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.
With Women’s Football Weekend fast approaching, it wouldn’t be fair to not dissect the players that you should you keep your eyes absolutely peeled to.
Due to injury we don’t have the full radar of the leagues talent on show, but there’s still so many showstoppers that you should be on the lookout for.
In order to not overwhelm you, I’ll keep the list brief – but you definitely don’t want to miss these players during this upcoming game week.
Lauren Hemp (Manchester City) Position: Winger
It wouldn’t be right to do a ‘ones to watch’ list without the talent that is Lauren Hemp.
Outside of her Manchester City and England teammate Chloe Kelly (who is still recovering from her ACL injury), she’s probably the most electric player in the league. What makes her stand out amongst other people is the fact that she can beat every single full-back in the world with her direct and positive running.
Her first thought always seems to be beating the defender and driving into the dangerous areas in the final third. Another thing that makes her so electric also revolves around the fact that she is comfortable going down the byline and whipping in a cross, but also cutting in on the inside and delivering a shot or killer pass.
Either way, her unpredictable nature, speed and decision making makes her an easy decision for ones to watch – both this weekend and beyond.
Kim Little (Arsenal) Position: Midfielder
Kim Little – where do I start? Probably the most dependable player in the league.
Between her intelligent movement, understanding of her teammates movement, and her ability to make a moment (even when dealing with scraps) is unmatched.
What makes her so dependable is the fact that this ‘moment’ with Little, may not even necessarily be a goal. She seems to just understand exactly what her team needs at that given moment and she delivers it.
This could be her ball retention when her team is under severe pressure, but also the fact that she can single-handedly dance her way through a midfield and put it on a plate for her attackers.
Based on how Arsenal have been looking this season, it’s been the latter as she’s been popping up with goals and assists weekly. But her intelligence is a joy to watch and someone that I recommend playing close attention to as she’s at the heart of everything good Arsenal do.
Sarah Mayling (Aston Villa) Position: Full-back
Sarah Mayling is known for the whip she gets on all her crosses, set-pieces or not. She has to be included in this ones to watch list because given the fact that it’s a local derby against what was her former club Birmingham City, I expect her to have to say in what the eventual result is.
We’ve all heard of a set-piece specialist, but Mayling appears to have mastered how to manipulate the ball especially when crossing or taking free-kicks.
More notably, her set pieces have sparked numerous comebacks for her club and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her changing the game with her deliveries this weekend.
Villa have started well and so I expect them to be on the front foot in this game – giving Mayling the license to go forward and shine.
Jessie Fleming (Chelsea) Position: Midfielder
Since Fleming’s arrival last season, she has struggled for minutes in this absolutely stacked Chelsea side.
This has had less to do with her ability, but more so the fact that this Chelsea team is filled with top class talent all over the pitch. Following her success with Canada at the Olympics, she seems to have started this season full of confidence off the back of winning Olympic gold.
Her cameo performances earlier on in the season have seen her rewarded with consecutive starts – and she’s been sure to take her chance.
The thing that makes her a standout for this weekend is the fact that she’s unpredictable. She fully understands the role that’s required of her in that Chelsea midfield – between supplying the wingers but also making sure that she’s aiding the attack by making third-player runs into the box and arriving late.
Her ability to do this has made her so dangerous because she’s an excellent finisher as well as the fact that her decision making is beyond her years. I can see her making more strides this weekend as Chelsea look to make strides towards the title.
After spending eight years of her senior career at Chelsea, Hannah Blundell made the switch up north – in search of more playing time.
Her ability to stay calm defensively as well as in offensive areas has seen her slot into the United line-up seamlessly. She’s already registered three assists this season, and I can see her adding to that tally this weekend.
Despite the difference in location, United vs Everton games have been played as though it were a derby since Casey Stoney’s tenure – with United coming out victorious most of the time.
That being said I expect Blundell to have a lot to do this weekend and she will need to be switched on, but there will be space for her to exploit and offer support to the forwards.
United have a legacy to protect when it comes to our fixtures against Everton and I’m sure Blundell will thrive on that pressure.
Last season Arsenal fell below their usual standards and found themselves uncharacteristically in a battle for the third and final Champions League spot with the ever-improving Manchester United.
However this summer the club had arguably it’s best transfer in recent history and that has resulted in them having both an elite first and second-string team.
Their supreme transfer window is just one of many reasons why they’re currently looking so dangerous; coupled with their managerial change, squad depth, and debatably the presence of one of the world’s best midfielders – Kim Little.
Don’t be mistaken, Arsenal already had an extremely good squad filled with internationals prior to this window. Their spine has been secure and for the past few years and they found a way to dominate teams due to their great balance of physical and technical ability.
Most notably, there always seemed to be an overload in midfield from Arsenal which was often hard for the opposition to deal with.
This summer they lost key members of their midfield in Jill Roord and Danielle Van De Donk. However, their response to this has been a mark of title contenders.
The combination of midfield signings that they made speaks volumes about both the short and long-term goals of the club.
The signing of Norway starlet Frieda Maanum, who is still only 22 and has already shown such great maturity in her play, as well as Japanese international star Mana Iwabuchi who already took the WSL by storm last season after her short stint at Aston Villa.
In those two, they’ve added dynamic midfielders who not only replace the skills lost but add a different direction of balance for the team going forward long-term.
This alongside with the singings of Tobin Heath and Nikita Parris who also bring experience and tenacity in the forward areas has given Arsenal another dimension to dominate this season and really compete for the title at the end of it.
Heath recently referred to the Scottish magician Kim Little as ‘the best player she has ever played with’ – which is an extremely high compliment coming from one of the most decorated athletes in the sport.
Nonetheless, this seems like a fitting method of expression for the midfielder who seems to have no major flaw. Her understanding of the game is evident on the pitch, both regarding the spaces she picks up and also her anticipation of her movement as well as her teammates.
The best way to describe Little (outside of her small stature), is controlled. Everything she does in midfield seems to be completely intentional and calculated, whether that be providing the final ball or driving with the ball to free up space for other attackers.
Her presence gives the team stability and a clear tactical-nous – which is a major reason why head coach Jonas Eidevall has consistently relied on her. Her game intelligence has aided him so much in his adaptation period to the club because she is able to pick up the team’s game-plan with ease, allowing him to focus on the finer details when preparing.
Little’s capabilities have also meant that she has undertaken numerous roles in the midfield this year – more recently closer to the goalscorer as seen against Everton, and Little’s versatility and ability have proven pivotal to the team as they have dominated every team in the league so far.
Having the stability that Little provides has also given Arsenal a basis to build their attacks outside of wing-play which has given them another dimension, which could prove decisive come the end of the season.
Finally, the managerial change could be another turning point towards Arsenal reclaiming the league that they last won in the 2018-19 season.
Following the departure of Joe Montemurro, the club replaced him with Eidevall who was previously at Champions League club FC Rosengard.
He has already boasted huge victories against both Chelsea and Man City so far this season, but what has garnered the most attention is his ability to be tactically perceptive – both of opponents and formation shapes.
He also has figured out how to best utilise his squad, even in abstract ways. We have seen him go into depth about how he views the importance of formation shapes and being able to change this formation mid-game.
His ability to rotate to do this shows that the club is already well drilled in how he wants to play, despite not being at the club for long. This bodes well for not only his ability to play against the rest of the league but more importantly his aptitude for going toe-to-toe with the other title challengers.
All in all, Arsenal’s early form is giving more excitement and buzz to fans of the sport as well as neutrals who just enjoy watching good football. Last season, we saw a title race that went down to the final day, and if Arsenal keeps up this early form, we could see the same happen again.
An elite space manipulator in Ella Toone, and a fit Alessia Russo? Scary hours – but not for us.
Alessia Russo had started last season ridiculously well, and within her first 3 starts had already given the team two league goals and two assists.
Fans were licking their lips at the prospect of her launching United into that coveted top three – that would see the team make the Champions League for the first time in its history.
However, fast forward a couple of weeks, and Alessia had unfortunately suffered a complete hamstring tear which saw her season ended prematurely following complex surgery and rehabilitation.
This, coupled with other major injuries in the team – most notably to the world-class Tobin Heath, saw the club’s Champions League dream fade.
The saving grace of last season was the development of Academy graduate Ella Toone, who shone through despite the club missing out on top three by one point.
After doing so well with United in the Championship in 2018/19, she saw reduced minutes in the 19/20 season following the club’s promotion to the Women’s Super League.
The following season a rejuvenated Toone came into her first game and started not only full of confidence, but a clear idea about how she can use her small, though nimble presence to be an elite finder of space in the midfield. Former United manager Casey Stoney even went as far as to refer to her as “undroppable”.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure in watching these two young stars play, the best way to describe the way Toone is somebody that no matter who is surrounding herself can wriggle out of extreme pressure through body feints and passing. Think David Silva but from Tyldesley.
