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

Jessy Parker Humphreys looks at the big talking points from Women’s Football Weekend. 

City pay for their profligacy

Manchester United 2 Manchester City 2

Initially it seemed like the opening match of Women’s Football Weekend might be one where the old hands cut the young pretenders down to size. 

Where Manchester United last week pressed Arsenal, forcing them to play long balls over the top, Manchester City simply played through the press, leaving United’s attackers cut adrift upfield. City were repeatedly able to dominate down United’s right-hand side with Georgia Stanway running rings around Ona Batlle. Jess Sigsworth was consistently drawn into pressing Alex Greenwood, playing as the left-sided centre-back, leaving Demi Stokes with acres of space to run into. 

All that changed when Casey Stoney made the opposite tactical switch to the one she made at half-time against Arsenal. On came Kirsty Hanson and suddenly, City’s threat dissipated. Ella Toone stepped up from midfield to take responsibility for Alex Greenwood, leaving Hanson free to put Stokes under pressure. 

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It was Tobin Heath’s strike that arced parabolically over Ellie Roebuck which will be remembered from this game, but it was appropriate that Hanson got the equaliser. Her initial volley from a United corner was met fantastically by Roebuck, but the goalkeeper could do nothing about the second one from her opposite foot. 

For the second week in a row, Stoney showed herself to be a decisive operator. Gareth Taylor’s substitutions, meanwhile, made little impact, with Rose Lavelle never even entering the match, and his City team were left to rue what could have been. 

Title chase is top draw

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 1

Statistics rarely tell the whole story, but sometimes they do give you a sense of a match. Here, there was only one shot on target across the entire 90 minutes – Arsenal’s goal. It sums up a game which was often frantic as both sides tried to play through the other’s press, with neither being able to ever get much of a hold on the ball.

When anyone did, it tended to be Beth Mead who looked tenacious and demanding in an Arsenal frontline who have in the past faded out of high-profile games such as these. It was fitting that Mead scored Arsenal’s goal after an impressive run from Vivianne Miedema to outpace an injured Millie Bright. Yet the goal only seemed to ignite Chelsea and there were shades of the Continental Cup final as Pernille Harder’s shot was deflected in by Lotte Wubben-Moy just four minutes later. 

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Emma Hayes described her team’s performance as “average” and it was fair to say Chelsea were careless on the ball. But a draw was probably a reasonable result as both sides had their moments with Cailtin Foord’s first-half shot bouncing twice off the bar and Sam Kerr’s lob drifting wide in the final minute of the game. The two clubs could take away positives and negatives – and it left the WSL as wide open as it was before.  

Different kettle of Fish

Everton 1 Reading 1

Everton’s breathtaking start to the season is waning as they were held to a draw by a Reading team who were dominant for much of the game. Everton seemed unable to adjust their game plan for the reality that they were without Valerie Gauvin. They have profited this season from using their wide players to put pinpoint crosses into the box, but when these opportunities fell to Claire Emslie and Izzy Christiansen, they lacked composure. 

Reading’s Jess Fishlock was at the height of her powers, dictating play from the midfield. She was constantly looking to set Emma Mitchell or Danielle Carter free, and it was her pass out to Tash Harding that resulted in Reading’s equaliser. However, this was Reading’s third draw in a row. Fishlock’s form will be key to Reading starting to turn these draws into victories. Meanwhile, Everton still have more than enough quality to push for a top-three spot but given they will be without Gauvin until Christmas, they might need to adjust their patterns of play. 

Spurs struggling to click

Bristol City 2 Tottenham 2

The hype around Alex Morgan has meant that whenever she steps onto the pitch, there is a sense that it should be her moment. A visit to Bristol City – who had been conceding over five goals a game – would only have compounded that feeling. Instead a different centre forward stole the limelight.

Ebony Salmon is now directly responsible for nine of the 10 points that Bristol have managed to accumulate over the past two seasons. Here once again, she showed an elite ability to hold up the ball and, perhaps more importantly, concentrate. Having won Bristol the penalty to give them the lead, she maintained her composure to score them the equaliser in extra time. It is easy to forget that Salmon is still only a teenager. 

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For Tottenham, it is telling that their season’s top scorer is a right-back. Ashleigh Neville managed to score from a Siri Worm corner for the second week in a row, after the Dutch defender had initially equalised with a fantastic free-kick. That takes Neville up to two for the season, ahead of anyone else in the squad. With no wins after seven games, something is not clicking for this team. 

13 is lucky for Blues boss Ward

Aston Villa 0 Birmingham City 1

Ahead of this game, Carla Ward’s Birmingham side were so bedevilled by injuries and suspensions, they were only able to name two substitutes. Given Gemma Davies’ recent record against Ward – Davies’ Aston Villa side beat Ward’s Sheffield United side twice last season – and Villa’s superior strength, it seemed like Birmingham had an uphill struggle on their hands.

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Yet Aston Villa created little and, in the end, it was their defensive failings which once again let them down. This time a header from the usually reliable Elisha N’Dow fell into the path of the unmarked Claudia Walker. Walker’s shot smashed satisfyingly against the bar and across the line to give Birmingham more points this season as they managed in over double the number of games last season. It might seem premature, but Ward’s early season showing has more than likely already guaranteed Birmingham safety. 

Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph

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