Everton keep on soaringI don’t know what Everton are feeding their players at their Finch Farm training base, but it is working. Like the men’s team, the women have a 100% record and are flying, with Aston Villa the latest to feel the impact in a 6-0 home defeat. The new signings are coming good: Valerie Gauvin, who joined from Montpellier in the summer, came off the bench to score; Hayley Raso joined in January and has become an important part of the team. When I saw them beat Birmingham last week Nicoline Sørensen, another summer arrival, was also brilliant. They are in the FA Cup final, and it is a pleasure to see my old club back vying for trophies. Willie Kirk, the coach, and his club share a vision, which is to turn the club into one capable of winning the Champions League, and we’re seeing the real impact of their vision now.
City start to purr after scratchy startManchester City started the season unconvincingly, losing the Community Shield to Chelsea, edging Aston Villa and drawing at home to Brighton. But I’ve seen them play twice in the last week and they have certainly moved on. Last Thursday they knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup and the way they rolled over their opponents showed me they had found their groove, with the performance against Tottenham on Sunday confirmation of that. There were so many changes in the close season – a manager moving on after six years with a very settled squad, bringing and bedding in Rose Levelle and Sam Mewis, and then getting Alex Greenwood and Lucy Bronze; it was always going to take them some time to settle. This is a different team to the one I watched in the Community Shield. For Spurs the signs were more worrying: they have conceded four in each of their last two games, first against Arsenal in the FA Cup when it was goalless in the 73rd minute, then against City when it was 1-0 after 50 minutes and 4-0 after 70. Top teams keep the pedal down; Spurs seem to switch off, and they need to stop these capitulations from becoming a habit.
Heath and Press show benefit of overseas influxManchester United are another team who are really blossoming. They have been phenomenal since transitioning into a professional outfit and their improvements over the summer, adding two US internationals in Tobin Heath and Christen Press, and then Lucy Staniforth from Birmingham, have added to the wealth and depth of the squad. This weekend another summer arrival caught the eye in Alessia Russo, who has come back to England after a couple of years in college in America. She was fouled for the early penalty that Ella Toone converted, and scored her first WSL goal in the second half. There has been talk of a quota of international players being adopted either for next season or the one after that, but amid the influx there is also a generation of homegrown young players who are stepping up, revelling in training side by side with the best players in the world. If disillusioned fans of the men’s team want to see a team that is well coached, well motivated and has recruited well, they do not have to go far.
Bristol’s Baggaley provides England with reason for cheerArsenal’s 3-1 victory over Bristol City may not have been as emphatic as their first couple of games of the season but it was no less one-sided. The Gunners had 82% of possession and 24 shots to Bristol’s three and had it not been for Sophie Baggaley in the City goal there could have been seven or eight goals. As a former England goalkeeper it is great to see the depth of competition for the No 1 jersey at the moment – for a while there seemed a void beyond Karen Bardsley, who had a long stint after me, but now there’s Baggaley, Hannah Hampton at Birmingham City, Ellie Roebuck at Manchester City and Earps at United all making a case. As for Arsenal, to to bounce back and dominate in the way the did must have been heartening. The worry is that they are liable to give away goals, and the lack of clean sheets will be a concern.
Birmingham show spirit in defeatBirmingham are one of three teams yet to secure a point and what a job Carla Ward’s got on her hands, coming in just a few weeks before the start of the season with not enough players to put out a full team. So to lose 1-0 to Chelsea is not a bad result, particularly after conceding so early, and their work ethic is encouraging. Chelsea’s squad is at the other end of the scale – their depth is just ridiculous – and even if they crawled over the line in this game rather than sprinting through it, I’m expecting to see them vying for prizes at the end of the season. Losing to Everton in the FA Cup will have come as a shock, and theirs has not been a perfect start to the season, but I have belief in Chelsea: their team, their organisation, their ethos.
Soft-touch West Ham are in troubleAnother defeat for West Ham – this time to Reading – and they now seem to be in real trouble. They have got an eclectic mix of players from across the globe, assembled at some cost and with high expectations, but their performances have been inconsistent at best. Maybe they are just taking a bit of time to gel but I feel like they are making too many defensive errors and are a soft touch. That is taking nothing away from Reading, who have gone through a transformation of late, losing the likes of Jade Moore and Remi Allen and bringing in Jess Fishlock and Natasha Harding; players who have refreshed their team and their outlook. They have got their toughness back. West Ham need to do likewise, and quick.
Watch the biggest season of women’s football yet on BT Sport, with at least 22 live Barclays FA WSL matches – including Spurs v Man Utd on Sat 10 October on BT Sport 3 from midday.