The Women’s Super League was back on Saturday and Sunday for its first gameweek since late October and there were big headlines from the action across the six matches.
Here’s a look at six key talking points to take away from the weekend.
Bristol City Nightmare Worsens – Not Their Fault
Bristol City didn’t even want their fixture against Manchester City to go ahead given that five first-team players were missing because of coronavirus protocols. They then proceeded to lose heavily, making an already miserable season even worse.
One Robins player developed virus symptoms, but the shared housing living arrangements common in the women’s game due to contract insecurity meant that Charlie Wellings, Gemma Evans, Ella Mastrantonio, Abi Harrison and Meaghan Sargeant all had to isolate.
Replacements were called up from the academy ranks and Bristol, who were already bottom of the standings after conceding an average of five goals per game, shipped eight.
The club had also raised concerns of player safety with the FA as a result of four of the absentees being involved against Crystal Palace in the Continental Cup just two days earlier. But there was deemed to be no issue because protocols had been followed.
Aston Villa had games postponed earlier in the season when a player tested positive for coronavirus and several others had to isolate. What made the difference was the positive test and therefore it being a confirmed case, whereas in Bristol it was unverified symptoms. But whether confirmed or not, the end result of players being unavailable because of necessary isolation was similar.
Manchester City Relief
Regardless of the situation from Bristol City’s perspective, Manchester City just had to beat the opposition in front of them and it was a much needed win for a struggling giant.
Despite much talked about summer transfer business that equipped an already strong City side with Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle, Lucy Bronze, Alex Greenwood and Chloe Kelly, the team had only won two of WSL games this season prior to kick-off against the Robins.
Gareth Taylor’s team had previously failed to score against Brighton and were also held by Reading last time out after being beaten by Chelsea, so the 8-1 thrashing of Bristol offered a sense of relief as much as anything and could be a catalyst for improvement looking ahead.
All five summer arrivals played some part in the game, albeit not all on the pitch at the same time.
Ellen White Responds to Miedema Record
Arsenal superstar Vivianne Miedema has set a new record as the WSL’s all-time top goalscorer this season, but Manchester City striker Ellen White is hot on her tail after racking up a half century by netting twice in the 8-1 annihilation of Bristol City.
White, who is a veteran of the league and made the switch to Manchester from Birmingham last year, is only two behind Miedema’s record tally of 52. Expect both to keep scoring.
Chelsea Show Their Class
Everton have made a strong start to 2020/21 and were unbeaten in the WSL prior to kick-off, but Chelsea proved they are a cut above the Toffees with a 4-0 win to leapfrog their opponents in the league table and keep pace with the leaders.
Chelsea are one of only two unbeaten sides left in the WSL this season are flexing muscles in the defence of their title. They also have a game in hand on their rivals.
Ahead of the game, Everton had only conceded three times in five league games, yet Chelsea more than doubled that tally thanks to Ji So-yun, Bethany England and world record signing Pernille Harder. England’s second half brace was what took a one-sided contest away from Everton.
Alex Morgan Debut
Over a year since her last competitive game and less than seven months on from giving birth to her first child, Alex Morgan made her eagerly awaited Tottenham debut in a 1-1 draw against Reading.
With the game already level at 1-1, Morgan was unleashed from the bench for the final 20 minutes. The 31-year-old couldn’t make a decisive difference, but it was a big moment nonetheless for one of the most famous female players of all time to be on the pitch in Spurs colours.
Building more match fitness is now crucial and only time will tell if Morgan can make the necessary impact before her short-term deal ends to fire Spurs up the table, or if her time in north London will ultimately prove to be more of a publicity stunt.
Manchester United Landmark Win
Manchester United have been threatening to break into the WSL ‘Big Three’ and make it a ‘Big Four’ ever since promotion to the top flight last season. But now Casey Stoney’s ambitious side is taking real strides in that direction and victory Arsenal on Sunday was a landmark achievement.
United suffered several narrow losses against Manchester City, Chelsea and the Gunners in the league last season, but started this campaign by holding Chelsea to a 1-1 draw in a big step forward.
Winning 1-0 against Arsenal, who were leading the league until the game, was an even greater step towards the club’s ultimate ambition of winning the WSL title.
United limited a team that had scored 29 times in five previous league games this season to just two shots on target and a first goal-less performance for Arsenal in the WSL since December 2018.
Their own quality this season has been boosted by the arrivals of two-time World Cup winners Tobin Heath and Christen Press, who started together in advanced positions. But it was refreshing that the decisive goal from Ella Toone actually came after the American pair had been withdrawn, highlighting the squad’s impressive depth in quality overall.
United finished the weekend top of the WSL and a home Manchester derby is next up.