Five things we learned from the WSL action

Charlotte Stacey brings you the biggest talking points from the Women’s Super League on a weekend which saw clubs show their fighting spirit.

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West Ham’s thrilla involving Villa

The WSL kicked off this weekend with Aston Villa taking on West Ham yesterday in what turned out to be a feisty affair in the battle of claret and blue. Carla Ward’s winning streak came to an end as the Hammers went 2-0 up within 15 minutes with goals from Dagny Brynjarsdottir and Honoka Hayashi. Kenza Dali clawed one back for the home side in the 76th minute, but it was not enough to stop the visitors from walking away with their fifth consecutive win over the Villans.

The scoreline, however, is likely to be very low on the list of talking points that hailed from the match. From the off, tensions were high between the two sides and the first instance of West Ham goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold pushing Rachel Daly over in an off-the-ball incident was a sign of things to come. Internal trouble then brewed for Villa in the crux of the second half when Alisha Lehmann stepped up to take Daly’s penalty… And Lehmann missed.

Things really boiled over in added time after an altercation between Villa’s Sarah Mayling and Hawa Cissoko, who appeared to slap her rival, ended with the West Ham defender, head coach Paul Konchesky and two members of their staff being sent off. It was a shame the match concluded this way for Cissoko as she had been notably influential in defence, and at times in attack, beforehand. One missed penalty and three red cards in an 103-minute thriller. Who ever said women’s football wasn’t anything but good wholesome fun?

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Dali’s the driving force

Despite the final score and the final scenes, it was Aston Villa who cut the better chances in their 2-1 defeat to West Ham. The Villans kept 68 per cent possession, earned 13 corners compared to West Ham’s two, and spent the majority of the match in the driving seat.

Much of this was instigated by attacking midfielder Dali. While it has been Daly who’s been nabbing the headlines for potting the goals, it is the French star who often tees them up. Dali is the creative cog in Villa’s engine; she has completed the most passes in the opposition’s half and played the most passes into the area of any Villa player this season, and her impact this weekend was once again irrefutable. Unfortunately for the 31-year-old, Villa were soft in front of goal and West Ham were simply more clinical on the day.

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No Russo, no problem

Alessia Russo might be out with an injury, but that does not seem to be troubling Manchester United too much at the moment. The Red Devils have now made it three wins from three in their opening games for the very first time in the WSL. A double from Ella Toone, along with Leah Galton’s season opener and a debut goal from Adriana Leon saw Marc Skinner’s side top the table with a comfortable 4-0 home victory over Brighton.

United’s use of more ‘flexible’ positioning between the forward lines of play, and their aptitude to work goals from various areas and score different types of goals, means they are becoming increasingly difficult for opponents to read. While these opening games have been ones that the Red Devils were perhaps expected to win, the very fact that they have done so with ease bodes well towards cracking the ‘Top Three’. Their victory this weekend at Leigh Sports Village also brings them to a league high record of 74 per cent games won at home.

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Liverpool are late threat

Tottenham’s emphatic first-half display was almost undone by the visiting Reds in a late dominant phase. Wide players Celin Bizet and Ashleigh Neville caused real problems for Liverpool’s defence early on by exploiting the space behind their high and narrow full-backs. Drew Spence was also able to find joy in the middle by picking up loose balls and threading them out to the wings. This pattern, executed by Spence and Bizet, was how the Lilywhites went 1-0 up.

However, Liverpool asserted themselves as the second half went on, with substitute Ceri Holland causing a headache with her tricky footwork. Katie Stengel and Yana Daniels also become more prominent and their advances on goal were only made more fractious for the home side by Tinja Korpela’s repeated decision to punch the ball away rather than catch it. While Liverpool did not manage to equalise, there was ultimately plenty of positives to heed from their second-half performance and Matt Beard’s tactical tweaks very nearly came up trumps.

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Pernille Harder: back with a vengeance

Chelsea’s Pernille Harder returned to the pitch for her first club appearance of the season this weekend and it did not take long for the attacker to make her mark. The Blues warmed up ahead of facing Everton in tops with the message “Get Well Soon Emma” on the back for manager Hayes, who’s recovering from an emergency hysterectomy, and they were also without Fran Kirby through illness; so, it was the Denmark star who filled the roaming No.10 role, completing a central midfield trio alongside Jessie Fleming and Erin Cuthbert. Harder put away two goals — a header and spot-kick — in Chelsea’s 3-1 victory, which is their first away win of the season. The third goal was scored by Niamh Charles, who managed to get the better of four Toffees before rippling the net, but it was Harder who stole the show and her comeback display will strike fear in defenders.

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Follow Charlotte on Twitter @char_stace

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