Liverpool v Everton the armchair view

Well done to the 1000+ fans who went yesterday in that freezing weather. It was nice to watch the game at home.

The 1-1 result was a fair one as both side created chances and can say the refereeing decision could have gone their way.

Sian Massey was very much in control yesterday booking Duggan very early in the game for dissent after Dowie had kicked Jill Scott with the studs up. I guess it is another one of those where the referee saw the coming together.
Then the yellow/red card incident where Johnson pushed Rolser while they were both chasing the ball. Did she deny a clear goalscoring opportunity against a player running towards the goal ? Maybe not, stricto sensu I am not sure Rolser was running in an angle towards the goal but rather away.
Finally the penalty incident after a poor backpass by Greenwood when Brown took out Dowie. The big question is the ball was nowhere near the action and Dowie had no chance of catching it. I have seen many times those penalties not being given on this account. Credit to the assistant for spotting the foul and helping the referee making the decision.

I believe Liverpool played at a level below expectation and Everton a little above expectation.

Everton played some very good passing football. A lot of very good pass and move stuff that lead to creating many goalscoring chances. They have kept their usual high pressing signature defending but added maturity on the attacking side as well. Duggan and Parris the star attacking performer on the day. Rachel Finnis had a good game in term of shot stopping making 5 or 6 decisive saves to keep Everton in the game. To her debit, her usual “drop a cross” moment where she recovered well and a penalty given away where she could also have been booked.Everton defintely hit the ground running and it was great that they had so many homegrown players in the side yesterday.

Liverpool are a work in progress and it was obvious from yesterday that there is a fair bit of work to be done offensively and defensively to attack as a team. While Everton attacked with 6 or 7 players at time, Liverpool had up to 4 players in the attacking zone making it hard to score goals basically. Engen was really excellent in defense, quality player always show their strength in big games. Bonner was solid alongside her. Fara Williams carried on her form from last season really and did not show much. Da Costa started brightly then faded away and was replaced by Billson. Dowie was her usual self working hard and providing a focal point. The 2 forwards Fors and Rolser were underused in my opinion and could have created more danger. The main point yesterday was Liverpool team passing and movement is really a work in progress and they will need time to gel and be really a good attacking team. Once they will find their rhythm, they will be a headaches for the other WSL side.

So overall an entertaining game played on difficult conditions, credit to the 25 actors on the night.

FA WSL Conti Cup Game Day 1 preview

The first live game of the 2013 season will take place at the Halton Stadium on Saturday the 23rd of March kick-off at 7.30 pm : Liverpool v Everton in a Group 2 game.

There is nothing better than a Merseyside derby to kick-off what should be a very interesting season. Liverpool made a lot of change in personnel and coaching staff while Everton changed manager and lost of a couple of influential players. The balance of power may well have shifted in Liverpool.

Last week-end results 5-0 for Liverpool against Villa and no game for Everton mean this game will be Everton’s season opener, while Liverpool will be full of confidence. Everton has had a good preseason and  star players like Scott and Duggan need to perform and lead by example, Finnis in goal will be busy and will need to be at her best.
Liverpool played Becky Easton at right back against Villa, with Lucy Bronze not making the match squad was the main surprise in the line-up on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if Matt Beard makes  changes in his starting 11 on Saturday night. Everton has announced 3 new signings during the week in Durrack, Magill and Nelson.

 

The other Group 2 game will be played also on Saturday the 23rd at the Keepmoat Stadium between Doncaster and Chelsea. Chelsea like Liverpool went abroad and added Icelandic, Swedish talent. They were beaten 1-0 at Lincoln, a disappointing result for an ambitious side. According to many sources, Chelsea have signed 3 extra players ( one Brazilian, one Japanese and one English) but nothing has been announced. There were some interesting choices by Emma Hayes last week-end with Holtham at center back rather than Davies and Jakobsson and Aluko on the wing rather than Bleazard. Youngsters Blundell and Muya got their first senior game as well.

Doncaster has a young team and will be likely to struggle this season. Sue Smith was the main absentee last week-end and her experience is vital to help and lead a group full of young talented players. Doncaster also gave a game to a youngster 16 years old Ashleigh Mills. Fair play to John Buckley, if a player is talented, age should not matter.

 

In Group 1 Bristol will host Lincoln both side with very high ambitions and it should be a very good quality season opener. Bristol won at Doncaster with a side that contained 5 forwards ( Del Rio, Watts, Heatherson, Curson and Staniforth) but I would expect James to be back in midfield alongside Windell as Lincoln are strong and powerful in that area. Will we also see the female Michu( Natalia) on Saturday ? She certainly knows where the goal is and will be a big asset for Bristol.

This will be the first game WSL game for Rick Passmoor with Lincoln and he had a lot of success with Leeds Ladies and many of those players now play for Lincoln. After that important 1-0 win over Chelsea, Lincoln will travel in a very positive mood looking for a result. Barker and Sargeant are injured and Sophie Walton was suspended last Sunday following a red card on final league day.

 

The other group 1 game has been postponed due to Arsenal playing Forest in the FA Cup. New date tbc, there are 3 week-ends put aside by the FA to catch-up any postponed game. I bet they will all be used, especially if Arsenal qualifies for the Champions League semi-final making it a trio of WSL games postponed.

Arsenal 3 Torres 1 UEFA WCL

Coming out a Champions League sligthly disappointed with a 3-1 lead is a bit unusual. It comes from the nagging feeling that the away goal might be costly in the end. It just spoiled what has been an excellent performance from the girls with 3 superb goals by Smith, Nobbs and Little. To be fair the Torres goal was superb as well and the result of a great pass and move.

It was Shelley Kerr first game in charge and she went for what can be described as a flexible 4-3-3 system with Byrne, Scott Grant Flaherty Houghton, White Little Nobbs Yankey, Smith Beattie. If we compare to Laura Harvey’s usual 11 Fahey and Davison got dropped with Beattie and White coming on for them.

Interesting to note that Kerr chose to play Houghton in place of Fahey at left back, where she has done so well for England and Team GB but was rarely used there for Arsenal. Also Ellen White selected ahead of Gemma Davison is another interesting choice. An all rounder rather than a pure winger, maybe the work rate involved is the main reason, at that stage, we have no idea about team selection reasons. Davison came on in the second half and created loads of problems for the tired defender and could have had a couple of assists.

That starting 11 was a very bold and attacking with both full back Scott and Houghton bombing forwards alongside at times the two central midfielder Nobbs and Little. At time, you could see Arsenal attacking with 7 players leaving 3 at the back a bit vulnerable to a counter attack. It worked really well because the trio of Little, Nobbs and Smith controlled everything in the center of the pitch with their superb technical ability. I think it was the first time ever that I have seen all 3 in the midfield area alternating ball possession and orientation of the game. It is no surprise that Kelly Smith and Jordan Nobbs scored in that game. Kelly from a Jennifer Beattie flick on a free kick. Jordan from a Yankey cross that she controlled with the help of a defender.

At that stage of the game, it was more like a 4-0-3-3 system with Katie Chapman’s holding midfield position not occupied at all. Then came Kelly’s unfortunate injury, let’s hope it is not a serious one, because loosing her on the first game of the season would not be a good thing. Her capacity to turn a game on with one moment of magic is not matched by the 6 or 7 other forwards in the squad. They are all superb and quality and will do the job in the WSL without problem but to beat the best teams in Europe these days, you need Kelly and her world class talent.

So Niamh Fahey came on for Kelly. She went at left-back and Steph Houghton moved to defensive midfield where she promptly assisted for Kim Little 3rd goal. If you see the highlights, she made a Beckham style 40 yards pass from a quick free kick that went from the right wing to the left. Yankey received it and crossed it straight to Kim who finished it superbly.

With Steph holding the midfield, the team got a bit more defensive balance and carried on attacking using Beattie as a focal point as well both wings with Yankey and White seeing a lot of the ball. In the middle of the second half, Gemma Davison was introduced replacing Jennifer Beattie. Ellen White went to the center forward position. Gemma did a lot of running down the right and troubled the left back. The final product was not there unfortunately on the day but that will definitely worry the defenders in the second leg.

Overall a very good performance, the game ebbed and flowed at times with Torres creating chance and rewarded with the precious away goal. There is no doubt Arsenal will score in the away leg though and will surely qualify. Next is the FA Cup game away to Forest on Sunday where Arsenal will face one of the team’s player currently on loan there until the end of the 2012-13 season.

My FA WSL 2013 predictions (updated)

Updated 20/03

The FA WSL 2013 edition will be extremely open. Although a recent facebook poll by the fans makes Arsenal favorite, it is not likely to be a repeat of last year’s unbeaten season for the Gunners.

Why ? because  a revolution is coming to the FA WSL. Full time football has entered women’s football in England and it will have a huge impact on the title race. There is a huge difference between training twice a week like most FA WSL side are still doing and training 4 or 5 times a week. With 5 times a week training,you can do extra work on the technical side, you can have a proper preparation on  strength/weakness of the next opponent. You also build up your fitness level such an important component of women’s football in England.

So with Liverpool going now with the 4/5 days training schedule and a certain number of Chelsea players training daily ( those who don’t have another job) , it will certainly create some excitement. The 14 games format might actually prevent those 2 teams from gelling and overtaking the top 2 teams as 1 or 2 defeats is really the maximum to be conceded for a title pretender.  On a 22 games season for example, Liverpool and Chelsea would have had more times to develop their attacking game and players’ understanding.

So what do we know or what can be predicted ?

The Doncaster Belles are likely to finish at the bottom of the table if they do not sign a couple of experienced player because they have a lot of young english talent with a big potential. But it is not enough in general to win games, “you can never win anything with kids”  is obviously wrong as proven by United but can be true in the WSL. Prediction 7 or 8th place. Put it this way, the Belles are doing a great thing giving young English players a chance to play in the WSL. In every competition, there will be teams fighting at the bottom of the table, so even if they struggle in term of results, they still do one of the job asked for the WSL side ie develop English players unlike other side who have gone abroad to consolidate their squad.

Lincoln Ladies have a fantastic manager in Rick Passmoor  and kept the same team as last year bar Staniforth who was so important on set pieces. They have also added Bardsley. What is guaranteed is Lincoln will have a very compact defensive block with a strong triangle in Bradley, Stoney and Bardsley and therefore will be difficult to beat. They might struggle again to score goals from the center forward position. Prediction 5th to 7th. If they can find goals from the forwards, they could end up in the top half though.

Bristol  Academy have lost the FA WSL player of the year to Seattle and have signed Staniforth Harries and Natalia, it will interesting to see how the team will evolve without Fishlock’s driving force. Some players like Jemma Rose will have to step-up and take the leadership alongside Del Rio. Prediction 5th to 7th

Everton have lost a few players but managed to keep in demand players like Duggan and Jill Scott. The players coming up from the youth teams like Parris and Greenwood were given a chance last year and did not disappoint so you can expect more young quality player like Paige Williams to step up. Prediction 5th to 7th

Chelsea Ladies brought a good number of experienced foreign players from Brazil, Iceland and Sweden plus Holtham and Aluko to add to the squad. with the new training conditions, Emma Hayes could create a nice attacking team. The only problem is it will take time for the team to gel. Prediction 2nd to 4th.

Birmingham City  Ladies managed to keep the same squad as last year except for Aluko, Spencer  and Taylor. 4 England youth international  with a high potential have come in for those 3 players   If no key player gets injured or suspended, Birmingham will compete for a top 2 spot.Karen Carney’s injury at the Cyprus Cup could keep her out for up to 6 weeks is not a good news for Blues. Prediction 1st to 4th.

Liverpool Ladies  have made huge changes bringing 12 and letting go 13 players. If they can gel quickly enough, they will certainly be title contenders because the starting 11 which will be 100% different from the beginning of 2012 is strong in every position. When I saw them play a few weeks there was a lot of work in progress to do in term of attacking as expected but individualities did shine on the day. The 14 games format means that they could run out of time, before they hit their full potential. Prediction 1st to 4th

Arsenal have got  a new manager Shelley Kerr and welcome back Becky Spencer and kept everybody else including on demand players like Smith, Scott or White. Stability is the main word here but will this be enough to contain rivals that are improving every seasons and getting closer every year. At the moment, the attacking style seems ready as seen in friendlies and Arsenal should hit the ground running from Day 3 as their first  two League games will be postponed, should they beat Torres in the UEFA WCL.  new of Chapman’s pregnancy and White’s retirement means a slightly  weakened side before Chapman’s return in the 2nd half of the season. Prediction 1st to 4th.

Besides the Belles, the other 7 teams are all capable of beating each other on the day and we might see many surprises this season and definitely a very different final table from the last 2 seasons. I really expect a 4 horses race for the 2 champions league places. The first games will be crucial because those who loose or draw too many games will quickly go out of the Champions league race. Maybe Everton will learn the lesson from the 2 previous ones  “it is not a marathon, it is a sprint” not the other way round.

And the funniest thing is Arsenal’s first two games will be postponed and played later if they beat Torres Terra Sarda in the Champions League quarter final. How bad was the planning by the FA ? You would never see that in the men’s premier league ! If those 2 games are postponed, we will see another season where the table is difficult to read as in season 1 where Birmingham took the lead from Day 1 and let it go only after Day 13 when Arsenal played their game in hand.

