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Best of Three: Why couldn’t Chelsea score against Manchester City?
Plus how Arsenal limited United and whether Liverpool are actually good
Hi everyone! I’m trying out a bit of a new format for this newsletter for reasons which should become clearer next week. Instead of running through all of the WSL results individually, I’m going to take three of the biggest questions that were posed over the weekend and address them a bit more specifically. This will be coming out on Tuesday each week. There will be a longer feature later in the week for paid subscribers as usual.
Why couldn’t Chelsea score against Manchester City?
The decision to send off Alex Greenwood in Manchester City’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea generated plenty of controversy but it took City being briefly reduced to eight players before Chelsea could equalise. The WSL title holders looked certain to take advantage of playing the best part of an hour with an extra player on the pitch, something that only looked more likely when Lauren Hemp was also sent off. Yet in the end, Chelsea were only able to gain a point when Guro Reiten poked in from a corner in added time.
Chelsea only had four shots between the Greenwood sending off and the 78th minute as City held firm. Indeed Khiara Keating was forced into just two saves following that moment in the game. So how did City do it?
Chelsea played into City’s hands with how they set up following the red card. Lauren James had been deployed on the right wing to allow her to track Laia Aleixandri when she inverted. This would ensure that Chelsea were not overloaded in midfield whilst allowing James to pick up the ball in her more preferred central areas.
But following the red card, Kerstin Casparij came on and City understandably reverted to a flat back four as part of a 4-3-2. Chelsea were forced to bring on Sam Kerr earlier than they would have liked whilst Jelena Cankovic replaced Sophie Ingle. Without the inversions from City, Chelsea were just playing James and Fleming in the same areas with Lauren Hemp perfectly capable of dealing with Ashley Lawrence down that right hand side. Chelsea’s attacking build up was primarily focused on their left hand side with Reiten and Charles, making it easier for City to shift across and defend those areas. Even when Fran Kirby came on, Chelsea still found themselves stuck in central areas of the pitch.
Even beyond the tactical issues, the personnel on the pitch were simply not up to the level that would allow them to truly take advantage of City on a 1v1 basis. Lawrence miscontrolled the ball four times in the match whilst inaccurate long balls gave City chances to catch a breath. That meant they could continue to push up and press high, even as they tired. City looked focused and resolute to the point that Chelsea seemed the team who tired quicker. They got their eventual equaliser but this should be seen as two points dropped.
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How did Arsenal limit Manchester United?
Manchester United under Marc Skinner are not a team famed for playing directly. Last season, they had the same number of direct attacks as Leicester City. If you want to stop Manchester United from scoring, disrupting the way they build up from the back is a useful start. Jonas Eidevall set Arsenal up to do just that in their 2-2 draw away at Leigh. Stina Blackstenius started up top with Kim Little and Alessia Russo just behind her. Those three looked to press United’s backline with Russo particularly impressive in the way she was able to quickly jump from Millie Turner to Gabby George. Victoria Pelova and Lia Walti formed a double pivot which pressed high on Hayley Ladd and Katie Zelem. United were forced into playing long balls, recording their third lowest success percentage since the start of last season in the WSL. Even though this did actually lead to United’s goal when Sabrina D’Angelo failed to clear George’s ball over the top, it is clear how effective the set up was albeit let down by individual error.
The way Arsenal played did limit them in an attacking sense, and it was not until Caitlin Foord, Frida Maanum and Katie McCabe came on that they were truly able to get going themselves. 13 of their 17 shots came after that trio entered the pitch and they looked far more dangerous, even if they did rely on a piece of magic from Cloé Lacasse to get them the point. Arsenal really struggled against the top teams in the league last year, picking up only four points. This was a good blueprint to improving on that, but it seems like they still have not quite landed on the balance between defence and attack.
Are Liverpool actually good this season?
Sitting second in the table behind *checks notes* Leicester City, Matt Beard’s Liverpool are the only team in the league yet to concede a goal. They followed up their impressive 1-0 win over Arsenal with a 2-0 victory over Aston Villa. Is this a start of the season surprise or is there something more to it? It is far too early to look at expected goals numbers but from the eye test it feels like Liverpool have found some increased confidence in themselves. The back three of Jenna Clark, Grace Fisk and Gemma Bonner already looks well-established and it was notable how high up the pitch Taylor Hinds and Emma Koivisto were willing to get against Aston Villa (something which they were understandably more reluctant with against Arsenal).
Marie Höbinger certainly looks to be set to offer them another technical option in midfield whilst Tash Flint has caused a nuisance when she has come on in both games. Most positively of all, we are yet to even see Sophie Roman Haug play for them who was arguably their signing of the summer. I would be sceptical that Liverpool could break into the established top four, but right now they genuinely look like the best of the rest.