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Man Utd’s comeback victory over Arsenal can be a psychological watershed

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Manchester United had beaten Arsenal twice before Saturday’s WSL showdown at the Emirates Stadium – once in the league under former manager Casey Stoney in November 2020, and once last season in the Continental Cup quarter-finals.

Both were narrow 1-0 wins and both were significant steps forward in the club’s brief history.

But United have equally had plenty of setbacks in such games in recent years, not just against Arsenal, but also against Manchester City and Chelsea too as they attempt to permanently bridge the gap on the established WSL elite.

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Looking back to last season, they lost at home against Arsenal in the league. In the reverse fixture, they were on course for what would have been a landmark win but missed the chance to kill the game off and then conceded an equaliser against only 10 players.

There have been similar stories of not being able to put together a full performance over 90 minutes, bossing the big games only in part and ultimately coming away disappointed. The same was true against Chelsea on the final day of last season, twice leading at Kingsmeadow before the much more experienced and ruthless Blues eventually swept to victory.

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When Chelsea visited Leigh Sports Village two weeks ago, it was an even game for an hour. But a brief lapse gifted Chelsea a goal and minutes later they had two.

There was so much riding on Saturday night at the Emirates. Regardless of five straight wins to start the campaign, United couldn’t afford a second defeat in quick succession against a main rival. Chelsea and Arsenal had both gone ahead of them after the last round of fixtures and Manchester City were coming in fast from behind – they grabbed a fifth successive win earlier on Saturday.

Everything was going well for United in the first half in north London. They had done more with the ball and deserved to be ahead at the interval after Ella Toone broke the deadlock. Yet the second half threatened to be the same frustrating story that fans have seen a number of times before.

Arsenal equalised within minutes of the restart and eventually started to ramp up the pressure. The Gunners then took the lead through Laura Wienroither with just under 20 minutes left to play.

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United had previously tried to fight back upon going 2-0 down to Chelsea but it was too little too late, while memories of a second half collapse and ultimately a heavy defeat against Manchester City in last season’s FA Cup despite dominating the first 45 are still sore.

But at the Emirates this was a United side that had grown. They came back at Arsenal, with Millie Turner scoring a bullet header to equalise with only a few minutes left, and then Alessia Russo sent the travelling United fans wild by nodding in the stoppage time winner. Katie Zelem assisted both.

“I’m the happiest man on the planet,” manager Marc Skinner told Sky Sports immediately after the final whistle, having overseen arguably the club’s best and most important win to date.

“What we lose out on with the other big teams is experience. But nights like tonight make us have that experience. We got the ruthless nature, the brains, maturity and growth from the team.”

In the post-match press conference, the United boss elaborated on the psychological boost of a first ever WSL away win against one of the established big three.

“It’s huge in the sense of the experience,” he explained. “I think we decided we didn’t want to leave the game without showing our bravery and our personality.

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“When I look at a Manchester United team that are famous on the men’s side, it’s about that never give up attitude. Our job is to bring the women under that same banner that we might go down but we’re never beaten. That is a huge shot in the arm for our experience.”

Now that they have this result and this performance under their belt, particular the nature of it, Skinner’s United have to take this and run with it. The confidence and belief they will take is not just about now, but will have a long-term impact after clearing a mental hurdle.

In the fight for the top three and Champions League football, maybe more, that is absolutely huge.

For more from Jamie Spencer, follow him on Twitter!

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Player ratings as spoils shared in Champions League

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Chelsea and Real Madrid left their Champions League group finely poised after a 1-1 draw at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium on Thursday evening.

Guro Reiten’s second half penalty cancelled out Caroline Weir’s first half opener in a tightly fought contest, and means that Chelsea, Real Madrid and PSG are all still mathematically able to qualify for the quarter finals as group winners heading into the final two group stage matches.

Chelsea started in the ascendency, Sam Kerr cracking the bar from close range inside two minutes after an Erin Cuthbert corner had triggered a goal mouth scramble.

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But just as they had done at Kingsmeadow a fortnight ago, Real grew into the game. The lively Olga Carmona saw an effort from range fly narrowly wide as the Spanish outfit started to enjoy more possession in the Blues half.

It was a scrappy first 45, characterised by multiple turnovers and transitions. Chelsea almost capitalised on a misplaced pass deep into the Real half on the half hour mark, as Lauren James picked up the loose ball and slipped in Kerr. The Chelsea was again denied by the woodwork, this time smacking the post.

The visitors were made to pay for their missed opportunities as Real took the lead six minutes later. Ann-Katrin Berger’s poor attempted pass into midfield was cut out by Weir, who diligently stroked the ball into the back of the net from the edge of the area – her second goal in three appearances against WSL opposition since departing the league in the summer.

Chelsea were gifted a golden opportunity to draw level 14 minutes into the second half after Guro Reiten was clumsily tripped by Ivana Andrés. Reiten’s subsequent spot kick clattered the post, but rebounded in off the head of the unfortunate Misa Rodriguez.

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The game became more stretched and open in the final 15 minutes, with Berger redeeming herself following her first half error with a superb save to keep out Carmona from point blank range.

It was Misa’s turn to pull off a superb stop as the clock ticked down as another chance for Kerr went begging. The Real keeper stretched magnificently to keep out the Chelsea forward, who had been superbly found by Reiten, to preserve a point for her side.

Kathellen Sousa, Sam Kerr

Kathellen Sousa started in the heart of the Real backline / Angel Martinez/GettyImages

GK: Misa Rodríguez – 7/10 – Unfortunate to see Reiten’s penalty go in off the back of her head after diving the correct way. Made a terrific, stretching save in the latter stages to keep out Kerr and preserve a point for her side.

RB: Ivana Andrés – 5/10 – Lost her bearings as Reiten got in behind and clumsily brought her down for the Chelsea equaliser.

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CB: Rocío Gálvez – 7/10 – Steady and dependable, hardly put a foot wrong.

CB: Kathellen – 6/10 – Produced a big block to keep out James in the first half. Lost track of Kerr on a couple of occasions and was fortunate to not be punished, but otherwise largely solid.

LB: Olga Carmona – 8/10 – Really livley and attacking, getting forward at every possibility. Fired narrowly wide from range in the first half, and denied by an excellent Berger stop in the second.

CM: Claudia Zornoza – 5/10 – Struggled to get her foot on the ball and string a series of passes together in a transitional game. Replaced with 15 remaining.

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CM: Sandie Toletti – 7/10 – Tidy in possession and drove Real forward from midfield.

CM: Caroline Weir – 7/10 – Great anticipation to open the scoring, intercepting a poor pass with her first touch and passing the ball into an empty net from the edge of the area with her second. Oozed class throughout.

RW: Athenea Del Castillo – 6/10 – Had a real battle with Eriksson, drawing a couple of cheap fouls and really frustrating the Chelsea full-back. Had less joy against Charles in the second half.

ST: Esther – 5/10 – Well marshalled by Bright and Buchanan and didn’t really have a sniff. Replaced just after the hour.

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LW: Naomie Feller – 5/10 – Outshone on the left flank by Carmona behind her. Largely kept quiet.

SUB: Sofie Svava (62′ for Esther) – 6/10

SUB: Maite Oroz (76′ for Zornoza) – 5/10

SUB: Nahikari García (89′ for Feller) – N/A

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Lauren James, Olga Carmona, Claudia Zornoza

Lauren James was back in the starting XI for Chelsea / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages

GK: Ann-Katrin Berger – 5/10 – Had a mare for the Real goal, dangerously attempting to play into midfield and seeing her pass cut out by Wier on the edge of the area. Atoned for her error with a huge save to keep Carmona out in the second half.

RB: Jess Carter – 6/10 – Had a really tenacious battle with the impressive Carmona – the Real full-back got the better of her a couple of times in the second half, but it was otherwise a very even contest between the pair.

CB: Millie Bright – 7/10 – Made a number of important interceptions and did a good job keeping Esther under wraps alongside Buchanan.

CB: Kadeisha Buchanan – 7/10 – Popped up with a big block to keep out Weir in the first half and won plenty in the air.

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LB: Magdalena Eriksson – 5/10 – Had a real scrap with Del Castillo, getting increasingly frustrated in the first half at the ease at which the Real winger hit the deck. Didn’t venture forward a great deal, and replaced by the more attack minded Charles at the break.

CM: Sophie Ingle – 7/10 – Got Reiten in behind with a fabulous lofted pass in the build up to Chelsea’s equaliser. One of the coolest heads in a sometimes erratic encounter.

CM: Erin Cuthbert – 6/10 – Struggled to stamp her authority on the game in the first half as possession constantly changed hands. An improved second half display, impressing with her ability to get the ball into the front three.

