Five things we learned from the weekend’s WSL action

Jessy Parker Humphreys sums up the top takeaways from this gameweek, which yet again saw the race for the Women’s Super League title and Champions League qualification become tighter than ever.  

The weekend’s results will make Chelsea v Arsenal on Friday even more mouth-watering

Given the way results have gone this season, it would be foolish to call Friday night’s match a title-decider, but both Chelsea and Arsenal will go into it feeling that level of pressure. In past WSL seasons, form against your title rivals has been the determining factor in winning the league; but this year four different clubs have already taken points off the top two, not even including Manchester United and Manchester City. The location of power in the league is shifting.

Chelsea go into this game in an unfamiliar position – as pursuers rather than pursued – and Arsenal’s ability to deal with that reversal might be the key factor in the game. The neutrals, meanwhile, will be gunning for a draw, as that would leave Chelsea two points behind Arsenal with a game in hand, perfectly setting up the rest of the season to have a few more twists and turns.

Ruby Mace performance leaves questions over why she was not used earlier

Earlier in the season, you would have been forgiven for thinking that Manchester City simply did not have any defenders. Ruby Mace watched on from the bench as Georgia Stanway stepped in at right-back, and Jill Scott at centre-back. Despite her signing being widely regarded as one of the best bits of summer business – City swooped in to sign the Arsenal academy product – it seemed that Gareth Taylor wasn’t so hot on her.

The fact she started against Chelsea seemed quite a U-turn, but despite being lucky to avoid giving away a penalty, she looked perfectly at home. About as ‘at home’ as she was in her eleven starts for Birmingham at the end of last season, in fact. Mace went toe- to-toe with both Pernille Harder and Sam Kerr in 1v1 situations, and came out on top. Only Millie Bright made more clearances than her, and no City player made more defensive third tackles. The fact that it was only her second league start for Manchester City only made the whole situation more bizarre.

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Erin Cuthbert’s intelligence enables Hayes to use her anywhere.

Is there any position Erin Cuthbert cannot play? So far this season, Emma Hayes has used the Scottish international as both a right- and left-winger, at right wing-back, right-back, and now central midfield. Against Manchester United in the week’s Continental Cup semi-final, and also in this weekend’s match against Manchester City, Cuthbert partnered Sophie Ingle to devastating effect.

Cuthbert’s tenacity is understandably much remarked upon, given the full-blooded way she shuts down opposition players with the ball, but it is her intelligence that allows her to be so versatile for Chelsea. Often players who are shunted from position to position can end up becoming jack of all trades, master of none – but Cuthbert seems to have mastered every possible place on the pitch she could play. She suits Hayes’ fluid system in-possession because she is just as comfortable on the ball as she is off it, which she demonstrated when she should have won a penalty as she dribbled into the area. It is astounding that she is only 23, given she recently celebrated her 150th appearance for the club. We still have no idea what Cuthbert’s ceiling could be.

United rue missed opportunity to hammer home Champions League aspirations

For 50 minutes or so, Manchester United looked like they had Arsenal all figured out. With Leah Williamson missing, Arsenal faced a familiar problem as they struggled to play out from United’s press, with passing lanes to Lia Walti well blocked off. But as the game went on, Arsenal slowly began to find more space out on the wings. When Katie McCabe got sent off for a second yellow, it seemed like Ella Toone might have had a reprieve for missing a 1v1 chance against Manuela Zinsberger just five minutes before. But Jonas Eidevall’s tactical switch to drop Vivianne Miedema back and play Stina Blackstenius up front paid dividends as Miedema’s outrageous pass, cutting out five United players, set Blackstenius up for her first WSL goal on her 26th birthday. United will feel like it is two points dropped given how strong they looked earlier on in the game, but it was the first WSL point they had ever picked up away at one of the top three. If they can do the same next week at Manchester City, they will be in a very strong position for Champions League qualification.

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Sandy MacIver hands Reading victory to put the Royals in Champions League contention

If the shock news that Everton had parted ways with manager Jean-Luc Vasseur after only ten games passed you by, that may have been because the club announced it at midnight. And things are not getting any better on Merseyside. Despite going 1-0 up against Reading early on, Sandy MacIver’s uncertainty in goal contrived to allow Reading to score twice. MacIver had flapped at a number of opportunities early in the match, on a blustery day which may have unsettled her, before allowing Natasha Dowie’s shot to slip through her. She later parried the ball out into a throng of Reading players to allow Tia Primmer to score the winner on her WSL debut, just a week after she did the same in the FA Cup.

MacIver had originally been seen as a serious challenger for Ellie Roebuck as England’s number one when she returned from college in America, but her form this season has been abysmal with only Karim Benameur Taieb and Emily Ramsey conceding more goals than expected than MacIver. With Everton in turmoil off the pitch, it is perhaps unsurprising that a goalkeeper’s form would dip, but with Mary Earps impressing at United, MacIver will have to improve quickly if she is to have any hope of featuring for England at the Euros.

Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph

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