ARSENAL have their first piece of silverware of the season and it’s come thanks to an Aussie.
Former Melbourne City W-League coach Joe Montemurro has helped guide the Lady Gunners to the FA Women’s Super League Continental Cup after a 1-0 win over Manchester City in the final.
It comes just four months after Montemurro took charge of one England’s biggest clubs, with Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema scoring the game’s only goal in the 36th minute.
By the time the full time whistle blew, with Arsenal holding off mounting pressure from City, there were scenes of jubilation as the 48-year-old Aussie lifted the trophy.
“I am ecstatic to be here, privileged to be here” said Montemurro post game, as quoted in The Independent.
Montemurro also thanked City Football Group for giving him the opportunity to work at Melbourne City, where his side went through an entire W-League season without dropping a point on the way to winning the double in 2016.
That success attracted the interests of Arsenal, with Montemurro declaring: “I love the club, love the football.
“There was a lot of emotion [watching the game], a lot ups and downs. We were in control first half, in the second half we had to defend.”
Montemurro added on Arsenal.com: “It’s actually been seven games since we last conceded a goal and City created a couple of very good chances in the second half. We dominated the first half though and we got the rewards.
“Winning the competition means a lot to me but we have to make it habit again. It’s hopefully one of many going forward. I just applaud the players because they’ve worked so hard ever since I came in and they’re starting to believe again. We just want to get better and better.”
Montemurro’s changes at Arsenal were singled out for praise by club stalwart Kim Little, who played under the Aussie in the W-League.
“We had a game plan coming into it and we executed it perfectly in the first half,” she said on Arsenal.com.
“In the second half, we tired a little bit because some of our players haven’t played too many games in recent weeks.
“I’m very proud of us because we’ve come a long way in the past four or five months. We put in the performance and we deserved to win.
“For me, it’s nice to just stand back and just think about the past nine or 10 months because for me, I’ve not played too much football. It’s just a nice feeling to be back playing in games like this and representing Arsenal again.
“It’s difficult for me to compare this team to previous sides because we had so many players back then with a great team. Our aim now is to get the club back to where it was about five or six years ago. We hope today can be the start of building a great team again.”
Less than six weeks Bayern Munich won last season’s delayed final behind closed doors, the draw for the group stage of the next Champions League takes place on Thursday (Friday AEST) with the threat of the coronavirus pandemic again hanging over the competition.
Bayern were crowned European champions for the sixth time after beating Paris Saint-Germain beating Paris Saint-Germain at an empty Estadio da Luz in Lisbon in August. The surreal occasion represented a triumph of sorts for UEFA.
European football’s governing body succeeded in playing its flagship competition to a conclusion despite the long shutdown caused by the health crisis, but the final rounds were not the same.
“A game like this without supporters is not the football that we know,” lamented Bayern coach Hansi Flick. “Perhaps they can be back again in the future.”
Thursday’s draw (3am Friday AEST) is part of a ceremony which will also see the best men’s and women’s player of last season crowned.
UEFA had to ditch plans to stage the event in Athens and instead moved it to its own headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, where the draw will go ahead without guests.
It is further evidence that, after the battle to get last season finished, things are not about to return to normal in Europe yet, and virus cases are exploding again.
But this time the football, it seems, will go on.
Both Bayern and PSG will be in the first pot of seeds along with Liverpool, Real Madrid, Juventus, Porto, Zenit Saint-Petersburg and Sevilla, the Europa League winners.
There is the prospect of plenty of enticing match-ups, with Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund and both Manchester clubs all in the second pot, and Inter Milan, Atalanta, RB Leipzig and Marseille among the lower seeds.
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But the excitement of the draw will be quickly tempered.
First, there is the realisation that almost all the leading clubs will make it through to the last 16 anyway, as they always do, removing much of the jeopardy from the early games.
As the pandemic continues to cast a shadow, it seems hard to imagine the final going ahead as scheduled in Istanbul next May in a full stadium.
