Over the weekend, we saw the highly anticipated return of the Barclays FA WSL in style with a Manchester derby setting the stage on Saturday and a London derby opening the day of football on Sunday.
Newly promoted Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur played two of the league’s top three in Manchester City and Chelsea respectively, but their resilience and ability to go toe to toe with these show that the gulf in class between WSL sides is rapidly shrinking and setting the scene for perhaps the league’s most exciting season yet.
Around the grounds
Chelsea 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur
One of three games played at the ‘main’ stadiums over the weekend, Stamford Bridge hosted a fantastic 24,564 people in the early afternoon of Sunday, and the atmosphere was electric from start to finish.
When Chelsea took the lead in the fourth minute of the game thanks to a leathering strike from Beth England it looked like Spurs could be in for a long afternoon. Halfway through the first half however, they seemed to find their feet and gain more control over the game – even pushing forward and giving themselves excellent opportunities to get on the scoresheet.
First, Kit Graham's strike was pushed into the penalty area by Berger, but no Spurs attacker could react quickly enough to capitalise.
Second, Rachel Furness, on loan from Reading, was played through on goal and managed to squeeze a shot away from a tight angle, but Berger was equal to it.
All that lacked from Spurs’ performance was that clinical edge in front of goal, an issue that could be resolved by the return of attacker Rianna Dean, who missed out yesterday due to injury.
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Despite their persistence, Chelsea still had their fair share of opportunities to put the game to bed, but Becky Spencer put on an impressive display in the Spurs goal, making some crucial saves. In a moment of madness and a “how did that not go in?!”, the Blues did hit both the crossbar and post in quick succession before it was scrambled away.
The game finished with just one goal between the two sides, a testament to how far Spurs have come since being promoted from the Championship. The goal that secured the three points was nothing short of spectacular.
Manchester City 1-0 Manchester United
The Manchester derby kicked off the WSL season and – to put it bluntly – they smashed WSL attendance records as just over 31,000 people attended the game at the Etihad, just across the road from their usual stadium (CFA), which has a capacity of 7,000.
The football itself wasn’t exactly scintillating stuff for the well-hyped game, but the tone, early challenges and generally fiery atmosphere definitely had the feel of a derby – albeit the first of the WSL era between these two sides.
United went into the break the happier side after spending the first 45 establishing themselves and they even had opportunities to take the lead, the best of which fell to Jane Ross who – though she should’ve buried it – was denied by a tremendous save from Ellie Roebuck. The City keeper proved why she’s more than capable of filling Karen Bardsley’s role.
But it was to be a blistering strike from Caroline Weir just minutes into the second half that would break the deadlock. Her effort flew across goal and beyond Mary Earps, who was left with no chance due to the sheer pace Weir generated on her shot.
The closest United came to equalising was from new signing Jackie Groenen who, after a winding run, had a clearance deflect off her and hit the post. Despite not being able to score, Groenen was a class above everyone else the pitch from her creativity to defensive dominance – quickly becoming a fan favourite.
Arsenal 2-1 West Ham United
The defending WSL champions kicked off their defence of the league title at home to London rivals West Ham United.
Arsenal had an impressive first half and opened the scoring through Beth Mead, who fired into the corner. Mead was involved once again when she received the ball in the penalty area and held it up well before laying it off to Jill Roord to slot away on her league debut. It looked like business as usual at Meadow Park.
The second half didn’t quite go to plan, though. Between losing possession, miscommunication and the evident absence of striker Vivianne Miedema – who missed out through injury – it just wasn’t their half.
On the other hand, it was a sharp second-half display from Matt Beard’s side as they piled on the pressure and forced Arsenal into a lot of mistakes. They finally got themselves on the scoresheet shortly after the break thanks to a lovely ball from Erin Simon which was met by a thundering header from new signing Martha Thomas.
There were two chances for West Ham to equalise – the first rattled the post from a free-kick, while the second bounced off the crossbar from an indirect free-kick following a back pass.
West Ham will feel unlucky they weren’t able to convert their best chances but encouraged by that second-half display. After a slightly shambolic second half, Arsenal can be encouraged by performances from Leah Williamson and new signing Leonie Maier, who in spite of that second half, were both standouts.
Birmingham City 0-1 Everton
Birmingham always looked likely to struggle this season given their mass squad overhaul during the summer – but they lost to Everton despite dominating the game.
Birmingham saw a healthy 64% of the possession but failed to materialise anything from it, lacking that clinical edge in front of goal. A real bright spark for them, however, was new signing Brianna Visalli. The midfielder was their biggest attacking threat and was always looking to make things happen whenever she got the ball; this included always running at defenders and putting dangerous balls into the box.
Everton put a lot of pressure on Birmingham’s backline and created some excellent chances, but Hampton proved to be vital in keeping her side in the game. All of that pressure eventually paid off when the ball was deflected into the back of her net by Kerys Harrop to give Everton the lead and finally the three points.
While both of these sides could potentially struggle in the league this season, this game showcased what they both have to offer, and that includes some exhilarating, attacking football.
Liverpool 0-1 Reading
These two clubs should comfortably secure a mid-table finish come to the end of the season, though the latter could arguably be a title challenger.
Reading started the game brightly forcing Preuss into a brilliant early save; with the Liverpool goalkeeper coming to their rescue on more than one occasion through the match. The hosts had opportunities in the first half to take the lead, the best of which came from Melissa Lawley’s header which Reading’s Grace Moloney was equal to.
A Fara Williams moment of magic just before the break saw her free-kick fly into the top corner, giving Preuss no chance. In a weekend full of incredible goals, Williams’ was right up there.
Liverpool had chances to level the score in the second half, in one instance Courtney Sweetman-Kirk was played in on goal by a beautiful ball over the top from Niamh Fahey, but a heavy touch allowed Moloney to come out and collect the ball. Babajide’s introduction late on was a promising sign as she offered the Reds a new dynamic going forward – quickly establishing herself as a threat on goal.
Bristol City 0-0 Brighton & Hove Albion
Bristol v Brighton was the only game this weekend without a goal, partly thanks to excellent goalkeeping on display.
It was Brighton who had the better first half, with Aileen Whelan and Lea La Garrec linking up well to threaten Baggaley’s goal. Just before half time, Brighton were awarded a penalty after Gemma Evans brought down Whelan in the area. To Bristol and Evans’ relief, Baggaley palmed the penalty away well to keep things level going in at the break.
Bristol found their feet in the second half and started to create chances well with both Olivia Chance and Ebony Salmon coming close to grabbing late winners. Chance’s effort was pushed away well by Walsh, but the keeper was thoroughly beaten by Salmon’s cross which rattled off the crossbar.
An exciting attacking display matched by brilliant goalkeeping made for an entertaining opening game in front of just over 3,000 – in the end, a draw seemed a fair result with Brighton feeling as though they should’ve just edged the game.
- 15.09.19 Reading v Manchester City
- 15.09.19 Everton v Bristol City
- 15.09.19 Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool
- 15.09.19 Brighton & Hove Albion v Chelsea
- 15.09.19 West Ham United v Birmingham City
- 16.09.19 Manchester United v Arsenal