One thing we have come to expect from both Chelsea and Manchester City is trophies.
Funnily enough, the two sides met in their first final against each other earlier this year – having met in eight semi-finals in the past seven years alone.
The last five FA Cups have been won by either Manchester City or Chelsea, and this is something that the most successful club Arsenal will be trying to change next season.
Both sides are seen as favourites whenever they get to domestic finals, but we know that this time there can only be one winner. When the two sides met in the Continental Cup Final in February, it was City that were victorious – coming from behind to win 3-1.
When Chelsea manager Emma Hayes spoke about what would be different between that final and this weekends final, she mentioned that it was a depleted squad that competed for that last cup, and with this one, she thinks they’ll be more like their true selves, both in terms of squad availability, but also just mindset and mentality.
City arguably have had one of the biggest injury crises we have seen in the WSL for some time – going as far as having to use their third-choice keeper as well as playing wingers at full-back and midfielders at centre-back.
Luckily for them, City have been able to bring most of their players back from injury over the past few months and will be at full strength essentially for the final.
The strength of both squads is what makes this battle between two great clubs even more interesting and harder to predict.
Both teams seem to have adopted a winning culture, and anything less than that appears to be a disappointment for both players and managers. And having met as many times as they have in the latter stages of competitions, it doesn’t seem that it’s necessarily about surprises on the day – the key here will be execution.
Both sides have huge game changers, which is what makes them such competitive teams at the highest levels.
With City, it’s their wide threat through wingers Lauren Hemp and the newly fit Chloe Kelly.
Prior to her ACL injury last season, Kelly was probably the most in-form winger in the league. She’s someone that has beens able to provide important goals and assists, as well as causing defenders problems with her dribbling and speed.
They’re also able to suffocate opponents offensively because their full-backs, particularly Lucy Bronze, are able to get involved offensively too.
To add to this, City have goal scoring midfielders such as Caroline Weir and Georgia Stanway makes them even more of a threat because for opposition teams, there’s very few players in the City team that you can afford space to because they can hurt you both in the centre of the pitch and in the final third.
For Chelsea, their game changing aspect seems to be more varied. Their strength comes in the depth they have in the midfield and their versatility within middle of the pitch.
Hayes. who has often times this season changed formation during the game, knows that she can rely on experienced midfielder Guro Reiten – who has been in fine form in this second half of the season.
She’s contributing to goals weekly whether that be through goals or assists, but also she understands Hayes’ system so well that when tactical tweaks have to happen, she slots in seamlessly.
Erin Cuthbert is the same. The Scottish midfielder has been deployed in numerous positions for this Chelsea side and still churns out very high levels of performance.
The tenacity that can be found in this Blues midfield is what separates them from most clubs in the country.
When it comes to winning second balls, defending the first phase of set-pieces and crosses, Cuthbert always seems alert. This is something that is of extreme value especially in the games that are closely contested.
I don’t think much more has to be said on Sam Kerr’s big game record either – both for club and for country.
She constantly scores important goals when it’s needed on the big occasion and it won’t be a surprise to see her do the same this Sunday. Kerr seems to just have a knack for knowing both where to be but more importantly how to put the ball in the back of the net.
What do we know? That it will be an immense showcase of the talent that available in the WSL. Whether that will be from Chelsea retaining their title, or from City once again showing that they’re an extremely difficult team to beat in the FA Cup.
With the 2022 Women’s European Championships fast approaching, England Lionesses head coach Sarina Weigman has attempted to select a balanced squad for qualifiers and friendlies – with one eye set on the final 23-player squad that she will select for the summer.
We have seen lots of consistency in who she has selected for the squad, with a huge array of talent and squad competition at her disposal.
In the lead up to the Euros, we look here at a breakdown of her squad selection, strong areas, and areas in need of strengthening and or decision making. In today’s feature, we will be looking predominantly at the wingers/wide forwards that England have.
The wide forwards
When it comes to the forwards that Weigman gets to choose from, she’s very much spoilt for choice.
Even just glancing at the forward lines of the big three – especially Manchester City, you could make up a world-class forward line using their players alone.
The balance of the forward options is what makes that area particularly strong as we get both providers and finishers in almost every candidate.
Electric pace is a huge part of the system that the Lionesses play and within that, they have so many people that they can count on.
Lauren Hemp is the quickest player in the league and probably one of the quickest players that will be at the Euro’s this summer.
Her unique blend of pace and decision-making despite being so young makes her an almost definite starter for England, as her skill set is an absolute nightmare for defenders.
She has now added goals to her game for country which makes her even more of a threat.
Arsenal’s Beth Mead similarly brings technical proficiency and goal scoring prowess from one of the wide positions.
Having played across the forward line throughout her career from Sunderland to Arsenal, there is a level of consistency that Mead brings.
When her team needs a goal, she’s often able to provide it, as well her ability to pick out the right pass to her teammate who can also score.
