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Carrie on Jones
Big wins at the top and the bottom of the WSL as we head into the international break
Three points between the top four. Three points between the bottom four. The WSL is truly going to the wire this year as with five matches to go (for almost everyone) it is hard to make any clear predictions on who ends up on the important chairs when the music stops.
Arsenal 2 - Manchester City 1
Arsenal came from a goal down to beat Manchester City in a huge boost to their title hopes. Arsenal had conceded early on to a Bunny Shaw header and were pretty significantly outplayed in the first half. In fact, the first half performance was some of the best football City had played all season. As had been the case in the away fixture, Arsenal struggled to play out from City’s press but here some of City’s best moments came as they played out. Yui Hasegawa continued her extraordinary season, using her body to manoeuvre players out the way and dictating the tempo with clever passes. When Lauren Hemp blazed the ball over the bar in front of an open goal, you feared City would come to regret missing these chances.
And so it proved. Arsenal definitely came out in the second half invigorated, attacking the right hand side of City’s defence with Esme Morgan and Steph Houghton which was where they had found most joy in the first half before Caitlin Foord had gone off injured. Houghton and Morgan were unable to deal with a midfield turnover leading to the penalty area pinball from which Frida Maanum scored their first. The corner which Katie McCabe rocketed in the winner from was won in a similar area.
The win capped off a remarkable run of fixtures for Arsenal who, aside from losing in the FA Cup to Chelsea, have dispatched everyone else put in front of them. The fact that three of those teams were Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Manchester City should not be sniffed at. The most impressive part is that all those results involved comebacks of some kind (a goal down against Chelsea and City, and losing the first leg of the UWCL quarter-final against Bayern Munich). There are plenty of opportunities to slip up still to come but Arsenal have left themselves in a strong position ahead of the international break.
Leicester City 2 - Reading 1
Leicester City’s Carrie Jones managed a last-gasp winner against Reading in order to pull Leicester off the bottom of the table for the first time this season. Leicester had taken the lead in the first half when Sam Tierney was able to calmly volley in despite Reading having been putting Leicester under pressure early on. Reading were able to equalise through Charlie Wellings but in the second half, Leicester put their foot down and deserved to get the win.
The result now leaves Brighton bottom, and despite them having two games in hand, you would fancy Leicester to pick up more points from here with the Foxes averaging 0.9 points a game under Willie Kirk. If they had maintained that average across the whole season, they would be comfortably in mid-table alongside West Ham and Liverpool.
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Aston Villa 0 - Chelsea 3
Chelsea found an additional level of intensity against Aston Villa despite their exhausting Champions League win over Lyon. The title holders had played the second leg of their quarter-final three days earlier, with Guro Reiten revealing that they did just 30 minutes training in preparation for the match against Villa.
This had the potential to be a bit of a banana skin for Chelsea. Villa have been one of the in-form teams in the WSL, and they have played Manchester City three times this season without losing. Instead Chelsea put in one of their most convincing WSL performances of the year.
Emma Hayes made a number of changes to her Chelsea side with Johanna Ryting Kaneryd, Jelena Cankovic and Jessie Fleming all being notable inclusions in terms of pressing high from the very start. Guro Reiten pulled centrally from her normal position on the left to create overloads in midfield and Aston Villa repeatedly gave possession away. It was all too easy for Chelsea to find themselves with good opportunities from Villa errors. With goals from Cankovic, Reiten and Sam Kerr (scoring her 50th WSL goal in 62 appearances), this match became a formality.
Brighton 0 - Manchester United 4
Marc Skinner responded to Lucia Garcia’s impressive cameo last week by rejigging his attack against Brighton and playing…Ella Toone on the right. Toone has been used out wide by Skinner before - notably in the second half of their FA Cup quarter-final against Lewes - but this felt like a strange moment to insist on using her. Once again when Garcia came on, United looked much more threatening.
Brighton had their opportunities going forward against Manchester United. Despite Lydia Williams flapping at a corner to help hand United the lead after only 12 minutes, Brighton were able to threaten through the pace of Katie Robinson in particular. In fact this was the first match Brighton had not scored in since the middle of January. But their problem as always has been that they simply cannot defend. The time wasted bringing in Jens Scheuer only to sack him immediately looks particularly stark now as they find themselves at the bottom of the table.
Everton 2 - Tottenham 1
Aggie Beever-Jones scored a 94th minute winner to keep Tottenham nervously hanging around at the bottom of the table. Everton went ahead in the fourth minute from an emphatic Nicoline Sorensen finish but an equally strong Evelina Summanen strike had equalised. This was the eighth consecutive WSL match that Spurs had scored in - previously one of their key issues - but even here, they struggled to get Bethany England into the match. She only had three touches in the Everton penalty area.
Beever-Jones’ finish was confidently taken by a player who has really grown into her loan spell. It was her second goal of the season - the fact she is Everton’s joint second-highest goalscorer tells you everything about them going forward - but it also saw her make the most of the raw talent we have seen on display this season. After the match, Brian Sorensen said he had been encouraging her to run at defenders more, and it was her speed and touch which opened up the room for her to get a shot off.
West Ham 0 - Liverpool 0
Well neither of these teams have anything to play for! Mel Fillis made an enthusiastic and rare appearance in West Ham’s midfield but that was really all that could be said about a match where both teams had a combined one shot on target.
Perhaps the strangest part of the match was the decision from West Ham not to play Kate Longhurst at all. Longhurst would have gone clear with Tottenham’s Kerys Harrop as the all-time WSL appearance record holders. As it was she stayed on the bench and West Ham played out a meaningless 0-0 draw to take their winless streak to seven games.