During the international break, the Women’s Super League returned, determined to benefit from the rise in interest following the World Cup. Jessy Parker Humphreys looks at the key talking points from the weekend’s action.
- Attendances boom but will anyone care next week?
The WSL attendance records were smashed over the weekend with headline fixtures at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge. Chelsea’s decision to give away free tickets resulted in just under 25,000 making the trip to west London, while over 31,000 paid to go to the Etihad.
There are a number of different arguments around which is the preferable method to attract attendances – some have said giving away tickets doesn’t place any value on women’s football, and it does seem like people who snap up free tickets don’t have an incentive to then turn up.
At the same time, Manchester City have a lot more England stars in their squad who people might have hoped to see. But these conversations ignore the more pressing matter. Both attendances are fantastic boosts to the game. Yet it is hard to believe that many of those people will be making the trips to the smaller grounds over the next weeks. Huge crowds at big stadiums is a great statement to make. Next week will be a different story.
2. Manchester United bring the excitement but Manchester City quality shines through
The first Manchester derby in top flight women’s football always promised to be closer than it looked on paper. Newly promoted United have a team full of quality and City were without a number of key stars, including Ellen White and Karen Bardsley who were both out injured. And so it proved. Manchester United looked inventive and exciting, with Jackie Groenen running the play in midfield and Leah Galton running Aoife Mannion ragged.
Meanwhile, Manchester City looked ponderous, particularly in the final third. Despite Mary Earps seeming to carry an ankle injury, they failed to test the United goalkeeper. They took all three points thanks to a Caroline Weir wonder strike but without Nikita Parris, it remains to be seen where their goals are going to come from.
3. Chelsea’s wayward finishing could come back to haunt them
Chelsea open the Women’s Super League with somewhat of a point to prove. Missing out on Champions League football with their third-placed finish last season means that they will have the time to push across the league and cups. They will need to polish up their finishing if they are to do so.
After Beth England put them in the lead early on, there were a number of wasted chances, although it is a credit to their game management that it never really looked like Tottenham could capitalise on that fortune. Chelsea will be cheered to see how settled the sole new arrival Guro Reiten looked, and the infectious doggedness of Erin Cuthbert up front for the last 15 minutes gave us a glimpse of how much pressure she is likely to put defences under this season. If Chelsea can begin to take those chances, they will be quite a force.
4. Arsenal not to be underestimated as their creative flair shows
Arsenal have felt like they have missed out a bit on the hype surrounding the opening weekend with the title winners being overlooked in favour of Man City and Chelsea’s grandstand fixtures in large stadiums. They might benefit from the overlooked status this season, and avoid the pressure of being expected to go and win it all again.
Their victory over West Ham suggested they’ll be certainly ready to give it a good go. Their strong attacking options have been bolstered by Jill Roord who got on the score sheet. Beth Mead continues to offer an inventive attacking presence which makes you wonder why Phil Neville hasn’t used her more. If they can deal with the time pressures of playing Champions League football, they are not a team to be underestimated.
5. Southgate not ready to rely on England youth – but he should
As the Women’s Super League kicked off, Gareth Southgate had an opportunity to show what a new look England could do in a Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria at Wembley. And yet, it was a predictable line up that romped to a 4-0 win, thanks in part to two Harry Kane penalties.
While there is some virtue in teams learning to break down solid defences, it was a shame to only see Mason Mount and Jadon Sancho introduced right at the end. With a year to the Euros, these are players who should be getting the opportunity to stake a claim for a starting place. Here’s hoping we might get to see them from earlier on against Kosovo on Tuesday.
Follow Jessy on Twiitter at @jessyjph