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Yui wins some, Yui never loses some*
* in the WSL
The WSL title race narrowed even further as Chelsea’s loss to Manchester City left only three points between the top four, although Chelsea and Arsenal both have games in hand. On paper, Chelsea’s run of fixtures looks the easiest with their only ‘rival’ match being against Arsenal at Kingsmeadow on the penultimate day of the season. But as the games (and injuries) pile up, it feels hard to call for any one of these sides right now.
Manchester City 2 - Chelsea 0
Goals from Filippa Angeldahl and Lauren Hemp meant that a competent Manchester City performance ended a six year streak without a WSL win against Chelsea. City were comfortable to sit in a mid-block and allow Chelsea to play themselves into trouble, using turnovers and two excellent finishes to wrap the match up without much trouble.
Chelsea, though, were once again agents of their own downfall. With Millie Bright absent through injury, Kadeisha Buchanan and Magda Eriksson were much less able to dominate the penalty area and struggled to progress the ball from the back.
Chelsea had been poor in the first half but were only two goals down. Then Emma Hayes decided to roll the dice early, making two substitutions after 35 minutes. Sound familiar at all? She took off Sophie Ingle to rejig Chelsea’s defence, moving Guro Reiten to play as the 10 with Niamh Charles coming on at left wing. Fair enough you might think - Chelsea’s inability to play out from the back had come in part from a big detachment between their defence and midfield.
More bizarre was the choice to swap out Lauren James for Johanna Ryting Kaneryd. Hayes claimed it was to inject some more freshness into the side. Maybe she had decided the game was done and she wanted to rest James. Maybe she thought Kaneryd would be more motivated, feeling like she had something to prove. As it was, Kaneryd completed only four passes in 55 minutes of football.
Ultimately we have seen Hayes make these early substitutions on a number of occasions over the past couple of years to little effect. Chelsea were unable to make inroads against a City team who seemed much more content to sit back. Was the personnel change really necessary as opposed to simply telling Ann-Katrin Berger to go long? Perhaps Hayes just wanted to rest players ahead of the Lyon game and was content to lose this match to Manchester City? If that was the case, the pressure to proceed to the Champions League semi-finals just got even bigger.
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Tottenham 1 - Arsenal 5
Arsenal got an impressive win in the North London Derby, comprehensively beating a Spurs side who continue to be woeful despite Bethany England’s best efforts. Goals from Stina Blackstenius, Caitlin Foord (x2), Kim Little and Frida Maanum gave Arsenal a useful confidence boost ahead of their second legged tie against Bayern Munich in the UWCL.
Foord was particularly impressive, as she backed up a good performance against Bayern with another impressive one here. Her ten goals and eight assists for the club this season now takes her goal contributions tally above her previous highest in 2020/21 where she scored 12 times and got four assists.
The question about Foord has always been about her consistency but she has not put a foot wrong for Arsenal throughout March. They probably would have got past Tottenham just fine without her but she could help finish off the month in spectacular fashion at the Emirates on Wednesday.
Manchester United 4 - West Ham 0
Despite toiling through the first half, Manchester United ended up making light work of West Ham as a penalty from Katie Zelem along with goals from Lucia Garcia (x2) and Hayley Ladd saw them go back top of the WSL.
The introduction of Lucia Garcia in particular breathed life into a United attack that has begun to look a bit stale in recent weeks. Garcia hasn’t started for United since February with Nikita Parris often preferred but her xG per 90 is the second highest at the club behind only Alessia Russo (for players with more than 600 minutes). Skinner’s lack of rotation has continually been criticised throughout the season as a fairly stacked bench has regularly been ignored. Yet if United are to continue to push on in the title race, they need to make the most of the players that they have at their disposal.
West Ham meanwhile now haven’t won a game since December with Paul Konchesky increasingly looking like he is just papering over the cracks. Their expected goal difference per 90 is -0.93 - only Leicester’s is worse in the WSL. Konchesky continues to pair Hawa Cissoko with Grace Fisk in defence, choosing to use Lucy Parker in midfield, despite Parker having been one of the league’s stand out defenders earlier in the season. Cissoko and Fisk were repeatedly caught out against United and look a far cry from some of West Ham’s more solid defensive performances earlier in the season.
Everton 1 - Liverpool 1
Liverpool can feel aggrieved to have only left Goodison Park with a draw after a goal from Leighanne Robe was bizarrely disallowed for a supposed infringement on Everton goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan. Gabby George’s long-range effort had been cancelled out by Katie Stengel but realistically this match felt quite even.
Brian Sorensen continues to tinker with his attack, understandably given they have the joint second lowest expected goals in the WSL, but without bearing much fruit. Here we saw both Aggie Beever-Jones and Jess Park used centrally with little impact. In the 70 or so minutes Beever-Jones has played in a more reserved role for Everton, she is yet to have a single shot.
Jess Park has looked slightly better in that area - it is after all where she has been used for England predominantly - but there is still scant evidence of a cohesive attacking unit.
Given that Everton’s season is effectively over, perhaps it makes sense for Sorensen to try out some new options with little risk attached. But given that Park and Beever-Jones are on loan, they might not be the best picks to build your team around.
Aston Villa 5 - Leicester City 0
Aston Villa blew away Leicester City to see their unbeaten WSL run extend to seven games with Carla Ward’s side having lost only once in 2023 (against Arsenal in the Continental Cup quarter-final). Goals from Alisha Lehmann, Rachel Daly and Kenza Dali helped demonstrate what a potent attacking force Villa have become. They have only scored two fewer goals than Manchester City.
What is particularly impressive about Villa right now is the drive they seem to continue to be harnessing. Whereas teams like Everton or West Ham are drifting to the end of the season as they sit in mid-table, Villa are still playing with an intensity that would be more befitting of a team in the race for the Champions League spots. Given that they have to play Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal before the end of the season, they could potentially play a massive part in the title race.
Reading 2 - Brighton 2
Emma Harries helped mount a Reading comeback after they had gone 2-0 down within the first 15 minutes as a result of goals from Brighton’s Veatriki Sarri. Brighton continue to look decent when they are going forward but incredibly open at the back, with both of Reading’s goals stemming from long balls that Brighton’s defence were unable to deal with. In truth, both sides defences were very ropey with it looking set to be a long slow slog to the end of the season as they try and stay in the division.