With half of the fixtures either postponed or abandoned, Charlotte Stacey discusses the biggest talking points from the WSL games that did go ahead.
City’s status hangs in the balance
This weekend was another round in the ring between the women’s football pyramid and the country’s freezing conditions as frozen pitches and an inexcusably late match abandonment wreaked havoc with the top tier playing calendar. But despite the bitter weather, we did manage to enjoy at least some WSL football, with Saturday’s fixture between Manchester City and Aston Villa kicking us off.
Gareth Taylor’s side went ahead after some strong hold-up play from Bunny Shaw to create Deyna Castellanos an avenue on goal. Shaw’s ability to utilise her body and take that little bit of extra time on the ball has been crucial to Manchester City this season, as, in all honesty, their attacking play is providing little else. City play tidy football, but it’s all just a bit flat. In particular, there is a severe lack of creativity within the middle third that probably could, and should, come from Yui Hasegawa if she were not tied up trying to protect the defensive line. But all over the pitch, the Citizen’s are missing that intensity that keeps them at the top. Villa were not just allowed an equaliser, they were gifted the run of the game, and City finished up with a 1-1 result that could prove to be costly to their Champions League ambitions.
Kenza Dali is a midfield artist
Where Manchester City fell, Aston Villa rose. Although there were phases of the game, largely in the first half, where the Villans sat deeper and permitted City to operate in their half, it was Villa that looked more dangerous when in possession. Notably, Villa’s midfield of Lucy Staniforth, Jordan Nobbs and Kenza Dali made light work of City’s Yui Hasegawa, Deyna Castellanos and Laura Coombs which allowed them to create numerical advantages when transitioning forward.
When Villa countered, they pressed with a distinct line of four or five and City’s defence struggled to deal with this. Nobbs and Staniforth have seamlessly slotted into the starting 11 it is still Dali that sprinkles the magic. Although the French playmaker was sitting a little deeper than she usually would, with Nobbs occupying the higher role, the second she touches the ball – things happen. Dali’s driven runs in possession and her vision to play in others was sublime once again and earned her player of the match. With new signings and returnees from injury, Villa have a full body of attacking power and with Dali acting as the spine they could certainly do some damage.
Toffees find set-piece sweet spot
When you’ve gone down 2-0 to two set-pieces, you’ve got yourself a problem. This is exactly where West Ham found themselves just 12 minutes into their visit to Walton Hall Park. Karen Holmgaard put Everton ahead after just three minutes after completing a well worked, and clearly well practiced, corner sequence. Megan Finnigan doubled the total with a headed effort, this time from a long corner, nine minutes later, further highlighting the importance of well executed set-pieces. On both occasions, West Ham appeared dumbstruck with little desire to defend the incoming efforts. Particularly with Finnigan’s goal, it felt as if goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold was the only Hammer vaguely aware of any danger. Aggie Beever-Jones sealed the deal with an absolute rocket of a strike and took the score to 3-0 in a game West Ham could not seem to get a foothold on. Everton’s recent performances clearly show the work they have done to improve their structure and organisation. It’s paying off and the Toffees now sit firmly in the top half of the table.
Keeper Jackie Burns on fire against United
Reading goalkeeper Jackie Burns delighted in front of a record 5,108-strong crowd at the Madejski Stadium. Before Manchester United captain Katie Zelem stepped up to the penalty spot late in the first half, Burns had already made a number of big saves to deny the Red Devils. It could have been a decisive moment in the game, but Burns imposed herself between the sticks and convincingly diverted Zelem’s effort away. The keeper continued this assured form through the entirety of the match and was perhaps unlucky to lose her clean sheet in the final minutes. Burns, however, will take great confidence from her performances of late as she continues to be integral to Reading’s momentum gathering.
Reading dynamic against Skinner’s top dogs
Despite Rachel Williams’ last-minute winner for Manchester United, Reading should go home with their heads held high. From Emma Harries’ daring transitional runs, to Justine Vanhaevermaet’s strength in keeping Ella Toone quiet, and Lily Woodham’s hold on Ona Batlle, the Royals more than held their own. What was pleasing was Reading’s intent to duel United in all areas, to not sit back and rely more on counter-attacks than any possession play of their own. Kelly Chamber’s side displayed some attractive build-up play – what needs work is the final decision. But all in all, from the front to the back, there was not a single weak link on that pitch.
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