The greatest asset to Toone’s game is the fact that her game intelligence appears to be extremely high. Not only is she a fantastic player technically, but her decision-making in the centre of the park is more often than not well beyond her years.
The biggest indication that this is true is the fact that her teammates appear to trust her completely, even under pressure. This season she has started receiving the superstar treatment, with two and sometimes even three people closing her down.
However, all this signifies to me is how much of a threat she is considered by opponents, and more importantly how adaptable and calm she is when she meets obstacles on the pitch.
Having received her first England start a few weeks ago, I’m nothing but confident that she will be able to make that number 8/10 position hers for years to come.
Her understanding of the game lends itself well to the international level – namely her ability to find space and evade opponents with her close control and movement. So whilst she nailed down a starting and pivotal role to the United team, getting consistent minutes in the England squad is going to be a harder task because of the sheer amount of quality in the Lionesses attacking areas.
However, Toone has shown many times before that competition for places and increased demand on her is something that she welcomes – and I have no doubt that in the next three years she will be vital to the England side.
Unlike her close friend and teammate Toone, Russo didn’t get the last season to develop through consistent games at the club because of her injury.
What we see with Russo is a clear mould of a traditional striker, with her ability to link up with other forwards players, be a focal point with strong hold-up play, and more importantly her extremely accurate finishing.
In the five games I was able to see her in last season she showed more than just potential. Instead, she showed a clear understanding of how she could use her physical stature and positional knowledge as a striker to not only give herself goal-scoring opportunities but also give the wingers playing goal-scoring opportunities as well.
As she continues to build her fitness up this season, as well as the fact that she appears to have a great relationship with teammates no matter which personnel she’s paired wit, I can only see great things for her both in the short and long term.
Her style of play makes her a very good candidate for being Ellen White’s eventual successor, and I think that her and Toone’s close connection both on and off the pitch will bode well for what England can do in the future.
So, as one of the founding members of the Toone and Russo fan club, I’d love nothing more than to see them both excelling and winning trophies – both for England and Manchester United. And when that (fingers crossed) happens… just remember that you heard it here first!
MMA fans have waited half a decade for this day and it is finally upon us, Paddy ‘The Baddy’ Pimblett makes his UFC debut this Saturday in Las Vegas at the Apex.
He opens up the main card against Brazilian Luigi Vendramini on a card that is stacked with British talent and he may just prove to be the best of the lot.
This event was put together with the intention of being held in London in front of a full O2 Arena which would have been the perfect coming out party for the scouser. But with the UFC unable to get isolation rules waived for their non-UK staff, the party is postponed for now and Pimblett will have to prove his hype in a venue without fans.
It’s a massive shame for ‘The Baddy’ but probably more for the UFC themselves that they can’t showcase their new star in front of a fanatic crowd.
His well known walkout to his own mash up of songs will get any UFC attendance pumped but starting off in front of a home crowd would have been a perfect way to introduce the future lightweight contender.
That won’t affect Paddy when the cage is shut though. His last two fights were behind closed doors which both resulted in first round stoppages and he’s expecting similar this weekend.
Speaking to Mike Owens Media, Pimblett said ‘I’m gonna put it on him in a big way and he’s getting finished in one or two, I’m getting that performance bonus.” This match up certainly gives him that chance.
Vendramini doesn’t shy away from a fight and will meet Paddy in the middle if he wants to, but it will likely come down to whether Vendramini can deal with the Scousers unique and awkward grappling.
Pimblett is so quick, extremely flexible and can throw up submission attempts when you least expect it. Don’t be surprised to see him attempt a few on Saturday.
Vendramini though has plenty of motivation for this fight. Having lost in his last outing he is now 1-2 in the UFC and has admitted his only win kept him from getting a ‘normal job’, for the time being at least. A loss would mean one win in four and a likely cut from the roster on the horizon.
Should Paddy get the debut win, he’ll no doubt make the most of his interview post fight with Michael Bisping and have a well rehearsed call out prepared. Now it’s confirmed he’ll be contending in the lightweight division too, there’s plenty of names there to do so.
Pimblett is adamant he’s on his way to superstar status and insists he’s here to takeover much similar to a previous former two-weight Cage Warriors champion, Conor McGregor.
The comparisons with the Irish superstar aren’t just throw away comments. ‘The Baddy’ has all the attributes to become a household name and have a long and successful UFC career and this Saturday evening is the start of that journey.