WSL: Five things we learned from the weekend’s action

Jessy Parker Humphreys reflects on the big talking points from the weekend’s Women’s Super League action.

Stalwarts sink City

Chelsea 3 Manchester City 1
For all of the big-name signings Chelsea have brought in during 2020, their victory over Manchester City demonstrated a football truism: great teams are built over time, not overnight.

This was a win that saw two players, in particular, shine. Ji So-Yun, signed six years ago in 2014, was impervious in midfield, played constant pinpoint passes for Fran Kirby, signed five years ago in 2015. Kirby ran Demi Stokes riot – it was surprising Gareth Taylor did not look to bring on his own summer signing, Alex Greenwood, to replace her. It was testament to Emma Hayes’ long-term project to see these players continue to dominate the biggest games.

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Despite taking the lead through a penalty for a handball which should never have been given, Chelsea looked much the better team for vast swathes of the match. The Blues have not lost a WSL game since January 2019 – and in that time have faced Arsenal twice and Manchester City four times. Over the past week, they beat both of them by an aggregate score of 7-2.

Miedema takes centre stage

Brighton & Hove Albion 0 Arsenal 5
It was fitting for Vivianne Miedema to hit the 49-goal milestone in this game. Her two goals against Brighton brought her level with Nikita Parris on the all-time WSL scoring list. What is more astonishing is that she has only taken 49 games to reach it.

Yet despite the headline figures, this match demonstrated once again why Miedema offers so much more to Arsenal than goals. She is constantly willing to drop deep and create attacks from midfield, giving Beth Mead and Caitlin Foord the space to move ahead of her. Similarly, her cross for Arsenal’s fourth and Lotte Wubben-Moy’s debut goal was impeccable.

Miedema will hit the headlines for her record-breaking, but she does so much more than just score.

Hero keeper Spencer saves embarrassment for Spurs

Tottenham 0 Manchester United 1
Given Tottenham’s recent capitulations to both Arsenal and Manchester City, it was easy to fear that they were going to get blown away by Manchester United. Although ultimately United only scored one, the scoreline flattered Tottenham. They had goalkeeper Becky Spencer to thank for making the game seem so close.

Now approaching 30 years old, it feels like Spencer is entering the best years of her career.

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She is a constantly calm presence in goal and this weekend was no different. Spencer saved well one on one from Tobin Heath and tipped what looked like a certain Katie Zelem screamer over the bar.

Spencer was already the second-best goalkeeper last season when it came to post-shot expected goals – goals allowed – a metric which demonstrates how many goals a keeper has prevented. This season, it looks like she’s only getting better.

Blues go on the defensive

Reading 0 Birmingham City 1
It was undeniable that Birmingham’s recent performances had deserved some kind of return. They had scored two against Manchester United before capitulating, only conceded one against Chelsea, and here they finally came away with their three points.

It was a win that was premised on Birmingham being defensively solid. It is something that they have improved on immensely under Carla Ward, forcing opponents to take shots from long distances. They faced 22 Reading shots in the game, compared to their own five, but the distance they were taken saw Hannah Hampton able to deal with them.

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Birmingham will not be so lucky to pounce on the low level of defending that Reading offered up in all of their WSL games, but having such a strong shape is proving to be a great place to start.

Hammers are falling short

Everton 3 West Ham 1
On paper, this is a West Ham team that you might expect to challenge in the top half of the table. On the pitch, they are far, far from that.

West Ham have featured 31 different players over the past two seasons. The short-term contracts within women’s football mean that it is more normal for players to come and go from teams. But for a manager like Matt Beard who is looking to, and has the experience of, building something bigger, the constant chop and change is unhelpful. The short-term contracts for players like Rachel Daly and Emily van Egmond will not help matters. Everton, meanwhile, have shown how to strengthen astutely. Their acquisitions from January look thoroughly embedded in the side whilst Willie Kirk’s summer signings have strengthened the squad for each carefully selected position they have come into. Their reward? A 100 per cent record four games into the season.

Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph

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