In Cristian Romero’s eyes, Liverpool colossus Virgil van Dijk and new Manchester United star Lisandro Martinez are the two best defenders in the Premier League.
Romero himself joined the division last season, playing on loan for Tottenham before being signed permanently this summer. He has impressed in that time, becoming one of the most important players for Antonio Conte, establishing himself as a first-team regular for Argentina in the process.
He plays alongside Martinez for his national team, and rates the new Manchester United signing highly, saying he along with Van Dijk is the best defender in England.
“Today, the best defender for me is Virgil van Dijk, always, and Lisandro Martinez from Manchester United,” Romero told Sky Sports. “For me, they are the best in the Premier League.”
When playing in Italy before joining Spurs, Romero played in the middle of a back three for the vast majority of matches. In England though, Conte has deployed him on the right-hand side of his three-man defence.
The 24-year-old admits that has been difficult to adjust to, but says playing on the right next to Martinez for Argentina has helped him do so.
“It’s very different,” he said. “My favourite position is in the middle, because that’s where I have always played, but I am playing on the right for the national team too now and I will happily play wherever I am asked to, so I don’t have a problem with it.
“At the beginning, it was difficult, for sure, but I got used to it and I learned the role. I have to keep learning and keep correcting many things, but I’m good and I feel comfortable there.”
Newcastle set to finalise deal for Garang Kuol
Australia international Garang Kuol is set to finalise a move to Newcastle United, sources have told 90min.
90min revealed earlier this month that Newcastle were in talks with his club Central Coast Mariners, and now a deal is understood to be in place with Eddie Howe’s side seeing off competition from various clubs, including German giants Borussia Dortmund.
Newcastle were waiting for Kuol to complete his international duty with Australia this month before finalising the deal. The 18-year-old made his debut against New Zealand on Sunday and is now believed to be heading to Europe.
Kuol and his camp have already agreed terms with Newcastle ahead of a move that would be finalised in January – at which point the Magpies will decide on what to do with him in the short-term.
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As it stands, Kuol would not qualify for a work permit, but that matter could change quickly if he is involved at the World Cup finals. This won’t be known until manager Graham Arnold names his squad in a few weeks.
Newcastle are understood to already have a plan in place to send Kuol on loan to another league in Europe – the length of which will be determined by his work permit standing.
Chelsea vs West Ham – WSL preview: TV channel, live stream, team news & prediction
Chelsea face West Ham at Kingsmeadow on Wednesday evening in the first of the rearranged fixtures from the WSL’s postponed opening weekend.
WSL champions Chelsea chalked up their first points of the season on Sunday with a 2-0 victory over Manchester City, having been surprisingly beaten the previous week at Liverpool.
It’s also one win and one defeat thus far for West Ham as the Hammers continue to find their feet under new boss Paul Konchesky.
When is kick off? Wednesday 28 September, 19:05 (BST)
Where is the match being played? Kingsmeadow
TV channel/livestream? BBC Two, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport Website
What time does coverage start? 19:00 (BST)
Referee? Tom Reeves
Pernille Harder remains a doubt, having sat out Chelsea’s opening two WSL matches with a hamstring injury – although she did return to the grass on Friday.
Hayes opted to play two defensively minded fullbacks in Magdalena Eriksson and Maren Mjelde on Sunday to deal with Manchester City’s strong wide threat, and could change it up once more on Wednesday.
Paul Konchesky has named an unchanged side in his first two competitive matches as West Ham boss, and could make it three from three against Chelsea.
Chelsea: Berger; Buchanan, Bright, Eriksson; Charles, Cuthbert, Fleming, Reiten; James, Kerr, Kirby.
West Ham: Arnold; Shimizu, Parker, Cissoko, Smith; Longhurst, Brynjarsdottir; Evans, Hayashi, Ziu; Asseyi.
Having bounced back from their opening day disappointment, Chelsea will be expected to continue their winning run against West Ham.
Lauren James and Fran Kirby look back after injury and illness disrupted their 2021/22 campaigns, and form a frightening forward line with Sam Kerr. They should have too much for Konchesky’s still evolving West Ham side.
Prediction: Chelsea 3-0 West Ham
Man Utd already showing key signs of improvement after flying WSL start
Manchester United fell short in their efforts to finish in the WSL top three last season because too often they were unable to kill games off.
Marc Skinner’s side were five points adrift of third place in the final standings, narrowly costing the club a place in the Champions League for the second season running.
Late equalisers in the final 15 minutes of games against Everton, Tottenham, West Ham, Arsenal and Manchester City cost United 10 points from winning positions. In those games, Arsenal and City had been reduced to 10 players, while Tottenham and West Ham equalised in stoppage time.
On top of that, United also failed to break down a resilient Aston Villa in the closing stages of the season, drawing 0-0 in a game they were heavy favourites to win.
Throughout the second half of last season, Skinner was very up front about the need to recruit well during the summer to ensure United always had sufficient attacking options and depth to successfully kill games off or beat compact defences and low blocks.
Two games into 2022/23 and the signs of improvement in those key areas are clear to see. So far, United have blown Reading away in the first 35 minutes of a game and beaten West Ham by two goals in a fixture that also served to exorcise some demons from last season.
Last season away at West Ham, United went ahead early in the second half but couldn’t build on that lead and it left them exposed to then conceding in the dying moments.
This time, Lucia Garcia’s clinical opener that saw the new arrival from Spain round the goalkeeper and impressively finish from a narrow angle was almost immediately added to by Hannah Blundell, who calmly guided the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the penalty area.
That was the critical thing that United didn’t do enough last season when it really mattered.
Garcia in particular has characterised the way United have got better since last season in that respect, providing a different kind of vital skillset to other players in the squad.
“She’s wonderful. She attacks lines,” Skinner told club media after Sunday’s win – United’s first away day victory in London since beating West Ham in October 2020.
“Just the tenacity to get beyond [Hawa] Cissoko, who is a very tough defender, and then take it round the goalkeeper, then finish. She’s just so nimble, she’s unbelievable.”
As Skinner put his own stamp on the squad, United let Ivana Fuso join Bayer Leverkusen on loan and Kirsty Hanson head to Aston Villa, but brought in Garcia as well as veteran number nine Rachel Williams, Canadian winger Adriana Leon and wide forward Nikita Parris.
“If we face a deep block, we’ve got to have a different way of overcoming it, or a different way of strategizing against a counter attack to the win game. All of my forwards are important,” the United boss said just last week.
It all formed part of a specific strategy aimed at getting United into the Champions League.
Skinner and his team will face tougher opposition this season than they have played so far. But it has been the perfect start that provides a solid foundation and momentum for what will come.
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