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A Christmas Hampton full of gifts for Arsenal
Spoils are shared in the Manchester derby and Chelsea survive a late scare to end the year top
The WSL calendar year is more or less wrapped up, with the exception of the rearranged Tottenham - Everton game on Wednesday. Whilst we are not technically half way through the season, the winter break makes it feel like a natural point to consider the positions of every team. The weather led to two matches being called off - Liverpool - Leicester which could have put Leicester in a very tough position indeed, and Brighton - Everton.
As it is, Chelsea head into Christmas top of the table, but having played a game more than second placed Arsenal who have also only lost one match. Manchester United are in third with City only three points behind, just outside the Champions League spots.
Manchester City 1 - Manchester United 1
A win for either team here could have driven a lot of narrative so of course, it would end up being a draw. United went ahead from a Leah Galton shot that went through Alex Greenwood’s legs to wrong foot Ellie Roebuck, before Laura Coombs got a free header from a Chloe Kelly cross to equalise in the second half.
Manchester United were probably the better team in terms of how they were able to attack but it was still pretty close. When United get going, the way they move the ball forward is almost mesmerising in terms of the speed of passing through the midfield to their attackers. But the way they do this is by committing a lot of players into one area of the pitch to reduce the space they have to pass between. Manchester City showed how quickly United could be exposed by a simple turnover in the middle of the pitch. The presence of Bunny Shaw probably distracted United’s defence even more as City began to counterattack but it does feel like a high risk tactic.
I wrote about Manchester City’s midfield in last week and United got some joy there. Playing Yui Hasegawa as a 6 was always a stop gap rather than a long term solution but it is something City need to address in January if they want to kick on in the big games. Equally, Deyna Castellanos has not risen to the creative requirements that are needed in terms of providing for City’s dangerous front three. Gareth Taylor seems to be quite settled on this midfield three but there are other players in City’s squad who could improve it.
Aston Villa 1 - Arsenal 4
Kirsty Hanson gave Aston Villa an early lead here but Hannah Hampton’s repeated errors meant that Arsenal did not take long to get back into the game. Goals from Vivianne Miedema, Katie McCabe and Jordan Nobbs, with the addition of a Rachel Corsie own goal gave Arsenal a simple win.
Hampton was making only her second league start since September for Villa and she struggled to communicate with her defence throughout the game. Hampton came for balls in the penalty area she got nowhere near and on multiple occasions tipped the ball towards Arsenal players, making it all too easy for them to finish. She is a young goalkeeper, returning to the team after some time out through injury as well as reportedly having personal issues at both Villa and England. Yet right now, she is trying to make herself the hero and in doing so leaving her side totally exposed.
Chelsea 3 - Reading 2
With Chelsea 3-0 up at half time, thanks to goals from Fran Kirby and Jelena Cankovic, it seemed like Chelsea were cruising through their final WSL game of 2022. Yet a quick fire double from Reading, scored by Sanne Troelsgaard and Amalie Eikeland ensured the league leaders had a nervy finish to the match. Ann-Katrin Berger was at fault for the first, letting a tame shot squeeze under her, whilst Chelsea looked rattled for the immediate, leaving Eikeland unmarked. It was tough conditions for both teams, playing in the snow at 18:45, but Emma Hayes will be frustrated at how Chelsea made it harder for themselves than they needed.
Jelena Cankovic was making her first start for Chelsea having been sidelined with injury for much of the season so far, and was excellent as the number 10, scoring twice. Her playing there also saw Fran Kirby moved out wide and she looked incredibly dangerous.
Kirby always seems to find her best form when she is playing against her former club - she has scored more goals against Reading than any other side in the WSL - but there is an argument to be made that she remains more suited to being on the wing than in the central role she has played in so far this season. It would mean potentially dropping Lauren James but could it benefit the team as a whole?
Tottenham 0 - West Ham 2
Tottenham continued their three match losing streak, as goals from Dagny Brynjarsdottir and Hawa Cissoko ensured West Ham won, despite Brynjarsdottir missing a penalty earlier in the game.
The role that Brynjarsdottir plays in this West Ham side cannot be overstated. Even though her penalty miss was poor, she has now scored more goals this season than she did in the entirety of last. Her threat in front of goal, particularly aerially, gives West Ham a confidence that they will be able to find goals in a game, and in fact they have only not scored in a match twice this season. That could not be further from the truth for Tottenham whose summer signings have failed to make an impact when it comes to attacking.
In fact, West Ham getting their central defender to chip the ball over Becky Spencer and into the back of the net almost felt like rubbing it in…