WSL – Tasty Big clash opener

A92033F7-291D-4991-9532-BFA0036A0022The slightly revamped Women’s Super League fixtures have been released and fans of the women’s game are going to be in for a treat as champions Chelsea host Manchester City. It’s not the only big game in the opening weekend as the Arsenal and Liverpool women’s teams kick their league programme off at Boreham Wood. The other fixtures in the opening weekend see Birmingham host Everton, Reading against Yeovil Town. WSL 2 winners Doncaster Rover Belles didn’t move into the WSL, but  Brighton Women’s team who finished second, will make their appearance in WSL and host Bristol City. The other new team sees West Ham join the top league after their successful application.

The WSL kicks off on the weekend of 8th and 9th September, sees for the first time a fully professional Women’s League features 11 clubs so, each week one team will sit out a fixture.

The WSL 2 is now renamed as the FA Women’s Championship and also features 11 clubs. Taking part in the renamed league are the Aston Villa Ladies, Charlton Athletic  Women’s team alongside Leicester City, Lewis, London Bees, Millwall, Spurs and the newly formed Man Utd and Sheffield United women’s teams. Managing the Man Utd women’s team will be a legend of the women’s game, Casey Stoney. Stoney takes on the clubs charge into women’s football management having graced the women’s teams of Arsenal (2) Chelsea and Liverpool, together with Lincoln. Not only that 130 women’s caps and 4 appearances for the GB women’s team. Stoney was player manager for Chelsea back in 2009.

The opening weekend fixtures for the women’s championship sees Aston Villa hosting Man Utd, Crystal Palace whilst Millwall Lionesses take on Lewes. Sheffield United take on Durham whilst it’s an all London affair as Tottenham take on London Bees.

It looks like being another exciting season with the changes made to the Women’s Super League.

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Football Fixture Release day Review Part One

“So here we are once again, another June another football fixture release day. The final season before the Winter Break comes in also sees Arsenal entering a new beginning post Arsene Wenger. Tottenham will finally see their new ground whilst Liverpool will look to move forward and head to glory, especially if they add to their current transfer activity. Man Utd will look to close the points gap on Man City and even maybe play some old Man Utd entertaining football.

The newly promoted teams will hope like they did last season, all survive. Wolves, Fulham and Cardiff all return to the Premier League and hope that they are several points away from the bottom.

So how did the fixtures computer treat everyone on this World Cup opening day? Will you be cursing or will you be breathing a sigh of relief. Let’s take a look at what  will unfold.

Arsenal fans, I imagine you might well have been shaking your head and cursing the computer. Their first league game under the stewardship of Unai Emery, open with a home game against reigning champions Manchester City, but it doesn’t get easier either as they travel to Stamford Bridge the following weekend before hosting West Ham at the end of August.

December is far from joyful for the Gunners. They kick off the month with the north London derby at the Emirates on the 1st, and then take a trip to Old Trafford a few days later. A few easier fixtures see visits to Southampton and a visit from Huddersfield, but the year ends with a trip to Anfield. Emery’s men will hope to get a better result than previous.

Should Arsenal be chasing Champions League or even the title, then April and May should give them something to look forward to. April sees visits to Everton, Watford and Leicester City with May seeing a visit from the south coast Brighton and a trip to Burnley, which could be the trickiest game.

Man City defend their crown with the already mentioned Arsenal as well as Huddersfield Town, and newly promoted Wolves. Last season Huddersfield took a point from the Champions as the season wound down and they would hope the same again, but the fixture being early in the season, the current Champions will be looking to maintain a strong defence of the title. The last time these two sides met, was in the 2011/12 season when Man City won both fixtures and of course won the title. Could history repeat once more or will Wolves have something to say.