Arsenal v Torres preview

Quarter final of the Champions League is always going to be a tough game. Torres Terra Sarda are regulars in the competition and have many Italian and foreign internationals.

It will be Shelley Kerr’s first game in charge and because of this we have absolutely no clue who will start today. There are 27 players on the UEFA list including 5 goalkeepers. If we discount the youngsters, we can say there are 20 players vying for a spot in the 18 players squad today.

One player who won’t be involved is Katie Chapman. Arsenal.com announced yesterday that she was 7 months pregnant. This is a big loss for the club but she will be back for the 2nd half of the season.

So guess the starting 11 was quite easy after a few years under Laura Harvey, probably getting 9 out of 11 was the norm. Now guessing today’s team is tricky as we have no clue who she will prefer in every position :

GK : Byrne or Spencer
RB : Scott or Houghton
CB : Grant or Houghton
CB : Flaherty or Tracy
LB : Fahey or Beattie or Houghton
DM : Houghton or Beattie or Bailey
CM : Nobbs or Ludlow
AM : Little or Smith
RW : Davison or White
CF : Smith or Beattie or White
LW : Yankey or Carter

Shelley Kerr insisted on being well organised so we’ll see if it means a defensive set-up or just a very strict system ?

Arsenal Ladies : looking into the future

I was reading in a magazine about the way men’s teams are preparing their recruitment drive for the future seasons. One staff member was saying, it is very simple you look at your players position by position in the first team, reserves and U19 level. I will now have a look at this with the 1st team, Reserves and some of the promising U17 players at Arsenal Ladies :

Position 1st 1st 1st Res Res Res U17 U17
GK  Byrne  Spencer Harris Field Adams  Bull
RB  Scott  Brooks  Perrin
CB Houghton  Grant  Robe  Bartrip
CB  Flaherty Tracy Ryan  Sampson
LB  Fahey  Meiwald  Gaylor McPhee
DM  Chapman  Bailey  Auld  Steele Williamson
CM  Nobbs  Ludlow  Cunningham  Oliver
AM  Little Bragg  Danbridge Nicol Humphrey
RW  Davison  White  Miller
CF  Smith  Beattie  Ayisi  Mosengo
LW  Yankey  Carter  Bruton

In term of forwards, there is a clear depth in quality with 6 players competing for 3 positions. Lauren Bruton could also be a 7th player  competing as well as she is currently in the reserves after recovering from multiple injuries.  The other reserves forwards are young and still learning their trade. Freda Ayisi is on the Champions League roster but not ready yet to play at 1st team level. Carla Humphrey is a very creative player in the U17 side and might a good player in 2 or 3 seasons.

In midfield there are 4 players for 3 places Chapman Nobbs Little and Ludlow. Katie Chapman is currently pregnant and will not be back before the 2nd half of the WSL season.  Stephanie Houghton can play there as well as youngster and Olympic opening ceremony sensation Jade Bailey. She has just been promoted to the first team.  Emily Auld is also another youngster with talent at her feet. Another young defensive midfield reserve player who has improved this year is Zoe Cunningham. I don’t expect the two girls to appear in the WSL 2013 season but should the club keep them this summer, they might gt a look in in 2014.  We also have Bianca Bragg an attacking midfielder on the fringe of the first team at the moment.

Defense is a bit short in numbers at the moment with 6 players only :  Scott, Grant, Flaherty, Fahey, Houghton and Tracy. Beattie can also play in defense if she is not selected up front. The main concern here is Grant and Tracy are close to retirement and therefore by the end of 2013, the number of defenders is likely to be as short as 4.  In the reserves, there are 2 good full back Anne Meiwald and Amber Gaylor with one attacking center-back. Those 3 girls need to grow but if they carry on improving could be good squad players in 2014. Molly Bartrip the U17 captain has been named in the Champions League  squad list sent to UEFA so could represent the future of the  team.

Goalkeeping is an area where the team is stacked at the moment. Emma Byrne, Rebecca Spencer are two quality goalkeepers. Sophie harris who played a few games last season is currently on loan at Forrest. Then the 2 reserves keeper Scarlett Field and Nicole Adams need to grow and learn to reach the required level and they need to be trained well  in the next season to get a chance.

So by the end of the season 2013, I believe the club will need to sign 2 defenders and at least 1 midfield player.