Discover more from Flying Geese
GW1: Taylor made for an opening day upset
Liverpool ensure they don't go all season without an away win this year
Arsenal 0 - Liverpool 1
The most surprising result of the opening day of the WSL weekend came at the Emirates as Arsenal lost 1-0 to Liverpool. Jonas Eidevall’s team are clearly under increased pressure to win the league this season, having been knocked out of the Champions League so early. Sometimes you go away from a football match feeling like a team was unlucky not to win, reassured by the likelihood that they should come good. But this was not the performance of a title winning side.
Eidevall set up in a back three, a system he used on a number of occasions towards the end of last season to deal with the toll of injuries. Here it was in part a reflection of who was available to him - right-back Noelle Maritz missed out with a knock - as well as a tactical calculation. Arsenal matched up Matt Beard’s Liverpool in a 3-5-2.
Flying Geese is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Liverpool defended compactly, wanting to deny Arsenal space centrally, and forcing Arsenal to play the ball out wide to cross into the box. All three of Liverpool’s central defenders - Jenna Clark, Gemma Bonner and Grace Fisk - played with discipline, and it was fairly clear by half time that this approach was not really working. When Miri Taylor put Liverpool 1-0 up after 48 minutes, something needed to change but not much did.
It was not that Arsenal could not get near the box - their 19 corners was the second most in a WSL match ever - and they made 39 crosses in total. But Liverpool had the chance to set themselves for lots of these opportunities and dealt with them easily. Rachel Laws did not make a single save in the second half, and the post-shot expected goals on Arsenal’s chances on target only amounted to 0.3. Despite making a host of changes in personnel not much changed in game plan and Liverpool were relatively comfortable in seeing out the win.
It suddenly leaves Arsenal facing down two must-win matches over the next two weeks. Manchester United away and Aston Villa at home are the challengers - both of whom have won their most recent meeting against Arsenal. Neither team will sit back the way Liverpool did but Arsenal’s defence and goalkeeper have been exposed on a number of occasions in their three matches so far this season. Eidevall needs to improve defensive security, refresh his attacking plan, and make sure all that is ready to go by Friday.
Aston Villa 1 - Manchester United 2
Cometh the hour, cometh Rachel Williams. Not a single one of her five WSL goals for Manchester United have come before the 84th minute, and she snatched a 92nd minute winner here. Aston Villa looked like they might get away with a point, despite playing the last 15 minutes with only ten players after Kirsty Hanson was sent off.
Both sides were clearly adjusting to their new approaches this season. Aston Villa’s midfield felt somewhat makeshift with Lucy Parker and Laura Blindkilde Brown (replaced at half-time by Ebony Salmon) included in front of Lucy Staniforth, but Parker in particular looked confident on the ball there. Meanwhile Geyse buzzed around threateningly up front for United. But it was Katie Zelem who really stood out, with both her defensive work rate and her creativity. She had 10 shot creating-actions (the most in the match) and it was her ball into the box that caused the chaos which allowed United to equalise.
For all the questions that have been asked of Marc Skinner about rotation, his United team clearly has a strong set of finishers. Whether it is Nikita Parris or Lucia Garcia coming off the bench, in combination with Rachel Williams, they continue to push until the very end of matches, and are consequently getting better results.
Chelsea 2 - Tottenham 1
Chelsea were able to end their opening day jinx, beating Tottenham 2-1 thanks to goals from Mia Fishel and Lauren James. It was their first opening day win since 2019/20 when they beat the same opponents 1-0, and although it was not exactly smooth sailing, Emma Hayes was clear that the focus was on getting the three points in this one.
She picked an intriguing starting XI with Zecira Musovic, Maren Mjelde and Johanna Ryting Kaneryd all surprise inclusions, but Hayes has been clear that she will prioritise keeping her players fit and healthy, and it felt like the line-up reflected that. There was an eye-catching display from Niamh Charles in a quasi-wing-back role, whilst Lauren James was handed the creative reins as the number 10. Her already blossoming partnership with new signing Mia Fishel was exciting to see.
The same could not necessarily be said for Sophie Ingle and Sjoeke Nüsken (another debutant) who struggled against a robust Tottenham midfield. Their 4-3-2-1 certainly caused Chelsea some problems when it came to controlling the match, and the ever-energetic Martha Thomas caused them a number of problems, eventually getting one back for Spurs after Musovic somewhat bizarrely tried to collect her save with her feet. Chelsea’s all-star bench helped them see the match out but it was an encouraging display for Tottenham fans as much as it was for Chelsea ones.
West Ham 0 - Manchester City 2
A debut goal for Jill Roord helped Manchester City to a relatively smooth win over West Ham, despite playing the last twenty minutes with ten players after Leila Ouahabi was (unfairly) sent off. How Roord will fit into this City side has been an intriguing question to ponder over the summer but City’s rotations in attack looked a lot more fluid than they have in the past. Whether that was aided by the fact that Bunny Shaw was unavailable, and so Mary Fowler started in her place, will remain to be seen but it certainly felt less predictable. The big challenge for City this year was to vary their attack in a way that allowed them to score more goals. Chelsea visit Manchester next weekend as a more significant test of Gareth Taylor’s new look fluidity.
Everton 1 - Brighton 2
Much was made during the summer of Brighton’s incomings, but there was less attention paid to the players they were able to keep. Elisabeth Terland was one of the WSL’s most threatening attackers in a Brighton side that finished 11th. Her 0.41 non-penalty expected goals per 90 put her in the top 10 for the season, alongside much bigger names like Bunny Shaw and Rachel Daly. Terland continued where she had left off with two quick fire goals in the opening 15 minutes against Everton, showcasing her attacking smarts.
Both goals came through interplay with Katie Robinson - the first after Robinson’s shot cannoned off the crossbar, the second a clever pass through Everton’s defence. Robinson is someone Manchester United were interested in but Brighton’s price tag put them off. All the better for the Seagulls who have kept their best attackers as a result.
The rush to celebrate with manager Melissa Phillips after the first goal spoke volumes. It was clear that even with all of the new signings, this is a team who believe they are building something. Everton did threaten more as the match went on, eventually pulling a goal back through Megan Finnigan, but Brighton certainly look like they are on the up.
Bristol City 2 - Leicester City 4
What looked like it could be an early relegation six-pointer saw Leicester City eventually come out on top over newly promoted Bristol City. Despite Bristol going 1-0 up through a Carrie Jones long-range effort, Leicester equalised with a screamer of their own from Aimee Palmer. Leicester were pretty dominant in this match although racing into a 4-1 lead was evidence of a Bristol side looking quite rocked defensively by their concessions. There will be tougher tests for Leicester to come but conceding four to a team who only scored 15 goals in the whole of last season feels ominous for Bristol.