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Hey guys!

It's been another incredibly busy week in women's football. I couldn't fit it all in to today's newsletter, so before I get onto the main course, here are some really important football updates that I can't let you go without:

⚠️ Ashlyn Harris has posted a six-slide notes app defence of herself on Instagram

🥰 Beth Mead is back in the England squad but more importantly has adopted a puppy with wifey Vivianne Miedema

🤢 Sam Kerr and Kristie Mewis have finally published their 'taken behind a bush' plandid proposal shot. David and Victoria are quaking.

Love is in the air - but in today's newsletter I'm canvassing for MORE HATRED PLEASE. It's all a bit complex. I hate Manchester United, I love Ella Toone. I resent Spain's World Cup-winning players, yet the moment they're in a different shirt, I love watching them dance around and be fucking talented.

Oh football. Do you suffer from this kind of conflict? I'd love to hear about it. You can reach me by emailing me at [email protected] or replying to this newsletter. If not, lucky you. Have a wonderful, peaceful week.

Flora xx

Big Boys

Say what you like about the Premier League, they certainly know how to do a derby day.

Between Liverpool, Manchester, and London, there’s enough local rivalries in the Premier League calendar to keep us well fed on these campy graphics that are so awful and so charming.
I love it. For these great men, admiring the legends who’ve come before them, derby days are both an epic battle for status and priceless permission to descend into the bitchy melodrama that their everyday lives deny them.

The Women’s Super League doesn’t have so much history to draw on — but it is starting to get the hang of it. At the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on Sunday, a club record home crowd showed up in numbers and in spirit, relentlessly booing City striker Bunny Shaw for the crime of having a head injury, throwing out a few ‘you shit bastards’ and politely waving at Laia Aleixandri as she was dismissed on a second yellow.

And this, absolutely top drawer needle from Chloe Kelly:
Even 19-year-old Khiara Keating was at it:
If there’s one thing that is sure to have young Khiara rapidly uncupping her ear, it’s the sound of Manchester United manager Marc Skinner giving his thoughts after a devastating defeat.

"There is a clear gap. We have to deal with that fact. When you deal with facts, you have a choice on how you can next attack that gap," said Skinner. "I just wasn't happy with us as a collective. We weren't our usual selves. We set ridiculously high standards and we fell short of those.

"What we do have this early in the season is a chance to rectify it. In defeat comes an opportunity. Tonight our opportunity is that we can look at what didn't go well and look at how we put that right quickly in games coming up.”

Say What

Meanwhile, over in Spain, Barcelona are so good at football that the biggest domestic game in the calendar is just a joke to them.

As Mo Salah side-eyes Richarlison and Chloe Kelly silences the Stretford End, the most poisonous trash talk that Barça could muster ahead of El Clásico, a Liga F match against rivals Real Madrid, was this one Instagram reel which looks like the product of a teacher's lazy afternoon letting four excitable GCSE media students loose with a camcorder.

Ona Battle, Salma Paralluelo and Cata Coll are tasked with cajoling Lucy Bronze into saying a phrase in Spanish.

‘¡DI LO!’ the chirpy self-satisfied chorus of world champions insist.

‘Say what?’ Lucy counters, en Español. They go back and forth like this for a while.

I know — you can probably tell where this is going. The natural conclusion of such a set-up is Lucy Bronze shouting, passionately, in Spanish, that Real Madrid are fucking shit.

Instead, Lucy simply tells us, "El Clásico is tomorrow," and everyone jumps around, happy about the fact that a game of football is about to happen.
The problem is, to Barça, El Clásico isn’t a blood-and-thunder moment in history — it is just another game of football. The fun in saying that your rivals are fucking shit is the tension surrounding whether or not your team can go out there and prove it. Barça won’t say it because it’s self-evident before a ball is kicked.

The teams have played twelve times and Barcelona have won twelve times. Since 2021, the Catalonian giants have lost one Liga F game. It’s no surprise that the Barça girlies were jumping around like children about to get jelly and ice cream.

Sit Down

On paper, Real are closing the gap. In March, only a Fridolina Rolfö penalty decided the game as Barça claimed a narrow 1-0 win. Madrid have since added quality to an already-stacked squad and now boast World Cup stars Linda Caicedo and Hayley Raso in attack. This Clásico was set up to be more entertaining than ever. And it was — but thanks only to the brilliance of Barcelona.

Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmati was taking the piss. She scored in the 17th minute, hit the post five minutes later, and made Spain teammate and World Cup final match-winner Olga Carmona look a right wally.

Carmona thought she was doing something wicked smart when she intercepted a long pass bound for Caroline Graham Hansen. What she didn’t bank on, though, as she ventured forward to launch an attack, was running into Bonmati. With little trouble, the best football player in the world robbed her like a school bully and finished off the pass to CGH as though Carmona had never existed.
CGH could humiliate too. Look at the way the Stadium Australia hero is seated by a dummy shot here. It’s absolutely magnificent.
Barça could’ve scored about a million goals in the first half if it weren’t for the woodwork and a few spectacular misses. I’d be hopeful not to screw up as many good chances as they had in the first half across a whole season, but they still went into the break 3-0 up.

Putting the kids on is something you do in the dying stages of a stale lower-league FA Cup tie or a complete dead rubber that a young inexperienced football head couldn’t possibly balls up. But with minutes remaining, Barcelona chucked on a pair of seventeen-year-olds. Then one of the teenagers scored Barcelona’s fifth goal.
These children should not be having this much fun. It's supposed to be toxic!🤬

Seriously, though — if Real are Barça's biggest domestic rivals and they can beat them 5-0 ✨just like that, how will they keep improving?

Before she spent the afternoon running rings around Carmona, Caroline Graham Hansen acknowledged that challenge is essential to growth.

"It's important for women's football to have a strong Madrid," CGH said. "[El Clásico] is a big game, a game the whole world knows and it's important that it reflects the level in the women's game.

"As I have said many times, the higher the level of all the teams, the better it is for everyone. It makes [the league] more attractive and demands more from us on a daily basis."

Goal of the Weekend

After Brighton and Hove Albion pulled off a surprise win at Manchester City, Arsenal might have been worrying about their winning streak as they travelled to the south coast on Sunday.

But Stina Blackstenius settled the nerves early by putting the Gunners in the lead early.

She did well. Brighton’s new defensive signing, Colombian Jorelyn Carabalí, was trying to clear Katie McCabe’s cross but Blackstenius got in the way, controlling a pacey ball with her stomach then setting up to shoot. Perhaps it knocked some sense out of her, because her attempt to strike didn’t come close to the ball.

Sky Sports sadly and kindly cut the airshot out of the slow motion replay. Terrible news for us, great news for Stina whose hair-tucking celebration gave, ‘I’m so random I can’t believe I just did that.’
Twitter was similarly generous.

More at The Square Ball

A photograph of Katie Astle playing for Leeds United Women against FC United of Manchester

Soggy bogs and misty eyes

by Flora Snelson

A non-league ground lined with golf brollies for a rainy FA Cup tie reminded me of being at Histon as an 11-year-old. This time, Leeds brought the magic.
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