Stoney out-thinks Taylor in thrilling derby draw
Following on from last season’s success, the WSL used the men’s international weekend to schedule three huge games, and were rewarded with a scintillating set of high-level thrillers. In the UK, 250,000 people watched the Manchester derby, and I’m excited to see the figures for the US – rights have been bought by NBC.
To the football itself, and what a game! Though United are in just their third season, the rivalry is already deep, with tackles flying in and badges being kissed. In the first half, both teams pressed high, which suited City’s one-touch, pass-and-move style, and they were good value for their 2-0 half-time lead.
So Casey Stoney ordered her team to sit off and mark tight, forcing City to take more touches on the ball. Then, the second Tobin Heath felt the player in possession panic, starved of passing options, she triggered the press and United hunted the turnover.
Stoney also replaced Jess Sigworth with Kirsty Hanson, asking her to stay high up the pitch after watching Sigworth spend the first half tracking Demi Stokes, City’s left-back. This pushed Stokes back while, on the other flank, Heath won her epic battle with Lucy Bronze, scoring a spectacular equaliser. Last season, United were hard to beat, losing 1-0 to Arsenal, Chelsea and City, but they now have the attacking flair which elevates them from Champions League possibles to championship contenders.
City also take a lot of credit – their first-half display was outstanding, and probably the best they’ve played this season. But they struggled as soon as United stopped playing into their hands, and Gareth Taylor was far too slow to recognise what was happening.
Montemurro rethinks but Chelsea salvage a draw
This was another game of exceptional quality. Under Joe Montemurro, Arsenal play 4-3-3 and look to dominate their opposition, but on Sunday he switched to 4-2-3-1, asking his players to trust the gameplan and stay patient, essentially looking to do to Chelsea what Manchester United did to his team.
So Arsenal sat narrow and deep, working their arses off to win the 10-yard sprints to loose balls before springing into attack – usually from a turnover, with Jill Roord and Kim Little suffocating Chelsea before pinging balls out to Vivianne Miedema down the left. Though the approach nearly worked, it���s hard not to wonder whether they have the squad-depth to sustain a challenge on all fronts – a recurring theme over the last few years.
Chelsea were really good in the first half, Ji So-yun in particular. They too needed to stay patient, unable to play their usual game of drawing teams in then spreading play wide, and sneaking a point after going behind with four minutes left will have left them on a high – though they should have stolen all three, except Sam Kerr hooked wide with only the keeper to beat.
Ballsy Birmingham have earned help
Birmingham continue to defy logic, delivering another shock result – thanks in significant part to Hannah Hampton, one of several young, talented English goalkeepers, and Claudia Walker, whose winning goal was her fifth this season. City started this game with just two players on the bench, and my fear is that they won’t be able to complete the season. That would be a disaster – Carla Ward has done a great job in very little time. But she needs the backing of the club as whole, and though she shouldn’t have to earn it, she has.
Villa Women, on the other hand, are extremely well-supported, and it was great to see this game played at Villa Park. But they still look like a Championship side – which is where they’re headed if they don’t start taking chances and seeing games out.
Powell influences in absentia
Though Hope Powell is self-isolating, Brighton still looked like a Hope Powell side: narrow, pragmatic and anti-flair. In a 22-game season, wins make a huge difference, and this one, secured by Rianna Jarrett’s first WSL goal, could be crucial. And her post-match interview was great, showing a humble and committed player who, following the best moment of her career, took time to explain that, though their manager was missing, everyone knew their jobs.
Everton off the pace but on the right track
Helped by a favourable fixture list, Everton won their first four games and will be disappointed not to have beaten Reading. But, though they’re a way off the best teams, they’re going in the right direction, having restructured to integrate with the men’s side. Things are very different to when I played for the club.
Reading, meanwhile, were conceding too many, but now look more solid. Kelly Chambers’ disappointment with a draw shows how far they’ve come.
Neville’s success a true joy
Bristol City’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham was a great effort from the home side, who were without five players in losing 8-1 to Man City last week, and without their manager this week. They could easily have felt sorry for themselves, but fought hard for their first point of the season and now have a winnable run of games to attack.
Spurs’ second goal was scored by Ashleigh Neville who, at 27, left her career as a special educational needs teacher to chase her dream of playing professional football. She retains a huge passion for her former job, staying in touch with the kids she worked with, and it’s great to see her doing well.