Mead’s traits mean that it also take away some of the pressure off the main striker playing on the day. She is a reliable goal scorer, and with that brings confidence to Weigman that she’s able to alter and rotate the front line without sacrificing goals that will win matches.
This in turn will also give Weigman the upper hand when picking starting line-ups – especially in the tournament setting.
Nikita Parris is expected to be selected and what someone like Parris brings is supreme experience. Having played at Championship winning teams at club Level and been a core part of Lionesses teams that have done well at prior tournaments.
A last-minute addition to bolster the wing options would be Chloe Kelly. Whilst she has missed 75% of the season due to an ACL injury she suffered last year, her talent and what she’d bring to the team cannot be understated. As mentioned before, she is someone else who brings both goals and assists to the team.
She’s arguably the most technically and naturally gifted winger that England have – with her ability to combine both her technical ability on the ball when dribbling, but also when linking up with teammates.
Like Hemp, she’s also someone that is extremely blessed when it comes to pace, which as seen in most European defences, that’s an area that they struggle with.
Selecting someone who hasn’t been able to showcase their skillset across the whole season is often seen as a risk. But when it comes to someone of Kelly’s calibre, it appears to be a risk worth taking when it comes to having a unique skill set and being a game changer for them.
A late addition?
With Fran Kirby taking some recovery time away from football in order to get healthy from an ongoing issue that’s plagued her throughout her career, she’s expected to miss the Euro’s – having not featured since the end of February.
That’s not to rule her out completely from contention as we know that a fully fit Kirby walks into most teams in the world. However, Weigman will be cautious not to rush her back as her regaining full health is the most important thing for all parties.
Could we see a late addition to the Lionesses squad with someone who hasn’t received a call up since Weigman’s tenure began? For example, Man City starlet Jess Park who has had an impactful season, or Manchester United’s Leah Galton who continued her fine form from last season.
Because of squad restrictions, I’m not sure Weigman calls up somebody new.
This decision would be supported by the fact that many of her attacking midfield options are also extremely strong and comfortable on the wing – having played their numerous times throughout the season for club.
They also have such versatility amongst the wingers themselves that I think that Weigman will opt to find the solution ‘in-house’. Though that’s not to say that we won’t get a surprise inclusion as often seems to happen when international tournaments happen.
Ludicrous, impulsive and straight-up nonsensical were just a portion of the adjectives awaiting Rúben Amorim in light of his appointment as Sporting manager for a whopping €10 million compensation fee, the third highest ever, just two months into his first stint in charge of his first top-flight club, Sporting de Braga.
The Lions’ club president, Frederico Varandas, and his camp were quick to remind critics of the last managerial gamble Sporting passed on – a relatively well-known individual by the name of José Mourinho – adding that the value forked out for Amorim would be nothing compared to money placed back into the coffers through player development and future sales.
For Sporting fans, promised a return to the glory days for so long, the vision in place seemed farfetched for a club who had not only gone 18 years without tasting Primeira Liga success, but had also seen their quality in numbers gutted by the mayhem that ensued in 2018 with widespread contract terminations, as the task to build on an uneven foundation rested on Amorim’s shoulders.
Against the better judgement of the doubters, however, of which there were, of course, plenty, what Amorim has been able to do in the green half of Lisbon since the bold move has been nothing short of miraculous, marking him out as one of the biggest up-and-coming commodities in the managerial industry.
Perhaps aided by a mid-season arrival at Sporting in early 2020, the then 35-year-old was quick to adhere to the historical connection the club has with its own academy by blooding youth, introducing a lot of the younger faces to the multi-faceted 3-4-3 formation he’s sworn by since arriving at the pinnacle of Portuguese football.
The results improved slowly and surely under the manager’s command and the eventual rise in prominence of Matheus Nunes, Nuno Mendes and Gonçalo Inácio, among others, served as the guiding light for what Amorim was looking to build.
Fresh doubts were cast during the following summer, with Sporting committing considerable funds to land the likes of Pedro Gonçalves and Nuno Santos, on top of others who had previously failed to inspire at previous clubs, such as Pedro Porro and the more experienced Antonio Adán and Zouhair Feddal.
But as Pedro Gonçalves banged in the goals and ex-La Liga trio, Adán, Feddal and Porro formed part of an almost impenetrable defence, pushing its side up the table, it quickly became visible that what Amorim was cooking had clearly showed signs of bubbling.
The youthfulness of the squad continued the catch the eye as the onlookers quizzed Sporting’s manager, right throughout the season, how long such young heads could keep their title-winning form going.
Never one to pile on the pressure, Amorim was always and continues to be very measured with his words, disarming each and every press conference with rational and insightful dialogue.
He’s a grand protector of his players and in that, some may say, lies the key ingredient to his recent managerial success of late.
The rapport between player and manager is close-knit, with the fresh-faced coach often seen cracking a joke with his pupils at training and on the sidelines. That camaraderie extends itself throughout the entire squad, amongst the players, many of which are meant to be rivalling each other for the same position in Amorim’s plans.
With Sporting’s future stars, already fuelled by the prospect of causing an impression at such a young age, being nurtured by the importance of work ethic and togetherness, the club was able to achieve what the wealth of Benfica and the experience of FC Porto could not in 2021, bringing to a close a dispiriting cycle of 19 years without the evasive Primeira Liga title.
This season, with greater expectations attached to the precedent set, Amorim & co. are hoping to go back-to-back as they tussle with Porto at the midpoint of the season.
In the meantime, the former Portugal international has made inroads on the European stage too, where they made it out of the UEFA Champions League group for the first time since 2008, with a date against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City set up for the last round of 16.
The match-up presents a platform for João Palhinha and Pedro Gonçalves, among many others, to increase the number of suitors already onto the noise emanating from Alvalade, but you can bet much of the attention will also coming knocking for the 37-year-old manager, particularly if the current title holder manages to pull off a shock against ‘the Citizens’.
Whoever it is that comes calling will have to part way with €30 million, as per Amorim’s release clause, running across a deal that expires in 2024.
The figure has served as a repellent for interested teams during a time of absolute focus on the project at hand from the former Portugal international, but Sporting know they won’t be able to hold onto their poster boy for too long.
The club fortunate enough to reel him in will be acquiring the latest in a line of promising Portuguese managers – dubbed the leader of the new school and, still, the heir to Mourinho’s throne.
Unlike the former Chelsea and Inter boss, however, Amorim’s foundations stem from a great sense of modesty, respect and general correctness. He’s an adaptable figure who’s rallying cries touch numerous types of characters and make Sporting the thriving family-like ambience it is today.
It’s this clear vision and approach that’s enabled Amorim’s teams to dream and excel, decorating a CV that becomes more and more attractive to his suitors by the week.
Tuesday night, against City, holds the power of fast-forwarding the inevitable – presenting Amorim to the world.
On Wednesday night we were treated to one of many in the list of exciting fixtures coming up for all fans of Women’s Football.
The semi-final of the Women’s Continental Cup and the first match up between Chelsea and Manchester United was one that had a lot riding on it for both sides.
Coming into the game United were on a run of seven straight wins and clean sheets in all competitions. Chelsea, having never lost to Manchester United, were attempting to get one step closer to lifting their third consecutive Continental Cup. We knew one of these sides wouldn’t be able to make it to the final and it was Manchester United that once again fell at the hurdle.
When the draw initially came out, United fans worldwide must have been questioning why they’ve had such a torrid time with cup draws.
They met Manchester City in the group stages and after beating them and making it through the group, United were treated to an away tie against Arsenal – a side they had only beaten once in all competitions since the formation of the team in 2018.
Despite this tough quarter-final encounter, the rejuvenated United side took their well-earned confidence and put in a performance that the players and manager Marc Skinner would have been proud of.
They were not only able to play their game against Arsenal, but also able to stifle the chances of the league leaders – limiting Vivienne Miedema’s chances in the box and physically keeping up with the threat of Beth Mead.
This performance was capped off with an Alessia Russo header in the 84th minute and defensive solidarity from the whole team saw them make the semi-final.
For Chelsea, making the semi-final was more of a routine procedure with the Blues having won the trophy in both 2020 and 2021. Their 4-2 win against West Ham saw them make the semi-final again, the only shock to Emma Hayes being who their opponent was.
She made light of the running joke that it’s always a City vs Chelsea semi-final – with the side meeting in eight semi finals over the past seven years alone.
However, it was the other side of Manchester that ended up getting drawn against Chelsea – the one side that United haven’t yet beaten.
The first 20 minutes of the match saw both sides trying to impose themselves. It was clear that United early on were trying not to fall into the traps that they fell into in the league game with playing out from the back.
However, it was once again Pernille Harder who found the goal against United to open the scoring. There had been a few times that she had found joy down the left-hand side, with United willing to concede possession in the middle third.
Harder, after the ball fell into her path, went on mazy run which completely bamboozled the in-form centre-back for Manchester United Aoife Mannion.
She showed total composure to not only take the defender out of the game, but to slot the ball past the United keeper also.
It went from bad to worse for Manchester United after a scramble in the box led to Jessie Fleming making it 2-0 just five minutes later. There were some concerns that United would capitulate from this point onwards – similar to the 6-1 onslaught earlier on in the season.
Though despite being two goals down, one thing that this Manchester United has is heart. That heart and hunger to change a result is something that sets them in good stead for the rest of the season and beyond. They continued to work together and work for one another to carve out an opportunity.
They were rewarded almost immediately for their tenacity, with some great combination play between two United midfielders – Vilde Boa Risa, whose powerful shot overpowered the keeper after a great back-heel set up by Jackie Groenen.
This was the time for United to regroup and ensure that they went into half-time with just a one goal deficit. However, Chelsea soon hit back with a well-timed run from defender Jess Carter. The goal came at the best possible time for Chelsea, who are extremely familiar with holding onto leads and seeing the game out.
United once again tried to impose themselves at the start of the second half but were unable to carve out a clear-cut opportunity. They continued to physically match Chelsea but ultimately the damage was done in the first half, and Chelsea’s quality shone through – specifically Harder.
They have to be commended for how often they make finals, and the ease and comfortability they often do it with. The match once again will act as a learning curve for Manchester United who continue to strive towards being a side who can make finals and be present in the Champions League.
Chelsea will be looking to make this a third consecutive Continental Cup Trophy – and to add more silverware to the ever-growing legacy of Emma Hayes. After countless semi finals together, Chelsea will play Manchester City in the final who saw off Spurs on Thursday. This is the first final between the two of them in eight years and one that they’ll both be keen to win.
Vivianne Miedema has already cemented herself as an Arsenal and Women’s Super League legend.
Within the checklist of things to achieve within the league, she’s already ticked most things off, despite being only 25 years of age. After giving the league four-and-a-half seasons Miedema is now in the last five months of her contract, leading to much speculation about where her future lies.
She’s been heavily linked to the Spanish and French leagues, and the -constant talks appear to be about reasons why she may want to leave.
It’s important to really understand that staying at Arsenal also presents a great option and one that could match her ambitions.
As previously mentioned, Miedema has already reached huge heights at Arsenal. She currently stands as the as the WSL record goalscorer – amassing 67 goals in just 76 appearances.
During just over four seasons, the striker has won the FA cup and one league title too. For many, having such an outstanding individual accolade, as well as the team accolades to match, would prove too good to walk away from. However, it’s clear that she wants more in terms of team accolades and the highest of them all being the Champions League.
Currently Arsenal are the only English team still left in this year’s competition but they face great challenges ahead, with a quarter-final against Wolfsburg who knocked out last year’s finalists Chelsea.
The nature of the WSL makes it difficult to have this kind of dominance, with the ‘Big Three’ often deciding the title amongst themselves. A potential move to either of these two clubs could present her the opportunity to finally get her hands on the Champions League and to be at a club that is already at the top of the world football chain.
Both teams are well known in the sport for dominating opposition and being ruthless in the box – both phrases that we would use to describe the Arsenal striker.
Reports have suggested that both clubs as well as PSG would be interested in getting her signature, however, moves to these clubs may not be as simple as it appears on paper.
All three of these clubs currently have strikers at their clubs and strikers who have been performing at the highest level for a number of years.
At Lyon, prior to Ada Hegerberg’s injury, she was widely proclaimed the greatest of all-time in the sport. After over an 18-month injury layoff upon injuring her ACL, Hegerberg is back and hungry to add to her ridiculous goal tally.
She already has 229 goals in 195 appearances and is keen to add to her honours list which includes six League titles and five Champions Leagues.
Her return from injury this year, as well as the fact that Lyon have exciting wingers presents a potential area of thought for Miedema. This, coupled with the fact that Lyon don’t commonly play with a strike partnership may cause a problem for her when it comes to playing time.
Similarly, Barcelona have often opted for the 433 or 4231 formation which would mean that Miedema would be coming into the team to play as the lone striker.
While stylistically, she would slot in well to both this and Lyons’s ball dominant sides, the personnel that already exists at Barca do present a problem.
With the development of Asisat Oshoala this season, as well as the ever-dependable Jenni Hermoso, it does bring questions as to whether striker is an area that Barca need to strengthen.
Even if Hermoso’s age is considered here, the fluid playing style of the team means that positionally there is always an interchange within the front line.
Arsenal could still yet prove to be the challenge that Miedema needs. Despite not yet reaching the level to win the Champion’s League, under Jonas Eidevall there’s a clear plan in place when it comes to progression and eventually reaching that level.
They’re currently in pole position in the league as well as being in the quarter finals of the Champion’s League which further shows the progression they’re making. Committing her future to the club would allow them to continue to build around a genuine world class talent.
To add to this, being a pivotal cog in the machine to get them to that level could present a higher level of achievement for the young Dutch striker – further cementing her legendary status in the league.
Whether she chooses to stay in the league and buy into the project at Arsenal or chooses to take up a new challenge, no one can deny her of the opportunity to win the trophies that her talent deserves.
I write this having seen how utterly ridiculous this Barcelona team are live in the flesh.
Having had the opportunity to witness the magic of the Barcelona Femeni team at the Emirates last week in the Women’s Champions League, I can honestly say that they’re like no other team.
Their style of play is clear and apparent from the offset and their system relies on one thing – the fact that everybody in the side is so technically secure.
This is something that is true both in and out of possession and is at the basis of their dominance on the field. It’s why the team constantly look as though they’re suffocating opposition teams no matter the level.
Barcelona Femeni have been hit with lots of injuries over the past 4-6 weeks and so we’ve seen drastic changes in both the line-up and in their formations. If anything, the volatility in their line-ups have epitomised the fact that their philosophy is clear and defined.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen midfielders playing out of position and starting on the wing, as well as forwards like Fridolina Rolfo being used as full-backs. The changes however have been seamless because on the ball, each player is so comfortable in playing a possession-based game, meaning that in high pressure areas they’re all comfortable playing their way out of trouble.
In this year’s Ballon d’Or, there were three players ranked within the top five from this Barcelona team, showing their dominance in the sport over the past 12 months. The winner was none other than Alexia Putellas, who epitomises everything about what the club is about.
Due to injuries, we’ve seen the Barcelona captain play in every single position in midfield; both as the deepest in the pivot as well as the most advanced in a midfield trio. She’s able to slot into these roles without looking out of place because of her understanding of the game, but also because of how her technical ability manifests itself on the pitch.
Her range of passing, as well as her control of the ball and flow of the game when in and out of pressure is immeasurable in actual terms.
It means that the team is able to manoeuvre through games and tournaments based on what the team needs for that specific game as opposed to being rigid and predictable. This can only be done because of the fact the technical level of the individuals in the squad is of a supreme level.
There were sequences that they played on the edge of Arsenal’s box at the Emirates where I think every single outfield player touched the ball at least once. Where they distinguish themselves from other teams in the world is the fact that under pressure, they retain and look after the ball so well, allowing them to build attacks even when pressed.
Arsenal are actually a very well drilled side and are a team that also like to press high, but the difference between how they were on the ball when faced with Barcelona’s press and how Barcelona reacted to being pressed was night and day.
From a coaching perspective, having people so composed on the ball gives them the option of experimenting. There were situations when the midfield of Barcelona would be pressed both in the Arsenal game, but also against HB Koge by multiple people.
Whilst saying this, the feeling was always that they would escape this pressure – either through dribbling out from the back or from passing out from the danger. Having this unpredictable nature means that not only is it difficult for opposition to plan ahead of time what their means of containment are, but also creates uncertainty and unsettles their players into making mistakes during games.
Having a squad full of players of this ilk brings such stability to the side and is a huge reason as to why they look so difficult to beat. The model of what they’re looking for in players is evident, and they also have a great pipeline of young players coming through their academy.
Aitana Bonmati is the perfect embodiment of someone who has come through their youth ranks and has now found herself with well over 100 appearances for the club at the age of 23.
Not only is she playing in games, but she’s pivotal to everything they’re doing in an attacking sense as well as contributing crucial goals to the side. She had the base of being technically secure, and with the experience that being at Barcelona is giving her, she’s well on her way to being one of the best at executing the Barca way.
The most asked question after every single England Lionesses game for the past few months has been about how close Ellen White is to the all-time top goalscorer record and if and when she would do it.
It was a record that was previously held by Arsenal and England legend Kelly Smith, and she herself has spoken glowingly in the past about White’s capabilities to not only match this record, but to surpass it and set new goalscoring achievements.
This was a challenge readily accepted by White, who has scored the most important of goals in the world’s biggest competitions, but also dispatches with ease against opponents no matter the gravity of the match – she simply loves scoring goals.
Prior to Tuesday’s game against Latvia, White stood just one goal behind Smith’s record on 45 goals in 100 caps. Given the nature of the opposition, many expected this game to be the game where she finally achieved it. White didn’t disappoint.
What many wouldn’t have expected however, was that it would take only six minutes for her to tie the record, and nine minutes to become the outright England Women’s all-time record goal scorer.
The celebration from her was one filled with pure emotion and elation to finally be able to stand alone at the top, and was a celebration that showed the pride that her teammates felt on her behalf.
The reaction to her record setting not only crowned everything that she has done throughout her England career of providing goals, but was further evidence of how much she is loved and respected by her teammates and fans.
She had previously tried to downplay her expectations for this record, having been asked about it constantly with her response often being “it’s not something that I think about”.
Her emotional celebration spoke volumes about what it really meant to her – especially considering that Kelly Smith is one of her idols. Her first thought is always about the team winning, and she knows that her goals can help them do that, but to her the individual accolades are a secondary thought.
Still, the immense pride that she must have felt in this moment had to be celebrated by then going on to get a hat-trick in true Ellen White fashion.
What makes her so dangerous as a goal scorer is the fact that she doesn’t necessarily need a clear-cut chance to score, with most of her tournament goals coming from her sniffing out danger and playing on the shoulder of the last defender.
With a great mixture of both left and right-footed finishes as well as headed goals, there was no doubt amongst us as spectators that she would break the record. She currently has the record on 48 goals, and this is something that we would expect her to extend given her hunger and quality.
Consistent supply lines from both the wing and midfield are also at a high level, so where this record could be at the end of it all is extremely exciting for us and for the history of the sport.
White speaking so glowingly about the girls who scored their first England goals this Tuesday in the historic 20-0 win was once again a show of her humility and selflessness for the team. Budding striker Alessia Russo and electric winger Lauren Hemp were amongst those that scored their first goals for the Lionesses – and they later went on to score hat-tricks too.
White is really paving a way for those that are coming up behind her, and they’re having the pleasure of learning from someone who completely commits herself to the sport and what her role is within the sport which is invaluable.
But she is leaving behind a legacy that only truly world class footballers will be able to match in the future and that shouldn’t be ignored. White is one of, if not the, best strikers that England’s Lionesses have ever had and deserves all the praise she can get.
Following the appointment of ex-Netherland’s coach Sarina Wiegman in the summer, we’ve seen the new England boss select teams for three separate camps now.
Within that, we’ve seen squads that seem to fit into three broad categories; the more experienced centre pieces of the squad, young players that had previously had a small taste of the England fold and then players who haven’t played for England in a few years but now after getting consistent mins at a bigger club.
Whilst this is a vital structure to have and has served Sarina and England well recently, there may be further scope to explore other options here in the lead up to a home Euros.
With injuries to captains Steph Houghton and Lucy Bronze, we’ve seen Sarina opt for a new temporary captain in Arsenal’s Leah Williamson, before making her official decision on who will captain the side going forward.
Williamson has risen supremely in this leadership role as many expected that she would, having displayed similar characteristics at club and youth level for England. Considering her as an option also points towards a new age England, one that constantly tries to look ahead and plan for the long-term.
We know that in order to be successful at tournaments there needs to be a good balance between experience and youth. Because of this I think that Sarina already has a great structure in place for the team to do great things this summer.
Most of the players have been to multiple tournaments before and this is coupled with starlets such as Ella Toone and Lauren Hemp who we know can turn a game on its head with individual creativity. This and the fact that Beth Mead is also in some of the best form of her life only bodes well for England creatively.
Now when I mention taking a chance, I don’t think that there’s much that Sarina needs to do to the side in preparation. Her position is more about setting up the team and creating an environment that not only equips the players to go out and dominate teams, but also to get them believing that they can dominate teams.
This season has shone a light on so many players that weren’t necessarily the most talked about prior to this. Being defensively astute is going to be key to any success that England have at the Euros, which is why I think that there are two players that Sarina should consider adding to the fold.
Both Molly Bartrip and Hannah Blundell who play for Tottenham and Manchester United respectively will add a new dynamic to the squad whilst bringing a great balance of youth and experience.
Having both made moves this summer we’ve seen Bartrip become a figurehead in a Spurs team that is known for being defensively resilient. I think her experience in being part of teams that often have to perform in a low block will give Sarina another option in defence, as the other defenders are at teams which dominate the ball.
Whilst saying this, Bartrip is also someone who’s confident passing out from the back and leading a backline which I think will be invaluable to the side this summer.
In contrast, Blundell brings a great balance of attack and defence at full-back. Having previously been at Chelsea, she’s somebody that knows how to handle the pressure of a big game and her responsibilities in defence. This season at United we’ve also seen her attacking threat being put under the spotlight too, having already contributed three assists in the league as well as combining well with the winger as an outlet.
Now is a greater time than ever for Sarina to introduce them to the fold and with that, I think the Lionesses will reap the rewards.
“Football is very simple, players will follow you if they can see you are making them better and my job is to always make a player better.“
Well into his 60’s, Ralf Rangnick has been involved in football for decades. He was almost always born to be a manager, from the age of just six years old he was always trying to improve people around him, not only in football but in life.
Rangnick has never had a flashy job, he’s not that spoken about outside of Germany, however his influence on football is one in which goes back a long time and has shaped the modern game today.
Rangnick, like Marcelo Bielsa in many ways, doesn’t do things the way in which normal managers would and he doesn’t look at football like other managers of his generation did.
Also like Bielsa, Rangnick has a slew of managers in the modern game in which he has helped mould and shape. Two of these managers have won the Champions League in the last 3 years playing in a style that has the markings of Rangnick all over it. With front foot, high pressing, high discipline and quick countering styles.
The two managers he has had the biggest influence over are current Liverpool and Chelsea managers Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel. However all of Julien Nagelsmann, Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Ralph Hasenhuttl have all seen and taken parts of Rangnick’s philosophy over the years, and adopted them into their current set ups.
Klopp has stuck to the absolute conditions of what Ralf would consider a great team, implementing and bringing to the UK the biggest component of a Rangnick team, that of ‘Gegen-pressing’.
Gegen-pressing, or counter-pressing, is something that is widely used now in various different versions. Klopp and Pep have their own way of using it, but Klopp has Rangnick’s exact philosophy and set up for it which is smash mouth, in your face and complex press triggers that opponents will struggle to work out.
It’s extremely important to bring up Gegen-pressing as Rangnick is someone seen as the godfather of football in Germany. He ditched the much used ‘sweeper’ system in favour of this more aggressive style, with fast wide players operating high up the pitch, a target man used to cut off passing lanes, high full-backs and a three man midfield that press like crazy.
When you consider that, you can see the Liverpool model. So it’s understandable why people like myself who have watched Rangnick’s teams over the years play a brand of football that to me, is the most beautiful to watch.
So, what we can expect from Rangnick at Manchester United given this team has had many years of poor management and not enough coaching in general?
