Weekly football conversation since 2009, with Graham Sibley, Jan Bilton and Terry Duffelen. Listen on Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or your podcatcher of choice.

Weekend Boxset: A new season of the WSL

The calendar ticks around to October this weekend, the time when league tables begin to have meaning. Except for the teams of the WSL of course, whose season finally gets underway on Sunday.

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All times are UK


Bundesliga: Hoffenheim v Borussia Dortmund
19.30 on Sky Sports Mix
A match-up between a team that has burst out of the Bundesliga blocks and another that is easing itself into the season as though there was not enough cold water in the bath. Last season Hoffenheim were poor, finishing with only 36 points, just three points off the relegation play-off spot. A few months later they now sit in fifth place. An opening-day defeat to Freiburg was followed by four straight wins, most recently against Union Berlin. There are no superstars in the team although Croatian striker Andre Kramarić has been a consistent performer of the season. And it is likely that 20-year-old forward Maximillian Beier will be called up to the German national team as new coach Julian Nagelsmann looks to refresh the squad ahead of the Euros. Beier has scored in all of Hoffenheim’s last four games. They welcome a Dortmund side emerging from turmoil, in the wake of their narrow failure to win the title last season. Despite being only one place below their hosts, unbeaten and just three points of the leaders Borussia had a poor start to the season domestically and in Europe. Last week coach Edin Terzic made six changes to the starting line-up including the captain Emre Can for the match against Wolfsburg. Only the injured Marcel Sabitzer was an enforced change. Club legend Marco Reus was given his first start and it was he who turned in Dortmund’s goal in the 1-0 win against Wolfsburg. While not a classic, it was a solid win and has restored some much-needed confidence. The resilience of that confidence is about to be tested further. TD


Premier League: Aston Villa v Brighton & Hove Albion
12.30 on TNT Sports 1 & Ultimate
While these two are enjoying life in the top reaches of the six-games-in Premier League table, a quick glance down shows the botttom three made up of the newly promoted sides. While it’s right to lament the competitive chasm faced by sides coming up from the Championship, this tie stand as example of what is possible. These two met in the Championship as recently as 2017, now they’re playing in Europe. Of course that also means they both now find themselves in the position of being expected to push on in the league while also having an eye on their next group game. For Roberto De Zerbi that means locking horns with one of his oldest adversaries in management, Gennaro Gattuso, who has this week taken over at Marseille. The two first met in 2016 in the Italian 3rd tier play-off final, with De Zerbi’s Foggia losing over two legs to Gattuso’s Pisa. Of course this balancing act is nothing new for Unai Emery and a home Europa Conference League tie against Bosnian side Zrinsjski Mostar should, in comparison, require less squad management. Both Villa and Brighton have already showed this week how comfortable they are with the rigours of top-half life by successfully negiotiating their way out of the EFL Cup, respectiviely losing by the odd goal at home to Everton and away to Chelsea. In this tie, history is against the Seagulls: they’ve lost their last four against Villa and they’ve never won a match at Villa Park. This season, De Zerbi’s side are the top scorers in the Premier League, averaging exactly three goals a game but have yet to keep a clean sheet. All of which suggests to me that this has the makings of a cracking lunchtime treat. GS

Premier League: Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool
17.30 on Sky Sports Premier League, Main Event & Ultra
It’s always nice to receive a windfall of cash, it’s even better when things are going well for you already. This week, Liverpool announced that a private equity firm had purchased a minority stake in the club, giving them a reported £164 million cash boost. It’s thought much of this will be used to cover costs still outstanding from the pandemic as well as improving infrastructure at the club. On results alone, the Reds couldn’t really have asked for a better start, winning every game since their opening day draw against Chelsea (a result that looks increasingly disappointing given what either side have done since). In one of those weird numeric twists, midweek’s EFL Cup win over Leicester was Liverpool’s fourth 3-1 win in a row. One statistic that will be more concerning for Jurgen Klopp is that in three of those wins his side were a goal down at half time. Great entertainment but you wouldn’t want to make a habit out of it, especially away to a side with the confidence of Tottenham right now. Last week’s North London derby 2-2 left both sides feeling they had dropped two points. Following that with a fixture Spurs have won just once in the last decade will prove an even sterner test of their new found mettle. Should Ange Postecoglu’s side hold a lead at the break, it might be a comeback too far for Liverpool. GS

La Liga: Real Sociedad v Athletic Bilbao
20.00 on LaLigaTV and Viaplay Sports 1
The big Basque derby between two old rivals who are in great shape this season. The Basque region is going through a purple patch of talent with terrific players and almost every other top-tier head coach from that region. Sociedad are fifth in La Liga table and have had a little more buckle in their swash this season with all-action wins over Granada (5-3) and Getafe (4-3). However, their most recent 1-0 win over a resurgent Valencia was more like last season’s hard grafting defensively conservative La Real. The San Sebastien club also registered a creditable 1-1 draw with finalists Inter in the Champions League. Top man is Takefusa Kubo with four goals. In fourth place, Athletic Club constantly make a mockery of every other club’s recruiting and scouting plans by only developing local players. I’m contractually obliged to reference the Williams brothers, Iniaki and Nico who spearhead the attack. But the beating heart of the team is Iker Muniain. The central midfielder has made 420 appearances for the Bilbao club and is still only 30. He played, along with Iniaki, in Athletic’s last win at Sociedad in March 2017. The home side have won four of the subsequent six games at the Reale Arena. It will be interesting to see how the away side approach the match. Do they play it cagey or go all out against a defence that has only conceded 6 goals so for this season? TD


Ligue 1: Reims v Lyon
12.00 on TNT Sports 2
When Lyon were last in the Boxset, at the start of the month, they were looking for their first win and head coach Laurent Blanc was under pressure to get something against his former club PSG. He didn’t and a few days later was fired, less than a year after taking over from Peter Bosz. Two games on and they're still looking for their first win, now under the charge of Fabio Grosso, who you may remember as the scorer of Italy’s World Cup winning penalty in 2006. Last season he led Frosinone to their first Serie B title, but his contract at the club wasn’t renewed, something that he found out from the club President via a text message. Summer speculation linked him with the vacant role at relegated Sampdoria but he lost out when Andrea Pirlo decided to apply for it. Grosso has signed until the end of the season, with an option for him to extend for another season. He joins a club that has been in chaos since being taken over last year. The blame for this chaos, according to new owner John Textor, falls squarely with his predecessor, Jean Michel Aulas. The US businessman accuses Aulas of hiding the threat of restrictions being put on the club by French football’s financial watchdog the DNCG. Textor already has a wide portfolio of football interests. In 2021 he secured a 40% stake in Crystal Palace, he also has majority holdings in Botafogo and Belgian Pro League side Molenbeek. After getting everyone’s attention with a 19 game unbeaten run and becoming a social media meme, Will Still’s first season as Reims boss ran out of steam with his side losing seven of their final eleven matches. This season, they currently sit fifth after impressively beating Lille in midweek. Hard to see anything here other than more woe for Les Gones. GS

Women’s Super League: Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur
17.30 on Sky Sports Premier League, Football, Main Event & Ultra
It’s a new season of what is now arguably the strongest league in women’s football. However, Chelsea’s lack of Champions League success puts a question mark over that claim. Also, while compared to the other top leagues there are generally more teams that can compete for the top prizes, Chelsea are going for their fifth title in a row. Given the excitement of the World Cup and the new money coming into the game, Emma Hayes’ moves in the transfer market have been modest. Leaving the club are world football power couple Magdalena Eriksson and Penile Harder, who have moved to Bayern Munich. The club has spent big on an exciting prospect: Mia Fishel who comes in on a deal reported to be worth in excess of £200,000. This for a player who only made her international debut for the USA this week. Joining her is Canada’s Ashley Lawrence, who has significantly more experience and comes for free from PSG. This fixture is one of the four home WSL games to be staged at Stamford Bridge, which suggests that they are already close to outgrowing their Kingsmeadow ground, just six years after moving into the 5000 capacity site they bought from AFC Wimbledon. Having brushed with relegation for much of last season, Spurs will be looking for further inprovement this campaign. The club have no plans as yet to host any of their home games at the parent stadium, with all fixture scheduled to be played at Leyton Orient’s Brisbane Road. New striker Martha Thomas impressed against England for Scotland in last week’s Nations League meeting and was hard done by not to get a penalty when she was bundled over by Millie Bright. She joined Tottenham on transfer deadline day as part of a clear out at Manchester United. GS

Serie A: Atalanta v Juventus
19.45 17.00 on TNT Sports 1
At his fifth club since leaving Charlton as a teenager, is it too early to call Ademola Lookman a journeyman at just 25? The former Everton and Leicester attacker enjoyed a productive season with Atalanta scoring 13 and making 6 assists - more than Rasmus Hojlund managed for the club and in fewer games. Hojlund has of course gone to Manchester United, giving Le Dea enough cash to splash out on two replacements and still have change. Gianluca Scamacca joins after an injury hampered season at West Ham and scored twice in his home debut but he’s back on the treatment table and will miss this one. 21 year old Mali international El Bilal Toure is a club record signing from Almeria but he ruptured an ankle tendon in a pre-season friendly against Juve and won’t be making his full debut until the new year. All of which puts the pressure back on to the Nigerian international to get goals. Still, if it doesn’t work out for Lookman at Atalanta in the long term, there’s nothing wrong with him becoming the new Kevin-Prince Boateng (who, incidently, retired last month). After narrow wins in midweek these sides now find themselves in the top four, in touching distance on the Milan sides above them. This is unlikely to be an all-guns blazing affair but should give us an idea of what either side are capable of this season. GS
Apology to readers: we got the wrong kick-off time for this match - hope you enjoyed Roma v Frosinone instead.

Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Terry and Graham

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