While top-of-the-table Arsenal, Manchester City, and Chelsea continued to assert their dominance over the rest of the league, narrow wins were also grabbed by Reading and Tottenham. Jessy Parker-Humphreys gives us a run-down of this week’s WSL highlights.
1) Pauline Bremer shows City won’t wobble as Cushing farewell parade begins
Manchester City 3 – Everton 1
The news this week that Manchester City manager Nick Cushing would leave the club at the start of February raised quite a few eyebrows — particularly because the destination was set to be New York City FC. Part of City’s global franchise, NYC FC will become Cushing’s new home as he takes the assistant manager role after six years in the women’s game. Losing a long-term coach mid-way through the season would risk derailing the form of most teams — Cushing’s final game in charge will be at home to Arsenal on 1st February, in what could be a title-decider — but his announcement didn’t seem to phase the squad as they comfortably beat Everton 3-1.
This was a match that could have been closer, with Izzy Christiansen expected to make her return debut for Everton (the club she started at) against her former club. Yet both Christiansen and leading goalscorer Chloe Kelly picked up knocks in training, leaving Everton looking sluggish as they played their first game in a month. For City, there were no such issues. With Ellen White rested, Pauline Bremer was able to play a traditional number nine role with Georgia Stanway in support at number 10. Bremer’s first goal was a piece of slightly fortuitous hold-up play that she was able to poke past the goalkeeper. Her second was a calmly curled ball from the edge of the area.
The match took her up to nine goals for the season in the WSL: joint second with Bethany England and only just behind Vivianne Miedema. This is even more impressive as it was only her fourth start of the season, meaning she is scoring a goal every 46 minutes. Even Viv can’t match that.
2) Leah Williamson demonstrates she can dominate games from yet another position as Montemurro deploys her at full-back
Brighton 0 – Arsenal 4
A player’s ability to excel in a number of positions sometimes has the air of ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ about it, but Leah Williamson looks genuinely able to convince in midfield, central defence and now, at right back. Arsenal switched to a 3-4-3 against Brighton, playing Louise Quinn and Viktoria Schnaderbeck in the back three alongside Williamson. Whilst Lisa Evans has played in a full-back role for Arsenal in the past, it was clear manager Joe Montemurro was happy for her to sit further forward and have Williamson cover the right hand side defensively when Arsenal were in attack. Nowhere was this clearer than in the third minute, when Williamson pinged a crossfield ball to Danielle van de Donk who opened the scoring from the left wing. For Arsenal’s second, she picked out an unmarked Jill Roord in the box who finished calmly, whilst throughout the entire game Williamson played clever balls down the line to Evans.
Williamson’s status within this Arsenal team makes it easy to forget that she is only 22, meaning there is plenty of room for her to develop. Having waited 41 games for an assist, she has now managed three in the last two games. Adding this kind of attacking ability to her game will only make her more formidable.
3) Weakened Chelsea play for goal difference against Bristol City
Chelsea 6 – Bristol City 1
When Ebony Salmon took the lead for Bristol City against the run of play, it was tempting to question whether Bristol could repeat their miraculous defending against Manchester United and hold on for a victory — or replicate what Liverpool managed against Chelsea, and frustrate them enough to walk away with a point. But this was Chelsea at Kingsmeadow. Even with usual starters such as captain Magda Erikkson and Maren Mjelde being rested or unavailable (Chelsea go to Arsenal next week in a must-win game if they are to challenge for the title), Bristol were simply unable to cope with the quality of Guro Reiten, Erin Cuthbert and Bethany England up front. There was a sense that Chelsea knew they were playing for goal difference. The gap between the top three being so small, there is a high likelihood that the league and Champions League spots could be decided by that instead of points — evident particularly when Chelsea brought on Sam Kerr at half time. But Sophie Baggaley’s assured performance in goal kept the tally down to six.
4) Wobbly West Ham goalkeeping keeps Spurs going
Tottenham 2 – West Ham 1
West Ham were lucky to even have a sniff of causing an upset in the most dramatic game of the weekend as their late equaliser was not enough to get them a point. Spurs should have been out of sight as nervy goalkeeping got the better of West Ham who had to make two goal-line clearances. Goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan was lucky not to be punished after she was dispossessed in her own penalty area — but the poor shot was cleared, before controversy’s Emma Mitchell (on loan from Arsenal) opened her Tottenham account with a powerful shot from the edge of the area. For all Spurs’ dominance, it looked like they wouldn’t be rewarded as Kenza Dali equalised in added time. But thanks to an even later Rianna Dean winner, Spurs snatched the victory they deserved. Still, West Ham should be disappointed by how they (mis)managed this North London derby.
5) Both Reading and Birmingham spurn chances in a scrappy match
Reading 1 – Birmingham City 0
Reading came out on top in a scrappy win over Birmingham which saw both teams struggle to convert their chances. A well-taken lob from Amalie Eikeland was the highlight of the game as Reading and Birmingham wasted chance after chance in front of goal. The open game saw shots hit weakly or miscued as Reading were unable to make the most of their seven shots on target whilst Birmingham had three. Birmingham’s inability to convert scoring chances has been a problem all season — they have only managed five goals in total. Seven individual players in the league have managed as many or more than that. Marta Tejedor would do well to look for some extra attacking flair before the transfer window closes.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph