WSL Gameweek 3 preview: Russo, Hayes & Williamson missing for Man Utd, Chelsea & Arsenal

Alessia Russo, Emma Hayes and Leah Williamson will all be absent
Alessia Russo, Emma Hayes and Leah Williamson will all be absent / Naomi Baker | James Gill - Danehouse | Harriet Lander/Getty Images)

The WSL is back this weekend following a three-week international and Continental Cup break.

Three teams are looking to maintain their perfect starts to the season, and three are attempting to get their first points on the board.

Here's everything to look out for during gameweek three of the WSL.

Battle of the mid-table high fliers

Alisha Lehmann, Rachel Daly
Aston Villa have impressed thus far this season / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Aston Villa have won two from two this term, but manager Carla Ward has branded Saturday's clash with West Ham 'the biggest game of the season so far'.

Having stunned a new look Manchester City and edged past relegation candidates Leicester, the visit of a very similarly matched Hammers side may offer the truest test of where the Villans could end up this season.

Having recorded their best ever WSL finish of sixth last term, West Ham are a team that Villa can hope to emulate this year. The two teams will likely be battling it out for a spot in and around the top six this season, and Saturday's encounter could offer an insight into who will finish higher.

Aston Villa vs West Ham

  • When is kick off? Saturday 15 October, 12:30 (BST)
  • Where is the match being played? Banks's Stadium
  • TV channel/live stream? FA Player (UK, international)
  • Referee? Cheryl Foster

Can Manchester United cope without Alessia Russo?

Alessia Russo
United are with Russo for Sunday's fixture / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Alessia Russo will miss Manchester United’s clash with former club Brighton due to careful management of her fitness - she was also ruled out of England’s games against the United States and Czech Republic during the international break.

The 23-year-old has been a crucial player for United ever since she made the ‘number nine’ role her own in the early weeks of last season and her absence will be a blow.

But the test against Brighton is whether United can cope without her. Marc Skinner will hope the answer is yes, having specifically gone after attacking players during the summer to boost squad depth. Chances are, Russo will be replaced by an international player – Nikita Parris, Adriana Leon or Martha Thomas – who should still be good enough to make the necessary impact.

Man Utd vs Brighton

  • When is kick off? Sunday 16 October, 12:00 (BST)
  • Where is the match being played? Leigh Sports Village
  • TV channel/livestream? BBC Two/iPlayer (UK),FA Player (international)
  • What time does coverage start? 11:45 (BST)
  • Referee? Emily Heaslip

How will Chelsea fare without Emma Hayes?

Emma Hayes
Emma Hayes is taking a break from football to recover from surgery / James Gill - Danehouse/GettyImages

Chelsea's clash with Everton on Sunday will be their first without Emma Hayes following her announcement that she would be taking a break from football to recover from an emergency hysterectomy.

Hayes has been instrumental to Chelsea's recent dominance of English football, but stated that the club's multidisciplinary approach would enable them to cope in her absence. Assistant boss Denise Reddy and general manager Paul Green will take care of on-field decisions.

"It's business as usual for us, it just means our leader won't be there which is a blow, but the staff and the players are experienced enough to get through the situation," said Green. "We've got Magda [Eriksson], Millie [Bright] - the two captains - along with a lot of other senior players who I'm sure will be making sure the players maintain their standards and look to get the results through this period for Emma."

Everton vs Chelsea

  • When is kick off? Sunday 16 October, 13:00 (BST)
  • Where is the match being played? Walton Hall Park
  • TV channel/live stream? FA Player (UK, international)
  • Referee? Lauren Impey

Can Tottenham or Liverpool improve their creativity?

Katie Stengel
Liverpool are yet to score from open play this season / Lewis Storey/GettyImages

Tottenham and Liverpool both opened their 2022/23 WSL seasons with a win, but Brisbane Road won't be the place to go for goals galore this weekend if the stats are anything to go by.

No side has had fewer shots on target in the WSL than Liverpool this term. The Reds have registered just three shots on target in two games - with two of these three being Katie Stengel's pair of penalties against Chelsea.

Tottenham meanwhile are the only WSL side with an expected goals total of fewer than one this season. Both of Spurs' goals this term have come from outside the box, and they boast an xG of just 0.4.

Tottenham vs Liverpool

  • When is kick off? Sunday 16 October, 14:00 (BST)
  • Where is the match being played? Brisbane Road
  • TV channel/live stream? FA Player (UK, international)
  • Referee? Abigail Byrne

WSL's winless sides go head to head

Chloe Kelly
City are currently winless in the WSL / Naomi Baker/GettyImages

There are just three WSL sides without a league win thus far this season - and two of them go head-to-head at the Academy Stadium on Sunday as Manchester City host Leicester.

City have never lost their opening three matches in a WSL season, while Leicester are in a torrid run of form, taking just one point from their last 10.

“We’re not here to get rolled over, we’ll put up a fight to get something from it," said Lydia Bedford. "We’ll never underestimate them, they are a top team with top players, but it’s 11 vs 11 and our players will be ready.”

Manchester City vs Leicester

  • When is kick off? Sunday 16 October, 14:00 (BST)
  • Where is the match being played? Academy Stadium
  • TV channel/live stream?  FA Player (UK, international)
  • Referee? Farai Hallam

How will Arsenal handle defensive injuries?

Leah Williamson
Arsenal are without Williamson and centre back partner Rafaelle / Clive Rose/GettyImages

Arsenal are set to be without first choice centre back pairing Rafaelle and Leah Williamson for several weeks due to injury - news that sent concerns of history repeating itself to Arsenal supporters.

The Gunners stuttered towards the latter stages of 2021 when Williamson was sidelined with a hamstring injury, and a depleted Arsenal side were beaten by winless Birmingham in January - a result that would ultimately cost them the WSL title last season.

"We have some team values that it's really important for us to live; we want to be 100%, we want to be fearless in our approach and we want to put the team first. None of that changes if we get one, two, three, four injuries or have unavailable players," said Jonas Eidevall.

"Then it's about always finding ways where we can play the best as a team. And that might change on the personnel that we have available. I learned something from that period last year: when we are playing with different players, we might need to tweak some of our priorities to play to these players' strengths."

Reading vs Arsenal

  • When is kick off?  Sunday 16 October, 18:45 (BST)
  • Where is the match being played?  Madejski Stadium
  • TV channel/live stream?  Sky Sports Football (UK), FA Player (international)
  • What time does coverage start?  18:30 (BST)
  • Referee? Louise Saunders