I can break it down in five things that Ralf speaks about in great length any time anyone asks his philosophy.
1. “What happens if we have the ball? How do we want to play? How do we play against a low block, a high press, a counter attacking team?”
He has meticulous planning for every situation and it will not be left to the players to work out. They will have session, drills, structures and patterns put in place of where they should be and how to deal with situations faced in game. But, importantly, it also will allow for them to have creative freedom in the final third.
This will be nice to hear for United fans who were told just this week by their longest standing player and goalkeeper, “We do not know what we are supposed to do with the ball.”
2.“What do we want to do if the other team has the ball? How do we want to defend that? What kind of game plan, match plan, information do I give my players to deal with this? It’s simple for me, our football is heavy metal, rock and roll, we want the ball back as fast as possible.”
3. “What happens in the moment we lose the ball?“ 4. “What happens in the moment we win the ball back?“
Rangnick had a clock scoreboard added to the RB Leipzig training complex that had a countdown timer of eight seconds.
‘The eight second rule’ is adopted by a lot of top coaches to this day, if you lose the ball anywhere on the pitch, you have 8 seconds of intense press before you revert back to shape.
The press triggers are abandoned at this point and it involves the entire team cutting passing lanes and getting the ball back as fast and as aggressively as possible, allowing for what they call in Germany ‘chance auf Volumen’ a chance of volume or, ‘high volume chance’ a break away and movement that allows for the highest chance of success of a goal.
It is implemented as in those eight seconds, the opponents are disorganised and the player taking it under control doesn’t have the time to control it properly and assess their options when overwhelmed with often three or four vs one, and will either kick it long, or relinquish possession, allowing for quick vertical passes (Rangnick likes this to be under three passes) for a shot at goal.
This exact philosophy and play-style was used during his time with Leipzig in 18/19 and 60% of their goals were scored after they won the ball back in under ten seconds.
5. “The final component is set pieces, 30% of all goals are scored either on or straight after a set piece so, as coaches, you need to be alert to that and as 30% of all goals are scored in this manner, I commit 30% of my training to set pieces.”
Ralf Rangnick is a special kind of coach. He is in the business as he wants to improve players. He also has been in the mind frame for Man United for almost ten years, ever since his Schalke side played Manchester United and despite a heavy defeat, his play-style was admired by many there.
Over the years he has been used for some consultancy work on a wide variety of topics that Man United needed help on, future manager profiles, player profiles, youth team approaches and training approaches.
He has, while minor in the grand scheme of things, been a part of United for many years behind the scenes and he has never hidden his desire to manage United one day.
How will it work at Manchester United with the players we have?
Manchester United, willingly or unwillingly, have actually built a team very close to what Rangnick would like in his own set ups. His age profile is usually 18-24 however, a lot of Manchester United players are in that age bracket or just outside of it and they have pace, one of the key components that you cannot teach.
They may lack the stamina at the start but, this is something that can be taught and coached. Even with Ronaldo, the play-style that Rangnick would implement can be absolutely successful and I will try to explain the core principles of his pressing that a lot of United players will have drilled into them.
I can see Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Donny Van De Beek, Fred and Bruno Fernandes used a lot under him.
When the opponent has the ball I would expect United to adopt a 4-3-3 style formation, with the front 3 pressing up against the opponents box and one of the midfielders standing close to an outlet in the midfield.
The main reason for this is to get the goalkeeper to play the ball out to a centre back, close off the angles and offer up an option around the midfield that can be the trigger to press.
So, the keeper has the ball, Ronaldo is blocking off the opposing team’s defensive midfielder, Sancho and Rashford have the full-backs covered. They want the keeper to pass it to number 2 or 4 in the image above. So, imagine the ball is passed to number 2 in the image above, what would that change about the shape.
Ronaldo would push in between the goalkeeper and centre backs, Bruno would take up Ronaldo’s position, Rashford and Sancho would become more aggressive in their press leaving what seems a free, easy pass out.
But, if you look, this is the trigger, now the team is in a lot of danger. Their full-backs are split, their centre backs are split and they are about to get in to a four man press on one player.
At this point, it’s fast, aggressive pressing from Rashford, Fernandes, Van De Beek and Fred, leaving them with this situation.
From here, it’s unlikely the player will be able to do anything but lose the ball. All that’s left then is in under two passes Rashford, Fernandes, Fred or Van De Beek get the ball and get it to Ronaldo as fast as possible, giving him a very high volume chance.
From here, Ronaldo would not be required to be sprinting around. He would have Sancho, Rashford, Van De Beek, Fred and Fernandes for that. Ronaldo’s sole job is once the keeper has released the ball to either CB he goes and cuts off the passing lane to him.
He is already very good at this, and while you can say a lot about Ronaldo doesn’t press but, his on pitch positioning when cutting off passing lanes is actually one of the best around at the moment.
You can see these types of patterns in the below video if you watch it all the way through.
