Five things we learned from the weekend’s WSL action

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

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Fran Kirby grabs the title race by the scruff of its neck

When Lauren James curled in Manchester United’s equaliser from the edge of the area, it seemed like Chelsea had failed to learn their lessons from the opening day of the season. Then as now, Chelsea had taken a lead but squandered other chances created, only to be pegged back later on.

This time, however, Fran Kirby came to the rescue. Barely four minutes after the equaliser, a long goal kick from Ann-Katrin Berger befuddled United’s defenders. Kirby was able to run onto the bouncing ball and calmly slot past Mary Earps to seal a 2-1 win. It was the kind of composure in front of goal that Chelsea had lacked in the first half. It was also a reminder to United that you can never switch off in these matches.

Chelsea are now top on goal difference with a game in hand. The title is a long way from done and dusted but of the six games they had to play against the three other top teams, the Blues have won two and drawn two. Defeating United also makes them the only unbeaten team left in the WSL.

Lauren Hemp makes City slicker

Scoring goals has been a problem for Manchester City this season. Points dropped in draws against Brighton and Reading had left them adrift of the Champions League spots. Both were games when they could and should have scored more.

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Lauren Hemp is therefore a much-needed returnee. The 20-year-old was City’s most creative player in the WSL last season with five goals and five assists. Having picked up a hamstring injury in the Community Shield, Hemp made her competitive return with a magnificent goal against Goteborg in the Champions League. She was similarly quick off the mark against Aston Villa, scoring in the opening two minutes and adding two more before the half was done in an eventual 7-0 thrashing.

Hemp offers City an attacking dynamism on the left flank through her speed and willingness to take players on. It is a quality that Gareth Taylor has struggled to replace in her absence despite experiments with Janine Beckie, Georgia Stanway and Jess Park. Manchester City’s second half of the season looks set to be much more high scoring with Hemp in the front three.

Aston Villa need to go back to the basics

After shipping two embarrassingly preventable goals to Manchester City on the opening day of the season, Aston Villa might have hoped the return fixture would be an opportunity to show improvement. Unfortunately, instead it showed a team struggling to master the basics.

Despite facing a weakened City side, Villa conceded seven goals, many of their own making. Gemma Davies’ side have looked to play an attractive style of football involving playing out from the back. Yet time and time again they were caught out by lax marking and defensive nervousness. Villa have assembled a team with more than enough talent to perform well in the WSL. To make the most of it though, they need to eliminate these basic errors.

Arsenal’s leaky defence costs them

In many ways it was a rare slip-up. Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Reading was the first time they had dropped points to a team outside the ‘big four’ clubs in the WSL since a 3-0 loss to Birmingham back in April 2018. Yet Arsenal have picked up a habit of conceding goals this season, with only three clean sheets after 11 games. Normally, they find it easy enough to score their way out of trouble but it was always likely that that ability might evade them at some point.

An experimental back three of returning debutant Anna Patten, Lotte Wubben-Moy and Katie McCabe looked unsure from the start. They conceded from a set-piece within five minutes and were lucky to not be punished more after further defensive lapses that Reading were unable to capitalise on.

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Vivianne Miedema tapped in to pull back a point but this was a disjointed Arsenal side who invited pressure on themselves. Only the players themselves would be able to answer whether the problems over Christmas had left them distracted on their WSL return.

Confidence-boosting win fires up Everton

Everton had struggled at the end of last year after a bright start to the season, failing to win for five games. Willie Kirk will have been pleased to see his side record a comfortable 4-0 victory over Bristol City. 

During Everton’s winless run, they had struggled to convert their chances. The club only outperformed their xG once in the last five games of the year, having outperformed it three times in the first four. With some-confidence boosting finishing in this game, Valerie Gauvin back in training, and a favourable upcoming schedule, the Toffees should feel like they could recapture the form that saw them kick off the season so electrically.

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