Jessy Parker-Humphreys recaps a week which saw Chelsea crack City, Manchester United’s Lauren James shine, and Birmingham’s Lucy Whipp live up to her name.
1. Chelsea finally overturn City’s tactical dominance
Chelsea 2 – Manchester City 1
Manchester City and Ellen White have been Chelsea’s kryptonite over the past couple of seasons, so the prospect of a combination of them both did not look pretty. Chelsea had not managed to beat City in the league since 2014, with their past four games ending in draws — Cushing was able to beat Hayes at the tactical chess match each time. When Weir bent in the opener for City against the run of play, it seemed like he had done it again. Yet City were overrun in midfield throughout the game, with Ji and Ingle winning back possession again and again.
Eventually it only took City two and a half minutes to concede double the amount of goals they have conceded all season. Both goals were scrappy finishes that came from moments of quality: Ji’s shot that Roebuck could only parry and England’s fierce “crot” (as she referred to it afterwards). With home wins now against Arsenal, City and United, this Chelsea team look like they have got the bit between their teeth.
2. Kim Little is the unsung hero for Arsenal
Reading 0 – Arsenal 3
When most people think of Arsenal, they think of Vivianne Miedema. It’s understandable, given she scores so many at the moment that she almost looks bored when the ball hits the back of the net. Yet powering this Arsenal team through their fixture list is Kim Little. When Arsenal faced City at Meadow Park, a week after defeat at Chelsea, they knew they had to win to keep up the pace. There it was Little who had the vision to thread the ball through to Miedema, allowing her to slam it past Roebuck in the City goal.
When Arsenal looked like they were struggling to break down Tottenham’s defence in front of a record-breaking crowd at Spurs’ new stadium, it was Little who chested the ball down, took two touches and smashed it beyond Becky Spencer. Her ability was on show once again for Arsenal’s second goal against Reading, as a Beth Mead corner found its way to her before she played a 1-2 with Williamson, and then a 1-2 with Nobbs before chipping the ball beyond the goalkeeper. In an Arsenal team that is full of quality, Little stands out as having vision which will leave them in good stead for such a competitive season.
3. Can Liverpool get a foothold from this result and overturn their unlucky run?
Liverpool 1 – West Ham 1
Bottom-of-the-table Liverpool have felt like a team impossible to figure out this season. Before Sunday, they had conceded the same number of goals as Brighton in ninth, yet had only managed to pick up one point. That had included 1-0 defeats to Arsenal and Manchester City. Their xG sat at 5.4, better than Birmingham’s in 10th, yet they had only scored one goal. This season has felt like Vicky Jepson’s team simply cannot get luck to go in their favour.
When Leon’s shot trickled past Kitching to put West Ham 1-0 up, and when Lawley dragged her penalty wide, it must have felt like more of the same. But as Charles grabbed them a point, perhaps their luck could be starting to turn. A must-win Continental Cup match against Durham in mid-week will be an interesting opportunity to see if this Liverpool team can stop having their destiny determined by bad luck.
4. Lauren James shines bright as Manchester United win best of the rest match to hold onto fourth place
Manchester United 3 – Everton 1
Chloe Kelly and Lauren James lined up on opposite right wings for this match between the two teams fighting it out for fourth place. Arguably two of the most exciting young attacking English players out there, both have made impressive starts to the season, with Kelly having scored four goals prior to this game with James having scored three. Both act as playmakers who have helped push their teams into this ‘best of the rest’ position they find themselves in.
On Sunday it was James who really showed how essential she has become to this United team. United started off the season with Jane Ross up front, but James has managed to usurp her and cement a place that was clearly her own last season in the Women’s Championship. She was involved in all three of United’s goals, from a back post finish to drawing the penalty before firing a rocket into the far corner of the net. James now lies in second in the WSL goalscoring charts, tied with Bethany England. It seems like she’s only getting better.
5. Birmingham City and Bristol’s young teams demonstrate why they have both been flagging
Bristol City 0 – Birmingham City 2
It is a truth universally acknowledged in the world of football that if you are a smaller team with some good players, a bigger team will soon come and take those players away from you. And so it has consistently been for Birmingham, who every other season must face a rebuilding project. This project gives the opportunity to blood young talent until that talent is good enough to be taken away, and so the process will begin again.
The starting XIs for both teams had an average age of 23 (compare that to Chelsea’s average age of 26 and Manchester City’s average age of 25.5 in the earlier kick off), including four players aged 18 or under. Birmingham were able to pick up their second win of the season, thanks in part to a magnificent effort of nominative determinism from Lucy Whipp. The worry is that both teams will continue to be sucked into a relegation scrap.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph