Jessy Parker Humphreys breaks down the top talking points from the semi-finals of the women’s FA Cup competition.
Post-international break games give hint of lethargy to everyone involved
There’s always got to be a first game back after an international break. But the fact that for the second time this season, latter-stage FA Cup ties were scheduled directly after one took something away from the competition’s spectacle. Admittedly, for the FA Cup final in December, Chelsea did not look particularly phased by it; but would Arsenal have been quite so shell-shocked if they had had longer preparation time?
For the semi-finals this weekend, everyone involved had just a handful of days to prepare for the games. All four starting XI’s included at least one Australian who had flown to the other side of the world and back. And in both games, the impact of the break showed. Alex Greenwood was uncharacteristically sloppy in Manchester City’s defence, whilst Arsenal and Chelsea seemed engaged in a competition of who could have the worst first touch.
These matches are supposed to be the big cornerstone pieces of the season, and one assumes were purposefully scheduled to be played on the same weekend as the equivalent men’s fixtures. Yet the timing simply left everyone trying to cobble together a decent performance.
Bizarre Arsenal goal kick routine sums up Eidevall overthinking
Before the semi-final against Chelsea, Jonas Eidevall reflected on how he had played into Chelsea’s hands in their 3-0 loss in December’s FA Cup final. In the semi-final, he seemed desperately focused on deceiving them. Arsenal warmed up with Lotte Wubben-Moy at right-back and Steph Catley at centre-back, despite then starting the game at centre-back and left-back, with Eidevall saying afterwards that he ‘wanted to put some doubt in Chelsea’s mind about what [they] were doing.’
Similarly, Arsenal’s strange set of goal-kick routines (Leah Williamson dribbling the ball out from the area, Lotte Wubben-Moy hammering the ball, Manuela Zinsberger setting it up for all three of them to have a go) also seemed intended to put doubt into Chelsea’s mind. Unfortunately, both of these things only put more doubt into Arsenal’s mind. Wubben-Moy repeatedly hoofed the ball directly to a Chelsea player, whilst Katie McCabe who actually ended up playing right-back was anonymous for most of the game.
When Arsenal beat Chelsea 3-2 on the opening day of the season, it was with a swarming high-energy approach that valued fast counter-attacking football. Whilst Chelsea have not been as open as that all season, it suggests that Eidevall might have better luck if he thinks a bit more about his own team, than trying to trick someone else’s.
Individual quality reflects Chelsea’s team effort
The highlights of Chelsea’s 2-0 semi-final win over Arsenal will show two finishes of exceptional quality from Guro Reiten and Ji So-Yun to give the Blues London derby bragging rights and a trip to Wembley. Yet both goals demonstrated the value that Chelsea have at their disposal all over the pitch. On the face of it, Sam Kerr and Bethany England both had relatively quiet games by their standards. But it was England and Kerr who were able to knock the ball down for Reiten’s goal, and Kerr’s penalty box nuisance that saw Lotte Wubben-Moy’s clearance fall kindly for Ji So-Yun. In a game where Chelsea struggled to build from the back, England and Kerr’s ability to hold up the ball was a constant pressure-reliever for Chelsea. The fact that Chelsea have had ten different goalscorers in their past four games sums it up perfectly.
Isolated Hasegawa leaves West Ham unable to show their best
Manchester City’s 4-1 semi-final win over West Ham made the game seem much more comprehensive than it actually played out. Under Olli Harder, West Ham continue to show that they are a well-structured, pressing team who can cause the very best sides issues, but that they struggle to sustain it over a full 90 minutes.
Given the mismatch in quality between their starting XI and Manchester City’s, it seemed a shame that Harder was so reluctant to push Hasegawa forward. Playing in a double-pivot with Dagny Brynjarsdottir left her stuck in front of the defence, unable to play the line-breaking forward passes which have been so impactful this season. The introduction of Emma Snerle higher up the pitch later on showed West Ham the kind of problems they could have caused Manchester City with a more creative central player. Unfortunately for West Ham, it was already too late to do anything.
Keira Walsh shines for Manchester City
With West Ham pressing high up the pitch, there was a lot of space to be found in midfield, and Keira Walsh showed just how effective she could be with the room she had available. Manchester City looked more than a little uninspired when it came to attacking with the ball, but Walsh took matters into her own hands, lashing a shot against the bar that Ellen White was able to head in. Despite having been instrumental in giving City the lead, West Ham continued to give her the time and space to pull the strings. Walsh is not always a player who grabs the attention but on Saturday afternoon, she was City’s puppeteer.
Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph