Who will win La Liga 2022/23?
La Liga marks its return from a lengthy hiatus at the end of 2022 with its two most notorious outfits well-placed to duel for the league title.
El Clasico rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid currently sit first and second in the table respectively, with Xavi’s Blaugrana attempting to return the title to Catalonia for the first time since 2019. Los Blancos, the current holders of both La Liga and the Champions League, are just two points adrift of their fiercest rivals and seemingly well-placed to usurp the current leaders during the second half of the season.
While the likes of Real Sociedad, Athletic Club and Real Betis have each enjoyed promising starts to the campaign, it’s hard to envisage any of these outfits competing with the premier duo for the title.
It’s poised to be a Clasico shootout down the stretch.
Xavi has done a fine job of rebuilding Barcelona on the field. He took the job with the club in disarray and humiliations have followed the Spaniard in Catalonia, but the former midfielder has indeed shown he can return Barça to the promised land given the requisite resources.
The Spaniard has facilitated a style synonymous with the most imperious Barcelona outfits of yesteryear, but their woes in Europe highlight that La Blaugrana still have some way to go until they’re back to where they want to be.
Financial backing means Xavi is now blessed with a hugely talented squad, especially in midfield and forward areas, and Barcelona have enjoyed an excellent start to the domestic campaign. Their only defeat arrived at the Bernabeu in October’s Clasico.
Robert Lewandowski has proven himself to be the key summer arrival with 13 La Liga goals in 14 games. Could the Polish hitman spearhead a title victory?
The 2021/22 season was one of the most memorable in Real Madrid’s illustrious modern history and it felt like Los Blancos endured a wee bit of a hangover to begin 2022/23. Still, Carlo Ancelotti’s side are in a brilliant position in La Liga having lost just one of their opening 14 games.
The club is attempting to move into a prosperous new era spearheaded by some of Europe’s finest young talent, and Real’s babyfaced stars have slotted seamlessly into Ancelotti’s set-up.
Aurélien Tchouaméni has barely missed a beat since joining from AS Monaco in the summer, Federico Valverde is emerging as one of the continent’s premier midfielders, while Vinicius Junior’s prestige is only growing after a coming-of-age 2021/22 season.
Florentino Perez’s savvy squad building is putting Los Blancos in an excellent position to perpetuate their dominance, and they currently boast the perfect manager to manage a group made up of experienced vets and ludicrously gifted youths.
Ancelotti will also be buoyed by Karim Benzema’s return from injury in the new year.
While Barcelona currently boast a slender advantage at the top, you’d be silly to bet against Ancelotti’s Madrid in the title race.
Xavi’s side may possess the structure and security with the ball, but there’s something innate within Los Blancos that’s impossible to disregard in crunch time.
Real Madrid are the team to back in volatile, high-pressure situations and this title race looks destined to go down to the wire.
Leah Galton makes landmark 100th Man Utd appearance
Leah Galton made her milestone 100th Manchester United appearance in the club’s 4-0 win against West Ham at Old Trafford on Women’s Football Weekend.
Galton, who was one of the club’s original recruits when a first-team squad was reformed in 2018, is the fourth United player to get to the century mark after Ella Toone, Katie Zelem and Millie Turner, the latter reaching her 100th appearance in last month’s trip to Tottenham.
Galton has been a hugely important player for United since the early days in the Women’s Championship. She had fallen out of love with football after a brief spell at Bayern Munich but credits former Red Devils boss Casey Stoney for helping her find that love again.
“Casey was the one that got me back into football and got me enjoying it because I wasn’t playing when she called me to come and join the United team,” the 28-year-old explained in an interview with United’s official matchday programme for the West Ham game.
“She had to give me some harsh words to make my mentality shift because I think for a while I wasn’t really connected. But I’ll always thank her for that.”
In the same interview, Galton added that it was initially ‘difficult’ for her when current boss Marc Skinner took over because she was asked to do things ‘different’ to what she was used to before. However, she also credits United manager for now ‘getting the best out of me’.
Galton told 90min earlier this year that is her ambition to play Champions League football with United, stepping out onto the pitch to the sound of the competition anthem.
