WSL: Five Things we learned this weekend
Jessy Parker Humphreys takes us through the top talking points from this gameweek’s action.
Chelsea put one hand on title to frustrate Manchester City once again
For all that Manchester City have made the Academy Stadium a fortress over the past few seasons, it is now twice in two years that Chelsea have left with a potentially title-winning point.
Chelsea were able to hold on despite an onslaught of City pressure for a 2-2 draw, which leaves them two points ahead in the table with two games to go. Barring an incredible upset against either Tottenham or Reading, Chelsea will be back-to-back WSL title winners.
It shows how small the margins are in this competition. But for a missed penalty by Georgia Stanway last year, and a Lucy Bronze header that somehow flew past the post this year, it would be Manchester City as the reigning champions about to add another trophy to their cabinet.
As it is, Manchester City look like they will still only have one league title to show for all their investment. Meanwhile, Chelsea look set to become the most successful side of the WSL era.
In Manchester, the future is bright
Despite the frustrations of missing out once again — this looks like it will be Manchester City’s fourth consecutive second placed finish — there is good reason to think that City are still moving forward.
Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly were the stand-out players in the title showdown and, at the ages of 20 and 23 years old respectively, they are only going to get better.
Kelly in particular made the most of the space in behind Jonna Andersson, as well as her poor 1v1 defending, to threaten. In the first half, she could easily have created more for City if it wasn’t for a couple of sub-par decisions. That perhaps is to be expected from a 23 year old. Importantly, Chelsea were having to breathe a sigh of relief whenever the wrong choice was taken. Sides will be terrified that soon that might not happen anymore.
Points-a-plenty in the fight to avoid relegation
Teams at the bottom of the WSL inched, rather than rushed, towards safety this weekend. Every team at risk of the drop picked up a point, leaving them in much the same position as before.
Birmingham and West Ham are likely to be the most pleased as they managed to get draws against Reading and Everton — both sides who would have been expected to beat them. However, all four of Birmingham, West Ham, Aston Villa, and Bristol look like they could potentially go down given the permutations of games ahead.
The relegation battle looks like it will go right down to the wire.
Bristol City look for one last push to do the impossible
When Bristol City were 2-0 down to Aston Villa at half time, it seemed like the jig was up. Bristol have looked certain to go down for almost the entirety of the season, and whilst Matt Beard has made it a closer run thing than it looked, it felt like their luck had finally run out.
That was until a last-minute free kick from Ella Mastrantonio slipped past Lisa Weiss and into the back of the net to give Bristol a shock point.
Given the gulf in resources that Aston Villa and Bristol City have — case in point being Villa having a World Cup winner on the pitch in Mana Iwabuchi — this was a match that Villa should never have let get away from them.
Bristol will still need at least one point from either Brighton or Manchester United to have any chance of staying up. Even if they do not manage it, it has been a truly heroic effort.
Christen Press finally hits her groove for Manchester United
Manchester United robustly beat a listless Tottenham side 4-1 with Christen Press the stand-out player as she showed how far she has come across this season. Press has not always looked as comfortable in this United side as her compatriot Tobin Heath did, perhaps due to her shift from the inside forward role she plays with her national team to a central role here. Yet at a difficult point of the season for her side, she has flourished.
Here it was noticeable how she dropped deeper to avoid the attentions of Alana Kennedy, playing in central defence for Tottenham. In finding space in midfield, she was able to pick out passes to her teammates, most notably to Kirsty Hanson on the left who crossed in for Ella Toone to open the scoring. Her relationship with Toone has also improved, with both players having a much greater understanding of each other’s positioning on the pitch.
There have been no updates from Casey Stoney as to whether Press and Heath will stay for another season. United will hope they can persuade them, because they are only now getting to see the best of Christen Press.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph
United and City have enormous talent, but have squandered opportunities by playing Press and Lavelle out of position–when Lavelle is played at all. It has been bizarre watching them dominate top national teams playing in position and then playing out of position or sitting on the bench in the WSL. Imagine if Chelsea had stifled Sam Kerr’s talents similarly–the table would look different.
The problem with Lavelle, as much as she deserves to play when healthy, is deciding who sits if she does. They aren’t going to sit Walsh, so that leaves Weir, who was their best player for stretches of this season. One suspects that City wanted to sign Mewis last Summer, but that she and Lavelle were a package deal so City decided to sign both and the figure out what to do with the embarrassment of riches later. Perhaps if Lavelle had not been hurt for much of the season, things would have worked out differently.
One cannot argue with Chelsea’s results this year, but her signing and the signing of Harder have meant that Reiten and England ride the bench. Those two were arguably their best players in 2019-2020. Aren’t their talents being wasted too?
Thanks, Keith, for your reply. If formation or preferred style of play, rather than skill, is the issue, they should not have bothered signing Lavelle. You raise the interesting question of whether Lavelle was signed only to lure Mewis; have you seen anything about that? Lavelle finished third in the Golden Ball and has shone in international play this year, playing in the middle and beating defenders 1 vs.1. In her fleeting appearances for City, she is given a different role. Lack of confidence from a manager or being played out of position often results in players playing tentatively. To her credit, she has not complained publicly.
She also returns from international play healthy and still sits.
Simply put, Lavelle, Kerr and Harder are simply better than the other players you name. If you select players on merit, rather than, for example, nationality, obviously someone has to sit, just as other players receive less time than Reiten. Chelsea has done that and their narrow table league vs, City reflects it.
My thought on the signing is purely supposition.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of Lavelle and agree that she is among the best midfielders in the world. But I also believe that Weir and Walsh are in that category. The question of who is best is not relevant in my opinion. City has decided that the Mewis/Weir/Walsh trio is their best midfield combination and I agree. Also, City outplayed Chelsea in that last game and could easily have won and would now be at the top of the Table if they had.
In any case, the season is almost over and I would be surprised if Lavelle is back next season. Chelsea may also lose some good players who want to play more.
I would point out that the US National Team has a similar problem with their midfield – too many great players and not enough places for them all to play.