Coventry v QPR in the Championship.

Jack Grealish commits future to Aston Villa

Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish has ended speculation regarding his future with the club by signing a new five-year deal, keeping him at Villa Park until 2025. 

The England midfielder has been linked with a move to Manchester United this transfer window, but he has now confirmed via the club’s Twitter account that his immediate future will be at Villa Park. 

This news will come as a welcome boost to Villa fans, to secure the services of their captain, who has been at his hometown club since he was eight-years old. 

Grealish made his debut for the club towards the back end of the 2013/14 and stuck by Villa despite their relegation in 2016. 

The England international played a crucial role in his team’s return to the top flight and was their top scorer in their first season back in the Premier League. 

Grealish said:

“I am delighted to make this commitment to Villa. It is my club, my home and I am very happy here. The owners have made it very clear to me how ambitious they are and how they want to build Aston Villa.  There are exciting times ahead and I am glad to be apart of it.”

Villa Chief Executive Christian Purslow, meanwhile, said: 

“We are determined to build a top team around him and are delighted that he is extending his contract and committing to the club that he loves.”

Indeed, the Villa owners have clearly demonstrated their ambition for the club this past week as they not only secured Grealish’s future but they have signed last season’s Championship joint-top scorer, striker Ollie Watkins from Brentford for a club record fee of £28 million. 

The midlands side have also brought in full back Matty Cash from Nottingham Forest and look set to add the likes of goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from Arsenal and former Chelsea striker Betrand Traore.

Despite the influx of signings, the aim for Villa is clearly still remaining in the top flight this season and with these latest additions they certainly look to have a fighting chance of achieving this.

Where do you think Aston Villa will finish this season? Do you think they have what it takes to remain in the top flight for the second season running?

WSL RoundUp Week Two: Champions Chelsea register first win of the 2020-21 Season

The latest round of Women Super League matches incredibly featured two sides scoring nine goals past their respective opponents. 

Indeed, WSL Champions Chelsea registered their first win of the campaign with a 9-0 win over Tanya Oxtoby’s Bristol City side.  

Emma Hayes’ Blues were ruthless in front of goal in an impressive team display, which saw nine different goal scorers.  England International Fran Kirby opened the scoring with her first WSL goal for 16 months since returning from pericarditis. 

The West London club doubled their advantage 16 minutes later through Norwegian defender Maren Mjelde from the penalty spot after Yana Daniels fouled Ji So-yun. 

Scottish winger Erin Cuthbert then ensured that Chelsea’s impressive performance continued as she provided the free kick for Melanie Leupolz to head home, before she scored herself from a long-range strike just outside the penalty area. Millie Bright then headed in the Blue’s fifth just before half time.

Things did not improve for The Robins in the second half as PFA Player of the Year Beth England tapped in from close range, before new signing Niamh Charles got in on the act by scoring on her first appearance for her new club.  

Record signing Pernille Harder then opened her goalscoring account with an impressive backheel into the net before Australian international Sam Kerr completed the rout.

The other team to score nine goals past their opponents was Arsenal, who secured a 9-1 win over London rivals West Ham. 

The match was selected as a test event for the reintroduction of crowds and the 734 fans certainly got their money’s worth. 

The two sides were evenly matched in the first part of the game as Jill Roord put the Gunners ahead with a side-footed finish before the hosts equalised through a Kenza Dali half volley just outside the area. 

The game, however, was effectively over as a contest when Hammer’s captain Gilly Flaherty was sent off just after Arsenal had retaken the lead through Dutch international Vivianne Miedema.

Midfielder Kim Little finished off a fine team move before England striker Beth Mead made it 4-1 to the North London side just before the break.  

The second half saw further misery for the home side and their fans as Roord scored a further two goals to ensure she went home with the match ball for the second game running.  

In between Roord’s goals Miedema was able to add another to her tally before Leah Williamson and Caitlin Foord completed the scoring, which saw the Gunners move to the top of the table, with two wins out of two and managing to score 15 goals in the process.    

New signings Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood meanwhile were unable to inspire Gareth Taylor’s Manchester City side, who, were held to a 0-0 draw in their first home match of the campaign by a stubborn Brighton team.

The other side of Manchester, however, had no such problems as they achieved their first three points of the campaign away at Birmingham City.  Casey Stoney’s Manchester United were successfully able to overturn a 2-1 half-time deficit thanks to two goals from Kirsty Hanson, who inspired United to a 5-2 win.  

Elsewhere, Reading were able to recover from a disappointing 6-1 opening day defeat to Arsenal with a strong first half display against newly promoted Aston Villa.  Goals from Amalie Eikeland, Laura Bruton and a Fara Williams penalty ensured The Royals of a commanding 3-0 lead at half-time.  

Although a penalty from Stine Larsen 11 minutes from the end offered the midlands side a way back into the game they ultimately never looked likely to threaten to get back into the match. 

The final WSL game saw Everton maintain their impressive start to the season with a 1-0 win over Tottenham.  The North London club were minus their new marque signing Alex Morgan, and ultimately did not offer much going forward.  Subsequently, they slumped to defeat on Merseyside, thanks to a header from England international Izzy Christiansen. 

