Jessy Parker Humphreys is back with all the talking points from the latest Women’s Super League fixtures.
Arsenal’s injury returnees provide strength in depth
Joe Montemurro has long been committed to a smaller squad. Speaking to the media back in 2019, Montemurro said he preferred it, in order to develop players “into your style and into your plan for the team”. That policy has come under criticism over the past few seasons, mainly due to the vast pressure that injuries have placed on Arsenal’s bench. Those injuries have prompted an internal review but in their 4-0 win against Everton, it became apparent just how much talent Arsenal had been missing over the past few weeks.
Lisa Evans made her first start of the season while Jordan Nobbs started for the first time since October. These changes allowed Vivianne Miedema to have a rest, with Caitlin Foord given the starting role up front. Arsenal’s 2-0 lead after 10 minutes demonstrated that benching the WSL’s all-time leading goalscorer would not dampen their efficiency.
In players like Beth Mead, Jordan Nobbs and Caitlin Foord, Montemurro has a squad of not just high quality, but flexible attacking players. That is a fantastic asset but only if they are fit.
Arsenal are four points behind league leaders Manchester United but if, and it is a big if, they can keep their squad fully fit heading into the new year, it would be unwise to bet them in the title race.
Manchester United go into Christmas clear at the top
The title race in the WSL can seem like it is being played out as a mini-league between the top teams. However, in order to participate in that league within a league, you have to make sure there are no slip-ups elsewhere. Just ask Chelsea – early draws to Bristol City and Everton in 2018/19 left them practically out of the title race within three weeks.
That’s why Manchester United’s emphatic win over Bristol City felt like a rubber-stamp confirmation of their status not as challengers, but as leaders in the WSL. In this fixture last season, they fell to a shock 1-0 loss. It was fitting evidence of how much they have grown that the 6-1 victory was their biggest-ever margin in a WSL win.
It only takes a couple of dropped points to feel very far behind in this league. As it is, Manchester United are well out in front.
Ebony Salmon continues to make her mark at Bristol City
When it comes to haunting an ex, Ebony Salmon has got it down.
After scoring at the Leigh Sports Village last season to condemn Manchester United to defeat against Bristol City, she also got a consolation here. The 19-year-old may never have made an appearance for her former club, but she certainly likes to make sure they remember what they are missing.
Salmon has scored against Chelsea, City and United over the past two seasons and is regularly Bristol City’s brightest player going forward. With Bristol City already looking likely to go down, it will be fascinating to see whether she follows in the steps of the similarly prodigious Rinsola Babajide at Liverpool and sticks with her club, or if another team will snap her up. There are plenty of sides in the middle of the WSL table who could do with the goalscoring instinct of Salmon up front.
Brighton’s slump highlights problem of one relegation spot
Brighton’s 3-1 loss to Reading marked their third in a row with the team looking increasingly jaded. The end of Denise O’Sullivan’s loan – one of Brighton’s brightest players this season – will do them no favours as they head into next year in ninth. With two of the teams behind them having games in hand to play, Brighton could be flirting with relegation.
Yet they are six points ahead of Bristol City and with only one relegation spot, it seems like Brighton might have little to fear. That leaves them potentially floundering towards the bottom of the league with nothing to play for. Given the number of high-quality teams in the Women’s Championship, opening up a second relegation slot or even a play-off between the divisions would certainly put some more fire in the belly of WSL teams who look like they have already clocked off.
Chelsea and Man City stare down barrel of fixture pile-up
With Chelsea’s London derby against Tottenham called off due to an outbreak of COVID-19 and Manchester City’s visit to Birmingham postponed as a result of a waterlogged pitch, two sides who were already facing a spring of back-to-back games have been forced to add more to the pile.
Chelsea now have two games in hand as a result of an earlier cancellation when Aston Villa recorded positive COVID-19 tests, and both sides have progressed in the Champions League. Given that they were drawn against each other this weekend in the Continental Cup quarter-finals, you wonder if they both might have one eye on dropping out of that competition in order to focus on the others. Chelsea have made no secret that they are fixated on the Champions League this season.
The main beneficiaries? Arsenal and Manchester United, who will have no excuse not to go all guns blazing for the league title.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph