FA WSL Day 8 preview

Saturday the 3rd will see a title decider between Liverpool and Arsenal live on BT Sport at the Halton Stadium. Liverpool currently 8 points ahead of the Gunners who have 2 games in hand. Should Liverpool win, the gap would be 11 points and even with 2 games, it would need a giant Liverpool collapse to the the Gunners catch the Reds. Should Arsenal win the League would be wide open with 5 points between those 2 sides and that would make Arsenal a virtual league leader.

Sunday the 4th with the other 3 games :

Chelsea at home to Doncaster, both side need points after a poor first half of the season. Chelsea made a big signing in world champion Yuki Ogimi. Will she score the much needed goals.Doncaster obviously relegated will fight hard not to finish bottom of the League.

Everton v Bristol. Unexpected title challengers Bristol will be hoping to capitalise on the points lost by either Liverpool or Arsenal and might try to be top of the League on Sunday. Everton has played great football and put the emphasis on homegrown player and will be trying to finish in the top 4.

Lincoln v Birmingham 2 teams with a disappointing 1st half of the season. Lincoln signed a lot of players after having a matchday squad with sometimes 1 or 2 subs only. Birmingham will welcome back a kind of new signings in Karen Carney.

My prediction draw at Liverpool, Bristol, Birmingham and Chelsea to win.


FA WSL 2nd half schedule : bizzare, unfair or just the usual shambles ?

Following a comment from Mark Sampson on how unfair the schedule was for his team Bristol Academy, I had a look in the number of days interval between each game for the 8 teams. I have included the Conti Cup games in this  analysis. Those disruptions in the schedule are due to the UEFA U19 Euro to be played in Wales very soon. It seems it was not taken into account, when planning the season 6 months ago. How long ago did UEFA announce the U19 finals schedule? Probably more than a year ago, I think. It is not the 1st time this season that the FA disregards the UEFA competitions’ schedule. Day 1 & 2 games were played on the same week-ends as Arsenal Champions League ties.

All the teams have 14 days between the 13th and the final game 29/09 due to the England WC qualifiers against Belarus 21/09 and 26/09.

Arsenal 5 3 7 3 8 3 4 3 7 14 have a tight schedule due to postponed games in the first half of the season. It will be a good test of the players fitness and squad strength.

Birmingham 7 7 13 3 8 3 14 have a good schedule overall with sufficient resting time except for a 3 games interval that goes 3-8-3 but it means they can plan on rotating for those games while play their best 11 on all other games very easily.

Bristol 6 22 4 3 4 3 14 have a strange schedule indeed first a 6 days interval so ample resting time then 22 days which is ridiculous. Then a 5 games sequence that is really tight and will test their squad and then the 14 days break for WC qualifiers.

Chelsea 7 6 12 4 14 have a good schedule with enough recovery time for most games.

Doncaster 7 10.3 5 3 3 3 8 14 an easy start with enough recovery time between games, then a tough 6 games streak where their strength will be tested. then a lot of recovery time to finish the last 2 games  It will be hard for them not to finish bottom of the League with that schedule. They had too many games postponed  for multiple reasons and will struggle probably.

Everton 4 3 21 3 3 3 5 3 14 Another team with a curious schedule 4 and 3 days between games then nothing for 21 days, then a 6 games streak in a tight schedule situation and the usual 14 days break at the end.

Lincoln 3 4 18 3 4 10 14 A mix of long rest and tight schedule, one of the easiest schedule of the FA WSL alongside Birmingham.

Liverpool 4 3 7 7 8 3 8 14 Quite a good schedule, although Matt Beard did not seem to rotate much in the first half of the season, so that schedule should sit him well. If Liverpool beats Arsenal and Lincoln in the first 2 league games, they will have league 95% won.

So that schedule is just as mess as the first half schedule was. It is not rocket science 14 League games should be played over 14 weeks with a week rest between games. If you want quality football. That is it. The FA WSL is a fitness and squad strength test rather than a football one. Let’s remember last year Conti Cup final barely 3 days after the last League game between 2 exhausted teams…

There are 52 weeks in a year. Even with international football breaks, not finding time to schedule properly 14 League games + up to 5 conti cup and 5 FA Cup games is just not serious. The FA WSL is a tool for the England teams, well we can clearly the schedule is just bad and does not help. How many players came to the Euros with knocks and just knackered ?

Coventry v Arsenal (0-4)

First game of  the pre-season, or I should say the FA WSL second half pre-season. A trip to Coventry was on the card. I was expecting to see our 2 new Scottish signings but did not expect to see a new goalkeeper. I did wonder what would happen in this position though as we had 6 goalie from first team to U17 and 4 or 5 have gone during the summer.

So today we briefly saw Doris Bacic the new goalkeeper from Croatia. She was in goal when England beat Croatia 3-0 and she had a blinder. We also welcomed Emma Mitchell and Caroline Weir two young Scottish girl, two quality players. Jordan Nobbs was there as well, straight after coming off the flight from Sweden where Hope(less) Powell decided not to give her any game time. Katie Chapman was also there barely a month after giving birth to her 3rd child.

The starting 11 was Emma Byrne, Molly Bartrip Yvonne Tracy Gilly Flaherty (cap) Emma Mitchell, Katie Chapman Jade Bailey Jordan Nobbs, Gemma Davison Caroline Weir, Lauren Bruton.

The subs were Doris Bacic, Leighanne Robe, Bianca Bragg, Freda Ayisi, Carla Humphrey,

The goals were scored by Weir x2, Davison and Humphrey.

Molly,Carla, Freda and Leighanne play for the reserves and it was good to see them get a chance for the first team as England players should be back for the friendly on Wednesday v West Ham.  Carla scored a hat-trick in the U17 National Cup final and Molly was captaining our winning side.

The 2 new Scottish sginings impressed : Emma deployed at left back rather than in her usual attacking position and Caroline up front and then on the wing. Caroline scored two and had a assist for Carla’s goal. Doris in goal did not have much to do, so it is difficult to know how good she is, judging by her performance against England a few month ago there is no doubt she will be quality.

Overall a 4-0 win to start pre-season is a good start. The next friendly will take place at West Ham away on Wednesday the 24th Ko at 0745 pm at Thurrock FC RM19 1YN

22 players for the WC qualifiers in September ?

As the WC qualifiers are coming soon, it is time to look towards the future. Here is a list of 22 players I would take for the forthcoming game :

GK : Telford, Chamberlain, Earps
DF: Susi, Bonner, Bronze, Houghton, Scott, Flaherty, Harrop, Bassett
MF: Asante, Nobbs, Scott, Moore, Potter
FW: Dowie, Taylor, White, Davison, Carney, Clarke

It would be a mix of youth and experience and it would allow for a different style of football. An attacking possession based football with players technically good enough to pass and move the ball.

Euro 2013 : where did it go wrong for England ?

This is a quick analysis after England’s failure to reach the quarter finals of Euro 2013. A truly disappointing performance from the England team.

The results :

England 2 Spain 3
England 1 Russia 1
England 0 France 3

1. The 23 players squad

I think anyone who watches the FA WSL and women’s football knows the following players : Gemma Davison, Jodie Taylor, Natasha Dowie, Rachel Williams, Gilly Flaherty, Katie Chapman (retired from international football), Lianne Sanderson ( retired from international football). What do they have in common ? They were not selected in favor of Hope Powell’s usual favorites. Chapman of course was not available as she has just given birth to her 3rd child but retired due to lack of care possible for the kids during tournaments.

Refusing to select in form players is a regular occurence with Hope Powell : Rachel Williams in 2011, Jessica Fishlock for Team GB in 2012, Natasha Dowie in 2013.

There is nothing wrong with having a core of trusted players you can rely on and who do the job for you on and off the pitch. But the previous tournament yielded the following results : Group Stage, Quarter finals, Runner-up, Quarter finals, Quarter finals. It seems to me that being runner-up in 2009 was the result of hard work and lucky circumstances ( finishing 3rd in the group, beating Finland and Holland on the way to the final). So right from the start of the squad selection, there was already a few problems.

I should mention the squad had 3 right backs and only 1 left back which is unusual in a tournament competition. Having the 1st choice right back as back up for the left back position is strange when you consider Left footed Kerys Harrop was competing for Team GB at the Universiade.

At goalkpeeper level what can Siobhan Chamberlain do to get a game when the 2 players in front don’t seem to perform well  or what about  Carly Telford who is the best English goalie in my opinion.

2. The injured players

Which coach in the right frame of mind would gamble on selecting so many injured players ? Again nothing wrong with having maybe a couple of injured players around in the squad. Look at France : Henry did not play before the England game ie 3rd group game after a knee injury. But Hope Powell took 5 players who had knocks. Carney injured at the Cyprus Cup with 0 WSL game played for the whole season. Smith injured in the Champions League quarter finals and again no WSL game time. Brown also injured and with limited game time in the WSL. Although it can be less damaging for a Goalkeeper. Houghton and Stoney where injured in the month prior to the competition and coming back, and the really unlucky Sophie Bradley who was injured on the last preparation friendly against Sweden. The ridiculous compressed FA WSL schedule certainly did not help with players fitness overall.

So what was the final use for those players :
Brown unused as she was number 2 keeper. With Bardsley performances during the tournament, she could have got a game.
Bradley missed 2 games and came back for the France game and struggled due to French forwards quality, fitness and match sharpness.

