WSL talking points: Chelsea show their champions grit | Everton’s Park for England?
For 45 minutes, Chelsea looked every inch the powerful side that clinched a third consecutive WSL title last season. But the 45 before that was another worrying display on the back of a humbling opening-day defeat at Liverpool.
Manchester City chalked up 10 efforts at goal before Fran Kirby put Chelsea ahead with their first shot on target. Even then, City immediately struck a post in search of an equaliser.
Chelsea were fortunate to be in the game, let alone leading at half-time, yet it felt like a hallmark of champions that, somehow, they were ahead.
“Sometimes you’ve got to do that,” said Chelsea manager Emma Hayes. “First half, I thought we overplayed, we overdid it and went from underplaying a week ago to overplaying this week. We’ve got to find the balance, but it is the second game, I thought it looked like a second game of the season.
“Our performance second half was what I was expecting from us, it was much more controlled, we dominated all areas.”
The Blues rediscovered their old form with slick, precise passing to dominate the ball and carve open City. Ultimately they delivered an important victory against one of the division’s top sides and it might just be what they need to kickstart their season.
Before his Manchester City side took on Chelsea on Sunday, manager Gareth Taylor admitted his side were prepared to play longer balls forward rather than constantly play it short. With Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw, it’s clear to see why.
The Jamaican forward was a constant handful for an experienced Chelsea backline, with Shaw making a mockery of Blues defenders Millie Bright and Kadeisha Buchanan – who have countless Women’s Super League and Champions League titles between them.
But what makes a good striker a great one? Taking chances. Shaw was at the heart of the 11 chances City managed to inflict on Chelsea – none of them went in. A lot of that was down to the 25-year-old’s finishing.
Chelsea showed the challenge that lies ahead for the City striker. You don’t have to play well, as Shaw did in his overall game in the first half at Kingsmeadow, to become a winner.
The striker has all the attributes necessary to become one of the WSL’s top players – plus she has the goal record to back it up. 34 goals in 39 matches for Bordeaux plus 16 in her debut WSL season last term.
How Shaw translates that history into her form this season will determine whether City can really progress from last term.
The stage was set for Liverpool. In front of 27,000 supporters at Anfield, Matt Beard’s side were ready for a homecoming after their shock win over Chelsea on the opening day of the season last weekend.
But they were brought back down to earth with a bump. The newly-promoted Reds were second-best throughout against their Merseyside rivals and now reality will be setting in.
Everton were certainly not overawed by the occasion, perhaps Liverpool were. The intensity they showed against Chelsea was missing while they sacrificed possession all too often inside their own half. When their chances came, they didn’t take them.
Liverpool missed striker Leanne Kiernan who is set for several months on the sidelines and might need surgery on an ankle injury sustained in the Chelsea win although Everton would still have been too strong.
Everton showed their big-game WSL experience to inflict a humbling defeat which will leave Liverpool readjusting their sights.
Everton’s Jess Park scored the goal of the game in their 3-0 win against Liverpool at Anfield. A cool, composed finish after cleverly rounding goalkeeper Rachel Laws in the penalty box.
Scoring a goal like that in front of a near-30,000 crowd at Anfield was a moment most young forwards dream about – especially after missing a similar goal like that in training the day before.
“I tried that in training yesterday and messed it all up,” she told Sky Sports after the game. “I’m just glad it went in tonight!”
In front of the Sky cameras, Park – on loan from Manchester City – revealed the advice Everton manager Brian Sorensen gives her after missing opportunities like that. “Calm, calm – pass it in the goal.” It’s good to see she heeds that advice.
But how many more managers will Park work under, especially when it comes to an international perspective? The 20-year-old has shown she can handle the pressure of the big stage, perhaps an England call-up is coming soon.
Perhaps the problem in Park’s way is that there is too much competition for those Lionesses attacking roles, especially among players her age. The likes of Lauren James, Ebony Salmon, Alessia Russo, Ella Toone and Lauren Hamp are all aged 23 and under and will form the next generation of England talent.
But more performances like that, and Park will be too difficult to ignore. As Kelly Smith said: “If she keeps working hard, and she’s got all the vision, technique, pace and power, the world is her oyster.”