WSL: Five things we learned this weekend

The Women’s Super League came back with a bang this weekend. Jessy Parker Humphreys takes us through the key talking points of gameweek 1.

Reinvigorated Beth Mead leads new-look Arsenal to famous opening-day win

Whilst many Arsenal fans rejoiced at the signing of Tobin Heath this week, some in the Arsenal camp might have felt a sense of dread. Arsenal are not short of attacking talent right now, and it takes a lot to keep a signing of Heath’s calibre (and pay packet) out of the team. If Beth Mead saw this opening fixture as the opportunity to seize the moment, she certainly took it.

Mead has not always looked decisive in an Arsenal shirt in the moments that mattered, but this was not the case here, as her runs stretched Chelsea’s backlines inside out. Her second goal (Arsenal’s third, and the decider) was certainly offside, but her first goal was a wonderful shot past Ann-Katrin Berger when it looked like Magda Eriksson had her well-marshalled. Jonas Eidevall must have been delighted; it was a performance that epitomised the way competition can make a player sharper.

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Emma Hayes’ tactical switch begs more questions than it answers

Chelsea have been toying with a back three ever since the disastrous Champions League final loss to Barcelona, but to try it in the opening game of the season against a team of Arsenal’s calibre seemed bold.

Ostensibly the system change has been to deal with Chelsea’s dearth of reliable fullbacks – but if anything, the Blues looked even more exposed. Neither Guro Reiten nor Niamh Charles looked comfortable in the wing-back position, with the three centre-backs of Millie Bright, Magda Eriksson and Jess Carter left pretty much to fend for themselves. The three were artfully pulled around by Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema, but there were concerning signs that neither Bright nor Eriksson seemed to have much idea of who was tracking what.

Hayes has implied that Chelsea will persist with the system, but with tricky fixtures against Everton and Manchester United up next, a lot of work will need to go on in the training ground to make a success of it.

Manchester City put Everton firmly in their place

Chelsea were not the only team who saw their experiment with three at the back ruthlessly exposed this weekend. Manchester City and Everton faced off at Goodison Park in the battle of ‘Who had the best transfer window?’. On this evidence, there was no doubt that Manchester City came out on top. The 4-0 demolition, with three goals scored in the first half, was proof that for all of Everton’s largesse in the transfer market, they are still a way off competing for the top three.

Everton had conceded 3.5 goals per game on average against the ‘Top Three’ last season, so bridging the gap feels like it will require more than a bumper set of summer signings. With five new starters lining up against Manchester City, it was always going to be a challenge to have everyone immediately on the same page.

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Fortunately, Everton will get the opportunity next week to try again, against a Chelsea side fresh off the back of an embarrassing defeat. After the Champions League final in May, Everton were the only side Chelsea still had to play. Chelsea ran out 3-0 winners in the FA Cup, so perhaps Everton should not hold their breath.

Manchester United’s rejigged defence helps give them the edge against Reading

Marc Skinner took his WSL debut with aplomb as his Manchester United side beat Reading 2-0. Perhaps his most notable change to Casey Stoney’s side was the decision to drop long-term centre-back stalwart Millie Turner in favour of Maria Thorisdottir. In combination with Ona Batlle, and summer signings Aoife Mannion and Hannah Blundell, Manchester United looked assured and confident in defence, whether it was making last-ditch tackles or playing out from the back. Batlle even crowned the evening with an incredible strike to make it 2-0, her first goal as a Manchester United player. They will face stiffer tests as a defence than the 19-year-old Reading striker Emma Harries, but it was an assured start.

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Carla Ward’s Aston Villa get off to an ideal start

Over the past couple of seasons, three wins has been enough to guarantee a place in the WSL. In fact, last season three teams only managed three wins across the season, and all stayed up. So the fact that Aston Villa came from 1-0 down against Leicester City to win 2-1 will be crucial to how things play out for Carla Ward. Whilst Birmingham might be earmarked as favourites to go down, there are a whole handful of teams around the bottom of the WSL who could be at risk. Getting points on the board early on, and against potential relegation rivals, is essential.

Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph

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