Women’s Super League: talking points from the weekend’s action | Rachel Brown-Finnis
The calm before the storm
The Women’s Super League now takes a two-week international break, during which England play friendlies against France and Canada, followed by the FA Cup fourth round. But when it returns it will be with some giant fixtures starting with a potential title decider between Manchester City and Chelsea, and whoever ends the last weekend of April at the top of the table will be massive favourites to win it. There are also key games to come at the bottom: Aston Villa, who slipped back to 12th spot with defeat at Everton, face a four-game mini-season with each of their next four fixtures against teams now in the bottom four, including home and away matches against West Ham. Survival is in their hands, but now it’s about who copes best with the pressure.
No doubting Thomas after Hammers hit five
West Ham went into their game at Reading bottom of the table and needing a miracle, against a team with a good defensive record and who had lost by more than a single goal only twice all season – against Arsenal and Chelsea. In the seventh minute Kenza Dali crossed to Katerina Svitkova, who nodded in at the back post. In the 11th minute they were 3-0 up, the Scotland international Martha Thomas had the first goal of her first-half hat-trick, and the game already seemed out of Reading’s reach. By half-time the Hammers were 5-0 up, which is how it stayed. It was a stunning scoreline, good enough to take West Ham off the bottom and up to 10th. It’s now a four-way fight at the bottom between Birmingham, Bristol City, Aston Villa and West Ham, but the Hammers go into the international break with confidence soaring.
Chelsea’s Kerr-Kirby connection keeps purring
Chelsea continued their rampage at the top of the division with a cruise past Birmingham City. The Kerr-Kirby connection just keeps moving into higher gears, with five goals and an assist added to their tally on Sunday. Kerr is now level with Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema at the top of the scoring charts with 17, and Kirby their closest rival with 14. With the League Cup secured, Chelsea are fighting for the quadruple having knocked Wolfsburg out of the Champions League last week. The first leg of their semi-final against Bayern Munich is in late April – the date is yet to be confirmed – and will be Emma Hayes’s absolute focus. She previously said that whichever English team get knocked out of the Champions League will win the WSL, implying that Manchester City now have the upper hand, but I cannot see them giving up the league title. On and off the pitch Chelsea’s team are unrivalled in this country, and across the past seven years their investment in staff and players has been world class.
City ramp up the pressure
Manchester City’s win against Tottenham was their 12th WSL victory in a row, and they are not letting the pressure on Chelsea slip. There were no signs at the weekend of any impact from the shattering two-leg defeat against Barcelona in the Champions League, as they dispatched Spurs clinically at the Hive. Gareth Taylor made four changes to the starting lineup for the second Barça game, and resting players for the trip to Tottenham shows his focus is fully on the WSL title now. They opened the scoring in the fifth minute when Chloe Kelly whipped in a corner which went in off a combination of Janine Beckie’s head and Becky Spencer’s glove – it seems to have gone down as an own goal, but as a former goalkeeper I would definitely give it to the attacker. Numerous City chances followed and Beckie eventually shattered Tottenham’s resistance in the 37th minute. City were always in control of this match and though they trail Chelsea by two points the same is true of the title race: win their last three games and it is theirs.
Another big win for Brighton
After beating Chelsea in February Brighton beat another of the division’s giants, with a victory that pushed Manchester United out of the top three and crucially the Champions League qualifying spots for the first time this season – Arsenal taking advantage of their slip with a routine 4-0 win at Bristol. United were top at Christmas but have stagnated since, and this was their fourth defeat in six. For Brighton this was an impressive performance after the 5-0 home defeat against Everton last week – Hope Powell’s team pride themselves on being defensively organised and they showed their usual resolve against United. This was a performance to be proud of and continues their steady progress. Everton meanwhile continued their confident form with a 3-1 win against Aston Villa, who desperately missed their Japanese striker Mana Iwabuchi. For Villa, the big battles are ahead.