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.
His team are just three points above the relegation zone, have won only two of their last 15 Premier League games, and he’s also been involved in a training ground argument with winger Matt Ritchie.
The story that broke the falling out also alleged that Bruce is losing the trust of some of the players and claimed that goalkeeper Karl Darlow found out from press reports that he was being dropped for the recent Wolves game, rather than from Bruce himself.
All of that led to Bruce fronting up to the media ahead of the game against West Brom – here’s the standout bits of what he had to say.
Bruce admitted that he had an altercation with Ritchie but insisted the story about Darlow and other details is false. He has banned the journalist who wrote the piece – Craig Hope of the Daily Mail – and claimed the paper have something against him personally.
“There is no denying I have had a row, an argument, whatever you want to call it, with Matt Ritchie. In my experience, 20 years of doing this job and 20 years as a player, it happens up and down the country in various training grounds,” Bruce said, quoted by the Telegraph.
“The reason [Hope] is banned, I think he has certainly got something personal against myself and that has been from day one. “[It started] against Arsenal with the first substitution I ever made. [He] went to Norwich and he said I couldn’t even take a warm-up. If I take you back 12 months, he tried to derail us ahead of a big game at West Brom inventing a story about Allan Saint-Maximin that I’d had a row with him.
“He gave away the team before we played Manchester United, when Matty Longstaff scored the winner. He gave the team to the opposition and he is supposed to be a fan. Then, of course, this one and the fallout from it.”
Other journalists and Newcastle fans appear to have largely taken Hope’s side.
Bruce said the claims in the Mail story about the way Darlow found out he wouldn’t be playing against Wolves are ‘totally disgusting’ and he would resign rather than conduct himself that way.
“The story surrounding Karl Darlow, that I would go to a journalist and give them an exclusive that he wouldn’t be playing at the weekend, I find totally disgusting,” he explained.
“If I thought I would do that, I would resign tomorrow. It’s simply not true, it’s unfair on Karl and arguably over the last 18 months that’s been the most difficult decision I’ve had to make. Yes, the story is right that I’ve had a row with a player, [but] the rest of it is totally, utterly nonsense.”
Bruce isn’t denying what happened with Ritchie but is still concerned about how it came out.
“Unfortunately it has to be [a leak], so that is the biggest disappointment to us all, and unfortunately it happens a bit too often. We’ll try our utmost to see who it is,” he said.
Newcastle was a dream job for Bruce, having grown up a Magpies fan but never getting the chance to play for or work at his boyhood club until 2019. He is therefore determined to make a success of it, despite the difficult circumstances, and won’t quit.
“Do I feel like walking away? Definitely not. Not at all,” he defiantly said.
“More than ever, I’m 100% committed to trying to get us out of the trouble we’re in. I think the players are too. I’ve got 100% faith in them, and I think that remains vital to us. So, no, just because things get tough [I won’t walk away].”
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The latest instalment of Der Klassiker takes place on Saturday afternoon as Bayern Munich host Borussia Dortmund at the Allianz Arena.
Hansi Flick’s Bayern have had a rocky time domestically since their Club World Cup triumph, picking up just four points out of a possible nine in the Bundesliga – allowing RB Leipzig to close their lead at the top of the table to just two points.
However, after a 3-3 draw with Arminia Bielefeld and a 2-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt, the Bavarians looked near back their best as they brushed past Lazio in the Champions League and FC Koln in the Bundesliga with 4-1 and 5-1 victories.
The visitors have endured that sort of rocky form all campaign. Dortmund are outside of the top four as it stands, and even though Lucien Favre has been replaced with Edin Terzic, inconsistent displays at the back remain. That said, BVB have been far better recently, winning their last four in all competitions – scoring eight and conceding none.
Here’s 90min’s preview of the game.
When is it? Saturday 6 March What time is it? 17:30 (GMT) Where is it played? Allianz Arena TV channel? BT Sport 2 (UK)
Hansi Flick has a fuller squad to choose from than in recent weeks, though Corentin Tolisso and Douglas Costa remain unavailable. Benjamin Pavard has returned to training, but Niklas Sule is expected to continue at right back, given his brilliant form.
Serge Gnabry and Thomas Muller both made the bench against Koln in their last outing but could return to the side, most likely replacing Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and young Jamal Musiala.
Things are not as rosy for BVB boss Edin Terzic. He will have to make do without Manuel Akanji, Axel Witsel and Marcel Schmelzer for the trip to Munich, while there are doubts over Raphael Guerreiro and Jadon Sancho – both of whom required treatment with ice packs after coming off against Borussia Monchengladbach.
Giovanni Reyna is also doubtful with a knock, but there is good news in the striking department – Erling Haaland remains 100% fit and ready to unleash on the Bundesliga champions.
Bayern have an incredible record against Dortmund at the Allianz Arena, and it’s tough to see how Terzic’s men can break the trend. Despite some dodgy defensive performances of late, Bayern have shown that they know how to turn the screw and find the clinical edge to their game when they need it most.
BVB are in very good form, and should feel confident because of that. But the potential absence of Sancho and Guerreiro takes a sizeable chunk out of their attacking threat, and Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard will really need to up their game to ably support Haaland.
A staggering array of talent in forward areas, however, make Bayern the most likely to come away with a much needed three points, and don’t be surprised if Robert Lewandowski adds to his 28 Bundesliga strikes.