Christmas for Man City sees a lot of travelling for the City fans. Out of the seven fixtures , four of them see visits to Chelsea, Watford, Leicester and end 2018 with a trip to the coast and Southampton. Games at the Etihad see Bournemouth and then back to back games against Everton and Crystal Palace. Should City still be chasing for back to back titles, then come April, Guardiola’s team can look forward to an easier run. April sees Cardiff, Palace, Burnley and a slightly more trickier visit from Tottenham. Leicester provide Man City’s final home game whilst the season finale involves a visit to Brighton

Man Utd start their challenge for the Premier League title starts quite reasonably  with a home game against Leicester and a trip to Brighton (although hoping to forget last seasons trip south) before their third game hosting title chasing rivals Tottenham. In fact the month of September should give Man Utd a reasonable points return with visits to Watford and a home game against Wolves in amongst the trickier trips to Burnley and West Ham.

The first Manchester derby sees the Reds travel to the Etihad on 10th November. The Old Trafford club has a busy December that includes Arsenal, Fulham and home games to Huddersfield on Boxing Day and Bournemouth in the final game of the season.

Man Utd hope to make more of a challenge for the title this season and in the final run in, if the title is still open, the Reds have what should be a fair run in. April doesn’t appear to be too bad. Trips to Wolves and Everton are mixed with home games against the Hammers and a possible tricky game against Chelsea. Groans of unfair fixtures from Old Trafford will seem more quiet.

Liverpool go into the season with some positivity once more. The Champions League might have been a defeat, but the with all the build up, it would appear that Klopp’s team had identified another player and swiping Fabinho from under the noses of Manchester United and will no doubt add more.

The fixtures machine was relatively good to Liverpool with two out of the three August fixtures at Anfield. With no Champions League qualifiers to play, it’s a longer break between pre season and the Premier League opening fixtures. Making early visits to the north west are West Ham and Brighton. The Reds enjoyed home games against West Ham and Brighton. Liverpool travel to Crystal Palace in the second game of the season. It’s a reverse fixture of the second game from last season.

September provides two top six match ups as at the start of September, Liverpool play the first league game against Tottenham at their new ground, whilst finishing September with another London visit in the shape of Chelsea.

December brings a busy month for Liverpool as they play 7 games throughout the month. Anfield sees visits from Everton, Man Utd, Arsenal and Newcastle Utd who reconvene the inbetween Christmas and New Years fixture. Liverpool’s trips away see visits to Burnley and Bournemouth. Last season December brought 15 points out of 21 and 20 goals scored and five goals conceded. Those December games saw Liverpool in a thrilling 3-3 draw at the Emirates and 4-0 at Bournemouth.

Come April Liverpool hope to be higher than fourth and challenging for their nineteenth title, their road to to glory in April sees a somewhat easier run with Chelsea only being the tougher club. May sees a trip to Newcastle Utd and a home game against Wolves. Klopp’s team will certainly avoid a defeat against the Midlands club and will more than likely will avoid season finale loss.

Tottenham bring part one to an end and in turn they bring their Wembley spell to an  end with their first ‘home’ game of the season.  Their game at the new White Hart Lane is against Liverpool which comes after their  trip to Man Utd. They don’t return to White Hart Lane until October when they host Cardiff and Man City. Their other tie is a short trip to the Olympic Stadium

Tottenham go into the final run in with literally home advantage. Four of the six remaining games are at home which should give them a decent hope if they are still within a chance of glory. Brighton, Huddersfield and West Ham visit in April with Everton rounding off the season at the Lane. Spurs do though have a trip to the Etihad in April which could be a possible decider.

Tottenham’s quest for glory will also depend on summer signings, although in the football cliche, tying down their manager and leading striker could be the best two signings. We shall though just have to wait and see.

 

World Cup Preview – Group H Poles in position with a South American follower

The final group appears to be one that is looking tough to predict. Completing the finals line up are Colombia, Japan, Poland and Senegal all of which have finals nations have finals experience and experience of reaching the knockout stages.

Poland appearing in finals number seven, have great World Cup history. The 1970’s and 80’s had great promise which saw two third place finishes and a quarter final exit to Brazil in 1986. More recently though fortune has been difficult to find. The finals in Russia are Poland’s first since 2006 where they were eliminated in the group stage.

