WSL: Five things we learned this week

Jessy Parker Humphreys looks at the key talking points from the Women’s Super League this week, including Nick Cushing’s farewell to Man City and Chelsea trashing West Ham.


1. City give Cushing almost perfect send off to go top of the league

Manchester City 2 – Arsenal 1

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Nick Cushing’s last three games in charge of Manchester City couldn’t have had more narrative if they had tried. Having beaten Manchester United in the FA Cup last weekend, the team then lost their Continental Cup semi-final to Arsenal at Meadow Park. Just four days later, at a ground which they had not lost at since April 2018, and for Cushing’s last game in charge, they faced Arsenal again. Arsenal dominated for large swathes of the game but were ultimately undone by lax defending.

They conceded their first goal from a set-piece this season when Pauline Bremer tapped in a free-kick that Vivianne Miedema had been unable to clear, before Lauren Hemp had plenty of space to head home Keira Walsh’s pinpoint cross. While Arsenal did create chances, they missed Kim Little’s creativity in midfield. An almost certainly less fulfilling role as Ronny Deila’s assistant now awaits Nick Cushing in New York. To what extent it will upset City’s momentum remains to be seen.


2. Continued postponements demonstrates issues with Football Association requirements of the professionalised women’s game

Liverpool P – Birmingham City P

Tottenham P – Bristol City P

The state of the pitches has frustrated fans, players and managers alike throughout the Women’s Super League season, with matches being called off almost weekly since November. Nowhere has this been clearer than at Liverpool’s Prenton Park, also home to Tranmere Rovers where even Manchester United men’s teams were forced to get covered in mud during the FA Cup. 

The ground is clearly not up to being played on twice a week, whilst the Hive stadium – where Tottenham play – also hosts Barnet FC and London Bees. These issues occur as a result of the discrepancy between the requirements that the Football Association needs WSL teams to meet and the reality of doing so. Within the Merseyside area, there are only three ‘Level 4’ (men’s League Two) or above grounds – Anfield, Goodison Park, and Prenton Park. If the first and second are too big, which they blatantly are,  then you are going to have to share with a League One club and below-average facilities. Purpose built grounds like Manchester City’s Academy stadium are ideal for the women’s game – but they do not come cheap.


3. Refereeing frustration grows as Reading seal draw against Manchester United

Reading 1 – Manchester United 1

Reading were lucky to pick up a point here as they benefited from a late Fara Williams penalty which should never have been given. Katie Zelem was the player penalised as the referee pointed to the spot for a handball after a free-kick had cannoned off her head. It is clear that the women’s game is being consistently failed throughout the season by the standard of refereeing.

Whether they are making embarrassingly bad decisions such as this one, or losing control of the run of the game, as was the case in Manchester City vs Arsenal, it stops the league from being taken seriously. The Football Association needs to fund a higher standard of referee if it wants to engage a wider audience in the women’s game. They are quick to demand large amounts of investment from the clubs, but not so quick to provide it themselves. 


4. Maren Mjelde proves key to keeping Chelsea firing even without some of their stars

Chelsea 8 – West Ham 0

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For most squads, losing two of your star players to an international break would mean you score less goals but not for Chelsea. Despite Ji So-Yun and Sam Kerr competing for Olympic qualification, Chelsea have scored 13 goals without them in the past three games. Without Ji in midfield, Maren Mjelde has moved out of her unfavoured defensive role and into a more advanced position.

She has been instrumental on the right wing for Chelsea, converting from a tight angle for their mid-week Continental Cup semi-final win against Manchester United, and again dominating play in this game at West Ham. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Emily Murphy became the third youngest player ever to score in the WSL and she scored her fourth goal in her last 137 minutes in a Chelsea shirt. She will be confident of following in the footsteps of the two younger players than her to score – Lauren Hemp and Georgia Stanway. 


5. Brighton get points on the board to give them an advantage over other relegation contenders

Brighton 1 – Everton 0

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Postponements within the league means that Brighton have now played at least two games more than the three teams below them in the table. This impressive win over an Everton side who have lost their way in the last couple of matches showed why Hope Powell’s team have enough quality to avoid the drop. Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool are likely to all feel frustrated at how far behind they have artificially fallen, but all will know that they will go at least level on points if they can make up the points from those delayed games. The psychology behind games in hand is tricky to predict but Powell will at least be pleased that her points are already on the board. 

Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph

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