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Man Utd 4-0 West Ham
FROM OLD TRAFFORD – Manchester United secured what was ultimately a comfortable 4-0 win over West Ham in the WSL on Saturday evening, but it took a flurry of second goals to get the job done.
Katie Zelem broke the deadlock from the penalty spot shortly after half-time, before game-changing substitute Lucia Garcia scored twice either side of one from Hayley Ladd.
United made a dominant start and on a few occasions worked the ball into good areas on the flanks and in the wide channels. The best of those openings saw Ona Batlle cross to Alessia Russo, whose side-footed volley missed the target from front and centre.
Russo looked to be through moments later after a clever flick from Nikita Parris, but Hammers defender Grace Fisk got a vital toe to the ball and shut down the chance.
The atmosphere was much flatter than might have been expected for an occasion such as this, but the crowd united in their disapproval of referee Emily Heaslip’s decision not to award a penalty when Ladd went down from a Hawa Cissoko nudge. In the immediate aftermath, the same United player crossed from the right, but Leah Galton headed straight at Mackenzie Arnold.
Another penalty appeal came and went in the closing stages of the first half when it was Galton who went down chasing a long ball. Again, cries from the crowd, again Heaslip was un-moved.
Despite some opportunities, United hadn’t done enough to properly test Arnold by the break, while West Ham’s only real sight of goal by then came in an earlier scramble with a cross into the six-yard box – the only outcome was Mary Earps needing lengthy treatment for a foot injury.
But United came out with a little more vigour after the restart. Russo fired just over with a bullet header, while Galton couldn’t stretch far enough to connect with a cross from the right. But it ended up being Zelem from the spot that broke the deadlock during that spell, sending Arnold the wrong way after Russo’s legs had been taken by the sliding Cissoko.
The second goal shortly after the hour was the result of a higher tempo and more intensity in the press. Hammers full-back Risa Shimizu was caught on the ball and before the visitors knew it, the ball was in the net, with Ella Toone spotting the run of Garcia in behind Cissoko and the substitute calmly finishing beyond the reach of Arnold – there was no hint of offside.
Having not been at their best earlier on, United were cruising by the late stages. West Ham’s resistance was broken and the third from Ladd didn’t come as a surprise. With gaps opening up, Batlle got forward with purpose and laid the ball back to the Welsh midfielder, whose left footed finish nestled in the bottom corner.
Earps had to make a couple of late saves to preserve her clean sheet. Instead of seeing the lead cut to 3-1, United then made it four when the lethal Garcia was in the right place at the right time to tap in the rebound from Martha Thomas’ initial shot.
GK: Mary Earps – 6/10 – Shook off an early knock. Mostly a spectator until a couple of late saves preserved the clean sheet.
RB: Ona Batlle – 8/10 – Always looked threatening when she burst forward right until the end when she laid on the third goal.
CB: Maya Le Tissier – 7/10 – Distributed the ball so well as she has become known for.
CB: Millie Turner – 7/10 – Cleared the ball from potentially dangerous positions several times to ensure it never actually became a threat.
LB: Hannah Blundell – 8/10 – Played with so much energy up and down the left.
CM: Hayley Ladd – 8/10 – Consistent as always on both sides of the ball and added a late goal for good measure.
CM: Katie Zelem (c) – 8/10 – Sat deep in open to try and create, but also stopped West Ham playing. Cool and composed from the spot to break the deadlock at a crucial time.
AM: Ella Toone – 7/10 – Pulled into wide channels to connect with United’s wingers and try to pull West Ham out of their shape. Killer pass created the second goal.
RW: Nikita Parris – 6/10 – Looked an early threat in the first half, including a very good flick to make a half chance for Russo. Withdrawn not long into the second.
ST: Alessia Russo – 7/10 – A mixture of trying to bulldoze her way through and some neat interplay.
LW: Leah Galton – 7/10 – Made her 100th United appearance looking for another ‘big stadium’ goal. Didn’t get on the scoresheet but made the second goal by winning the ball high up the pitch.
SUB: Lucia Garcia (55′ for Parris) – 8/10 – Made all the difference off the bench.
SUB: Martha Thomas (66′ for Leah Galton) – 7/10
SUB: Rachel Williams (80′ for Russo) – 6/10
SUB: Aoife Mannion (81′ for Turner) – 6/10
Marc Skinner – 7/10 – His team played with more tempo after the break. Also started to ring the changes after going 1-0 up to keep things fresh at the top end of the pitch.
GK: Mackenzie Arnold – 6/10 – Made a few basic saves but stood little chance with the goals.
RB: Risa Shimzu – 5/10 – Guilty of losing the ball to present United with their vital second goal.
CB: Grace Fisk – 5/10 – Sat a little too deep for the second goal and ended up playing Garcia onside when Cissoko had pushed up.
CB: Hawa Cissoko – 6/10 – Had a really solid first half with a number of big tackles and interventions. But was done by a Russo cutback moments after the restart to give away a penalty.
LB: Kirsty Smith – 5/10 – A tough day against her former club.
CM: Dagny Brynjarsdottir (c) – 4/10 – Identified as a threat beforehand and really didn’t have that impact until it was way too late.
CM: Lucy Parker – 5/10 – Struggled to lay a glove on United, even in the first half.
RM: Emma Snerle – 4/10 – Got no spare change out of Blundell.
AM: Honoka Hayashi – 5/10 – Looked promising when she got hold of the ball, but it happened so little that it didn’t really matter in the end.
LM: Viviane Asseyi – 5/10 – Not involved enough to make a difference, either when on the left or later when she moved into the ‘number nine’ role.
ST: Amalie Thestrup – 5/10 – An evening of hard graft with minimal service.
SUB: Lisa Evans (64′ for Thestrup) – 5/10
SUB: Izzy Atkinson (69′ for Snerle) – 5/10
SUB: Shannon Cooke (79′ for Cissoko) – 5/10
SUB: Kate Longhurst (79′ for Hayashi) – 5/10
SUB: Anouk Denton (79′ for Smith) – 5/10
Paul Konchesky – 6/10 – His side defended pretty well for 45 minutes but will rue giving away a penalty and then slack defending for the second goal.
Player of the match – Lucia Garcia (Man Utd)
Barcelona 1-0 Real Madrid – Liga F: Player ratings as Rolfo penalty wins tight Clasico
Fridolina Rolfo’s second-half penalty decided a tight Liga F Clasico for Barcelona against Real Madrid on Saturday evening, earning a 1-0 win which sent the Catalan hosts 13 points clear at the top of the table.
Madrid started boldly, resisting the natural urge to hunker down against the revered might of their rivals and instead tried to put Barcelona under pressure. Although, that’s not to say that the Catalans didn’t stroke the ball around the Estadi Johan Cruyff turf, picking out angles which would have tickled the Dutchman nicknamed Pythagoras in boots.
Alberto Toril’s visitors limited the runaway league leaders to just a single shot on target in a diligent and disciplined first half which saw Real offer just as much attacking threat – even if neither goalkeeper was overworked.
With the second leg of a Champions League last-16 tie to come against Roma on Wednesday, Jonatan Giraldez made four changes to the Barcelona side that could only earn a 1-0 win in the Italian capital last midweek. After a frustrating opening hour devoid of any discernible chances, the 31-year-old coach turned to his bench.
Caroline Graham Hansen was one of the additions and swiftly found herself on the end of the clearest opening of the match. Sneaking in at the back post from the second phase of a corner, Graham Hansen had ample space to meet the cross but nodded a limp effort into Misa Rodriguez’s gloves.
The Norwegian winger proved more potent as the provider. Moments after teeing up Patri Guijarro for a similarly weak header, Graham Hansen was on the end of a quickly taken free kick, tossing the ball into the middle of a chaotic penalty area. Amid the maelstrom, Athenea del Castillo – one of Real’s substitutes – hooked her right arm and leg around Salma Paralluelo, who gratefully accepted the invitation to tumble to the turf, earning a penalty which left Toril wagging his finger in disbelief and disgust.
Rolfo nervelessly slotted her spot kick into the bottom corner with just 13 minutes left on the clock. As Madrid desperately tossed bodies forward in search of an equaliser they may not have needed with a different referee, Rolfo had space on the counter to add a second which wasn’t forthcoming.
Real Madrid may have lost their 11th consecutive Clasico – every edition of this fresh rivalry – but they can take confidence from becoming the first team to limit Barcelona to just one goal in a Liga F game this season. Although, with the sting of defeat and injustice still raw, that will offer little consolation.
GK: Sandra Panos – 7/10 – Always alert when forced into defensive intervention even after large swathes of inaction.
RB: Lucy Bronze – 6/10 – Tentatively grew into the game, offering an overload down the right which Ana Maria Crnogorcevic very much needed.
CB: Marta Torrejon – 5/10 – By her lofty standards, Torrejon was uncharacteristically slack when building up from the back.
CB: Mapi Leon – 7/10 – Capable of slicing Madrid open with a scalpel of a left foot.
LB: Fridolina Rolfo – 6/10 – Despite her natural attacking instincts, Rolfo made sure to track back (begrudgingly) when Madrid mounted a sporadic attack.
CM: Aitana Bonmati – 7/10 – Popping up all over the pitch, invariably in a square of green grass unblemished by a white shirt.
CM: Ingrid Syrstad Engen – 7/10 – Sweeping up at the base of midfield, one of the few fixed points around which the buzzing Blaugrana shirts pivoted.
CM: Patri Guijarro – 6/10 – Unerringly comfortable in possession even in the tightest of spaces.
RW: Ana Maria Crnogorcevic – 3/10 – Lacked the craft and guile to trick her way down the right.
ST: Geyse – 4/10 – Sloppy with the timing of her runs and her tackling – little details that stood out in the absence of any clear chances.
LW: Salma Paralluelo – 6/10 – Increasingly drifted infield to limit her isolation and open a channel out wide for Rolfo to canter into. In the right place to tempt Del Castillo into a rash challenge.
Caroline Graham Hansen (60′ for Crnogorcevic) – 8/10 – Injected an urgency and elegance into Barcelona’s frontline which changed the game.
Asisat Oshoala (60′ for Geyse) – 5/10
Keira Walsh (60′ for Engen) – 5/10
Irene Paredes (67′ for Torrejon) – 5/10
Vicky Lopez (83′ for Paralluelo) – N/A
Jonatan Giraldez – 6/10 – Ultimately his changes made the difference but will be worried about the lack of chances Barcelona created for an hour.
GK: Misa Rodriguez – 7/10 – Not exactly adhesive with her handling but got her gloves in the way of plenty of shots and crosses.
RB: Kenti Robles – 5/10 – More concerned with taking the ball off the toes of Paralluelo rather than picking out a teammate once she had won possession.
CB: Ivana Andres – 6/10 – The captain delivered an uncompromising display, heaving the ball clear when left with few other options.
CB: Kathellen Sousa – 7/10 – Exploited her supreme swiftness across the turf to track as many red and blue blurs as she could.
LB: Sofie Svava – 7/10 – Proved to be a stubborn obstacle which Crnogorcevic struggled to hurdle.
CM: Sandie Toletti – 7/10 – Safe rather than spectacular with her passing but gobbled up a raft of loose balls in midfield.
CM: Claudia Zornoza – 5/10 – Unnecessarily overeager with her work off the ball at times.
AM: Caroline Weir – 6/10 – Hassled the Barcelona backline diligently but saw precious little of the ball.
RW: Maite Oroz – 5/10 – A veteran of all 11 Clasicos, Oroz skirted around the fringes of the contest.
ST: Esther Gonzalez – 6/10 – There is no lost cause for the infectious scraper.
LW: Linda Caicedo – 5/10 – The Colombian prodigy flickered in and out of the game.
Naomie Feller (60′ for Esther) – 5/10
Athenea del Castillo (70′ for ) – 3/10 – Provided precisely the opposite impact Toril was looking for.
Olga Carmona (70′ for Caicedo) – 5/10
Freja Olofsson (86′ for Zornoza) – N/A
Alberto Toril – 5/10 – Set his side up in an admirably obdurate shape that defended beyond their penalty area. Unfortunate to be undone by a soft spot kick.
Player of the match – Caroline Graham Hansen (Barcelona)
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