Women's Super League: talking points from the weekend's action

Every Women’s Super League game over the weekend was shown live, with kick-offs staggered to allow each one to get its share of attention. Make no mistake, that share is growing. Last week the WSL’s new £8m-a-season, three-year broadcasting deal with Sky and the BBC was announced, another huge step forward for the league. BT Sport might have been outbid for the new contract, but it is important to acknowledge the contribution they have made by taking the rights when nobody else wanted them, investing heavily, and establishing demand for coverage of domestic women’s football to the point where those rights are now hotly contested. Five years ago you would have struggled to find any domestic games on television, and now they are regularly going to be on the BBC’s main channels. The game continues to move so fast, and only in one direction.

For the first time ever, Manchester United’s women played at Old Trafford. It was a historic moment even if there were no fans there to witness it, and Lauren James, Reece’s little sister, scored their first ever goal there with a deft header before Christen Press got the second. United need every point they can get as they fight to stay ahead of Arsenal in the race for the third and final Champions League spo. The Gunners are three points behind them but with a game in hand and much better goal difference, but whatever the final outcome this has been an impressive season for United. The same cannot be said of West Ham, who seem to be disappearing in a puff of smoke. They are a team with no identity, after changing their manager and several players during the season. They are now bottom of the league and in a real fight against relegation – and it is hard to be optimistic when fight is not a word you would associate with them. There will have to be a huge inquest into what has happened at West Ham this season, whether they go down or not.

After a dismal performance in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona, which they lost 3-0, Gareth Taylor will have wanted to see a big response from his team. Instead they took 87 minutes to find a way through Reading’s resolute defence, with Lauren Hemp squaring for Chloe Kelly’s late winner. Reading beat Manchester United last month, and got points against both City and Arsenal at home, but they need to be more consistent against the teams around them in the table if they are to push for Europe next season. Taylor now has to find a way to motivate his side to attempt a miracle comeback in Wednesday’s second leg against Barça. He got it tactically wrong in the first game, dropping off and allowing the opposition space to play. The prospect of keeping a clean sheet and scoring three or more goals seems far-fetched, but they must go into the game with hope.

Beating Manchester United earlier this month has reinvigorated Arsenal and securing the third Champions League spot is now a realistic aim once again. Arsenal have been a powerhouse of the English women’s game for years now, and before the season started they would have considered failure to qualify for Europe almost unthinkable, but this season has been a reality check. They have a small squad, which manager Joe Montemurro says he prefers, but when you look at the group that Emma Hayes has at her disposal at Chelsea it is clear that Arsenal are not able to compete on all fronts without further investment. The fact that United have been able to catch them within three years should be another incentive for them to push on. There is a lot of quality there though, with Kim Little and Jordan Nobbs back in the team, and Vivianne Miedema scored a beautiful volley, the highlight of Saturday’s comfortable derby win over Spurs.

Within the space of a month Everton have scored three to win at Spurs, four to beat Birmingham, and five at Brighton on Sunday. For a team that has often struggled to score goals these are big results. Hayley Raso’s perfect hat-trick helped move Everton clear of Brighton, and seven points behind Arsenal in fourth. Brighton are also making progress, from finishing ninth last year to being sixth now. Hope Powell’s side really went at this game, andleft themselves uncharacteristically open in defence. There is talk of a second-tier European club competition for women, and these two are the kind of teams who would be hugely incentivised if that were to happen.

Last week Chelsea finally beat Wolfsburg in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final. They rode their luck at times, and the German side’s away goal in un 2-1 la sconfitta means Wednesday’s second leg will be anything but comfortable. Regardless of the final outcome, Chelsea’s first-leg win was significant. Wolfsburg are one of the giants of Europe and the Blues had never beaten them. I remember when England’s women had never beaten Germany and it became like a mental block. It is hard to understand how hard it is to get over that, whether in an individual or a team sport, and this victory could be very powerful and allow a positive mentality shift. Il 2-0 WSL win over Aston Villa was less of a surprise. Emma Hayes made six changes but stuck with the Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby partnership in attack. Kerr scored both goals to keep Villa deep in a relegation battle.

With Birmingham City winless at home and relegation rivals Bristol City without an away win this season, un 1-1 draw was an expected and probably fair result. With Tanya Oxtoby on maternity leave, Matt Beard’s appointment as interim manager has rallied Bristol City, who have climbed to 10th. With the bottom three teams separated by just two points and Birmingham a further two clear, this relegation battle will go right to the wire.

Watch the biggest season of women’s football yet on BT Sport, with at least 22 live women’s football matches across the season. Visit bt.com/sport

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