WSL: Five Things we learned this weekend

Jessy Parker Humphreys picks out the big talking points from the latest round of Women’s Super League action.

Manchester United’s dead-ball precision helps them to victory

Manchester United made a timely return to winning ways with a 3-0 win over Aston Villa. United’s passing speed was too quick for Villa to keep up with for much of the game but their quality from dead-ball situations particularly caught the eye. 

Despite still missing Tobin Heath, United were able to call on both Katie Zelem and Lucy Staniforth to take corners and free-kicks in this game. Their corner routine was almost met with immediate reward when Zelem played a corner deep to the other edge of the area after seven minutes. Amy Turner’s first-time volley drew an important reflex save from Lisa Weiss.

It took until the end of the first half for their precision to pay off when Stainforth’s free-kick landed inch-perfect on Jess Sigsworth’s head for Manchester United’s second goal. It was their fifth goal of the season from a dead-ball situation – only Chelsea have scored more.

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Keira Walsh unlocks Everton’s defence to give Man City crucial win

It was clear from the start of this match that Willie Kirk’s aim was for Everton to soak up as much Manchester City pressure as possible before hitting them on the counter-attack. Everton lined up with what was ostensibly five at the back but in reality often looked more like a six, with Maeva Clemaron dropping back from midfield. 

The commitment was total; when right wing-back Ingrid Moe Wold had to go off with an injury in the first half, Kirk deployed the attacking Hayley Raso there. For 81 minutes, the plan worked. Man City were frustrated, knowing that any dropped points would put a title challenge out of their hands.

That was until Lauren Hemp cleverly picked out Keira Walsh running to the edge of the box. Everton were caught flat footed, focused on defending the penalty area, allowing Walsh to shoot with ease as she ran onto the ball. As is often the case with Man City, Everton only needed to make one mistake. 

Beth England develops into new role under Hayes

Having been an ever-present in Chelsea’s starting line-up for the previous campaign, Beth England’s drop off in minutes has been notable this season.

Emma Hayes has looked for Chelsea’s attackers to be as fluid as possible with Sam Kerr, Pernille Harder and Fran Kirby all regularly rotating positionally. England, however, has looked less comfortable with this, struggling to dovetail with those around her. 

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In starting against West Ham, England was hoping to prove that she can offer that same kind of versatility. Chelsea’s first goal came from England dropping out wide to put the cross in that Kerr headed home. It was only England’s fourth WSL goal of the season – a notable drop from the 14 she managed last season – but it was her sixth assist. Evidence that Hayes has asked to see something different from her this year, and proof that she is starting to show it. 

Montemurro shifts Miedema back to set Arsenal free

Joe Montemurro made a tactical shift as his Arsenal side easily beat Birmingham City 4-0. Perhaps with one eye on what is likely to be a winner-takes-all match against Manchester United in two weeks time, Montemurro played Caitlin Foord as his No 9 with Vivianne Miedema in behind her at No 10. 

The switch worked well with Foord scoring twice and Miedema ending her drought against Birmingham – the only WSL side she had never scored against – with a well-taken solo effort. 

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The problem Montemurro of course faces is that Arsenal often look good against weaker WSL opposition but struggle when it comes to the big games. Yet giving Miedema more freedom in a slightly deeper role intuitively seems like a good way to hinder opposition attempts to mark her out the game. Who knows if Montemurro will deploy the same system when United visit Meadow Park, but the different option will at least give Casey Stoney pause for thought.

Brighton secure three consecutive wins for first time

There was a point earlier this year where it looked like Brighton risked getting sucked into a relegation battle. They had not won since November and faced Chelsea at home, while sides around them picked up points with their new manager bounces.

Fast forward a month and the situation has changed dramatically. Since ending Chelsea’s unbeaten run, Brighton have won two more games making it their longest winning streak in the WSL and more than doubling their season’s tally of wins.

There were hints that results like this had been coming – they lost to Reading and drew with Birmingham when on both occasions, their chances created should have been enough to win – but Hope Powell has instilled new levels of confidence in this Birmingham side. Tottenham might have hit the woodwork three times in this match but Brighton more than deserved their slice of luck. 

Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph

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