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.

Arsenal top table, Spurs in freefall

Arsenal 6 Tottenham 1

For a team beset by an injury crisis, Arsenal look to be in cruise control. The North London Derby was done and dusted within the first 16 minutes with Arsenal 3-0 up and Vivianne Miedema having broken the WSL scoring record. All that was left after that was to add two more goals to her tally because, after all, she is Vivianne Miedema.

Tottenham, meanwhile, must feel like they are going backwards. For all the fanfare of their international signings, they have managed to pick up just one point this season. The marketing opportunity to bring in new fans looks to be fading fast with collapse after collapse in these games. They will be hopeful that the international break gives Alex Morgan the requisite time to regain her fitness but she will not be a cure-all for this team. 

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Arsenal are now the only team with a 100% record in the league and will surely be pleased to have the psychological advantage of a five-point gap over Chelsea whose game against Aston Villa was postponed due to coronavirus. However, there will be tougher games after the international break as Manchester United and Chelsea loom. Given recent results against some of their top-of-the-table competitors, Arsenal will hope they can maintain this kind of form, because leagues are won on points, not goal difference.

Alessia Russo stars in Manchester United victory

West Ham 2 Manchester United 4

It takes some performance to outshine Tobin Heath and Christen Press’ debut league goals. Yet Alessia Russo made sure she took centre stage despite the achievements of Manchester United’s more celebrated signings.

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Picked up by United after she gave up her final year at University of North Carolina due to the pandemic, Russo has long been one of the most highly regarded English youth products. Importantly for United, she is signed to a two-year deal.

Russo has looked at her best when played in a No 9 position, and this game was no exception. She constantly dropped deep, latching onto West Ham’s misplaced passes in midfield, or picking up the ball from the combative Ella Toone. This allowed Leah Galton on her left or Heath on her right to push high up the pitch, with Russo the provider. Her two goals and an assist were well deserved. Currently, she is the standout star from America. 

Manchester City fading fast

Reading 1 Manchester City 1

To draw with one Women’s Super League team may be regarded as a misfortune. To draw with two looks like carelessness. 

Once again this season, Manchester City were held to a draw by a team that they dominated. Reading scoring early allowed them to sit back but Gareth Taylor should be concerned by how profligate in front of goal his team have been this season. They underperformed their xG for the fourth time this season, so it is a lack of concentration rather than creation. 

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Yet there are signs that City also are not playing to their strengths when it comes to going forward. Ellen White has only had two shots on target the entire season – last year, it was only in the two games against Arsenal that she did not manage any. The arrival of Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle in midfield are potentially limiting White’s service – and while they are both clearly excellent players, Gareth Taylor needs to find a way to integrate them with White. 

Manchester City showed what they were capable of with how easily they dispatched Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final. Yet with seven points already dropped in their first five games, it might already be too late for them to make it up. The previous two winners of the Women’s Super League both only dropped six across their respective seasons.

Birmingham sweep aside Bristol

Bristol City 0 Birmingham City 4

This was a rerun of these two teams’ last match of 2019/20 and the difference could not have been more stark. Last season, Bristol were able to stay up on Points Per Game thanks to a 1-0 win over a Birmingham team who had looked as hapless as them all season.

It has all changed in the Midlands though. With Carla Ward at the helm, Birmingham have looked to tighten up defensively but this performance shows what they can offer going forward as well. They have now scored more goals this season (7) than they did in the entirety of the last one (5). 

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Bristol on the other hand have only managed one goal and sit pointless at the bottom of the league. Perhaps they have finally run out of Get Out of Jail Free cards. 

Everton’s perfect record ends amid mysterious refereeing

Everton 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 2

Brighton are cementing a reputation of being one of the most frustrating teams to play in the WSL, as Everton found out when Hope Powell’s team ended their 100% start to the season. Unfortunately the hard-fought point was marred by a strange incident where it seemed like the referee showed Brighton forward Kayleigh Green two yellow cards without sending her off.

Even Powell seemed bemused by it, saying after the game that if she was Everton, she “wouldn’t be pleased with that”. A red card would have forced Brighton to play the last 10 minutes with only 10 players, something Everton manager, Willie Kirk, described as an “opportunity to really get at them”.

As it is, once again the refereeing is significantly impacting the quality of competition in the WSL. In a league as tight as this, Everton could fairly feel like this might have cost them two points. It is time for the FA to invest more.

Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph

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