Jessy Parker Humphreys picks out the hot talking points from another intriguing round of fixtures.Embed from Getty Images
Relegation battle heats up as Aston Villa look nervously over their shoulder
The sense that the fight against relegation would come down to just Leicester and Birmingham’s matches against each other has been well and truly eliminated over the past fortnight. The Blues’ shock win over Arsenal last week, followed by the Foxes beating Brighton over the weekend has shown that both sides are now in a position to take points off of other sides in the league. That will be concerning for Aston Villa who have not picked up any points since the middle of November with four losses in a row. They currently sit four points clear of Leicester with a game in hand, but a win at the Foxes next week looks crucial if they are to avoid getting dragged into the relegation mix.
Brighton in freefall after fourth defeat on the bounce
While Brighton’s capitulation to Manchester City last week was unfortunate, a 1-0 loss to Leicester showed that there are more serious issues at play with Hope Powell’s side. With four games lost in a row, an optimistic tilt at a Champions League spot is now truly dashed and the underlying numbers are concerning as well. According to Opta, Brighton have failed to create more than one expected goal since October, when they played Tottenham. They have scored twice across the six games played since. No player has individually created more than two expected goals across the whole season. With such a lack of attacking threat, it is no surprise that Brighton are forced to sit back and inevitably end up conceding as a result.
Title hopefuls Spurs pay for inability to close out games as they blow chance to go second
Whilst Tottenham’s chance to go second in the league might have been a result of delayed fixtures rather than actually having got ahead of their rivals, the psychological advantage of sitting in second place, regardless of opponent’s games in hand, is clear. Conceding an injury-time equaliser to draw 1-1 with 10-player West Ham instead left them ruing their ability to convert dominance into goals.
It has been a common issue for Tottenham this season. They have only once won a game by a margin greater than one goal (against Leicester) and have only scored twice on three occasions. In all of these situations, you leave yourself open to a late equaliser. Case in point was in the North London derby where they failed to put an out-of-sorts Arsenal to bed, allowing Vivianne Miedema to equalise late on. Against West Ham too, they were unable to capitalise on their extra player advantage for over 35 minutes.
Rosella Ayane, in particular, looked very nervous for Tottenham whenever she reached a good position, often choosing to take a speculative shot from the edge of the area rather than create a more tangible opportunity. Her well-taken penalty demonstrated she has finishing ability. But Spurs need their players to bring that same precision in open play.Embed from Getty Images
Hammers shred bottle-jobs tag but indiscipline’s holding them back
And so the bottlers discovered they had bottle all along. After having conceded numerous goals late on this season, West Ham were finally able to reverse their injury-time fortunes as Kate Longhurst headed in — because, of course, it had to be Kate Longhurst.
Despite this being a good result for West Ham in the circumstances, Hawa Cissoko’s 56th-minute red card was theirs and her second of the season. No other WSL has had more than one. Cissoko could justifiably suggest that the decision against her was rather harsh, but it had been clear from the start that ref Amy Fearn was looking quite trigger happy with her cards. Part of managing a game is recognising that and Cissoko made a number of rash challenges, including giving away a penalty just minutes before she was sent off. In order to capitalise on their quality, West Ham must show the maturity to manage in-game.
Man City slowly finding their groove with real test around the corner
On the face of it, 2022 has started well for Manchester City. Steph Houghton and Lucy Bronze have returned to the pitch. They have won the three matches they have played with an aggregate scoreline of 4-0. They now sit only two points behind other rivals in the battle for the third place position after the weekend’s 3-0 win over Aston Villa, with FiveThirtyEight making them favourites to claim it. Yet whilst City have chalked up four wins on the bounce, all of them have come against teams in the bottom half of the table. They now face Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United as their next three games in the league. The outcome of those fixtures will indicate whether any actual progress has been made.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph