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Man Utd already showing key signs of improvement after flying WSL start

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

For more from Jamie Spencer, follow him on Twitter and Facebook!





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EPL

Conor Coady responds to ‘daft’ question about Liverpool allegiance

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Conor Coady has told England teammate Jordan Henderson to do better in his goading after the Liverpool captain taunted him over his Everton connection.

Coady was a product of the Liverpool youth system and made a solitary appearance for his boyhood club in the 2012 Europa League. He has since moved on to Huddersfield Town and Wolves before joining Liverpool’s Merseyside rivals Everton on loan last summer.

Speaking on the latest episode of Lion’s Den from England’s World Cup camp, though, Henderson could not resist trying to wind up Coady by quizzing him on his allegiances.

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“Conor, we are all England here,” Henderson said. “But what I really want to know is: are you blue or red?”

Henderson then started laughing, which prompted a similar response from Coady, who appeared both irritated and amused by the question.

“It’s so poor from him,” Coady said while smiling. “We have banter all the time. Of course, I am playing for Everton. He knows deep down.

Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders and Toby Cudworth to look back on South Korea/Japan ’02 as part of the ‘Our World Cup’ series. We take a trip down memory lane – join us!

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If you can’t see the podcast embed, click here to download or listen to the episode in full!

“So, for him to come out there and ask that question is daft. Of course, I am blue. Of course, I am blue, without a shadow of a doubt.

“For him to say that…you know what I am going to go back there sit down and have a coffee with him. I will give him a bit. That’s nowhere near good enough from the big fella. Blue all day long.”

Everton have a clause allowing them to sign Coady permanently from Wolves this summer for a fee of just £4.5m.

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Club director leaves door open to Chelsea transfer in January

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Dynamo Moscow director Dmitry Gafin has admitted young midfielder Arsen Zakharyan could seal his move to Chelsea in January.

The Blues attempted to sign the 19-year-old during the summer transfer window but complexities involved in dealing with a Russian club left them unable to complete a deal for Zakharyan before the window closed.

Since then, sources have informed 90min that Chelsea have not given up on Zakharyan, who comes with a release clause of around £12.6m, and have remained in contact with all relevant authorities in an attempt to conclude a transfer.

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Talks have been held between Chelsea and FIFA, UEFA and the Premier League to try and find a way to work within the current rules regarding dealing with Russian clubs, with Blues co-owner Todd Boehly still very keen to get a deal done.

Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders and Toby Cudworth to look back on South Korea/Japan ’02 as part of the ‘Our World Cup’ series. We take a trip down memory lane – join us!

If you can’t see the podcast embed, click here to download or listen to the episode in full!

In Moscow, club director Gafin has conceded that talks with Chelsea could reignite in January.

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“We cannot rule out the resumption of history with Chelsea in winter, I cannot comment on the information that appears and will appear,” he told TASS.

Gafin was, however, quick to question claims that Zakharyan has already agreed personal terms with Chelsea, insisting Dynamo Moscow have not given the club permission to speak with the Russia international just yet.

“Regarding his alleged contract with Chelsea, we don’t know anything about this, we did not give permission for such contacts,” he said. “I think this is from the rumour mill.”



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Antonee Robinson praises career revival of USMNT & Fulham teammate Tim Ream

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United States Men’s National Team full-back Antonee Robinson has heaped praise on his club and international teammate Tim Ream for his late-career renaissance.

At 35 years old, Ream has gone from being on the outside of the USMNT setup, picking up just one cap in 2020, to being a rock at the heart of Gregg Berhalter’s defense in Qatar.

Ream’s revival has been thanks to his incredible form in the Premier League with Fulham, with the veteran center-back coming first among his teammates in a number of key metrics so far, such as interceptions (21), blocks (23), clearances (50), and passes completed (715).

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The man next to him both at club and international level, Robinson, has enjoyed Ream’s career turnaround firsthand and has revealed just how much it means to him.

“The standard that [Ream] has been at, it’s been amazing,” Robinson told ESPN. “He’s such a calming presence on the ball. It’s no shock to me. I’ve played with him for a long-enough time now to know what he’s all about. But to see him actually come out on this stage, when it was at one point looking like he wouldn’t be here, and raise his level even more than he has done already this season, it means a lot to me.”

Ream and the USMNT have a great chance to reach the World Cup knockout stages when they face Iran on Tuesday, with a victory enough to see them finish at least second in Group B. Anything less and they’ll find themselves on the next plane home from Qatar and planning for their 2026 campaign as co-hosts.

Watch the story of Charlotte FC’s journey to MLS in 90min’s The Making of Charlotte FC, presented by DoorDash, on 90min channels now. Subscribe to our new US YouTube channel.

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