This time round the Poles will be looking to Robert Lewandowski for inspiration. In the pre World Cup games he has delivered with four goals in six games and if his club form is anything to go by, he should bag some goals. The nations top scorer could, also with progress from the group stage collect his 100th cap for his country but that would need a Quarter final visit. More likely though is midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski is one game from reaching a ton. One observation is the fact that two of Poland’s goalkeepers ply their trade in England.Fabianski playing for Swansea and Bartosz Bialkowski of Ipswich. The other keeper is of course Wojciech Szczesny formerly of Arsenal and former team mate of Fabianski.

The Poles are in a strong position will face either England or Belgium.

Colombia qualified for the finals by taking the fourth and final automatic spot. Had Ospina not conceded an own goal,they could have even finished third above Argentina. Safe to say though they have looked generally strong and should not be underestimate. Pre tournament friendlies saw the South American nation beat France in Paris.

Wearing the armband for Colombia will be Colombia’s all time leading scorer Radamel Falcao. Since returning to Monaco following his disappointing loan spells at Man Utd and Chelsea, he has been firing on all cylinders and whilst playing for his national side, he has bagged four goals in seven games.

The midfield will look strong as well with James Rodriguez lining up with Juan Cuadrado there will be the good chance of goals although they failed to hit the net in their last two games against fellow finalists Egypt and Australia. They will be buoyed by the fact that they face Japan once again. They met in Brazil where they breezed to a 4-1 win. It was also their best tournament performance as they reached the quarter finals. If they can keep their defence tight then they have a good chance of progressing and even causing an upset.

Senegal go into only their second tournament. This time round managed by former Portsmouth and Birmingham City player Aliou Cisse. Like other nations, they have a fair contingent of English club based players including Mane of Liverpool, Idrissa Gueyes of Everton, Mame Diouf of Stoke and Cheikhou Kouyate of West Ham whom all have 150 caps between them. That itself is good experience.

Their form is not too bad, they might not be scoring much but at the same time they have been keeping a fair number of clean sheets, which will be crucial if goal difference is the decisive means of ensuring qualification.

Whilst the clean sheets might be good, the lack of goals might hinder them.

Japan completes the line up in Group H. The most successful Asian nation are at their sixth consecutive World Cup finals. Their build up though was hampered when the Japanese FA sacked Vahid Halilhodzic in April and replaced him with Akita Nishino,who it seems hadn’t been in a managerial position since 2015. It seems a strange choice but whether this is a temporary option who knows.

Premier League fans will recognise Maya Yoshida, Shinji Kagawa formerly of Man Utd and now back with Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki. These players along with the German based players should give them a reasonable hope. Will it though be enough to see them progress? Possibly not.

Group Prediction

1) Poland 2 ) Colombia 3) Senegal 4) Japan

World Cup Preview – Group F Beware of an upset?

So when a group contains Germany, you can be expected to see it win the group with no worries, as the past 6 World Cup final tournaments have seen Germany top their group. Not for a while though have Germany gone into a tournament finals with a solitary win in their last 6 games. Three draws, one of which was a last minute equaliser against France, together with defeats to Brazil and Austria have left the current holders in an unusual position.  Defeats against Austria don’t come often and in fact prior to 2018, the previous result was when Germany was separated and the then West Germany lost 4-1.

The build up has seen Leroy Sane dropped, Gundogan jeered but on the upside goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is back in the squad and the team captain despite being injured and not in training till May but in the grand scheme of things, stability at the back is only a good thing.

Their opponents though may smell blood as the Germans open up against Mexico who have the better form albeit two defeats in their six friendlies since qualifying. Sweden minus the national legend Ibrahimovic and South Korea have form that barely anything to shout out about.

Germany should turn on the style at the big stage shouldn’t they? The’ve never gone out in the group stage, well apart from the second group stage in Argentina 1978.

Mexico qualify for their 16th Finals competition where they hope to get past the last 16. Their best performance is the quarter finals which they achieved in 1970 and 1986 ( both hosted in Mexico. Since 1994, because they were banned from Italia 90,  they have come unstuck in the last 16 losing to Argentina (2)Netherlands Germany USA and Bulgaria.

The El Tricolor will look to Javier Hernandez to help propel the nation to glory and reach his half century of goals. He is already the nations top scorer and it will be likely he has it for a few years yet. His nearest rivals will still be far behind him by the time Hernandez retired.