CM: Jessie Fleming – 4/10 – Struggled to get hold of the ball at times and make her mark on proceedings. Largely starved of service and on the fringes of the game, before being replaced at half time.

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RW: Lauren James – 7/10 – Played Kerr in with an impeccably weighted pass in the first half, from which Chelsea should have scored. Flashes of quality with her superb feet, strength and intelligence.

ST: Sam Kerr – 5/10 – Cracked the bar inside two minutes from close range, hit the post when one v one on the half hour mark and denied by a Misa save in the dying stages – opportunities she would usually bury.

LW: Guro Reiten – 7/10 – Won the penalty from which Chelsea equalised. Cracked the post with her effort, which still went in via the head of Misa. Her delivery was on point as ever; played a superb teasing, looping ball across the face of goal, begging to be buried and picked out Kerr with a magnificent through ball in the latter stages.

SUB: Niamh Charles (46′ for Eriksson) – 7/10 – Made a real impact from the bench with her pace, athleticism and determination.

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SUB: Fran Kirby (46′ for Fleming) – 6/10

SUB: Johanna Rytting Kaneryd (77′ for James) – 5/10

Player of the match: Olga Carmona (Real Madrid)



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Manchester United Board of Directors block 2023 dividends payment

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Manchester United’s Board of Directors did not approve a dividends payment to the club’s owners, the Glazers, scheduled for 2023.

The controversial Glazer ownership of United has reared its head once again in recent times following last month’s announcement from the club itself confirming that they were open to a sale.

A statement released in November confirmed the club and its owners would ‘consider all strategic alternatives’ amid sustained pressure from fans for the Glazers to sell up once more, with protests coming and going since their takeover in 2005.

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It was confirmed in a statement on December 8 that the Glazers would not be taking out a dividend payment, before that announcement was made: “On 15 November, the Board of Directors did not approve the payment of the semi-annual dividend for fiscal 2023.”

United’s Board of Directors is comprised mostly of Glazers, with Avram and Joel both holding titles of ‘Executive Co-Chairman and Director’. Kevin, Bryan and Edward – all siblings of Joel and Avram – are listed as Directors for the club.

The Athletic report that the decision is an economic one, considering the investment into the team this past summer which was in excess of £200m.

The decision marks the first time since 2016 that the Glazer family haven’t taken dividends out of the club and further fuels speculation that a sale could be imminent, with the Raine Group – who facilitated the 2022 sale of Chelsea – acting as United’s ‘exclusive financial advisor’ while they explore a potential sale.

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Carlo Ancelotti speaks out in defence of Cristiano Ronaldo

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Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has issued a defence of Cristiano Ronaldo amid continued criticisms over his attitude.

The 37-year-old is currently at the World Cup as a free agent having agreed to a mutual exit from Manchester United in November, following increasing tension between himself and manager Erik ten Hag.

Ronaldo’s behavioural problems have been publicised to a stunning extent in recent times, walking out twice on United during matches this season and being dropped by Ten Hag as a result the second time around.

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The same issues seem to have followed him into the Portugal camp in what is expected to be his final World Cup. Ronaldo was unhappy with being substituted in his nation’s 2-1 defeat to South Korea and started on the bench as they thrashed Switzerland 6-1, playing some 20 minutes and having to watch his replacement Goncalo Ramos bag a hat-trick.

The Portuguese Football Federation released a statement on December denying reports in Portugal that Ronaldo had threatened to walk out on Fernando Santos and the team in Qatar. Amid the drama, Ancelotti, who managed Ronaldo for two seasons, offered a defence to Corriere dello Sport: “Ronaldo probably still feels in his 20s because he’s fine, he’s got the answers he’s looking for in his body.

“The competition has become tough,” he added: “I’ve coached him for two years and there were no problems. In fact he solved them for me.

“Cristiano trains well, he pays attention to detail, everything was easy for me to manage. He is an exceptional player.”

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Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders, Sean Walsh, Ali Rampling and Brian Goldfarb to look back on the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil – join us!

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

Ronaldo himself released a statement addressing the reports after Portugal did so, talking up the unity among Santos’ squad.

Portugal take on Morocco in the World Cup quarter-final on December 10, where it remains to be seen if the five-time Ballon d’Or winner will be restored to a starting berth as a result of the team’s exceptional last 16 performance without him.

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