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Leah Galton update; takeover impact, managing squad players

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Manchester United manager Marc Skinner addressed the media at a press conference on Wednesday ahead of his side’s weekend trip to Reading in the WSL.

The Red Devils will head to the Madejski Stadium off the back of a statement 6-0 win over Liverpool last time that left them second in the WSL and only three points off the top with a game in hand and a superior goal difference.

United thrashed the Royals 4-0 in the reverse fixture on the opening weekend of this season and will hope to keep up an impressive run that has seen them take maximum points in eight of 10 games and keep clean sheets against all but Chelsea and Arsenal so far.

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The secret to that defensive record, the latest team news, Skinner’s own contract situation, dealing with Reading’s threats, keeping confidence high among fringe players and more were all up for discussion…

“She is progressing this week. It will be a late test going into this game, so we will see. If not, I would imagine she’ll be back for the Sunderland game [in the FA Cup].

“With something like this, we are very careful and cautious. We can afford to be with the depth that we have got. We don’t need to rush her. But if she passes that [test] and is available then of course we will look to put her into the squad.

“Apart from that, everybody else is fresh and available for selection.”

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“We’re very fortunate that we’ve got heated pitches so we’re able to rotate onto those. Today, we’ve trained on our pitches anyway. It snowed but the sun had cleared it. We just moved on a little bit later.

“Apart from that, everything was fine – we trained on our pitches and I hope we do the same on Friday. We’re not in tomorrow.”

“You have to look at the what game-type model you want for that game. If you look at the last time we played them at home, it was different than last year because we opened them up into a transition game. This year, it was much more about when you have control of the ball you can dictate the tempo and where it is.

“We know how savvy Kelly [Chambers] and Phil [Cousins] are in this league, the tactics they use. That’s why Reading are always competitive – it doesn’t matter what game or what results have gone before.

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“What we’ve been better at this season is being able to adapt regardless. If we need to freshen up the front line, we can, to keep the press high. Sometimes you look at your strategy and it’s about the whole 90 minutes, not just trying to win the game in the first half, for example.

“We have wonderful forwards, but if they drop the energy for a second, a team like Reading can absolutely exploit that.

“We should prepare for different ways they will set up – they have played a three at the back before, a diamond [in midfield], so you have to have an adaptation to all of those. If we can dictate the tempo, I think we’ll put ourselves in the best position.”

“We have England players that everybody wants to see. Even the other day, there are Liverpool fans who wanted to see Tooney and Alessia, Mary and Keets.

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“They come because they are fans of football, even though you are a fan of your team. It’s something you want to aspire to be. I think that’s a big draw…the types of players we have, the results, the excitement, and just our fanbase is huge too.

“We have to play our part in growing crowds, whether we are home or away. Away, it’s brilliant to see. Fair play to Reading, hopefully they can keep [growing crowds] for the rest of the season and it’s just against us, obviously Sunderland [in the FA Cup] as well.”

“It’s always important. It’s important to win the game first. We will always try and score goals, look at how many different goalscorers we’ve had and the variety of goals we score.

“We don’t shut up shop. The last time we played Reading, we got a quick start and took our foot off the gas a little bit going into the second half…but Reading were better [in the second half]. Kelly and Phil are very wise and aware in how to set up a team and wouldn’t have been happy with that first half. They adapted it and we couldn’t find the ways through that we wanted.

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“All these little things go into the concoction of how we performed but I think we’ve learned from then. It was first game [of the season].

“The pitch [on Sunday] is huge as well, so for us to exploit that – they can use it as well to their advantage – I just think we’re in a different space now and can hurt teams in first or second half.”

“In all honesty, it’s teamwork. There are different ways, different systems, some teams go from back to front very quickly and score goals, without having to really defend from the front. [But] my teams will always defend as a group, starting from Alessia [Russo] against Liverpool, all the way up.

“The way we structure our defence and organise ourselves, I just believe that as a team we function better. That is why we keep clean sheets, create so many chances and so many different goalscorers.

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“Our team will never be about one star player, it will be a collective. We work hard at that, hard at pressing to gain the ball so we can play with the ball. When you keep the ball like we do, it’s always difficult for the other team to attack.

“It also comes down to – whether it has been Baggers [Sophie Baggaley] or Mary [Earps] – those key moments when you lose concentration, which is natural, they are there to stop it. Our defence is really solid, our positioning is excellent. I think all of those as a collective is a key.”

“Fans have their favourite players and that is their opinion. That is why we’re in this game. But the reality is when people perform really well, you would be crazy to change it for the sake of it.

“We see players every day in training, all week. Sometimes they have things going on personally, sometimes the don’t. Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad. Sometimes they train effectively, sometimes they don’t. It doesn’t really matter what you think, I go off objectivity and how we feel that we need to set up for the opponent.

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“The way I keep them motivated is a really simple conversation. I speak to them: ‘This is what I expect, this is where you need to be, this person is playing well, this is how you can help yourself get into the team. By being open with them – after Christmas I have done a round of individual meetings, which can last up to an hour/hour and a half going through clips, through what we expect of each other. Listening to the player is really important as a coach.

“We want to keep winning and they want to be a be big part [of it]. If you saw the other day when we made the changes, they all came on and played a big part.

“We all know in football that you are one injury away from a starting place, so it is a very, very short time. I just want a really competitive team that we probably didn’t have last year. Be honest with them and they get it because they are clever people.”

“I think Rambo [on loan at Everton] has been excellent. What is clear is that her playing is helping. She has been more consistent. I was very clear when I met Rambo, with the idea of going out on loan, we see you as a future potential goalkeeper here.

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“We’ve got England’s number one, which is obviously always difficult. Sophie Baggaley does an exceptional job when she comes in. But the reality is, we want to have a talent pool that pushes and progresses each other. The reason they stay on top of their form is because it is competitive.

“It’s not easy. But, at the minute, that’s the way you use the loan market effectively. For Rambo, it’s working well. It will be about balance and I will assess what the next part of the year looks like, but Mary is performing exceptionally so it is hard for all the goalkeepers. But they are all brilliant and they all work their socks off every day.”

“The reason we [send players on loan] is I absolutely see Grace [Clinton] as somebody we want here in the long-term. I think Chelsea use the same process where they sign the young player and loan them straight out. Sometimes, if you’re clever, to get the GBE points to get them in the country you have to sign and release and move.

“I want an ultra-competitive team. Look how everything is changing season on season, so we can’t stand still. Talented players will make us better, [but] if they are not ready now, they have got to be ready for the two or three seasons, so I’m trying to plan ahead with Polly [Bancroft] and the crew here to put us in a good position. If we do achieve what we want, we don’t stand still beyond that.

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“We don’t want to be a flash in the pan. We want to play and prepare and that is why we are using the loan market right now. Our players are progressing and are happy they are playing. The rest of them that are here and staying with us, that is because they are ready for here and now.

“It is part of the process now. There are excellent players overseas that you just can’t get into the country. The points tallies [to secure players a GBE] is too high. We’re still protecting players – look how many English players we have got in our team. If we want our league to be the very best, we need to look at how the ceiling of the points is too high in my opinion.”

“The whole reason we sign the [12 month] option is that’s in the club’s prerogative to do that.

“There are conversations, of course. If you know me, I’m very simple and straight over what I want to do, which is win here. I’m hoping that the qualities we’re putting out on the field, the consistency, the clean sheets, the goals, the way we perform, the fan growth, hopefully there are a lot of indicators as to why we should be here for a long time.

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“I’m really easy on that – I trust the club wholeheartedly; I trust everything we do here.

“It’s not about me, it’s about this team and us being focused on what we’ve got to do, which is perform against Reading and try and take another win.”

“I can only comment on the actions I see every day and the reality is we’re looking at investment and growth. We’re not looking at standing still right now. Even in this window we’re looking at the potential of bringing players in, so it’s not standing still.

“I don’t know about the ownership. What they do excellently here is they give you the information you need to know. For us, there are no distractions, we work hard on the field. I have no doubt whatsoever if our club does change hands in the future, then the women will be a key feature of what we’re doing at this club. We’ve just come way too far to turn around now.

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“From all the conversations I have, it’s always about how we progress, never about how we move backwards. I would see that as a positive. Regardless of what happens with the ownership, we’re moving right now into a positive direction too. I am absolutely comfortable that we’re part of the club’s big plans going forward.”

“We spoke about it right at the end of last season. It was about belief.

“Losses set you up for future success if you learn from them. What we decided as a group is we’re not going to worry about the noise around us. It’s crazy how people are talking that Manchester City are building for next year and so on – they’re not, they’re right here, right now. We’re right here, right now…Chelsea are, Arsenal are, Tottenham are doing what they want to do. Look at West Ham, Aston Villa…Everton have snuck under the radar, what a great job Brian [Sorensen] has done.

