Five things we learned from the weekend’s WSL action

Charlotte Stacey highlights the most interesting talking points from the top-flight games as the teams bid farewell to 2022.

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United demonstrate continued growth

Goals, grit and gall; the Manchester derby delivered with edge-of-your-seat stuff from the off. A women’s team record crowd of 44,259 braved the bitter cold at the Etihad Stadium to determine whether the afternoon would see Manchester painted blue or red. Despite the hosts having the majority of the run of play in the opening stages of the first half, it was United’s Leah Galton who opened the scoring with a competent display of tidy footwork. The forward managed to dribble her way through several City players before nudging the ball out to Ella Toone, who squared it back just in time for Galton to poke a well-balanced shot passed Ellie Roebuck.

The very fact that it was United who took the lead, and held it for a fair amount of time, shows their increasing growth. Manchester United have been mightily impressive this season — they have now beaten Arsenal and drawn 1-1 Manchester City away from home — and in doing so have demonstrated physical stamina, technical growth and mental strength. The synchronised movement between Galton and Toone is just one example of the on-field relationships and shared mentality United are curating, as these developing partnerships and triads can be noted across the field. United can hold their heads high as they most certainly held their own against their Manchester rivals.

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Laura Coombs supremacy

Whilst Mary Earps was probably quite pleased not to have to contend with Caroline Weir, it was once again that left side of the midfield that caused the damage with Laura Coombs’ equaliser unsettling the visitors’ comfortable hold. The workings of Manchester City’s midfield are still leaving a lot to be desired. The departures of Weir, Georgia Stanway and Keira Walsh left Gareth Taylor with quite the conundrum in reigniting a midfield from the embers of its once red-hot burning flames. It’s fair to say, Taylor’s new trio of Coombs, Deyna Castellanos and Yui Hasegawa has not set the grass alight just yet, but of the three, it is Coombs who is scorching her stamp all over the competition.

The 31-year-old has been on the fringes of City’s starting XI for some time, yet the relationships and quality of Taylor’s former trinity meant she never quite made the cut. But since earning her starting place, Coombs has demonstrated a defensive acumen and a front footed composure that has provided some ground to City’s midfield. In fact, this season she has already scored four goals and registered two assists, the most goal involvements she has obtained, even across a full WSL campaign. Coombs may not be the most creative talent in the world but she is reliable and consistent, and a stable foundation is as important as the rest. 

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Spurs are Hammered against the run of play

Tottenham will feel disappointment after West Ham beat them 2-0 in the second of the yesterday’s derbies. Spurs created plenty of chances in the first half from a range of different angles and the feet of several players. Yet, whether it was sheer poor luck or whether Makenzie Arnold’s goal had been sprayed with some sort of repellent, by a law of nature, the home side remained goalless. Had they capitalised on these early chances, you cannot help but feel this would have been a very different game. It is becoming glaringly obvious that Tottenham are really missing that killer instinct in front of goal. Spurs need a focal point, and they need one fast.

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Hawa Cissoko: back in business

Play had been largely in favour of Spurs throughout the first half, so it was interesting to note the change in West Ham during the second. The Hammers re-emerged invigorated, confirmed with an opening goal by captain Dagny Brynjarsdottir. Their second came from a stroke of counter-attacking genius, perhaps slightly surprisingly, in the form of centre-back Hawa Cissoko. After a rocky start to the season, the France star is now firmly back in the fray with West Ham and it must be said that they appear a more ‘complete’ side with her pinning the backline.

Much like her no-nonsense defending, Cissoko’s decision to drive the length of the pitch and take on two Spurs defenders was a brave one, but it was also one that demonstrated a mixture of intelligence and heart. Had the 25-year-old held the ball up to wait for support, it is far less likely it would have crossed the line. Cissoko clocked the space, knew she had the pace and physicality to exploit, and did just that. Certainly, a welcome celebration for the Frenchwoman.

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Hanson’s off the mark

Aston Villa’s Kirsty Hanson delighted home supporters as she rocketed a beautiful strike past Manuela Zinsberger at Villa Park. While it was eventually the Gunners that earned themselves a comfortable enough win after netting four against Hannah Hampton, the forward undoubtedly rattled Arsenal in the opening minutes of Sunday’s match. The winger has been a lively figure for Villa since joining from Manchester United in the summer, yet while she is generally savvy with her positioning (and highly capable defensively), she hadn’t quite found that attacking conviction to register any goal involvement previously.

Follow Charlotte on Twitter @char_stace

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