WSL Takeaways From Gameweek 4 of the 2020/21 Season

Sam Kerr, Millie Bright
Chelsea & Man City went head to head in latest round of WSL fixtures | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

The Women’s Super League returned for gameweek four of the new season on Saturday and Sunday. The 2020/21 campaign is starting to take shape and clubs up and down the league begin to better find their levels.

Here’s a look at seven takeaways from the latest round of action.

West Ham in Danger

Rachel Daly, Nicoline Sørensen
West Ham are struggling in the WSL this season | Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Birmingham’s shock win at Reading changed things at the bottom end of the WSL table, with West Ham looking in an increasingly precarious position thanks to Sunday’s defeat by Everton.

The Hammers’ recent Squad Goals series aired on BBC platforms shed light on a likeable group of players, several of whom have since left the club, but a very difficult fixture list to start 2020/21 has left them looking nervously over their shoulder.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this because the summer business looked promising, especially with the captures of Rachel Daly and Emily van Egmond on short-term deals from Orlando Pride. But three back-to-back defeats after an opening day draw with Tottenham leaves confidence low.

Things won’t get any easier next week, with Manchester United the last game before the WSL breaks again for October internationals. Stewing on potentially four consecutive defeats is the last thing that coach Matt Beard will want.

What might ultimately save them is that at least one other team this season will be worse.

Tottenham Desperately Need Morgan

alex morgan
Alex Morgan is yet to play for Tottenham | Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

Tottenham’s summer capture of USWNT superstar and all-round women’s football icon Alex Morgan trumped every other high profile deal in the WSL in terms of pure magnitude. It was huge for the club’s profile and exposure, especially to an international audience and lifted the lid on the ambition that exists at a developing women’s club.

But while Morgan impact off the pitch is enormous, Spurs desperately await her impact on it.

It remains to be seen when the two-time World Cup winner will actually make her debut as she continues to work her way back to full fitness after giving birth to her first child in May.

Morgan was named on the bench but didn’t play when Spurs faced Arsenal in the heavily quarter-final of last season’s FA Cup, yet otherwise hasn’t been involved so far. That was especially felt on Saturday against Manchester United when her teammates lacked any kind of attacking edge and failed to muster a single shot on target throughout the 90 minutes.

Morgan won’t be a long-term solution for Spurs because of her short-term arrangement, but a team that has only scored twice in four games needs a player of her quality more than ever.

Heath Impact Felt by Man Utd

Tobin Heath
Tobin Heath has made Man Utd better already | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Manchester United probably deserved to win by more than a single goal against Spurs, given the amount of chances they created in the game. Most of that came through summer signing and USWNT superstar Tobin Heath, who was making her full WSL debut.

Heath got an assist off the bench on her debut last week and marked her first league start in United colours with another assist, swinging in the corner that Millie Turner headed in. The 32-year-old also had a chance to score one of her own and created other opportunities.

International colleague Christen Press also started in the WSL for the first time and United staff, players and fans will be increasingly confident that their joint impact and tremendous boost in attacking quality will be what pushes the club much closer to the ‘Big Three’ this season.

Having played first this weekend, United finished Saturday top of the WSL table and are even now only two points off the top and one of four remaining unbeaten sides.

Arsenal 2018/19 Déjà Vu

Four weeks into the season and Arsenal are top of the table on a run of result that feels somewhat reminiscent of their blistering start to the 2018/19 campaign, when they won the title.

So many of the headlines over summer were about Chelsea and Manchester City because of the summer signings each club made, but it is the Gunners who are yet to put a foot wrong.

Sunday’s 5-0 thrashing of Brighton, a side who recently frustrated Manchester City in a 0-0 draw, was a continuation of 6-1, 9-1 and 3-1 wins that have started the season. It was also a first WSL clean sheet of 2020/21 and feeds nicely into a north London derby against Tottenham next week, having already thrashed their local rivals 4-0 in an FA Cup game this season.

Striker Vivianne Miedema is back to her unstoppable best, scoring twice against Brighton to take her WSL tally for the season to seven goals in four games. She has now scored 49 times for Arsenal in the WSL since arriving in 2017, tying the league’s all-time top scorer record held by Nikita Parris.

Bigger Tests Lie Ahead for Everton

Nicoline Sørensen
Everton have won all four WSL games this season | Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Everton are the only team that have kept pace with Arsenal in the early stages of the season, recording their own fourth victory of the season by seeing off struggling West Ham 3-1.

The Toffees have come a long way from a poor 2018/19 campaign and new signings brought in over the last 15 months months are combining to make a huge impact for the club. The team is close to unrecognisable in the best possible way and it was Lucy Graham who came off the bench to make the difference, scoring twice in the final 20 minutes – the winner a long-range pearl.

Having so far faced, Bristol City, Tottenham, Aston Villa and now West Ham, all opponents they would expect to beat, Everton will have tougher challenges ahead and their true level will be revealed by how they respond to those.

They are due to face Brighton next weekend in a final fixture before the October international break and are therefore in a good position to make it five wins from five. It would be frustrating if the timing of the international dilutes their positive momentum ahead of facing Chelsea next month.

Chelsea Take First Win of the Heavyweight Bouts

Millie Bright
Chelsea beat Man City 3-1 in Sunday's WSL clash | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Chelsea and Manchester City treated fans to arguably the all-time great WSL game when they last faced each other in a league setting, playing out a thrilling 3-3 draw in February.

Given the stature of players both have brought in since then, most expected it to be a straight fight for the 2020/21 title between the two. But there was much debate as to who was the stronger side as a result. The Community Shield in August didn’t reveal a great deal because of the nature of it, but now Chelsea have taken first blood after beating City 3-1 on Sunday.

Arsenal will take some catching if they stay at their current level, but beating City will give Chelsea a boost in the knowledge that they have what it takes to come out on top against major rivals.

Chelsea’s trip to Arsenal on 15 November will be a huge indicator as to the direction of the title race.

Man City in Early Crisis

Rebecca Welch, Ellen White, Lucy Bronze
Man City are already off the pace in WSL title race | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

It is not possible to win the title in the opening stages of a season, but it is possible to lose it if a contender loses too much ground early on, especially in a highly competitive league like the WSL.

Even just four games in and with a squad full of international, and in several cases world class, talent, that is a stark reality that Manchester City are already potentially facing.

Despite the acquisitions of Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle, Chloe Kelly, Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood, adding to a squad that was leading the WSL when last season was abandoned, City have only taken seven points from their opening four games and are already five points off the pace.

Mewis, Kelly and Bronze all started against Chelsea, while Lavelle played the final half hour off the bench, coming on just after the reigning champions went 2-0 up. But it wasn’t enough.

City have only scored seven goals, half of Chelsea’s tally so far and less than a third of Arsenal’s, and last month were held by an average Brighton side that has since lost back-to-back league games.

An away trip to Reading before the international break next week is now must-win for City.

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