The fact Rangnick’s strikers aren’t required to be the main presser is actually a plus side with United having Ronaldo here. It also would not surprise me if he utilised Edinson Cavani as a wide player on some occasions due to his relentlessly high energy and willing pressing.
Should Man United fans be excited?
Absolutely. Anyone that has followed me on social media for the last month or two will know I have been banging the drum for Rangnick for a reason.
He is tactically flexible, playing a 3-4-2-1, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-2 system and he will play them at a high proficiency, as he will get time over these seven months on the training pitch to drill this into the players.
But the main reason I advocated for Rangnick is he can shape a club from top to bottom and he loves that responsibility.
If I had to guess going from this appointment, the most likely successor will be Ten Hag in the summer as opposed to Pochettino. Both Ten Hag’s and Rangnick’s philosophies are intertwined. They are a match made in heaven.
Over the years, Manchester United have been jumping from one manager to the next with no plan, Rangnick can implement a modern style and a plan for the club over the next five years. United will be fun, exciting, energetic and very difficult for teams to deal with once he does get his messages across.
I don’t think it will happen instantly, however I think there will be a day and night difference between the team we see now who have absolutely zero idea what to be doing on the ball compared to in a few months time where it will be autonomous.
We have all seen that terrific clip of Rangnick explaining that if Pep, Tuchel, Klopp, himself and Hasenhuttl all went to their players at 11pm to say “come downstairs in one hour and we will do 2x 15 minutes 11v11” they would do it automatically. They would make the same movements almost in their sleep as it is in their hearts, their minds, their blood that this is how they play and they will not deter from it.
All I can say is, finally. Manchester United have one of the best Technical Directors around and a man in whom many of the top coaches looked up to and still do, to this day.
Women’s Football weekend took place last week and was a rousing success for the women’s game in the United Kingdom.
Games across the top league were screened on television as exciting matches were played and new stars were born.
But what did we learn from the weekend as a whole and how did it help to shape the Women’s Super League season? Lets take a look at three things in particular that came to my attention.
Vivianne Miedema is clutch
Although this should have been common knowledge prior to Women’s football weekend, Vivianne Miedema showed once again why she is deemed one of the best in the world.
With Spurs on the brink of a historic victory against their north London rivals, Miedema rose the highest from a corner in the 92nd minute of the match to grab a point for her side.
Her stoppage time equaliser epitomised everything she’s about within the box – not only a hugely physical presence, but more so her desire to sniff out danger and weakness of the opposition.
Viv seemed to understand what was at stake as she headed the ball into the back of the net and her reaction to the goal summed up just how clutch she is.
Immediately after scoring, she instructed Nikita Parris to grab the ball and for the rest of her teammates to focus – shouting “THINK!” as her side sought after a winner. What a player. What a team.
Arsenal are becoming used to winning and it’s a feeling that Miedema wants to have running through the club. She embodies everything that the coach Jonas Eidvall is trying to create.
Rehanne Skinner is building a resilient team at Spurs.
Having taken over this Tottenham team mid-season, Rehanne Skinner was thrown into the deep end in regard to the fact that the Spurs team that she joined had yet to win a single game, despite being six games into a 22 game season.
She was tasked with steadying the ship last season and starting to build a team that would last in the WSL long term. After having worked with the players now for a year, this Women’s football week match epitomised everything that a Skinner team is about.
Spurs had never beaten Arsenal before, and this task was made even more difficult because of the great form that Arsenal are in – before the weekend, they were yet to drop a single point. However, Spurs were able to take away a point and were unlucky not to walk away with all three.
The amount of defensive discipline on display from the whole team just shows how well drilled they’ve been by Skinner. Their awareness of high danger moments also points towards being an extremely well prepared team as well as the fact that they created many goal scoring opportunities down the other end.
You can really see the changes that Skinner is implementing with the team and everyone seems to be buying into her philosophy. A competitive Spurs only bodes well for making WSL derbies more competitive.
Manchester City are really in a tough spot right now
Manchester City’s injury crisis is unlike one that I’ve seen in recent time. At certain points, they’ve had 5 of their usual starting 11 out with long term injuries – luckily they’ve had Keira Walsh return to the starting line up following her injury lay-off.
It’s less than ideal having your first and second choice keepers out injured and it once again was an area that opposition looked to exploit. Normally these Chelsea vs Manchester City matches end up being the title deciders, however we were met with the opposite of that during Women’s football weekend.
City right now, especially in defence, look bereft of confidence and that is heavily down to the fact that they’re having to use a makeshift back four.
Though Chelsea seemed to show no mercy as Jessie Fleming scored within the first 90 seconds of the game, I actually thought City did well with the ball and we saw shades of what we expect from them – a team that uses the ball really well and can carve out chances from any area of the pitch.
The main issue was that it seemed as though every single shot on target that Chelsea had was resulting in a goal, whilst City were less clinical offensively.
As their injured players trickle back into the squad I expect City to turn it around soon, but they’re definitely in a bad spot right now as results don’t seem to be going their way – suffering heavy defeats to the other “Big 3” members.