Ilkay Gündogan: What you need to know about the Manchester United target

The Offside Rule

By Jamie Thomas.

The Borussia Dortmund exodus appears to be getting underway just 10 days after Jürgen Klopp announced he would depart the club at the end of the season, as one of his best players, £25million-rated Ilkay Gündogan, is believed to be very close to signing for United.

Ilkay Gündogan, when match fit, has consistently been one of the most important players to the Dortmund cause over the last few years. He has one of the most interesting skill sets of any central midfielder in the world right now.

A natural playmaker converted to more of a holding midfielder, Dortmund’s number 8 has athletic ability and physical presence but also the vision and skill to turn a game on its head in an instant. Nuri Sahin is credited with enabling Dortmund’s counter-attacking style of play but highly-rated Gündogan is arguably more important in this…

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Five Things We Learned – United at a loss without Carrick, Leicester eye safety and Chelsea have reason to celebrate

The Offside Rule

Jamie Thomas takes a look at the talking points in this weekend’s Premier League . . .

1. Carver’s fight talk

John Carver had a barney with Newcastle fans after allegedly swearing and in an exchange you normally only hear at chucking-out time, telling one “outside, outside!” After losing their seventh game on the bounce against Swansea, no wonder tempers are frayed. Despite scoring two goals, the Toon were absolutely woeful and eventually lost 3-2.

But sacking Carver at this point in the season wouldn’t do anyone any good – not when they are dangerously close to getting involved in a relegation battle with four games to go. It might not be the best way to handle fans’ frustrations but he’s not really the one to blame, is he Mike Ashley?

2. Safety first for Villa

Teams often play safer after reaching cup finals for fear of injury leading up…

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Five Things We Learned – Chelsea close in on the title, Liverpool and Saints lose their way, while Leicester push for survival

The Offside Rule

Jamie Thomas discusses the big talking points from this week’s Premier League and FA Cup action…

1. Chelsea are as good as champions

We’ve seen Chelsea do this so many times before; very little possession, but very clinical when they have it. Manchester United fans might feel hard done by, but at the end of the day, they can’t have expected much more than what they got.

Ten points ahead of Arsenal, Chelsea need eight points from their remaining six games. Three of those games are at home to Crystal Palace, Liverpool, and Sunderland, and with Mourinho’s impeccable home form throughout his career, you have to expect that even if they lose their away games, Chelsea will get the job done at home.

Against Manchester United, they did what they needed to do – they’ve done it all season, and they’ll win the league because of it.

2. The story…

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INTERVIEW: Wales forward Natasha Harding – ‘Jayne Ludlow can lead us to Euro 2017 glory’

The Offside Rule

By Jamie Thomas.

Fresh from beating Birmingham City to reach the FA Women’s Cup semi-finals, Manchester City’s Natasha Harding talks her ambitions to help Wales reach a first ever Euro finals, how coach Ludlow has transformed the national women’s team and the progress of the game.

ORP: You’ve just come back from a friendly double-header with Slovakia, having won the first game but lost the second 2-1 were you happy with the way those games went?

NH: Well, we wanted to win both games when we set our targets for the start of the camp – and we should have won both of them, if I’m honest. The second game wasn’t at all what we have been about in recent months and I think that match showed us that we have to change our mentality as a squad if we are going to be able…

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Lots of Positives for Wales after Slovakia double-header.

Ahead of two friendlies against Slovakia this week, Wales Women’s team manager Jayne Ludlow said as she announced her squad that the games would be another opportunity to develop an identity and style of play that will bring success.

The Welsh won their first fixture on Monday 1-0 thanks to a 55th minute goal from Helen Ward, and were leading 1-0 in the second game on Wednesday but eventually lost 2-1.

Pessimists will say, given that Wales conceded a lead to lose the second game, the style of play needs more work. Looking at each game individually though, I disagree.

Wales fielded a full-strength team in the first game on Monday and, despite what the score suggests, they absolutely decimated Slovakia – particularly in the first half – and could have been 4-0 up at half-time.

The main criticism of Wales in that game is that they didn’t finish their chances as Ward in particular could have had a hat-trick and a few others could have got their names on the score-sheet too.

They created an abundance of chances though, something Ludlow told FAW TV she was very happy about, and with Helen Ward returning from recently having given birth, surely it won’t be long before she is back on top form and building on her record total of 33 goals for Wales.

The former Reading Women’s manager also told FAW TV that, having taken the national team job in November, she thinks her tactical ideas and the identity she is trying to develop, is being taken on board by the players:

‘I’d like to think my messages are coming across to the girls, they’re working extremely hard and we’re testing them in every training session – there’s changes to how they’ve played in the past as a group and as individuals but they’re responding really well and performing really well.’

Wales were as good as Slovakia were poor though; Slovakia’s coach was seen at times striking the dugout to express his anger, such was the lack of quality in his team’s performance.

Wednesday’s game was always going to be a slightly different story, not least because one of the team’s star players – Jess Fishlock – had returned to her club, Seattle Reign, following her appearance in Monday’s game.

Furthermore, Slovakia had clearly learnt a lot of lessons from the manner of defeat in the first game as they pressed Wales vigorously right from the offset – something they hadn’t managed previously.

Wales, whilst still dominant in possession and way clear of their opponents in terms of chance creation, hadn’t learnt their lessons as they didn’t finish off the great chances they had.

That being said, the attacking play was excellent. Natasha Harding and Angharad James stood out in what was an excellent all-round midfield performance by Wales in both games.

The two Slovakia goals were fairly soft though, which will have disappointed the Wales camp.

The first saw Skorvankova pick the ball up in the centre circle before running through the entire Wales defence and slotting past goalkeeper Alice Evans. An excellent run, but a tackle probably should have been made.

The second came from an excellent corner by Feckova, which wasn’t dealt with by Wales’ goalkeeper and eventually met by Klechova who scored a bullet header. A great finish again, but appeared to get away from her marker too easily.

Defeat in the second game obviously didn’t go down well as some players expressed their disappointment on Twitter afterwards but all things considered, I don’t think Wales are too far away from where they want to be.

When Ward finds her best form again, Wales will be a different animal. For all of Slovakia’s improvements in the second game, Wales still had enough chances to win comfortably.

Also, with Fishlock not playing and Helen Bleazard not starting, as well as playing a very demanding formation twice in three days, the level of performance may understandably have dipped a few notches.

FAW President Trefor Lloyd Hughes, however, is a strong supporter of Ludlow, praising her work in his programme notes prior to these fixtures, but told me how he felt Wales missed Fishlock:

‘I think with (Jess) Fishlock missing tonight it makes a hell of a difference to the team, she is a top class player and would have made the difference tonight, I think.

‘Natasha (Harding) played well, and played better when she moved out wide. She’s really improved over the last eight months and understands the game very well – she’s a key player too.

Hughes was also optimistic about Wales’ chances in Euro 2017 qualifying, as the draw for qualification takes place on Monday in Nyon:

‘As long as they realise they have a good chance, they’ll be alright in qualifying. This was a good opportunity for them to test themselves in front of a good crowd. I think they have a good chance.’

All in all, a very impressive couple of performances for Wales over the last few days though. Yes, they could have done a couple of things a bit better but there are a lot of positives that will be taken from these two games, and rightly so as Wales were excellent for the most-part.

The draw for the qualifying rounds of Euro 2017 takes place on Monday the 13th of April in Nyon, Switzerland. Wales are ranked 19th among the 40 entrants – of course, I wish them the best of luck going into qualification!