Women’s Super League: talking points from the opening weekend’s action

When Arsenal’s forward Vivianne Miedema wrong-footed the 23-year-old defender Jess Carter and slotted in Arsenal’s first goal against Chelsea on Sunday afternoon the problem that haunted the reigning champions at the end of last season was evident at the start of the new one. Injury to the superb Maren Mjelde in March left Chelsea light at the back, not in numbers but in experience. Carter and Niamh Charles shared right-back duties during the run-in and did well but Mjelde’s absence ruptured things. Where Jonna Andersson’s weaknesses had been papered over by the strengths of Mjelde, Millie Bright and Magda Eriksson alongside her, now both flanks were weakened. It was expected that Emma Hayes would add to her squad to plug the holes but their sole defensive recruit was the Dutch youngster Aniek Nouwen. After her backline struggled to contain Arsenal in the 3-2 defeat at the Emirates, Hayes said: “It’s not that we didn’t target players, we just didn’t get the ones that we wanted.” It is rare that Hayes doesn’t get who she wants, but it could prove costly. As Arsenal showed, against the best they will struggle. SW

Match report: Arsenal 3-2 Chelsea

Manchester United may have lost United States superstars Christen Press and Tobin Heath at the end of last season but their young charges provided the impetus of a solid win over Reading on Friday night. United finished one point off third last season and have suffered a high turnover of players and the loss of manager, Casey Stoney, who was frustrated by the lack of commitment shown by the club. Marc Skinner, who returned to England after a spell with Orlando Pride has a big task on his hands to attempt qualify for the Champions League this season. United led the league until Christmas before a spate of injuries ensured their title challenge unravelled. Now, their squad lacks star power and depth in quality but maybe the home grown attacking quartet of Ella Toone, who scored nine times last season, Kirsty Hanson, Leah Galton and Alessia Russo can step up a gear to help United launch a real challenge this season. Against Reading they did just that, with Hanson and Galton providing width and Toone the key to unlocking the Reading defence, providing two assists, the first for Hanson and the second for full-back Ona Batlle. SW

Match report: Manchester United 2-0 Reading

Willie Kirk’s recruitment has been aggressive as Everton look to break the stranglehold that Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have on the top of the table. Nine players have come in and 10 have gone out. High turnover in women’s football is not unusual, in part due to short contract lengths. However, Kirk has added some of Europe’s most exciting talent. There was no better time to play Manchester City, who were missing Ellie Roebuck, Chloe Kelly, Keira Walsh and world player of the year, Lucy Bronze. Ellen White, Lauren Hemp and Georgia Stanway were only fit enough for the bench but Everton crumbled. Gifting space out wide to City by playing with a back three did not work and chaos broke out. Everton swapped to a back four in the second half but at 3-0 down it was too late and City punished them with a fourth. Last season Everton finished 25 points off champions Chelsea and 16 behind third-placed Arsenal, it is a big gap to bridg and looks as wide as ever. SW

Match report: Everton 0-4 Manchester City

Leicester City played well and took the lead against Aston Villa in their first WSL game after being promoted from the Championship. Jonathan Morgan’s side took the lead and Natasha Flint had chances to extend it but the WSL newcomers were punished twice in two minutes in the second half to end up empty handed on opening day. The first Villa goal was a beautiful free-kick from Sarah Mayling but the second was extremely avoidable, Leicester losing the ball at the back straight from kick-off. Moments later it was in the back of their net. “Out of possession we were fantastic,” Morgan said, “a bit wasteful in front of goal which is a bit disappointing, but as you can see by the two goals that were scored, it was 60 seconds of madness.” But that is the difference between the Championship and the WSL. In the former you can often survive moments of madness and still win but that is so much harder in the top flight. MC

Birmingham had a troubled season in 2020-21 but there are hopes that this campaign will be better. Last season the squad felt they were not supported by the club and were not even able to play all their games at home as the FA stepped in and moved them from Damson Park to St George’s Park. Carla Ward was low on numbers and could not even fulfil one of the fixtures, against Tottenham. Ward has left for Villa and been replaced by Scott Booth, who saw his side fall to Tottenham on the opening weekend. The scoreline was 1-0 in the end but Spurs dominated and had 19 attempts compared to Birmingham’s seven. It is far too early to panic and there were positive signs in the second half for Booth’s side but they will want to pick up something from the game against Brighton next weekend in order not to get into a similar downward spiral as last season. MC

Hope Powell has not been shy in stating that Brighton want to kick on this season and take another step closer to the top four. This summer they paid a transfer fee for the first time – to sign Danielle Carter from Reading – and it was the former Arsenal player who set Brighton on their way to victory on the opening day of the season against West Ham, her shot being blocked by the hand of Hawa Cissoko, which led to a penalty and a red card for the Hammers player. Inessa Kaagman stepped up to convert and Lee Geum-min scored the second of a 2-0 win before half-time. Powell was impressed by Carter’s performance, saying: “I thought she did well. She ran the line well and produced some good movement. We need to work on releasing her quicker but she brings so much experience.” MC

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