What next?

The Women Super League takes a two-week break with the next round of games being played on Sunday 4thOctober.

Before that though, the weekend of the 26/27thSeptember features Women’s FA Cup Quarter Finals, which includes a North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham. WSL Champions Chelsea, meanwhile, travel to in-form Everton, while Championship side Leicester City take on Gareth Taylor’s Manchester City. 

The remaining Quarter Final sees Hope Powell’s Brighton host Midlands side, Birmingham City. 

Women’s FA Quarter Final Ties

Saturday 26thSeptember

Arsenal Women vs Tottenham Women (12:30pm)

Everton Women vs Chelsea Women (1pm)

Leicester City Women vs Manchester City Women (1pm)

Sunday 27thSeptember

Brighton & Hove Albion Women vs Birmingham City Women (3pm)

Sheffield united vs wolves: match preview

We are back! Almost as soon as last season ended – a new one begins, and for Sheffield United and Wolves it starts off with a tough match. Both managers are always keen to press forward but every game is a tough game in the Premier League – so expect no complacency here.

It’s well known that Chris Wilder is a big fan of Nuno Espirito Santo and vice versa – maybe being successful with promoted clubs has given them a unique bond – we’ll never know.

What we do know is both squads have seen exciting reinforcements and considering how close their games were last season, we can probably expect more of the same.

Sheffield United have been savvy in the market, the most high profile additions being goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale to replace Dean Henderson and the promising double signing of fullbacks Max Lowe and Jayden Bogle from Derby County. Ethan Ampadu has also been brought in on loan from Chelsea after the Welshman enjoyed a decent spell at Champions League semi-finalists RB Leipzig.

Wolves were very slow to get going in the market with many fans wondering if the threadbare squad would be supplemented for the upcoming season. The sale of Matt Doherty to Spurs could have a huge impact and with no replacement signed yet, that could be an area Sheffield United target.

They have however brought in some fantastic players, smashing their club record on 18-year-old striker Fabio Silva from Porto. The Portuguese contingent increased with the signing of 20-year-old attacking midfielder Vitor Ferreira ( AKA Vitinha) from the same club and the experienced Fernando Marçal from another Champions League semi-finalist in Lyon.

With both sides competing well last season and having strengthened, you can expect a close fought but entertaining game.

Match Preview/Prediction

Nuno has made it no secret over the past week that he wants his team to dominate and score more in matches, so we may see the progression into a new style of play in this match.

However, Nuno is a coach that implements his ideas over an extended period of time, so don’t expect any drastic changes.

Chris Wilder will likely stick to the system, which brought him great success and plaudits during the last campaign. Both managers will aim to nullify each other and press each backline.

With the two sides being comfortable in possession and fluid in transition, we can expect to see a game tightly fought and decided on clinical counter-attacks. The first half will probably a tight affair but we could expect to see a more expansive second.

Both sides have shown great levels of fitness (in particular Wolves) so this one could go down to the wire, similarly to their last encounter which Sheffield United won in the last minute.

If Wolves’ front three is on form we could see them edge the game. Daniel Podence, Diogo Jota and Adama Traore all offer a great threat, and with Traore likely to play RWB we could see them hold a huge threat going forward. All three, alongside Raul Jimenez, could ask serious questions of the Sheffield United backline.

Sheffield United caused this Wolves team problems with their energy and physicality last time and you could see them doing so again. This current Wolves squad still lacks a real physical presence in midfield. The midfield battle will prove crucial in a game that will rely on recycling possession and quick transition play.

Both sides will be confident in making a positive start to the season and you can easily see it being a close fought contest.

Match Prediction: Sheff Utd 1-1 Wolves

Liverpool vs Leeds Match Preview: Can Bielsa’s New-boys Upset Klopp’s Champions?

Liverpool begin their title defence tomorrow evening as they host newly promoted Leeds in their first Premier League game of the season.

Jurgen Klopp’s men, who ended the club’s 30 year wait for a Premier League crown take on Marcelo Bielsa’s Championship winners at Anfield in the tea time kick off, which is live on Sky Sports.

It is set to be an intriguing encounter, with Leeds gracing a Premier League pitch for the first time in 16 years after finally achieving promotion last term.

They couldn’t have asked for a tougher start on their return to the top flight. Liverpool have gone unbeaten at home in the past two campaigns and finished a mammoth 18 points clear of nearest challengers Man City after a truly spectacular season.

Klopp has established a juggernaut on Merseyside, with the Reds amassing a combined 197 points in the past two seasons, a truly staggering total. It certainly shows no signs of slowing down, and Liverpool will be desperate to become only the third team since 2009 to retain the Premier League trophy.

With Dejan Lovren the only major departure this summer, its been a quiet transfer window so far for the Reds, with left back Kostas Tsimikas arriving from Olympiakos as Liverpool try to come to terms with the financial impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Given Liverpool’s settled starting eleven however, major additions like those at Chelsea and neighbours Everton were never going to be needed, with Klopp preferring to work with a smaller squad and promote from the talented academy set up than bring in numerous signings and have an over inflated squad.

Leeds on the other hand, have had a very busy window, bringing in a number of plays to enable them to compete on their return to the Premier League.

They secured the services of winger Jack Harrison for another loan spell after his successful season at Elland Road last year. The Englishman was an integral member of Bielsa’s team, scoring six and assisting eight in 46 games as Leeds finished 10 points ahead of West Brom to clinch the Championship title.

They tied number one goalkeeper Illan Meslier down to a permanent deal along with winger Helder Costa.

The Yorkshire club sent out a huge statement of intent with the capture of Rodrigo from Valencia for a club record fee, rumoured to be in the region of £29 million.

The 29 year old, scored four and provided seven assists for a struggling Valencia side last year, missing a large chunk of the campaign through injury. He has 23 caps for Spain and on paper seems like an astute acquisition.

They also swooped to add German Robin Kolch to their ranks for an undisclosed fee from Bundesliga outfit Frieburg. After failing to lure Ben White back to Elland Road, Leeds acted swiftly to bring in a replacement in Kolch, a centre back who has impressed in the German league and has won 2 caps for his country to date.

Bielsa will be hoping all three hit the ground running in the Premier League and all are set to start at Anfield. Their only injury concern heading into the game is Adam Foreshaw who is still struggling with a hip injury. Foreshaw aside, they have a clean bill of health, which will be a huge relief to Bielsa given the task at hand.

It remains to be seen whether the Argentine deploys a back four and plays Leeds’ usual 4-1-4-1 formation, or switches to a back three and uses a 3-3-1-3 system to nullify Liverpool’s front three.

Taking the former as Leeds’ preferred system then Illan Meslier will start in goal with Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas occupying the full back positions and captain Cooper featuring at centre back alongside either Douglas or Kolch.

Kalvin Phillips, who recently won his first cap for England, will sit in front of them, tasked with stopping Liverpool from playing neat interchanges through the middle when the supply line to their full backs in unavailable.

Further forward, Harrison and Costa will play out wide with a midfield partnership of Kilch and Hernandez, and Rodrigo, or Bamford the lone striker upfront.

If Bielsa opts for a three at the back, Kolch and Douglas are likely to both feature with Kilch or Hernandez dropping out.

Liverpool have a few injury and fitness concerns ahead of the opener. Jordan Henderson has resumed training after a knee injury forced him to miss the end of last season, but this game like the Community Shield, has come too soon and the skipper is set to miss out.

Alex Oxlade Chamberlain is out with a similar problem suffered in pre season, whilst Shaqiri has a muscle issue and new signing Tsimikas continues his recovery from coronavirus.

Trent Alexander-Arnold featured in both games for England during the international break after his own injury lay off, so Klopp may decide he is fit enough to start here.

Klopp will set his men up in their usual 4-1-2-3 system and will be relieved that his South American and African internationals remained at the club during the international break. As undisputed number one, Alisson will start in goal.

A back four of Trent Alexander-Arnold (or welsh hero Neco Williams if Alexander-Arnold isn’t deemed fit enough) Joe Gomez, Virgil Van Dijk and Andy Robertson will be in place.

Brazilian enforcer Fabinho will play in front of them, accompanied by rumoured Barcelona target Wijnaldum and possibly Naby Keita, given his eye catching displays in pre season, and Liverpool’s need for a creative midfielder to break down a well drilled Leeds side.

The third midfield place is up for debate, with James Milner, a self confessed Leeds fan who made his debut for the club as a 16 year, itching to start. The likes of Curtis Jones and Takumi Minamino have also impressed in pre season and are likely to feature off the bench if they don’t start.

Minamino’s best position is yet to be found, although he has looked promising playing in behind Firmino and Klopp may choose to bring him on in that position if Liverpool are struggling to break down a stubborn Leeds defence.

There will be no surprises with the front three, who pick themselves at this stage with Salah on the right, Mané on the left and Firmino through the middle.

Salah will be hoping to become only the second player to score in a fourth successive opening day fixture in the Premier League.

Liverpool are clearly the favourites going into the game, (it would be naive to say otherwise) however, if the Community Shield is anything to go by, they struggle against teams who cut off their full backs are willing to let them have possession in the middle of the park before counter attacking and hitting them on the break.

Bielsa will have studied all the intricate details surrounding Klopp’s team, and has added some quality to his squad, which is largely the team which won the Championship.

We have seen at Sheffield United how minor additions to an already talented squad can be the blueprint to making the successful step up to the Premier League, but an opening day defeat to Liverpool (which let’s face it is a likely possibility) will never define their season.

Liverpool steamrolled Championship winners Norwich 4-0 on the opening day last year to set the marker for a remarkable campaign, but with no fans at Anfield, and such a condensed pre season it is unlikely that they will dismantle similar opposition this time round.

They should get the job done however, and I’m predicting a 3-1 victory for the Redmen as they begin their title defence in strange circumstances.