They say a leopard never changes its spots – but they’re wrong.
Granit Xhaka has been lambasted by Arsenal fans throughout his time at the Emirates Stadium, with the odd wonder goal doing little to cover up the fact he’s pretty much a clown in footballer’s clothing.
HOWEVER, the Swiss midfielder has actually started to resemble someone who is in control of their feet of late, with no glaring errors leading to goals or rash challenges which put his team in danger. Maybe this is it? Maybe he’s turned a corner and is going to show us all just what a…what’s that? He’s gone and done it again?
Unable to possibly keep his head down for longer than a few weeks, the midfielder decided to undo all his side’s hard work in taking a first-half lead against Burnley, smashing the ball into the stomach of Chris Wood who diverted the ball into the empty net.
Get the popcorn out, it’s time for Twitter to react…
What makes the Switzerland international’s error even worse is that Arsenal had actually started the game brightly and could well have been out of sight by the time he had his wicked way.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang handed the visitors the lead early on, with Willian assisting his smart near-post finish which squirmed past Nick Pope as he notched his ninth league goal of the season.
Still, at least Arsenal fans didn’t get ahead of themselves…
While the majority of Twitter soon turned their attentions to poor old Granit, at least there were a few tweets offering the midfielder support (just make sure you don’t read the replies).
Thomas Tuchel’s reign as Chelsea manager has hit the ten-game mark, and it’s pretty fair to say the German tactician has had quite an impact since arriving at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues are unbeaten since the former Paris Saint-Germain boss took charge of the club, with crucial wins against Tottenham and Liverpool boosting their bid for a top-four finish.
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Arguably the best result of Tuchel’s tenure so far has been the superb 1-0 ‘away’ win over Ateltico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie, but just how do the Chelsea boss’ first ten games in charge compare to former manager Frank Lampard’s?
We’ve picked out a number of key categories in our bid to analyse the pair’s respective starts to their Chelsea managerial careers.
Tuchel’s first ten games in charge have seen 24 different players afforded game time across the various competitions the club are still involved in, with the FA Cup win over Barnsley used in particular to offer minutes to those on the fringes of first team action.
Lampard also utilised the domestic cups to offer squad players a chance to showcase their talents, and he edges this category having fielded 26 different players in his opening ten games in charge.
There’s barely anything in it when it comes to the game time given to players who’ve come through the Blues’ youth system.
Of the ten academy graduates Lampard used in his opening ten games in charge, they racked up 2880 minutes worth of football.
Meanwhile, Tuchel has used less players from the club’s youth setup (seven) but has shown more faith in them, and they’ve been handed 2658 of game time – there really is barely anything in it.
On paper it’s a marginal win for Lampard, though, when you consider how much he was lauded for giving youth a chance following their transfer ban, maybe it should be looked at as a win for Tuchel considering the club are no longer under the embargo.
With Mateo Kovacic’s loan move to Chelsea made permanent in the summer of 2019, Lampard called upon the services of £443m worth of talent in his first ten games in charge of the Blues.
Of the players used by Tuchel in his Chelsea reign so far, he’s utilised £579m worth of purchases, with summer signings Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell and Kai Havertz in particular helping push that figure over the half billion mark.
While the players Tuchel has fielded cost more than those used by Lampard, it seems unfair to class that as a plus in the former manager’s column – after all, the big-money signings Lampard brought in last summer have hardly set the Premier League alight so far.
Lampard began life as Chelsea boss by sticking to an orthodox back four, though a trip to Molineux in his sixth competitive game at the helm saw him bring in Marcos Alonso as he reverted to 3-4-3.
The Blues ran riot against Wolves, with Tammy Abraham notching a hat-trick in a 5-2 win, but following a 1-0 defeat to Valencia the following game in which Lampard used the same wing-back formation, he bottled it.
The Blues went back to a flat back four after the Champions League defeat, potentially showcasing Lampard’s inexperience as a manager as he instantly reverted to type following one poor performance.
Meanwhile, Tuchel has done nothing of the sort. Granted he’s yet to experience defeat, but the Chelsea boss has explored a whole host of different formations, and his side’s wins over Tottenham and Liverpool in particular were masterclasses in his ability to pick out a system which bests suits Chelsea against a particular opponent – whether it be utilising their pace in behind a high line or attacking weaker full-backs.
Even when Chelsea have performed brilliantly, the former PSG boss has shown he isn’t afraid to completely mix it up in terms of shape and personnel the following game, and his managerial nous is undoubtedly a step ahead of Lampard’s at this point in their respective careers.
Alright, we can mess about with stats and figures all we like, but all you’re really bothered about is whose first ten games gleaned more wins.
Lampard picked up four victories, three draws and three defeats in his first few months at the club, with Chelsea sitting seventh in the Premier League. They also advanced to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup, but had been beaten on penalties in the UEFA Super Cup final by Liverpool.
Tuchel’s brilliant start to life as Chelsea boss has seen him pick up seven wins and three draws, including the aforementioned superb away wins (if you can call Atletico Madrid playing in Budapest an away game) against Atleti, Spurs and Liverpool.
The Blues now sit fourth in the table and have also safely advanced through to the FA Cup quarter-final.
Pretty obvious who wins this round.
Lampard’s four wins in his first ten games came against Grimsby, Wolves, Brighton and newly-promoted Norwich – not exactly stellar opposition.
The defeats came at the hands of Liverpool, Manchester United and a Valencia side who endured a distinctly average campaign, while they drew with Liverpool (in the UEFA Super Cup before being beaten on penalties), Leicester and newly-promoted Sheffield United.
Tuchel’s seven wins have come against Liverpool, Spurs, Atleti, Burnley, Newcastle, Sheffield United and Barnsley, while he’s taken a point from respective clashes with Southampton, Wolves and Manchester United.
Again, a win for Mr Tuchel.
In summary: Tuchel has a more impressive record in his first ten games, he’s faced tougher opposition, he’s displayed better tactical nous, he’s afforded nearly just as much game time to youngsters as Lampard – who was apparently desperate to give youth a chance – and he’s only got a more expensive squad than Lampard at his disposal because of the spending spree the former Chelsea boss decided to embark on.
You can see where we’re going with this one – correct call Mr Abramovich.
West Brom loanee Ainsley Maitland-Niles has admitted that he was “rotting away” at parent club Arsenal, and that moving to The Hawthorns on loan was a “perfect fit”.
The 23-year-old was unable to command a regular place under Gunners head coach Mikel Arteta, and had started just five Premier League games out of a possible 21 by the time the January transfer window came around.
When he did start, Maitland-Niles was often deployed as a fullback or wingback, despite favouring a role in central midfield. A move to the Midlands has allowed him to play in that position, and he’s impressed on the whole despite the Baggies’ ongoing struggle to stave off relegation.
Maitland-Niles has started every game possible since joining West Brom, and has now spoken of why he decided to go in an interview with talkSPORT – where he stated that his career was not only stalling at the Emirates, but rotting away.
“It’s another loan deal, you are going to end up going back to the club eventually,” Maitland-Niles commented. “It was just more of a chance for me to show what I’m capable of rather than sitting on the bench for the rest of the season and rotting away.
“The main reason was being able to play as there’s nothing better than playing. I felt it would be great to experience the work of people trying to save their careers and stay in the Premier League. I think it was the perfect fit for me to be here and show them the qualities I can produce.”
Maitland-Niles has been a semi-regular fixture in Gareth Southgate’s England squads over the past year, appearing in five games for the Three Lions – most recently in a 4-0 win against Iceland in November.
But limited game time at Arsenal would likely have extinguished any hopes of making the squad for this summer’s rescheduled European Championships, making a move to West Brom – despite their struggles – even more appealing.
His boss at West Brom is former England manager Sam Allardyce, and Maitland-Niles went on to speak of how different his style is from Arteta.
“They’ve got different ways of dealing with things and saying things to players,” he added. “It’s strange to come out of that one environment and be chucked into something different where everything is different. There’s not one thing the same.”
