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WSL team of the week: gameweek 11

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It was a mixed weekend for the WSL, with three fixtures falling foul to the frozen conditions: Tottenham vs Leicester was called off the evening before the match, Brighton vs Arsenal three-and-a-half hours before, and Chelsea vs Liverpool…six minutes after kick-off.

This left three games standing, with Everton running out impressive 3-0 winners over West Ham, Aston Villa holding Manchester City to a draw and Manchester United netting a last gasp winner against a spirited Reading to rise to the WSL summit.

But which players shone in particular? Here’s 90min’s WSL team of the week for gameweek 11.

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Megan Finnigan

Finnigen helped Everton to all three points on Sunday / Visionhaus/GettyImages

GK: Jacqueline Burns (Reading) – Burns pulled off a selection of fine saves – including a magnificent stop to deny Katie Zelem from the penalty spot – to keep Manchester United at bay until the 87th minute, and was really unfortunate to be on the losing side on Sunday.

RB: Lucy Hope (Everton) – Everton’s right flank was a real source of danger all afternoon against West Ham, with Hope combining well with the similarly impressive Nicoline Sorensen. A typically all action performance as she continues to look right at home at fullback, winning 75% of her tackles and 86% of her ground duels to help her side to a clean sheet.

CB: Maya Le Tissier (Man Utd) – Typically composed and strong on the ball to help United build from the back. Le Tissier also turned in a really solid defensive performance, winning 100% of her tackles and ground duels to see her side to a clean sheet and three points as they climbed into first place.

CB: Megan Finnigan (Everton) – A perfect afternoon for the Everton centre-back; rock solid in the heart of the backline as the Toffees registered their fourth WSL clean sheet of the season, impressive playing out from the back and on the scoresheet with her side’s second courtesy of a bullet header from a corner.

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LB: Sarah Mayling (Aston Villa) – Both full-backs turned in terrific displays for Villa as they held Manchester City, with Maz Pacheco similarly impressive on the opposite flank up against Lauren Hemp. The tenacious Mayling did a terrific defensive job on Chloe Kelly, nullifying the threat of the usually destructive England winger to starve Bunny Shaw of service as City struggled to threaten the Villa goal.

Kenza Dali

Dali impressed against Man City / James Gill – Danehouse/GettyImages

CM: Justine Vanhaevermaet (Reading) – Sitting just in front of the Reading back four, Vanhaevermaet turned in a disciplined performance to limit the impact of Ella Toone in the number 10 role for Manchester United. She won 83% of her tackles, made four clearances in a big defensive display and even went close to scoring twice.

CM: Kenza Dali (Aston Villa) – Aston Villa won the midfield battle against Manchesrer City, and Dali was key to that in an effortlessly classy performance alongside the similarly impressive Lucy Staniforth. The French midfielder carried the ball so effectively and dangerously time after time and combined well with Rachel Daly in the build up to the Villa opener. What a season she is having.

CM: Karen Holmgaard (Everton) – Set the tone for the Toffees by opening the scoring after just three minutes, getting the better of two West Ham bodies to power home a header from a short corner. Won plenty defensively to protect the Everton backline and was neat and tidy in possession.

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Rachel Williams

Williams netted the all important winner for United / Bryn Lennon/GettyImages

FW: Jess Park (Everton) – Continued her mightily impressive season with yet another effervescent display, setting up Everton’s opener by working a yard of space for herself and sending in a wicked cross from a short corner. Her decision making and selflessness in the final third shone throughout.

ST: Rachel Williams (Man Utd) – Williams clocked up as many minutes in normal time as the abandoned Chelsea vs Liverpool fixture…but she had such an impact from the bench against Reading, scoring arguably one of the best and definitely the most important goal of the weekend. The Manchester United striker weaved past three Reading defenders before emphatically finding the roof of the net to fire her side to the top of the WSL.

FW: Kirsty Hanson (Aston Villa) – An electric performance from the Villa winger, causing Esme Morgan all sorts of problems in the first half with her pace and directness. Levelled the scores with a really well taken goal – despite slipping as she took the shot – to earn her side an impressive point at the Academy Stadium, and unfortunate to not double her tally in the second half after cracking the post.



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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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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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