Women’s Super League: talking points from the weekend’s action
A quick scan of the weekend’s results will have left a lot of people open mouthed but the biggest shock came at Kingsmeadow where Brighton’s 2-1 win ended Chelsea’s 33-game WSL unbeaten run.
Emma Hayes has assembled a squad deep in quality as she challenges on all fronts but was Chelsea’s manager too cavalier in changing three of her back five against Hope Powell’s side? In total, Hayes rotated six of her starting lineup, leaving a host of influential, experienced internationals on the bench.
Australia’s Sam Kerr did start and as she headed the fifth-minute opener – her 10th goal in 13 games – WSL fans will have expected Chelsea’s world class superstars to cruise to another comfortable victory.
But only three minutes later Aileen Whelan headed Brighton level and it was game on. Like Hayes, Powell is one of the pioneers of women’s coaching and, in her former post as England manager, she not only saw that role turned into a full-time salaried position for the first time but prided herself on defensive organisation. Solidity at the back is the default mode of Powell’s teams and, having equalised, it served Brighton well.
Hayes eventually began bringing on international talent in Ji So-yun, Pernille Harder, Fran Kirby – who, like Ji, starts almost every game – and Maren Mjelde but Brighton remained steadfast, with Hope’s gameplan negating everything thrown at them.
As Chelsea chased a winner, their manager’s wholesale defensive changes were highlighted, with a new-found fragility exposed as Megan Connolly’s corner evaded both the home defence and Carly Telford before creeping in at the far post.
The defending champions will be shaken but it served as a reminder that no WSL team can be underestimated, no result is pre-destined – and that Ji is vitally important to Hayes. The South Korean midfielder has been virtually omnipresent since arriving in 2014 and Chelsea really missed their pivot’s ability to receive the ball from the back before seamlessly turning defence into attack.
Manchester United unwilling contributors to great day for league’s competitiveness
Reading emphasised the WSL’S new-found competitiveness by finally translating a positive performance into actual points. Manchester United remain behind Chelsea merely on goal difference but will be kicking themselves for missing out on the chance to return to top spot. Casey Stoney’s team were unbeaten at home since last January but felt the absence of their injured United States midfielder Tobin Heath acutely during a tactical masterclass from Kelly Chambers as Reading won 2-0. When United’s Ella Toone hit the post and Grace Maloney brilliantly saved Leah Galton’s point-blank volley you felt it might be the visitors’ day and, sure enough, Stoney’s team came undone at two set pieces. First Emma Mitchell’s in-swinging corner caused mayhem and was nodded home by Natasha Harding before a second Mitchell set piece enabled Danielle Carter to head home.
Taylor benefits from tailoring his approach
Manchester City’s 2-1 win at Arsenal not only leaves Gareth Taylor’s team third, two points behind Chelsea and United, but suggests he is seeing the benefits of reflecting on his coaching style and adjusting it accordingly. City started the season slowly but it was always going to be difficult for a new manager to come in and change the team’s philosophy after seven years under Nick Cushing. Taylor’s previous job was as a men’s youth coach at City and, while most young players do what they’re told, an autocratic approach rarely works with senior professionals. A City squad full of experienced internationals and players of the calibre of Lucy Bronze will have opinions, will have voiced them and will want to be heard. It appears that, after a period of adjustment, Taylor has probably learnt a lot.
Communicating in the right way is vital for coaches but all managers will struggle if their squad is too small. Joe Montemurro’s Arsenal are now fourth, seven points behind City and, despite their talent, fading away from the top three. It’s frustrating to see but they maybe need to question their small squad philosophy. Arsenal looked at other teams making summer signings and said they didn’t need a big squad. Maybe that was really about the budget but it dictates they are no longer the powerhouse of the past. In contrast, City’s Ellen White remains at the peak of her powers. When she connected with Chloe Kelly’s early cross it looked no more than a half chance but the England striker’s sublime half volley was perfectly executed and textbook in every way. Although Caitlin Foord equalised, Kelly created City’s winner for Lauren Hemp as Taylor’s adjustment continued apace.
Portfolio manager can be a role model mentor
Mana Iwabuchi’s signing represented a real coup for Aston Villa’s sporting director Eni Aluko and the Japan international’s goal was enough to beat Tottenham 1-0 on Saturday as Villa suggested they have turned a corner since Marcus Bignot’s appointment as manager with Gemma Davies reverting to head coach.
Eyebrows were raised but Bignot should accelerate Davies’s development. She’s a brilliant coach but, being so young, lacks experience. As a former QPR defender and Birmingham women’s manager currently juggling a couple of part time men’s coaching roles, Bignot has an abundance of knowledge to pass on. Davies did not deserve to be sacked and she will become a better leader, faster, after being mentored by Villa’s new “Portfolio manager”.