Jessy Parker Humphreys picks out the big talking points from the Women’s Super League at the weekend.
Midweek results ensure everything will come down to fine margins
The midweek London and Manchester derbies represented opportunities to lay down markers as to which sides are truly in the title race this season. Chelsea knew a win was essential following their loss to Brighton while for both Manchester sides, a loss could put an end to their title dreams.
In the end, the games seemed like rather one-sided affairs with Chelsea and Manchester City, the favourites, both coming out 3-0 winners. Yet the xG of both revealed that they were closer than the scoreline might suggest (1 – 0.7 for the Manchester derby and 1 – 0.6 for the London one). That feels fitting given that despite the emphatic results, for all four teams this season is likely to come down to incredibly fine margins.
There are now two key games remaining for these sides: Manchester City vs Chelsea and Arsenal vs Manchester United. The first will likely decide who wins the title and the second who gets the last Champions League place. Once again the league will turn on a knife-edge for an incredibly exciting finish.
Arsenal’s lack of game time keeping them on back foot
Manchester United’s loss to Manchester City meant that Arsenal are still mathematically able to make the Champions League spots but it is going to be a nerve-wracking run in for Joe Montemurro’s side. Having lost to Chelsea in the week, Arsenal would have hoped to get an opportunity to settle some of their jitters against Aston Villa this weekend.
Instead, the game was postponed for the third time this season, due to a frozen pitch. Arsenal’s last three games have been two losses and a draw but they have also had two postponements in that time. While the gaps in play might give them an opportunity to try to rectify their ever-present injury crisis, it is hardly conducive to jumpstarting their season. Montemurro will be hoping the international break gives them a clean slate for their return, with a critical game against Manchester United due to be played in March.
Emma Hayes ensures Chelsea don’t make same mistake twice
While Chelsea’s loss to Brighton last weekend might have been more a result of individual errors than team selection, Emma Hayes took no chances when her side visited Bristol City. Manchester City’s impervious form means that Chelsea realistically have to win all of their remaining seven games – which includes a visit to the Academy Stadium – in order to retain their WSL title.
Starting Sam Kerr, Pernille Harder, Beth England and Fran Kirby together for just the second time in the league this season, Chelsea could have been ahead within fifty seconds of kick-off were it not for a reaction save from Sophie Baggaley. It did not take long for the goals to come and Chelsea made sure there were multiple, keen to not take the same risk as they did when Brighton visited and fail to turn pressure into a result.
Harder and Kirby both had sublime finishes and are two players who seem to get better and better every week for Chelsea. Everything is set up to ensure that the match against Manchester City in April will be a tantalising finale to the season.
Caroline Weir steals show in Manchester derby
Good games deserve great goals, and when it comes to the Manchester derby, Caroline Weir is always willing to oblige. Scoring goals from nothing is Weir’s modus operandi with her winning strike in the first-ever Manchester derby being nominated for the Puskas Award last year.
Her chip against United this week was even better. When the ball bounced outside of United’s area, Weir reached it before Jackie Groenen, with her footwork leaving Groenen on the floor. In one motion, she dinked the ball so it flew almost in slow motion over Mary Earps’ reaching arms, arcing perfectly under the crossbar.
There is no one in the WSL as good as Weir at creating opportunities from nowhere. With five goals, she has already equalled her best scoring season. It is essential she travels with Team GB to the Olympics because her ability is the ultimate tournament ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card.
Reading let opportunities pass them by yet again
Watching Reading often feels like a case of one step forward, two steps back. After their shock win against Manchester United last week, their game against an out of sorts Everton felt like an opportunity to cement themselves as the ‘best of the rest’.
As was the case when they played Arsenal in January, Reading were much the brighter team from kick-off, creating a number of good opportunities. Everton were almost immediately forced into making a goal-line clearance and when Reading took the lead through Rachel Rowe, it felt like they would once again push on. Instead, Everton were able to equalise, leaving Reading with another 1-1 draw – their sixth of the season.
Only Brighton and Bristol City have a worse Goals – Expected Goals this season than Reading with the Royals’ chances meaning they should have scored more than two extra goals. If Reading are to kick on, they need to make sure they make the most of their opportunities.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph