We are here at a landmark moment when it comes to women’s football in this country. Men’s football remains dominant but Sky Sports showing the WSL and starting to give it the coverage it deserves is a step in the right direction. Including Lauren James to Chelsea and Nikita Parris to Arsenal, there were some immense WSL signings this window. With the first round of games behind us, here is the first WSL weekly review of the season!
Man United 2-0 Reading
This was the season opener for the WSL and this Manchester United side are very different to the one who finished last season. They are going to have to adjust to life quickly without manager Casey Stoney as well as key players such as Tobin Heath, Christen Press and Lauren James, especially if they want to continue to pose a threat to the big three. The new guy in charge is Marc Skinner who arrives from NWSL side Orlando Pride and Reading were the visitors in his first game in charge. There were a number of debuts on both sides of the field: Hannah Blundell and Aoife Mannion having joined Man United from Chelsea and Man City respectively whilst Peplow from Spurs and Gemma Evans from the relegated Bristol City for the Royals.
It was a fairly even first thirty minutes but to see Ella Toone provide the magic for a breakthrough is far from a shock. She slid in Kirsty Hanson who then showed the composure to score the very first goal of this new-look WSL season, past Grace Moloney. The second goal of the game on the scoreline anyway went the way of the hosts again, but were Reading hard done by? Brooke Chaplen thundered a shot off of the underside of the bar and with the benefit of replays, we as viewers could just about decipher that the ball crossed the line. There is no goal-line technology in the WSL though and so the goal was not given, Toone providing a second assist at the other end a couple of minutes later to rub salt into the wounds. The Lioness laid it off for Ona Batlle who curled a marvellous shot in to extend her team’s advantage. It was good to see Alessia Russo come off the bench and back into action following a nasty hamstring last term. It remains to be seen if Reading’s season will be defined by games against the likes of Man United whereas this is a good start, one which can be built off of, for Skinner’s side.
Everton 0-4 Manchester City
There was no Karen Bardsley or Ellie Roebuck for Manchester City and so it was a rare WSL start in goal for Karima Benamuer. There were debuts for Hayley Raso against her former club, Vicky Losada and Khadija Shaw too. On the other side, for Willie Kirk’s Everton, it was a second debut for Toni Duggan plus Izzy Christiansen was in action against a former side of hers. Gabbie George starting and being back from injury is a welcome sight for sure, injuries have ravaged her career to date.
Olympic gold medallist Janine Beckie was the threat for Man City early on at Goodison Park down that left side. It was Losada who opened the scoring though, the Spaniard seemed to have taken too long but she whipped the ball in off of the woodwork, well out of the reach of Sandy MacIver. It wasn’t long before one became two courtesy of Canadian Beckie, she drove inside and picked out the bottom corner. Jamaican Khadija Shaw got in on the act too on her debut, it was an easy finish in truth courtesy of a Hayley Raso assist. 3-0 at the break to the away side and the gulf in class was evident, even though big things are expected of this Everton side. Changes were made throughout the second half, up and coming Swede Hannah Bennison entering the fray for Everton as well as City easing the likes of Ellen White and Georgia Stanway back into the action. Beckie nonchalantly struck the bar whilst Steph Houghton curled home a trademark free-kick to make it 4-0 in the second half. Benameur made some good saves to maintain her clean sheet but there was a clear talent divide between the pair. A scary thought when you consider that Lauren Hemp, White and Stanway were on the bench plus neither of the two main keepers featuring at all amongst others.
Arsenal 3-2 Chelsea
The final televised game of the weekend was set to be the best of the lot. Arsenal vs Chelsea, two London rivals, two title rivals, going toe-to-toe in the theatrical settings of the Emirates. Arsenal were one of my teams to watch across the continent giving the mass changes taking place. Chelsea are the defending champions under Emma Hayes and the strength in her ranks is evident when you see two of the dreaded trio on the bench. Last season’s player of the season Fran Kirby and top scorer Sam Kerr began on the sidelines, as did Arsenal’s new arrival Nikita Parris with Tobin Heath not featuring at all. That being said, with Mana Iwabuchi and Vivianne Miedema on one side, Beth England and Pernille Harder on the other, it was a mouth-watering prospect in front of an 8,000 plus crowd in the London sunshine.
Vivianne Miedema won’t have been too impressed to see Kerr steal her throne last term and so she got the season up and running for the Gunners. Katie McCabe played it down the line for the Dutch star and she cut inside on Jess Carter, firing into the bottom corner of Ann-Katrin Berger’s goal. Chelsea were knocking on the door afterwards and they found a leveller just before the break, Cuthbert left in space in the area and she fired home, low and hard. Just after half-time, Beth Mead was sent beyond Bright and Eriksson. When it seemed she had waited too long, she unleashed a strike to restore the Gunners’ lead. Berger denied Mead a quickfire brace but she did eventually make it two. There was a hint of offside but she got on to the end of Mana’s through-ball, rounding Berger and doubling Arsenal’s lead. Amongst this, Sophie Ingle, Kerr and Kirby were introduced plus Jonas Eidevall sent on Nikita Parris. Pernille Harder made it 3-2 with her head but the Champions League finalists couldn’t find that elusive equalizer. The final whistle was meant with an outpouring of emotion from the fans, the players and most notably, Eidevall. He sunk to his knees and let out a roar, what a great start to his tenure.
Player of the week- Beth Mead
It is easy enough to just say Beth Mead is my player of the week from the WSL due to her netting a brace. She did obviously score twice but her performance at the Emirates went well beyond that. Her movement was impeccable in and around the Chelsea defence, she did tend to hug the touchline last season but seeing the likes of Mead and Vivianne Miedema intertwine constantly was a great joy. It is only one game but Arsenal look exciting under Jonas Eidevall already, there is a plethora of attacking talent at the Swede’s disposal and Mead showed that she shouldn’t be overlooked in favour of the new arrivals.