We have a full WSL fixture list for the first time in over a month this weekend, with every top flight side poised to be in action across Sunday and Monday.
There are six top flight matches to look forward to with important implications at either end of the WSL table.
Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about every fixture this weekend.
Manchester United vs Aston Villa
What time is kickoff? 12:00 (GMT) Where is it being played? Leigh Sports Village TV Channel/live stream? The FA Player
Manchester United will be attempting to rediscover their pre-Christmas form when they face Aston Villa in Sunday’s early kickoff, having suffered back-to-back league defeats for the first time this season.
Casey Stoney’s side’s losses to Manchester City and Reading means their surprise title challenge has become more of a Champions League battle now – and they face their race for the top three with a selection of injury problems, December’s WSL Player of the Month Leah Galton the latest casualty.
United take on a Villa outfit in the thick of a relegation scrap, with the Villans demonstrating their stubborn side during the first half of last weekend’s clash with Arsenal – before ultimately succumbing to a 4-0 loss. Mana Iwabuchi has already proved a big hit following her January arrival, and her creativity could be key if Villa are to cause an upset.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 Aston Villa
Birmingham vs Arsenal
What time is kickoff? 14:00 (GMT) Where is it being played? St George’s Park TV Channel/live stream? The FA Player
Birmingham are on the hunt for their first league win since November’s second city derby victory as they face an Arsenal side who broke a winning duck of their own last time out.
The Gunners found their groove again in the second half of last weekend’s 4-0 win over Aston Villa, ending their run of three games without a victory to leave them six points off the Champions League spots with a game in hand.
Birmingham will have Ruby Mace available for the fixture, despite the teenager currently dual registered with Arsenal, while Scotland international Christie Murray will return to the squad following an injury layoff.
Prediction: Birmingham 1-3 Arsenal
Brighton vs Tottenham
What time is kickoff? 14:00 (GMT) Where is it being played? The People’s Pension Stadium TV Channel/live stream? The FA Player
Having endured a torrid run of form through December and January, Brighton go into Sunday’s clash with Tottenham off the back of two straight victories.
The Seagulls ended Chelsea’s 33-game unbeaten streak with a shock 2-1 victory, and followed this up with a win over West Ham. Their February form resulted in attacking midfielder Aileen Whelan being nominated for the WSL Player of the Month award and Hope Powell shortlisted for the Manager of the Month accolade.
Tottenham have been the exact opposite, and after three successive victories in Reehan Skinner’s first three games in charge, they travel to the south coast off the back of a trio of defeats. A win for Spurs would see them leapfrog Sunday’s opponents into seventh in the league.
Prediction: Brighton 1-1 Tottenham
Manchester City vs Everton
What time is kickoff? 14:00 (GMT) Where is it being played? The Academy Stadium TV Channel/live stream? The FA Player
The WSL’s form side Manchester City will look to continue their title assault against an Everton team they have already beaten three times in three separate competitions this season.
The Citizens have beaten the Toffees in the league, Continental Cup group stages and FA Cup final this term, and have won nine of their previous nine meetings against the Merseyside outfit. Gareth Taylor may opt to rotate his squad, having played in the Champions League in midweek and with a trip to Fiorentina for the second leg taking place on Thursday.
Everton recorded just their second win 10 league matches with a hard fought 3-2 victory over Tottenham last time out, but they will be without the match winner and February Player of the Month nominee Jill Scott, who is ineligible to face her parent club.
Prediction: Manchester City 3-0 Everton
West Ham vs Chelsea
What time is kickoff? 15:00 (GMT) Where is it being played? The Chigwell Construction Stadium TV Channel/live stream? The FA Player
West Ham are fighting for their lives at the basement of the WSL and could find themselves bottom of the league come Monday evening if results don’t go their way. There would be no better time for them to record their first ever victory over Chelsea – and first league win under Olli Harder following his appointment in December.
The Hammers have lost six of their seven previous meetings with their London rivals, and face a Chelsea side who have scored eight without reply since they saw their unbeaten streak ended by Brighton in February.
The Blues may be forced to rotate their squad following their tireless performance against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday evening and with the second leg in Monza taking place just three days after Sunday’s clash with West Ham.
Prediction: West Ham 0-3 Chelsea
Bristol City vs Reading
What time is kickoff? 20:15 (GMT) Where is it being played? Ashton Gate TV Channel/live stream? BT Sport 3 (UK)
Bristol City will be attempting to reignite their recent form and potentially pull themselves out of the drop zone as they face a Reading side who have lost just one of their last six.
The Robins have come into a bit of form since the temporary appointment of Matt Beard, picking up their first league victory of the season and booking their place in the Continental Cup final. Key to Bristol this season has been forward Ebony Salmon, who made her senior England debut during the international break. However, Beard’s side will be without defender Kiera Skeels, who is on loan from Reading.
Like the Robins, Sunday’s fixture will be Reading’s first outing since the international break. The Royals have taken points off Arsenal and beaten Manchester United since the turn of the year, and February’s form saw boss Kelly Chambers and forward Tash Harding nominated for the Manager and Player of the Month awards.
As if poor old Celtic fans haven’t had enough to deal with this season – what with their former boss Neil Lennon having a very public meltdown, Covid-19 controversy and city rivals Rangers set to steal their crown – they’ve now had to wave goodbye to their most talented youngster.
Cameron Harper has been making waves in the Bhoys academy for some time now and was even afforded his first team during the 2020/21 season.
However, he’d decided to swap Scotland for America, penning a three-year deal with New York Red Bulls and subsequently heaping further misery onto those poor Celtic fans. Only nine titles in ten years? Awful.
Anyway, here’s everything you need to know about the exciting winger.
Both of his parents are originally from Glasgow, however, they moved to America 30 years ago and Harper was born in California.
Despite being born and raised in America, the youngster always followed Celtic and as a child he would watch their matches as well as visiting Scotland every couple of years.
That being said, if his Twitter account is anything to go by, he’s also a keen follower of Premier League giants Liverpool.
Harper grew up playing football in southern California, and it wasn’t long before his talent was recognised.
A large part of the youngster’s development is owed to Pateadores, an American footballing academy whose alumni include the likes of former Rangers midfielder Maurice Edu, former USA international John Thorrington and current DC United centre-back Steve Birnbaum.
Harper has already been capped at numerous youth levels for the USA including the Under-20s.
The last time the youngster met up with his international colleagues, he was a standout performer in his side’s clash with the Mexico Under-20s and was subsequently offered the opportunity to train with the senior side.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter was pictured in conversation with Harper following the session.
Harper began his footballing career as a striker, but upon joining the Celtic academy, youth team coaches decided he would be more effective in the wide areas and he subsequently dropped back into midfield.
The youngster is capable of operating on either flank and is noted for his ability to beat a man.
Harper is seen as something of a throwback to the wingers of old, with former Celtic boss Lennon said to have been impressed by his work rate in training.
In summary, New York Red Bulls have done well for themselves!
Given Harper’s inclusion in the Celtic starting XI against Hibs, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise to hear that those within the club were hugely excited about the winger’s potential.
Teammate Karamoko Dembele was long talked of as the shining light in the Celtic academy, but the development of Harper in recent years saw him become the most talked about prospect in the Bhoys youth ranks.
No wonder they were so desperate to keep hold of him.
While Harper’s Celtic debut back in January may have propelled him into the limelight somewhat, he was actually mixing it with the Celtic first team for some time prior to his big moment.
The 19-year-old was an unused substitute in Celtic’s Scottish Premiership clash with Dundee United, while he even made the bench in the Champions League qualifying rounds as Lennon’s side were dumped out of the competition following a 2-1 defeat to Hungarian outfit Ferencvaros.
While he starts out as a lowly 59 on FIFA 21, the game’s developers clearly recognise Harper’s potential too.
If you play your cards right, the young American will rise to a healthy 78 OVR.
As you might expect with a winger, his strongest in-game attributes are his acceleration, sprint speed, agility and balance.