UEFA experimented with the return of fans when around 15,500 attended last week’s Super Cup between Bayern and Sevilla in Budapest.
“Health is the number one priority but we want to bring hope,” said UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin. He added: “Fans and players are the essential part of football.” But with rules on large gatherings varying considerably from country to country, UEFA must decide how to approach the issue of crowds attending games in the Champions League and Europa League, the draw for which is on Friday.
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UEFA’s current stance is that games will be behind closed doors “until further notice”.
It has adapted its rules. In the face of travel restrictions, it will allow matches on neutral territory. If a club suffers a COVID-19 outbreak, a game can go ahead as long as each team has at least 13 fit players including one goalkeeper.
The group stage starts on October 20, more than a month later than usual, and all six rounds of games will be packed into eight weeks.
However, in the event of more delays, UEFA has set January 28 as the deadline to complete the group stage.
Pitfalls lie ahead, but the draw offers a brief return to something like normality.
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Bayern Munich (GER, holders)
Real Madrid (ESP)
Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)
Zenit Saint Petersburg (RUS)
Atletico Madrid (ESP)
Manchester City (ENG)
Manchester United (ENG)
Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)
Borussia Dortmund (GER)
RB Leipzig (GER)
Inter Milan (ITA)
Dynamo Kiev (UKR)
Pot Three or Four
Lokomotiv Moscow (RUS)
Club Brugge (BEL)
Borussia Moenchengladbach (GER)
Istanbul Basaksehir (TUR)
PAOK (GRE)/Krasnodar (RUS)
Midtjylland (DEN)/Slavia Prague (CZE)
Salzburg (AUT)/Maccabi Tel-Aviv (ISR)
Teams from same country cannot be drawn in same group.
We are three games into the Premier League season – or two for some – and the current picture of how the season will go is about as clear as Manchester United’s transfer plan over signing Jadon Sancho.
With less than a week remaining of the transfer window, expect plenty of panic buys, sales and every emotion from fans, from delight, to anger, to frustration.
And there are plenty of teams who need to hit the phones and strengthen on the basis of last weekend.
It’s a strange question to ask, especially considering Manchester City have only played the one game so far, but it is already difficult to see anyone hunting down Jurgen Klopp’s relentless winning machine.
The 3-1 win over Arsenal was dominant, with the solitary Gunners goal coming from an out-of-character mistake from Andy Robertson – one he rectified at the other end not long later. That win backed up a victory over Chelsea and that too was a non-contest.
So far, Manchester City look clueless, Chelsea severely imbalanced, Arsenal still growing, Manchester United a shambles and Tottenham… well, Tottenham.
Unless Pep Guardiola can shape up his squad – or a Leicester City or an Everton can spring a massive surprise – then this could be a long season for anyone not wearing Liverpool’s shiny new Nike kit.
CITY STUMBLE AND FALL
Since conceding five – yes, F-I-V-E – to Leicester City over the weekend, Manchester City have splurged £62m on yet another defender, hopefully one who knows that allowing Jamie Vardy to get in between you and the ball in the penalty area is not a good idea.
Ruben Diaz will join Aymeric Laporte, John Stones and Nathan Ake in a bid to fill the chasm left by Vincent Kompany. But that is not the only issue.
City looked overrun at times and struggled to break down Leicester’s stubborn defence, something that won’t be helped with neither Gabriel Jesus nor Sergio Aguero available for the next month or so.
Will Guardiola be on the lookout for another striker before Monday’s deadline? Unlikely, a midfielder is probably a more likely target. But, realistically, this is now the squad Guardiola will have to try to take on Liverpool this season and it’s going to be a real test of his coaching in order to do that.
Manchester United have been, to put it bluntly, terrible so far this season. Crystal Palace steamrolled them with all the ease of a Liverpool team taking on… well, anyone, and Brighton were just a good.