Stoney and Houghton were starters for all 3 games and there was suspicion that they were not 100% ready for it.
Houghton did not look the same players as in 2012 at the Olympics and Stoney was not as commanding as usual.

Smith came on twice towards the end on the Russia and France game to save the day. It worked against Russia where she combined well with Duggan to get the last second life saving equaliser. Against France’s quality it was not enough.

3. The tactics

The usual 4-3-3 that is used from the U15 to the seniors was employed and failed to work during the tournament with White too isolated.  Simply because it transforms into a 4-5-1 in defensive position. A different center forward with an old style English center forward may have helped but Williams, Taylor and Dowie were not selected.

Incredibly 4-4-2 was used against France something that I had not seen for any England squad for like years and years, I remember the U15 v Holland and the U23 at the Nordic Cup, to pitch Duggan and White together but it did not work due the the opposition’s quality and the team inabilty to pass and move on the day.

As previously noted, there was a change of tactics with the move from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 but you can still find some strange thing like a monotype style of center forward selected. Variety is the spice of life me thinks.

Also at the time when managers also talk about pairings as part of the stregth of a team RB – RW LB- LW CM -DM, it is really strange to have pplayed 2 center backs with exaclty the same skills and weaknessses against France.

Stoney and Bassett complement each other as they are different type of center backs but Bradley and Stoney are exaclty the same type with the same problems and this was surely targeted by the French forwards Le Sommer and Thomis.

4. Players not performing

The important thing to note is all players gave 100% and you can always rely on all the girls to do their best. Fitness come to mind if you look for reasons for some below expectation performances. There is a bit of irony in it because, fitness testing is one of the primary criteria for selection for the England team. I could even guess, it comes before the technicall skill level. I always had the feeling watching the England teams youth and seniors that coaches preferred to have a player that is able to run for 90 minutes rather than someone who can do something with the ball but cannot run as much.

So with some players performing under par, you would have thought that those players would have been replaced in the starting 11 by the others who have been patiently waiting for their turn. Obviously it did not happen for some unknown reasons.

5. The management

Hope Powell has been managing England for 15 years. She has worked very hard to change the culture at the FA and build the foundation and the structure for women’s football in England. She has made wonders no one is denying that, but It does not mean she should be immune of criticism because of it.
It is a fact that she is relying on the same core of players since 2005 : again nothing wrong with having main group of players that are tried and trusted. Every football manager does the same. But if your tried and trusted are out of form, slightly injured and not performing, it is time for a change.
Jordan Nobbs is the main name that comes in conversation considering she sat on the bench for the whole tournament. She could have offered an option. Tony Duggan got her chance against Russia and subsequently started against France. Duggan was the only youngster who was given a chance. Jade Moore, Lucy Bronze, Gemma Bonner, Dunia Susi 0 minute altogether in this Euro. Had the main players been playing well, you would say fair enough.

The manager makes all the choices in term of preparation and selection and once the players cross the white line, they are the master of their destiny. So they are all in this together and it looks like Hope Powell is looking forward to the World Cup qualifiers in September. In the meantime no player has retired from international football which is surprising but maybe it will happen soon.

France’s starting 11 v Russia ?

Following a surprise defeat to Australia at home on Saturday (2-0), there are many questions marks on who will start on Friday against Russia.

In goal Bouhaddi is the number 1 choice. She is not really challenged by Benameur and Deville, it’s a shame Gerard and Phillipe were not selected.

In defence the back 4 is settled : Franco, Georges, Renard, Boulleau. The back ups are Soyer on the right and Houara on the left. 3rd choice center back is Delannoy and 4th is Meilleroux.

In midfield Henry is currently recovering from an injury and is not ready yet. That leaves Soubeyrand, Necib, Bussaglia and Abily fighting for places. This is linked to the forward options where Delie, Thiney, Le Sommer and Thomis are vying for places in the starting 11 as well.

Younger players like Catala, Asseyi or special profile forward like Bretigny (super sub goalscorer) are not expected to start.

Abily and Soubeyrand were poor on Saturday, so form would suggest a starting 11 like this : Bouhaddi, Franco Georges Renard Boulleau, Bussaglia Necib Thiney, Thomis Delie Le Sommer.
Or returning to the WC 11 tactic with Bussaglia Soubeyrand behind an attacking midfield 3 of Abily Necib Thiney with no wingers and Delie as a lone striker.

So basically 8 players will surely start the game v Russia : Bouhaddi, Franco Georges Renard Boulleau, Necib Thiney and Delie. Depending on Russia’s strength and weaknesses one system might be more interesting than another. Although Soubeyrand is the captain with her diminished physical impact, I would be surprised to see her given a starting spot.

Well all will be revealed on Friday around 1630 CET. At the end of the day, the main problem is being clinical in front of the goal, whoever starts on Friday need to put it in the back of the net instead of wide if the goal or on the goalie.