“It’s about focusing on what we can control. Believe it or not, it alleviates pressure. This [Man Utd] badge weights heavy if you are not prepared for it. So when we bring players in, they are aware of that. All of the pressure that comes from outside, as long as you situate it where you want it, you just focus on what the next part is.

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“We know we’ve got to give absolutely everything to beat Reading. We don’t ever think we are going to win something if we don’t earn it. That is the difference – we’ve had experience, we believe in each other and trust each other. That’s not all rosy, you have challenges and so on.

“We have done nothing yet. We know what we want to achieve here and we are absolutely fiercely ambitious.”

“We have to put ourselves into the position to be nominated for those awards with good results. But our fanbase is huge and it goes on the vote, that helps a lot. Leah [Galton] was excellent so she absolute deserved the [Player of the Month] award.

“It means the world but doesn’t mean a lot in terms of how we’re focusing. I would swap all of the [individual] awards for winning a title with this club. The personal accolades don’t mean that much to me other than we are moving in the right direction and progressing as we want to.

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“We just get down to work. What else can we do? Work and win games of football, if you do that you have a chance of being nominated.

“When I was at Birmingham, I remember beating Arsenal 3-0 and beating Manchester City. Because we couldn’t put those back-to-back, I never won manager of the month at Birmingham. Yet we overachieved because we had the worst budget.

“Since I’ve come here with our fanbase and the great players we have, I think that is the fourth one I’ve achieved here. It is crazy how times change.”

“She is honestly brilliant. The girl that you see is exactly the girl that we see in training.

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“I’m a big fan of tattoos and she has some wonderful artwork – she can sometimes look more menacing than she actually is. But when she comes onto the field with the ball, I genuinely would hate to play against her. She can show you where she is going and still get there. She is aggressive with and without the ball, presses well and moves exceptionally well.

“She is one of the best players in this league. With [Guro] Reiten and Lauren Hemp, there are some really talented left-sided players, but Leah, for me, absolutely sits at the very top. She is humble, hard-working, wants to get better and improve. I have no more superlatives.”

For more from Jamie Spencer, follow him on Twitter!





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EPL

RB Leipzig End Liverpool’s Hopes of Early Naby Keita Move

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Naby Keita will not be allowed to ditch Leipzig for ​Liverpool in January, regardless of progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League, according to Leipziger Volkszeitung.

It was announced during the summer that Liverpool had met Keita’s release clause and the Guinean midfielder would move to Anfield at the end of the 2017/18 season. 

However, recent speculation suggested that die Roten Bullen could be persuaded into letting Keita leave the club during the winter transfer window.

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“Even if we should not reach the knockout stages of Champions League, it would make no sense to allow Naby to join Liverpool earlier,” said RB Leipzig sporting director, Ralf Rangnick.

“We want to qualify for Europe again, and we need Naby for that.”

Leipzig have won just one Champions League game this season, with defeats to FC Porto and Besiktas making progression to the knockout stages a difficult task this year.

Following their impressive maiden season in the Bundesliga, in which RB Leipzig finished ahead of Borussia Dortmund, the Red Bulls will be desperate to make sure their Champions League status continues next season.

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(You might also be interested in )

The 22-year-old has struggled to replicate the incredible form he showed last year since the announcement of his move next summer. 

Questions about Keita’s disciplinary record have also arisen this season, the midfielder seeing three red cards for club and country in less than one month.



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Man Utd’s fixture list up to Carabao Cup final including Barcelona & Leeds clashes

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Manchester United reached their first final under Erik ten Hag by securing safe passage through the Carabao Cup semi finals at the expense of Nottingham Forest.

The Red Devils have enjoyed a brilliant run of form after their infamous defeats to Brighton and Brentford to start the season. They’re firmly in the Champions League qualification mix and remain alive in the FA Cup and Europa League.

However, their commitments in cup competitions means Ten Hag faces a tough February as he tries to balance the playing time of a squad that has recently been struck by injuries to key players.

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Here’s United’s truncated schedule leading up to the Carabao Cup final, including some juicy derbies and European fixtures.

Michael Olise, David De Gea

Olise denied Man Utd with a late free kick last time out / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages

Fresh from sealing their spot in the Carabao Cup final against Newcastle, United are back into Premier League matters when they host Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday 4 February in a 15:00 GMT kick off.

The two sides duked it out earlier a few weeks ago in their first meeting of the season as a late Michael Olise free-kick earned Palace a point after Bruno Fernandes’ strike just before half time.

Manchester United and Leeds are fierce rivals and the tension between the two teams has risen again following Leeds’ promotion to the Premier League.

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The Red Devils have scored 15 goals in the four meetings in that time, only failing to win once when they were held to a goalless draw in April 2021. The fixture was originally postponed following Queen Elizabeth II’s death in September and will take place on Wednesday 8 February at 20:00 GMT.

Fred, Anthony Elanga

Fred and Elanga struck at Elland Road last season / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

That fixture rearrangement means the two Uniteds will face each other twice in four days.

In this fixture last season, two headless chickens went at it as Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds were downed 4-2 by Ralf Rangnick’s Man Utd. Goals from Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes had the visitors 2-0 up before two goals in two minutes from Rodrigo and Raphinha squared things up.

Substitutes Fred and Anthony Elanga gave the Red Devils all three points. However, they would win only three more league games before the end of the season.

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The stakes are really upped in mid February when Man Utd travel to Barcelona to face the Catalan giants at Camp Nou in the Europa League knockout play-off round.

It’s Barça who hold the edge in recent meetings, having won the past four games between the two sides.

Once they return home from the trip to Catalonia, United have a home game against Leicester to contend with.

The Foxes have endured some turbulent form this season but have mostly been a mess at the back, though the sides were only separated by Jadon Sancho’s strike they met back in September.

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Lionel Messi

A lot has changed since United and Barça last met in 2019 / Etsuo Hara/GettyImages

The return leg of the Europa League knockout play-off round will determine who between United and Barça continue in the continent’s secondary club competition.

United’s last win over Barça came at Old Trafford in 2008 when Paul Scholes scored the only goal of a Champions League semi final tie to send his side to final in Moscow.

Two of the most improved sides this season meet in the Carabao Cup final in late February when Newcastle face Man Utd.

Both sides are eyeing up Champions League qualification and each sit in the top four currently and this meeting could be an opportunity to land a significant psychological blow.

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Player ratings as Catalans pull clear in La Liga

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Barcelona survived a late scare against Real Betis to secure a 2-1 win and at least temporarily extend their lead at the top of La Liga to eight points before Real Madrid play on Thursday night.

Barça went into the game at Benito Villamarin knowing they had the opportunity to start pulling away from their fierce rivals in Madrid. But it took until well into the second half for the breakthrough to come, with Raphinha and later Robert Lewandowski eventually netting.

An own goal from Joules Kounde in the closing stages threatened to make it a difficult end for Xavi’s team, but they managed to see it out. Betis midfielder William Carvalho, who had already been substituted with an hour played, was then sent off for dissent at the game’s conclusion.

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Betis were actually the first to threaten in the contest, seeing Luiz Henrique only narrowly miss an early chance when his shot was deflected just wide by Alejandro Balde.

Pedri had a chance for Barça at the other end not long after, but his touch in the penalty area wasn’t sharp enough and Rui Silva in the home goal got down to pick the ball off his toe.

Silva again denied Pedri after the restart, but Raphinha broke the deadlock in the 65th minute. The Brazilian, whose debut season hasn’t been a rip-roaring success, tapped in from close range after excellent work from Balde down the left flank.

Lewandowski’s ultimately decisive second was from only a little further out, pounced on by the Pole after Ronald Araujo flicked on Raphinha’s cross.

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That cushion was enough for Barça and ensured that Kounde’s own goal mattered little in the end.

GK: Silva (6); RB: Ruibal (7), CB: Pezzella (6), CB: Felipe (6), LB: Abner (6); CM: Rodriguez (6), CM: Carvalho (5); RM: Henrique (7), AM: Fekir (6), LM: Canales (6); ST: Iglesias (6)

Subs: Guardado (6), Juanmi (6), Rodri (6), Jose (5), Sabaly (6)

GK: Ter Stegen (6); RB: Kounde (6), CB: Araujo (7), CB: Chistensen (7), LB: Balde (8); CM: De Jong (7), CM: Busquets (8), CM: Pedri (7); RW: Raphinha (8), ST: Lewandowski (7), LW: Gavi (7)

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Subs: Fati (5), Torres (N/A), Kessie (N/A)

Player of the match – Alejandro Balde (Barcelona)



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