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

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

United hot off the press

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 0

From the first moment of this match, Manchester United were irrepressible. It was hard to imagine that they were the young pretenders as they pounced on every loose ball, pressing Arsenal high up the pitch. The Gunners were sluggish, even though it was United who had not played together for 21 days.

Casey Stoney had got the measure of an Arsenal team who like to play out from the back with Leah Williamson rarely allowed to step forward with the ball. If she did, Christen Press followed her with Ella Toone stepping into the vacated space. This was a game plan that required total commitment from every one of United’s players, and Stoney got that in spades.

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United overloaded Arsenal’s full-backs on both sides of the pitch with Leah Galton and Tobin Heath on the left and Ona Batlle and Kirsty Hanson on the right. It took until the 83rd minute for United to get their goal from Toone and only then did the Gunners seem to be shaken awake, battering United’s penalty area for the last 10 minutes. For Stoney, this was their first league win against a top-three side – and an announcement of their intent.

Leupolz stars in Chelsea revenge mission

Chelsea 4 Everton 0

Emma Hayes is not a woman who likes to be caught out twice so it was perhaps unsurprising that she chose to take a new approach to this game against FA Cup slayers Everton and switched Chelsea to a 4-3-3.

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Erin Cuthbert and Melanie Leupolz played as No.8s alongside Sophie Ingle whilst ahead of them Ji So-Yun, Beth England and Pernille Harder formed a front three. Unsurprisingly, the Germany midfielder suited the role much more than Cuthbert who ended up rather fading into the background. Leupolz occasionally took on Ingle’s role of slotting into central defence to make a back three which gave Chelsea more flexibility, but it was when she was going forward that she made the most difference. Her back-heel flick for England’s first goal was scintillating and she did well to take up the role on the edge of the box that So-Yun often likes to play.

Everton had their chances to score but, in missing Valerie Gauvin and Lucy Graham, there was a gulf in finishing quality between the two teams. That was neatly summarised by Harder curling Chelsea’s fourth into the top corner in the last minute. The hosts were simply a level above.

Hey Siri! Defender is Spurs’ bright spark

Tottenham 1 Reading 1

As most English eyes were glued to America, some American eyes were glued to England as in the 70th minute, Alex Morgan made her long-awaited debut for Tottenham. If football cared about narrative, she might have scored a winner but as it was Spurs had to settle for a point.

They had Siri Worm to thank for that as her corner was nodded in by Ashleigh Neville, having been flicked on by Rianna Dean. The defender has been provider for three of Tottenham’s four WSL goals this season and her crossing ability made her a constant threat down the left during the first half.

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Once Morgan came on, there was a slight sense of Spurs wanting to lump it long and hope she would do the rest. But with Worm’s crossing ability and Morgan’s goal-scoring instincts, it surely won’t be long until she does get a goal.

COVID wreaks havoc…

Manchester City 8 Bristol City 1

As the team news came out ahead of this game, Bristol released a statement saying they had requested the game be delayed due to a player developing COVID-like symptoms overnight, forcing her and her shared housemates to self-isolate. The FA refused to postpone the match and, as a result, Bristol were missing five senior players.

They presumably denied the request because none of the players returned a positive test, but it once again exposed a lack of support for women’s football during the pandemic. For a start, the fact that Bristol had so many players missing was a result of them living in a houseshare together. This is likely the case for many players across the league, and pretty unique to the women’s game due to their vastly reduced salaries in comparison to men’s football. Secondly, Bristol were forced to use their academy players to boost their bench – but the FA has stated the academies of women’s teams are non-elite, so this will not even be a viable option during lockdown.

Meanwhile, Bristol have racked up another heavy loss in part due to being forced to play a weakened team. Given they are currently conceding an average of 5.6 goals per game, it looks pretty bleak.

… but Villa are on road to recovery

Brighton & Hove Albion 0 Aston Villa 2

This was yet another game in the WSL marked by the impact of coronavirus. Brighton manager Hope Powell and a number of her staff were missing from the sidelines as they’re self-isolating. Meanwhile, Villa were making their return from having fixtures postponed due to an outbreak at the club and were still missing players.

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Without Powell on the touchline barking instructions Brighton looked inattentive. Aston Villa had numerous opportunities to score, hitting the post twice before Anita Asante opened the scoring. Defensive confidence, which Villa have so sorely lacked this season, seemed to be forming. With summer signings looking to be bedding in, Villa will feel confident that this will not be their last win this season.

Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph

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