The Seagulls were desperately unlucky to lose after the final whistle had been blown, especially when you consider they hit the woodwork an astonishing five – yes, F-I-V-E – times. Bruno Fernandes, as he has been last season and as you suspect he will be this season, bailed them out yet again.
It’s still three points for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer though, and winning while playing so poorly is the perfect result with a week to go in the transfer window.
It will put pressure on the board to sanction more signings, with just Donny van de Beek arriving so far. There has been talk of another last-ditch push for Jadon Sancho this week and while United are still not at Borussia Dortmund’s valuation, performances like this will only help Solskjaer’s cause.
Whether it is enough or not, we will just have to wait and see.
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JOSE’S TOTTENHAM DILEMMA
There isn’t much that is clear about Tottenham and how they will do this season under Jose Mourinho just yet. The five goals thumped in against Southampton was a huge positive and an example of, even without the soon-to-return Gareth Bale, how destructive they can be.
But either side of that result have been a dour 1-0 defeat to Everton and an equally poor 1-1 draw with Newcastle.
You can be sure that Mourinho will make sure it’s the Southampton team that turns up at Old Trafford this weekend though.
What you can’t be sure on is whether Dele Alli will still be a Spurs player by then or not. Anyone who has seen the Amazon documentary on Spurs last season will have made note of Mourinho’s constant reference to Alli’s poor work rate – and Alli’s subsequent snigger at it as if it was one big joke.
As it turns out, it wasn’t.
Will he be turfed out before the window shuts? Heung-min Son’s injury has cast doubt on that now, but it is clear that when Bale is fit, Alli is probably out.
ARE LEEDS THE REAL DEAL?
Leeds United started this season by pushing Liverpool the closest they have been pushed all season, before edging Fulham in another thriller. The picture of Marcelo Bielsa’s team had been drawn: plucky, carefree, entertaining, attacking, defensively weak.
But now that picture is being redrawn.
The way they ground out a late 1-0 win over Sheffield United, with Patrick Bamford suddenly becoming the Premier League striker everyone believed he would be, has shown there is some real substance behind the style.
It’s difficult to say if Leeds will stay up as they could still be riding the wave from promotion, but they’ve given all the right signs that their return to the top flight after 16 long years won’t be brief.
It will get tougher, the goals will dry up, Bielsa’s unorthodox coaching will be questioned and, at times, may backfire. But this is just stage one of the Leeds revival. Survival is the number one aim this season, everything else will come afterwards.
So far, they’ve been mightily impressive.
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EVERTON AND WOLVES’ CONTRAST
Everton are a new team. They finally have a manager who has got in his own signings and they’ve gelled from the start. In James Rodriguez, Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure they have a beautifully balanced midfield and under Carlo Ancelotti, Dominic Calvert-Lewin has thrived up front.
They could still do with a central defender but the fact is Everton are one of only four teams to have a 100 per cent record so far this season and Ancelotti may finally have a team that could once again challenge for European places.
Wolves, on the other hand, have headed in the opposite direction. They’ve lost some key players in Matt Doherty and Diogo Jota and are coming off a season which lasted more than a year.
A slow start was inevitable, but the manner of the defeat to West Ham was alarming.
Everton now look like the settled squad, and Wolves look like they are in desperate need of a reshuffle, having looked like the opposite for so long.
VILLA’S HEADSTART IN RELEGATION RACE
Two games, two wins. And extremely good performances in both to boot. It doesn’t get much better than this for Aston Villa after the nervous end to last season which ultimately saw them saved from a return to the Championship by a one in 9,000 Hawkeye glitch.
How invaluable will those six points be, come the end of the season? Starting fast is such a huge advantage and with the performances so far of Fulham and West Brom (the Chelsea result withstanding) suggesting they will be here for a good time and not a long time, there might just be one spot left to avoid.
Villa have recruited well and keeping Jack Grealish may be the difference between them surviving this season.