Jessy Parker Humphreys looks at the big talking points from Women’s Football Weekend.
Despite numerous match postponements, this weekend was an illuminating one in the WSL: from club-to-club discrepancies in FA treatment, to the delights of Chelsea’s devastating ‘Kerrby’ duo, Jessy Parker Humphreys has their top picks.
Super Fran Kirby on course to have her most successful season yet
When Chelsea added Pernille Harder to an attack already featuring Sam Kerr and Bethany England, opposition teams would be entitled to feel concerned about the threat on their goals. Yet so far this season, the main threat has been closer to home.
For their game against Reading, Emma Hayes moved Fran Kirby out of the right wing position, where she has impressed this season, into a number 10 role. Playing more centrally allowed Kirby to dovetail with Sam Kerr to devastating effect, scoring a first half hat trick before adding a fourth after the break.
Kirby’s four goals put her in elite WSL striking company on a number of metrics. Before this weekend’s game, only Vivianne Miedema and Bethany England had scored four goals in one game, scored three separate WSL hat tricks, and scored a perfect hat trick. Kirby now joins the club on all three counts.
Having never scored more than nine goals in a season before, Kirby is already on seven. With four assists too, only Miedema has scored and created more in the WSL this season.
This is, after all, a footballer who is one of only three English players to have been nominated for the Ballon d’Or. If she continues to play like this, she will surely be in line to at least pick up another nomination.
Reading’s defensive vulnerabilities exposed
Reading’s desire to play a high line might show an admirable commitment to their own style of football, but they were slow to cotton on to how exposed it left them. Sam Kerr had already gone through on goal once before Kirby opened the scoring in an almost identical manner.
Reading looked nervous on the ball and Chelsea made light work of dispossessing them in the middle third. The Royals were inviting pressure on themselves, and might have been able to keep more of a hold on the game if they had pivoted to a more direct style earlier in the match.
There was a glaring issue at corners too. Fran Kirby is in great form – but allowing a 5’2” player to head past you twice should have everyone rushing back to the training ground.
Sam Kerr’s unselfish build up play helping Chelsea move up a gear
Sam Kerr’s contribution to Chelsea’s attacking finally felt official as she recorded her first two assists of the season against Reading.
Her ability to drop deeper and leave the space in behind was demonstrated as she nodded on the ball for Kirby to run through on goal and open the scoring. It is a relationship that is clearly blossoming. Together “Kerrby” have combined for seven goals this season. No two players have combined for more.
Kerr looked like she was building a similar kind of partnership with Bethany England last season. She is at her best when she has another attacking forward next to her. With Pernille Harder also fitting that kind of profile, it seems like Emma Hayes is still yet to decide who is Kerr’s best partner. But for the moment, Kerr is Hayes’s first name on the team sheet.
Without clarity the FA will once again seem to be pandering to the biggest clubs
With all other WSL fixtures called off this weekend, a lack of clarity from the FA has left a number of teams scratching their heads.
Arsenal and Manchester City were both permitted to call their games off, with their players having contracted coronavirus from a trip to Dubai. This stood in sharp contrast to Bristol City earlier in the season, who called for their game against Manchester City to be cancelled after five players were forced to self-isolate due to suspected COVID symptoms. In that case the FA rejected their request and Bristol lost 8-1 having been forced to start academy players.
Similarly, Birmingham decided this weekend they were unable to fulfill their fixture due to a mixture of COVID positives and injuries leaving them with only ten players. Their request to postpone was rejected. Whether they will have to forfeit the game will now be decided at tribunal. Yet Manchester City and Everton both had their extenuating circumstances taken into account when it came to decisions about game postponements.
If there are greater differences between the situations at these clubs, the FA would do well to explain them: it currently appears that there is one rule for some, and another for others.
Managers’ differing reactions reveals who understands most about the league
Much of the understandable frustration from fans this week has come from the silence of both the players and managers involved in the trips to Dubai. It therefore spoke volumes when Casey Stoney willingly came out to apologise for her mistake in letting Manchester United players go abroad over Christmas.
“I’m sincerely sorry… because the buck stops and starts with me, and I’m responsible for that,” Stoney said.
Her comments demonstrated that you will garner far more respect if you are willing to own up, rather than hoping the furore will blow over – as seems to be the case at certain other WSL sides.
Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph