West Ham's battling defeat to Man City shows how WSL gap is closing

Ali Rampling
Yui Hasegawa impressed for West Ham against Manchester City
Yui Hasegawa impressed for West Ham against Manchester City / Jacques Feeney/GettyImages

Chelsea's 9-0 win over Leicester last weekend is the kind of emphatic victory that has routinely populated previous WSL seasons.

The chasm in class between the cluster of teams at the league summit and the remainder of the division has long been one of the WSL's pitfalls - and this is mirrored across Europe.

Across the 2019/20 and 2020/21 campaigns, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea were beaten a grand total of twice by teams outside of the WSL's top three; Arsenal's 1-0 loss to Manchester United, and Chelsea's 2-1 defeat to Brighton.

Things have been refreshingly different this season, with Reading, Brighton, Tottenham and West Ham all taking points from Chelsea, City, Arsenal and United. The 2021/22 campaign has consistently been branded the most competitive in the division's history.

The increased competitiveness of the WSL was emphasised in City's 2-0 victory over West Ham on Saturday - a fixture from which the Hammers could very easily have come away with a draw had they taken their chances, with both Adriana Leon and Claudia Walker seeing unchallenged headers go the wrong side of the woodwork in either half.

"The difference today was the decision making in the final third," said West Ham boss Olli Harder. "There were so many really good moments but we didn’t pull the trigger or misplaced the pass. That’s a good City team and we made them earn their money today."

While certain upsets this season have seen the underdog sit back, absorb pressure and win the game with a rare sighting of goal - Reading had 23% possession during their 2-0 win over Chelsea in December - this was not the case on Saturday.

West Ham went toe to toe with City and matched them for large parts, the classy Yui Hasegawa the beating heart of their thoroughly impressive display. Centre back Lucy Parker was deployed at right wing back following just two training sessions in the role, but looked completely at home, hardly giving the usually destructive Lauren Hemp an inch.

"We are a team that can compete, and we’ve shown that again today," Harder added. "But to beat a team or to get results against teams like this, there’s still a lot of work to do. And that’s not a West Ham thing, that’s a rest of the table thing.

"So we’re getting much closer and that’s the goal to begin with, and it’s fantastic that we’re able to compete now and it’s not looking at scores that are cricket scores. So really fantastic from that aspect. To consistently pick up points and beat teams like this, there’s still pieces of the puzzle to put in place."