From unsung Brighton heroes to unexpected picks between the sticks, Jessy Parker Humphreys gives their top choices of the overlooked players in the WSL.
The start of this Women’s Super League season has understandably seen a lot of focus placed on the big name players who have arrived in the league. Eyes have been drawn to the World Cup Winners in Manchester and Chelsea’s numerous award winners, whilst fans were left on tenterhooks waiting for a glimpse of Alex Morgan on the pitch.
Yet as well as treating us to watching some of the world’s best playing week in, week out, the league also features numerous other players who have shone. Here are five players who we think deserve even more praise for their start to the season.
1. Claudia Walker
Playing as a striker for a side when you know you are going to see little of the ball always seems like an unenviable task. Claudia Walker, however, has taken to it with aplomb this season, providing the fire power for a Birmingham City side many thought would be fighting relegation.
Having not scored at all in the WSL last season despite starting ten games, she has managed five in the first eight of this one. Only Jill Roord has outperformed her xG by more than Walker, and she also comes third in the league in terms of the percentage of her shots which are on target. That shows how decisive she has been with the opportunities afforded to her.
The highlight of her performances, both in terms of narrative and strike, has to be her winning goal in the first top-flight Second City derby. After a poor headed clearance from Natasha N’Dow, Walker took one touch before volleying the ball against the underside of the cross bar and in.
2. Denise O’Sullivan
For followers of the NWSL, Denise O’Sullivan’s arrival at Brighton this summer from the North Carolina Courage was earmarked as one of the cleverest loan acquisitions in the league. Whilst O’Sullivan’s impact on a team might not always stand out on paper, her role in midfield for Brighton has been essential, acting as a ‘destroyer’.
O’Sullivan’s efficacy in breaking up opposition play is evidenced in the fact that she has made the joint second most tackles in the league – 22. She has pressured opposition players more successfully than any other Brighton player.
But it is not only defensively that O’Sullivan has helped Brighton. She has the second most shot-creating actions from Brighton players who have played more than two 90s (1.88). In fact, O’Sullivan would probably have stood out more if Brighton’s attacking players had managed to make more of her balls. With Sunday being her last game in a Brighton shirt, we might only begin to really see her impact once she has left.
3. Siri Worm
For the majority of the first half of this season, Siri Worm represented the sole bright spark in a Tottenham side who looked more like a marketing ploy than a real football team. Worm’s left foot took it on itself to try and dig Spurs out of the hole they found themselves in. Whether from corners or free kicks, Worm has played multiple pinpoint balls into the box, often to find the head of her full pack partner Ashleigh Neville. With Worm out injured, even Kerys Harrop got in on the act against Brighton, so maybe it’s something in the water at the training ground.
Worm has the highest number of shot-creating actions per 90 of any Tottenham player (with 2.98), and Rehanne Skinner will be hoping she can maintain this kind of precision for the second half of the season.
4. Mackenzie Arnold
Including a goalkeeper who has conceded the second most goals in the league might seem like a strange choice. But West Ham could have been much worse off without Mackenzie Arnold in goal.
Only Sophie Baggaley at Bristol City has faced more shots than Arnold, but she has not let it phase her, with her form keeping West Ham in games for perhaps longer than they deserved to. Even in the 9-1 loss to Arsenal, Arnold made a number of good saves to keep her team in it before Gilly Flaherty was sent off and the defence fell apart. Similarly, against Chelsea more recently, West Ham managed a score line much tighter than the performance thanks to Arnold’s saves.
With West Ham’s form now beginning to improve, Arnold could really come into her own between the sticks.
5. Amy Turner
Manchester United’s defence has been rock solid this season with only Chelsea having conceded fewer goals. That is despite first choice centre-back Abbie McManus being out for almost half their matches played. Millie Turner has received numerous plaudits – including a glowing review from England manager Phil Neville – but Amy Turner should also be praised for filling in in McManus’ absence.
Amy Turner usually plays at right back in Casey Stoney’s system, but she has for the most part looked composed pairing up with Millie Turner, including in tricky matches against Arsenal and Manchester City. McManus is close to full fitness so Turner’s sojourn in the centre of the pitch will likely soon be over, but her versatility has enabled United to be the pacesetters of this season.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph