Five things we learned from the weekend’s WSL action

Jessy Parker Humphreys rounds up the top talking points from a tumultuous week in the WSL.

Well-organised Birmingham shock league leaders Arsenal

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It is hard to think of a bigger shock in WSL history than bottom-of-the-table Birmingham beating top-of-the-table Arsenal 2-0. Beyond even the result itself, the manner of it was almost more surprising. This was no smash and grab by Birmingham, but a well-executed game plan which saw them comfortably limit Arsenal.

In just three games in charge, Darren Carter has tripled the number of goals Birmingham have scored this season, and quadrupled the number of points they have picked up. Granted, quadrupling points is easier when you only have one to start with; but it is hard to overstate the impact Carter, and perhaps more pertinently Marcus Bignot, have had. Every WSL club’s favourite interim coach could be seen directing Birmingham from the sidelines throughout the ninety minutes, with Birmingham playing with a level of structure that has not been seen in many seasons.

Disjointed Arsenal end up with Christmas hangover

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As much as Birmingham were well organised and impressively ruthless when it came to taking their chances, it was hard to look beyond how disjointed Arsenal seemed. Duels were lost, passes went astray, and set pieces were on several occasions simply rolled to a Birmingham player. A sense of malaise has permeated Jonas Eidevall’s side ever since the FA Cup final, but this was particularly bad. Arsenal have not lost to a side outside the top three since Birmingham beat them 3-0 back in 2018. Whilst it is easy to point to Leah Williamson’s absence or their limited attacking options due to the Asian Cup, Eidevall needs to figure out how to bring back his side’s spark, or he’ll risk letting the WSL title slip away.

Marauding Georgia Stanway returned to City midfield

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Whilst Lauren Hemp was out celebrating her new contract by lobbing goalkeepers and eating up the grass Brighton afforded her, there was another Manchester City player diligently pulling the strings in their 6-0 win over the Seagulls. The return of Lucy Bronze saw Georgia Stanway moved into the midfield, where she immediately looked more comfortable.

Stanway’s development has stuttered over the past couple of seasons, with her versatility seeing her shunted from pillar to post, plugging any gap that has arisen within the City team. But returned to a more attacking position, Stanway made nine progressive carries, the most of any City player. Her goal was an example of what Stanway offers further up the pitch – a tenacity that means she can score the scrappy penalty box rebound or the 40-yard long-range effort.

City are not short of midfielders, and the summer signings of Vicky Losada and Filippa Angeldahl might seem more eye-catching, but Stanway has the quality to cement her place there. After all, she was once the future of Manchester City.

Brighton collapse in ten minutes against Manchester City

Brighton were unable to end their mental block against Manchester City as Hope Powell’s side collapsed to a 6-0 defeat. With City having had a shaky season, the goalless first half of the match seemed like Brighton might be finally making some headway against a side who average 4.5 goals against them in WSL matches. However, a half-time substitution which saw Brighton briefly switch to a back-three caused havoc.

Within just ten minutes of the restart Brighton had conceded four goals, with Lauren Hemp afforded the freedom of the pitch as City employed their favoured tactic of playing the ball into space for Hemp to run on to. The disintegration will be a disappointment for Hope Powell as Brighton slowly fall back down the table. They must dust themselves down if they want to challenge for a repeat of last season’s fifth-place finish.

Natasha Dowie is key as Reading continue their rise up the table with win over Leicester

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Reading chalked up their fifth win of the season, beating Leicester 1-0, to find themselves in sixth place and still level on points with Manchester City. It was a fantastic lob by Natasha Dowie which gave them the win, in a game where Leicester actually got the bulk of possession, but Reading had the better chances.

Dowie now has four goals this season, with a goals-per-90 of 0.51, putting her tenth overall in the league. She is the only player outside of the ‘big 4’ of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Manchester United to feature in the top ten. Dowie also had the chance to score her fifth of the season – which would have seen her equal Reading’s top scorer of last season in the WSL – but her penalty was well-saved by Demi Lambourne. However, Dowie’s acquisition has shown other WSL sides what an effective goalscorer can do for a team.

Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph

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