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They see me Rachel Rowe-lin', they hatin'
Meanwhile Brighton look Hope-less and Manchester United march on
This weekend’s set of Women’s Super League drama just seems to be spilling over into the week as controversial goal decisions at Arsenal, left out goalkeepers at Aston Villa, and a potential sacking on the South Coast have all kept tongues wagging ahead of the final set of fixtures before the international break next weekend. Here is what went down on Sunday in the WSL.
Reading 2 - Leicester 1
Reading picked up their first points of the season in stunning style thanks to a late double from Rachel Rowe to come back from a goal down against Leicester City.
Leicester had taken the lead broadly against the run of play thanks to a goal from Natasha Flint following Shannon O’Brien’s mazy run. But Rowe scored directly from a corner in the 90th minute before scoring from outside the area in the 92nd to complete Reading’s comeback. It secured an important three points for a Reading side who look like they will be battling it out with Brighton and Leicester to avoid relegation. Having scored two goals in the last fifteen minutes of their last match against West Ham, and scoring twice more here, Kelly Chambers’ side certainly look like they have the fight to stay up.
Chelsea 3 - Aston Villa 1
Lauren James continued to demonstrate her importance in this Chelsea team as she ran the show, scoring twice and assisting the third, as Chelsea overcame some nervy first-half moments to beat Aston Villa 3-1. James lit up the match with her first goal in the 22nd minute, a calmly taken strike from the edge of the area before she took the ball in her stride after half time and smashed it beyond Anna Leat in the Aston Villa goal. It was hard to believe that these were only her second and third goals for Chelsea given the quality of them but James is a player who always exudes confidence.
But one question mark for Chelsea did come from their concession of a fifth goal of the season after Magda Eriksson was exposed at left-back and Rachel Daly was able to cutely flick the ball in after getting ahead of Millie Bright. As Emma Hayes watched on from the stands, it seems clear that this starting back four for Chelsea of Eve Perisset, Millie Bright, Kadeisha Buchanan and Magda Eriksson is her preferred defence. Yet Eriksson does not look comfortable in the role, certainly not with the way Chelsea are playing right now. It is possible to argue that it is simply teething issues but at some point you have to wonder if it is just not right.
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Arsenal 3 - West Ham 1
Arsenal eventually found their way past a very well-organised West Ham team who were unfortunate not to have found themselves 2-0 up when Dagny Brynjarsdottir’s header was disallowed for a supposed foul on Kim Little. They did actually go 1-0 up when Brynjarsdottir was able to ensure Steph Catley’s poor back pass did roll over the line - it was some way to lose a clean sheet record.
Yet West Ham have struggled in recent weeks to hold onto their impressive starts, having been put under pressure by both Aston Villa and Reading when they have been in the lead, and as Arsenal piled on the pressure, their resolve crumbled slightly. It hardly helped that West Ham only had five players on their bench, two of whom were 17, which made it feel a bit rich when Jonas Eidevall complained afterwards about squad size.
It was a good night though for Jordan Nobbs, who found herself called upon in the 40th minute following an injury to Kim Little only to score the equaliser within two minutes of coming on. Nobbs brought a needed burst of energy to an otherwise lethargic Arsenal side who required the potentially offside effort of Stina Blackstenius and a third Frida Maanum goal in three starts to guarantee a record breaking 13th WSL win in a row.
Manchester City 2 - Liverpool 1
Goals from Bunny Shaw and Hayley Raso helped Manchester City to their third consecutive WSL win. It is hard to talk about City right now without talking about Bunny Shaw. Whilst much has been made about City’s off pitch business and on pitch performances, it is important not to underestimate just how crucial Shaw can be for this team. Perhaps because of a quiet start to life in the WSL with injuries and rotation with Ellen White leading to less than expected minutes, but this is a player who previously outscored Marie-Antoinette Katoto in the French league despite not playing for PSG or Lyon.
In this match, she showed why she is such a complete striker, combining well with Lauren Hemp for the opener before setting up Hayley Raso for the winner with a perfectly weighted pass that fooled Liverpool’s defenders.
Shaw is currently averaging two shots on target per 90, the highest in the WSL, and is top of the goal scoring charts with six in five games. Of all her WSL goals, four have been with her left foot, six with her right foot and five with her head. Think of her as just a ‘target woman’ at your peril.
Everton 0 - Manchester United 3
Manchester United eased through their toughest test so far in the WSL to maintain their 100% winning streak, as well as ensuring they are still yet to concede a goal this season. Everton were unable to deal with the pace of United’s forwards, as Nikita Parris, Ella Toone and Leah Galton found huge amounts of space in attack. What will be most pleasing for Marc Skinner is the way that players like Parris have been able to step up in the absence of Alessia Russo and Ona Batlle, two of United’s very best. The squad strengthening that was done in the summer looks like it is paying off, with Parris in particular seemingly enjoying her football again after a miserable season at Arsenal last year.
This win also equalled Manchester United’s longest ever winning streak in the WSL. If they want to break their own record, there will just be the small matter of beating Chelsea next Sunday standing in their way.
Brighton 0 - Tottenham 8
Following a surprisingly well-organised 2-0 loss to Chelsea last week, normal business resumed for a Brighton defence who managed to ship eight goals to a Tottenham side who only scored 24 in the entirety of last season. Brighton’s players looked like they had never seen each other as they allowed Spurs’ attackers to run through their defence at will.
It did not help matters that the normally reliable Megan Walsh struggled, with her average PSxG differential falling to -1.29/90. That means on average, Walsh is conceding 1.3 more goals than would be expected PER game. This is almost three times more than her average numbers across the past three seasons. It is hard to tell whether this is a disorganised defence unsettling a goalkeeper, or vice versa.
Whilst this will be a big confidence boost for a Tottenham team who normally make scoring look very difficult, I’ll be waiting to see how many they manage at Everton next week before I put this display down as a great attacking performance.
(N.B. as I write this, The Telegraph’s Tom Garry is reporting that Brighton are considering manager Hope Powell’s future)