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Chelsea dilly-dally as Aston Villa Daly-Dali
Upsets abound as the WSL finally swings into motion
We might have had to wait an extra week for the WSL to begin but the delay did not disappoint, at least by the time we reached Sunday. There were big upsets with two of last season’s top three losing, although Arsenal and Manchester United had very comfortable wins. Meanwhile Everton continued to look stilted whilst Tottenham required two long range rockets to beat relegation favourites Leicester.
Liverpool 2 - Chelsea 1
In an interview with the BBC ahead of the start of the season, Emma Hayes pithily put down her success to the mantra “if it isn’t broken, break it.” Her Chelsea side certainly looked broken in their surprise 2-1 defeat to Liverpool at Prenton Park on Sunday afternoon. All three goals came from penalties as Chelsea took a first minute lead through Fran Kirby, before Katie Stengel scored two in the 67th and 87th minute.
Liverpool created practically nothing from open play, but Chelsea were not much better in that regard. An injury to Pernille Harder in the warm up clearly caused a last minute change to the system, but with Lauren James at right wing back, Guro Reiten seemingly in a front two with Sam Kerr, and Erin Cuthbert…somewhere, this was a Chelsea team that was so fluid it became sludge.
The result means that Chelsea have won only one of their past five season openers - an impressively dire record from a team who have won three titles in that time. They have proved before this does not have to hinder a title push but Hayes will have to do more fixing and less breaking ahead of Manchester City’s visit next weekend.
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Aston Villa 4 - Manchester City 3
Lots of focus on this game will be around Manchester City being useless (and they were) but make no mistake, Aston Villa were good too. They went 2-0 up in the first half thanks to goals from Alisha Lehmann and Rachel Daly, but then conceded three in eight minutes of play across half time. Normally, this is where we would see mid-table teams wilt but Villa rallied and scored twice more, with a little help from Manchester City, to win.
The impact of Rachel Daly on this Villa side was clear to see. Arguably the most ceiling raising signing of the summer in the WSL, she brought both confidence and quality. Her press on Laia Aleixandri kickstarted the first goal whilst her finish on the second was exquisite. For England fans who might have only seen her looking nervous at fullback, this was a totally different player.
It felt like her determination extended to the rest of the team. Watching Alisha Lehmann sprint back to close down Demi Stokes as she attacked when it was still 0-0 made me blink with surprise, and it was Lehmann who blocked City’s clearance from the corner ahead of Daly’s first goal. Kirsty Hanson took on Esme Morgan with much more confidence than might be expected of a player who spent most of last season warming the bench for Manchester United. Kenza Dali brings a sparkle of quality to the Villa midfield and with a whole host of exciting young players, this season might be a chance for Villa to surprise.
Arsenal 4 - Brighton 0
Honestly it feels hard to read a huge amount into this game which saw Brighton defender Emma Kullberg sent off after only seven minutes. The red card was not without its controversy - it seemed like Stina Blackstenius was offside when she ran through on goal - but from then on it seemed inevitable that it would be a procession for Arsenal. Goals from Kim Little, Beth Mead (twice) and Blackstenius wrapped this up easily.
It was a comfortable start for them in a game where Caitlin Foord looked particularly impressive up against Chelsea loanee Jorja Fox, and Vivianne Miedema played a lot closer to Blackstenius. Lina Hurtig also looked promising in her cameo later on in the game, and with Chelsea and City both losing, it was about as perfect an opening weekend as it could have been for the Gunners.
Manchester United 4 - Reading 0
Manchester United joined Arsenal in the ‘deceptively impressive scoreline in relatively simple game’ camp on Saturday. Exciting new attacking signing *checks notes* Maya Le Tissier scored twice as United put the game to bed with four goals in the first half. It was the link up between Ona Batlle and actual attacking signing Lucia Garcia which really stood out. The two Spaniards already have a strong relationship from their time together at international level and give United even more attacking threat on top of Ella Toone, Alessia Russo and Leah Galton.
For Reading, losing this game will not define their season, but the injury to Deanne Rose just might. The Canadian international is by far and away their most talented player and after the game, Kelly Chambers said they would have to prepare for the “worst possible news”.
West Ham 1 - Everton 0
The hipster’s choice for WSL game of the weekend, Paul Konchesky got his first win as West Ham manager in a game where despite having a lot of the ball, Everton struggled to create chances. Lisa Evans headed in from a corner for the only goal as both teams looked to integrate their new signings. There were nine debutants across the two starting XIs with several showing flashes of what they could do. Risa Shimizu was particularly composed at right-back for West Ham with Viviane Asseyi and Jess Ziu also looking bright. For Everton, Aggie Beever-Jones (another Chelsea loanee) did not look out of place at WSL level but the front three of her, Katja Snoejis and Hanna Bennison, was pretty disjointed for most of the game. There is much more work for Brian Sorensen to do on Merseyside, ahead of a historic derby next weekend.
Leicester City 1 - Tottenham 2
Tottenham probably made this harder work than they needed to but two spectacular long range goals - one from Ashleigh Neville, and the other from Drew Spence - was enough to see them past Leicester. This looked like a familiar Tottenham performance of struggling to score goals but with a slight caveat. Nikola Karczewska stayed on the bench, amid reports she might have picked up a slight injury on international duty with Poland, and Finnish midfielder Evelina Summanen playing as a false 9. This is clearly not going to be the final form of Tottenham’s attacking line up (please Rehanne) but perhaps until they reach it, they will just keep banging in shots from 30 yards.
Have there ever been so many braces on a WSL opening weekend? Five players scored twice: Beth Mead, Maya Le Tissier, Rachel Daly, Laura Coombs and Katie Stengel. Some of those seem more likely than others to feature in this season’s race for the Golden Boot.
Oh, and thanks to Marissa Lordanic for the subject line inspiration