WSL: Five things we learnt on opening weekend

The opening weekend of the Women’s Super League had high expectations to live up to. With debuts for Jess Fishlock at Reading, Rachel Daly at West Ham, and Sam Mewis at Manchester City, it felt like for the first time in this league, every team had their own superstar. Jessy Parker Humphreys picks out five things we learnt… 

  1. Sam Mewis looks prepared to take Women’s Super League by storm

Aston Villa 0 – Manchester City 2

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Manchester City may have been rather gifted the win here as a result of two identically catastrophic errors by the Aston Villa defence – but Sam Mewis showed why opposition teams will be dreading her this season. Replacing Jill Scott on the right-hand side of midfield, Mewis was the definition of ‘box to box’. Always prepared to push up the pitch, her pressing allowed City to turnover the ball regularly, and saw them playing with four attacking players at points.

Watching Chloe Kelly, Georgia Stanway, Janine Beckie and Sam Mewis line up on the edge of a penalty area is enough to strike fear into any defence’s heart. In 90 minutes, she managed half as many shots (5) as Scott took across the entirety of last season. With most WSL teams playing in very rigid formations, expect Mewis’ roaming to cause a lot of problems.

2. Arsenal give doubters pause for thought, while Reading’s signings show rust

Arsenal 6 – Reading 1

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It is hard to say what has been the more fashionable opinion on Twitter this week: that Arsenal have under strengthened this transfer window and will be off the pace, or that they have balanced in the perfect way. Those in the latter camp were more likely to be pleased with this result as Arsenal easily dispatched a team who many had tipped for finishing in the top five. For all of Arsenal’s technical quality – and there is a lot of it – Reading looked most caught out by Arsenal’s speed.

Leah Williamson stepping forward into a midfield role enabled her to constantly play balls behind Reading’s defensive line. Reading debutant Deanna Cooper seemed unable to keep up, having only played 29 minutes at Chelsea last season. Jess Fishlock had similar issues making an impact, having been out for a long time with injuries. For Kelly Chambers, it will be essential that these new signings can get match fit sooner rather than later.

3. Manchester United demonstrate their top-three credentials

Manchester United 1 – Chelsea 1

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The main question mark over the points-per-game title decision at the end of last season was the fact that all of Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal still had to face Manchester United for a second time. Making their debut in the WSL last season, United always looked prepared to take points off those teams. Six months on, and that’s exactly what they did.

Chelsea were perhaps wasteful going forward, but take nothing away from Manchester United who constantly looked to get a player in behind, and ran Maren Mjelde ragged – a reminder to other teams that she is not a natural right-back. Given that Christen Press and Tobin Heath are due to be announced imminently, it seems hard to believe that Chelsea will be the only top-three team United take points off of this season. 

4. Tottenham start bright as both teams look to bed in new players

Tottenham Hotspur 1 – West Ham 1

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After a year in the WSL, Tottenham’s young players already look more switched on to the demands of this league – but they will have to take more of their chances if they are to improve. Against West Ham, they were immediately on the front foot with Kit Graham hitting the bar twice within the first 20 minutes. Their ability to switch play confused West Ham who struggled to get a foothold in the game in the first half.

With Rachel Daly on at half-time for the Hammers, they were able to give Spurs’ defenders more to think about. A Grace Fisk own goal from a corner was cancelled out by a spectacular Adriana Leon strike, and in the end, it was a fair draw. Both teams will be happy to have given their new signings a chance for some minutes, with Alana Kennedy looking particularly imposing for Tottenham.

5. Lucy Graham steals the show as Everton shine on opening day

Bristol City 0 – Everton 4

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Lucy Graham often stood out as Everton’s best player last season and so it continued on Sunday. Graham was involved in all four of Everton’s goals – scoring two and assisting two – and, in the process, left herself already closing in on her tally from last year (4G2A). Her back-heeled, volleyed assist for the opener was particularly impressive. Izzy Christansen also added a lot of creativity in the midfield for Everton, who would have been happy to see Valerie Gauvin get off the mark too. Bristol City might have been an ideal opening day opponent for them, but in the end they all count.

Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph

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