Five things we learned from the weekend’s WSL action

Jessy Parker Humphreys gives us the lowdown on all the big talking points from the latest round of Women’s Super League fixtures.

Credit: @ArsenalWFC

Chelsea and Arsenal slip-ups blow WSL title race wide open

In past seasons, the situation at the top of the WSL in December would have been enough to spell the end of much competitive spirit in the race for the title. Teams near the top have rarely dropped points unless to each other, and the side that steams ahead has tended to take home the trophy.

This year is different, though. Statistical modelling website FiveThirtyEight is predicting the winners of the WSL to have the lowest finishing points total since 2017/18 — only 51 points. For context, Arsenal finished with more points than that in 2018/19 when there were still only 11 teams in the division.

As the Gunners and Chelsea again both dropped points this weekend (although, of course, the league leaders might feel like it is a point gained given how late in the match they secured it), the idea that Manchester United or Manchester City could still sneak in here does no longer feel fanciful. United now sit only two points behind Arsenal and are two ahead of Chelsea, but both London teams do have games in hand. City are further back but have now played the Gunners twice, and their run-in has a slightly kinder look to it than their closest rivals who face each other on the final day of the season.

The best bit of all is that all four of these teams look fallible. All have dropped points this season in games they should have won. But all are also capable of stringing together impressive runs of form. Let’s hope this one goes down to the wire.

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The haunting of Lucy Bronze

There aren’t many players in world football who make Lucy Bronze look this average, but Tobin Heath is surely one player who the Man City defender sees in her nightmares. Heath’s standout moment of last season was when she pounced on a loose City pass from the back to put United back in the game in the Manchester derby. Here she scored Arsenal’s equaliser — her first WSL goal for the club — by slotting the ball fiercely through Bronze’s legs and beyond 17-year-old goalkeeper Khiara Keating to earn a 1-1 draw.

It was probably what the Gunners deserved given the nature of Manchester City’s opener but neither side looked particularly impressive. The deadlocked nature of most of the game seemed to come more from both having little idea what to do going forward as opposed to robust defending. City will take confidence from picking up a point against the league leaders, and see it as evidence that they are back on the right track, but there will be twists in the road for both of these sides yet.

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Wayward Chelsea unable to score at Brighton

Chelsea’s struggles against Brighton continued as they drew 0-0 in a game they dominated from start to finish. Megan Walsh took home Player of the Match for stopping Fran Kirby from scoring one on one and Beth England from heading home in the last 10 minutes, but both saves saw only have to be competent rather than exceptional.

Chelsea have now amassed an xG of 5 without scoring in the WSL across two games — the 1-0 loss to Reading in December and the 0-0 here. Yet in both matches, Reading and Brighton were let off the hook by poor finishing in good positions. If it had not been that Chelsea scored four midweek against West Ham in the Continental Cup, you could put it down to confidence. As it is, Chelsea will be desperately hoping their players find their shooting boots again — or watch the title slip away.

Leicester and Birmingham can’t escape relegation dogfight

Aston Villa went into the weekend knowing that a win against Leicester was essential to keep their heads above the relegation battle. To lose was to see the Foxes move within one point of them. To win was to go seven clear of the bottom two. It was Alisha Lehmann’s late winner which gave them a 2-1 victory and some breathing room — a sign that had been missing recently that Villa would not let themselves be dragged into the bottom of the WSL. It was Villa’s first win since November.

Leicester have Reading to thank that Birmingham were unable to capitalise with the WSL’s bottom-placed side giving up a two-goal lead to lose 3-2, thanks in part to a spectacular Emma Harries’ volley. However, both Leicester and Birmingham can point to much-improved performances to show that neither of them are done yet.

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Manchester United put pressure on rivals as they sail past Spurs

At the end of this season, Tottenham might look back on this 3-0 defeat as the game where their Champions League hopes really began to slip away as they had no answer for a dominant United side who are brimming with confidence. Whilst Manchester United were undeniably the better team, Rehanne Skinner will be disappointed at the way Tottenham conceded all three of the goals. Eliminating poor marking and defensive errors has been the bedrock of her turnaround, and this was the largest amount of expected goals they had given up this season. Without much attacking thrust behind Spurs, they cannot afford to let opponents in this easily.

Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph

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