Will they have enough to get through? I think they just might take second spot. Who knows, if they can deny Germany a win then they just might win the group. We shall know on 17th June.

Sweden qualified for their twelfth finals by finishing second and denying the Dutch a playoff spot. Their reward was a two leg tie against Italy. The managed a 1-0 win and denied the Azzuri a World Cup finals for the first time since 1958. Since then it’s been a struggle. One goal in the last four games and three games in a row without scoring is not a good sign. Whilst moving on is a necessary thing in football, the decision though not to call up Zlatan Ibrahimovic may not be the best thing especially with a lack of goals and their attacking line up doesn’t look brilliant. Marcus Berg has 18 in 57 whilst Ola Toivenen 13 in 57 over an 11 year period. Ibrahimovic suffered a possible career ending injury, but bounced back to bag goals in the US. Yes Major League Soccer might not be the same standard but when you aren’t scoring, beggars can’t be choosers.

I can’t see Sweden progressing unless they can bag the goals. Third will be their best hope if they struggle.

Finally South Korea and boy what a mixed bag of results they have had. Two back to to back defeats post qualifiers saw an eight game unbeaten run only to undo that with one win in their last six . Two of those defeats saw them concede late or last minute winners. Conceding late goals is something that will cost the South Koreans dearly in the finals,especially when Germany and Mexico are your opponents.

They will be able to call on Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min, but will need him to replicate his club form rather than his international form otherwise it will be an early exit. This will be their ninth appearance and it will take a lot to repeat the dizzy heights of fourth in 2002.

 

Group Prediction

Mexico win the group (Goal Difference) 2nd Germany, 3rd Sweden 4th South Korea

World Cup Previews – Group C For Les Bleus and danskerne

France and Denmark look certain to progress from this group as they face Australia and Peru. Backing the French does come with a warning as we have seen in the past that they are prone to serious lapses. We all remember their dismal defence of the trophy in 2002 when they opened their defence with a 1-0 defeat against Senegal  only a draw against Uruguay gave them a point. Strangely enough their final game of the group came against Denmark. Not a single goal scored from the defending champions.

The French though have formally confirmed their squad and look to fair better than  previously when they were knocked out in the Quarter Finals by eventual winners Germany, after winning their group. Missing out from the squad are Martial  (Man Utd) and Lacazette (Arsenal) whilst taking their place on the plane to Russia is Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman made the team despite only bagging 7 goals this season both for Arsenal and Chelsea, yet Lacazette bagged 14 in 31 and misses out. I’m sure Deschamp has his reasons.

The French squad does have a young feel to it and not as much experience as previous squads but it should have enough to get to the knockout stages. The game against Denmark will be telling.

Denmark return to the finals after missing out in 2014. They were a point off missing the play off round. There was no mistake this time round as they qualified for the playoffs having finished runners-up behind Poland. In the playoff they denied Republic of Ireland with a second leg demolition thanks to a hat trick from Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen. The Danes have lost only three games in three years having missed out on Euro 2016. Their two post World Cup Qualifier games have seen two friendlies against Panama and Chile. One win and one draw, but that could be different in the next two as they face Sweden and Mexico.

The Dane’s shouldn’t have any trouble getting through the group and their final placing will come in the final game which is against France. The two nations have met 13 times but only two in the World Cup where there is a win each. The Danes in their last World Cup lost in the final group game to Japan causing their elimination. They will not likely have to worry about that.

Australia make their fifth finals appearance and fourth consecutive appearance. They will have their work cut out mind you as they look certain to be relying on Tim Cahill and captain Miles Jedinak for goals. The two players in their last World Cup finals have a combination of nearly 70 goals between them with bit part contributions from other squad members.

Their pre World Cup games have brought literally mixed results with one win, one draw and a defeat. The Socceroos were hammered by Norway managed a goalless draw against Colombia and then recently beat the Czech Republic 4-0. Their final friendly involved a trip to Hungary, although not too sure what that give for Australia.

Finally we have Peru and they too are making their fifth World Cup appearance and their first since Spain ‘82. They had to qualify throug the intra continental play off against New Zealand. This was after managing only a draw against Colombia who took the last automatic qualifying place. They go into the finals looking strong and having not lost a game since their home defeat against Brazil in the qualifiers back in 2016. Amongst the pre World Cup wins were Croatia, Iceland and Saudi Arabia.

They look strong going into the competition but I’m not sure they will be strong enough to come inbetween France and Denmark, but they will no doubt give it a real  good go.

Group Prediction

France edge the group on goal difference ahead of Denmark. Peru finish third leaving Australia propping up the table.

 

 

World Cup 2018 Previews – Group B Battle of The Iberians

Group B looks certain to be a straightforward battle to decide who wins the group as football giants Spain and Portugal battle it out in a group containing Iran and Morocco. The Spanish remain unbeaten since their Euro 2016 defeat against Italy and will be looking to get some World Cup joy back after their abysmal 2014 finals display in Brazil, one that saw them thrashed by their 2010 final opponents Netherlands.

Spain’s journey was relatively easy had Italy as their main rivals, but we all know that things can go wrong. The Spanish coach has not been afraid to wield the axe in the chase for World Cup glory. One of the biggest names is Alvaro Morata, whose Chelsea form has seen his place in the Chelsea team disappear. In fact it’s not a good time for a few of Chelsea’s Spanish contingent. Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and Marcos Alonso all miss the journey to Russia, but Azpiliceuta does make the plane. It’s not just the Chelsea players missing the cut as Hector Belerin of Arsenal, Vitolo of Atletico and Javi Martinez all find themselves with more time over the summer period.

Andres Iniesta makes the squad in what will no doubt be his last World Cup. The Barca legend who scored the winner in 2010 said goodbye to the La Liga champions and Russia 2018 be his international farewell with a World Cup win. Despite his seven goals in 23 games, former Chelsea striker appears to have done enough to take his place. He is not the only former Premier League player featuring in the Spanish squad. Iago Aspas appears to have reignited his career after his disappointing time at Anfield. Since being back in Spain he found his shooting boots. A loan spot at Sevilla bought him 10 goals in 26 games, but then signing with his old club Celta, he has bagged 55 goals in 101 games. Will their strike force of Aspas, Rodrigo and Costa, get them to the final? We shall have to wait and see.

Portugal, neighbours and rivals of Spain, go into the tournament as European Champions and will hope to join Spain and France as nations to win both tournaments. Portugal looked like finishing second in their group as the Swiss were in control having remained undefeated until the last group game in Lisbon. Whilst the Swiss were winning, they were not bagging enough goals. Portugal were winning and bagging the goals. Cristiano Ronaldo bagging 15 of the 32 goals whilst Switzerland were only managing 23 between them. The World Cup is the only trophy that Ronaldo has yet to win, so can he in what could be his last World Cup and what would be the price of Portugal finally adding the trophy to their association cabinet.

Spain and Portugal meet in the second group game and face each other for only the second time in finals competition where Spain have the edge. Both games coming in the knock out stages. Will Portugal turn things around and beat their neighbours or will Spain make it 3-0 in World Cup final encounters.

Morocco feature in the group, they are at their fifth finals, the first since France 98 were they went out in the group stage that featured Scotland. They will do well to repeat their feat at Mexico 86 when they reached the last 16 following their best third place record. Their path to the World Cup was fairly easy with three wins and three draws. They were the only African nation not to concede a goal but they only managed 11 goals in their six games, of which 6 were netted in one game. Khalid Boutaib was the top scorer with three goals. All those came in one game in a home game against Gabon. In their pre World Cup friendlies the North African nation have managed wins against Serbia and a draw against Ukraine, but they are far from the likes of Portugal and Spain. I think they may well struggle.

Iran complete this look at Group B. The Middle Eastern nation qualify for their fifth World Cup Finals and their first back to back finals following their appearance in Brazil. Iran’s journey to the finals saw an initial group stage which they breezed through unbeaten and six points ahead of second place Oman. They were the best Asian team going into round three and another group round. The group made of six nations saw another unbeaten round and top spot finish, beating South Korea in the process.  The nation currently has a handful defeats in the last three years although that reflects mostly in Asian Federation matches. They did though recently hold World Cup hosts Russia to a 1-1 draw.

Group Prediction

Spain finish top on goal difference ahead of Portugal. Iran finish third and Morocco fourth.

Real Madrid – The Road to Kiev

Real Madrid  as Champions League winners, had automatically qualified for the group stage of the competition. Their group on paper looked like it could be a battle rather than a stroll as they were joined by Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund and Apoel Nicosia. Whilst the Cypriot side would be the support act, Spurs and Dortmund were expected to make it hard work for the Spanish club. Tottenham took four points from the defending champions including a 3-1 win at Wembley. Dortmund though failed to cause any issues apart from a all but two late attempted comeback in a 3-2 defeat.

Madrid could always count on Ronaldo to bag the goals and he did by chipping in 9 of the teams 17 group stage goals, but the Portuguese star was not finished by all means. In the second round, Madrid were drawn against French side PSG in what looked to be a classic encounter. The first leg in Spain saw Ronaldo hand the hosts a 1-0 lead just before half time and a second to restore the lead late in the second half. The Spanish looked to have secured the tie when Marcelo made it 3-1. A two goal margin in this seasons competition would seem unsafe in many game, but the second leg remained goalless until early second half when Ronaldo opened the scoring. PSG pulled one back, but it was never going to be enough and ten minutes from time Casemiro secured a winner on the night and a 5-2 aggregate win.

The Quarter final draw had paired the Italian giants Juventus against Real and a tie that was going to be full of cards over the two legs. The first leg was in Turin and the Italians were relatively stingy in defence at home. They had conceded only one at home in the group stage and two at home to Spurs in the last 16. That would change as the Italians were on the receiving end of a 3-0 pasting from the Spaniards. It didn’t help that they lost Dybala for the second leg with his two yellow card offences.

The second leg, well that turned into a thrilling affair. Juventus knew they had to go at Madrid to have any chance of saving the tie and that was exactly what happened. Mandzukic struck early as he headed home. Mandzukic  grabbed a second in the 37th minute and the game was well and truly on. Real’s grip on the game was becoming a little loose and then on the hour mark, Navas’ fumbled to allow Matuidi to strike home. The Italian’s had appeared to have pulled it off, the game was heading to extra time but could Real hold on? Could Juve snatch a killer fourth goal? Well in the 90th minute Benatia was judged to have fouled Vazquez, referee Michael Oliver awarded the penalty and chaos erupted, Juve players surrounded the English referee as a very angry Buffon remonstrated and pointed at Oliver enough for the Italian to be shown the red card. A twist in the tale it would seem. Juve took off Higuain and brought on Szczesny. Ronaldo stepped up, could he immerse himself even further in football glory or could the former Arsenal keeper become a hero. It would be the former as the Portuguese star drilled the ball home.

The Semi finals brought up German champions Bayern Munich as the opponents for Real. The Germans were always going to be a difficult opponent at home and when they took the lead, we thought the Spaniards may have met their match. Unfortunately the Germans couldn’t take their chances managing five shots on target out of seventeen. It would prove costly as Marcelo netted an away goal just before half time. Ronaldo had also had a goal disallowed for handball. A mistake from Rafinha lead to a break away goal. Having four key players going into the game, losing Robben after 8 minutes and Boateng in the 34th, things couldn’t get any worse for the Germans.

The Germans knew what they had to do and Kimmich struck first blood after 2 minutes, the lead though lasted until the 11th minute when Benzema headed home. It was all even on the night but advantage Madrid 3-2 on aggregate. On any other day and with those missing players available, Real Madrid may well have been fighting for their Champions League survival. Luck was favouring the hosts as a goalkeeping blunder by Sven Ulreich gave the hosts the advantage once more. It was 2-1 Madrid and 4-2 on aggregate. As the game moved on Munich searched for a leveller and they got one through James Rodriguez. One of Madrid’s on loan players levelled on the night. Whoever got the next goal would no doubt secure the tie. Madrid scoring would increase the gap, probably too far, whilst a single goal from the visitors would level the tie on aggregate and send Bayern through on away goals.  The game though finished level and 4-3 on aggregate. Real were heading to another final and yet another defence of their title.