We’re big supporters of Women’s sports at That’s All Sport, although we do disagree with several arguments about equal pay and the quality of the games, that’s an article for another day. However, following the popularity of the Women’s Euros last month we were keen to see how it would transpire in the new Women’s Super League (WSL) season.
The new WSL season was due to kick off last weekend, but due to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, many major sports were cancelled including the WSL, women’s boxing and even men’s football. Whilst many fans will have been disappointed about this, it actually created an opening weekend of more exciting fixtures.
Aston Villa who had recruited well during the summer including one of England’s Lionesses Rachel Daly would take on one of the title favourites Manchester City, and former two-time WSL champions Liverpool Women returned to the top division for the first time following their relegation to the Championship three seasons ago to face Emma Haye’s Chelsea Women who were looking for a fourth consecutive WSL title this season.
But it would seem the new WSL season wasn’t going to play out as many will have planned.
WSL Opening Weekend Results
- Arsenal 4 – 0 Brighton & Hove Albion
- Manchester United 4 – 0 Reading
- Aston Villa 4 – 3 Manchester City
- West Ham 1 – 0 Everton
- Leicester City 1 – 2 Tottenham Hotspur
- Liverpool 2 – 1 Chelsea
As we can see, whilst many will have expected strong starts from the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United, not all of the fixtures played out as fans will have expected. There were surprise wins for both Villa and Liverpool, whilst West Ham with new manager Paul Konchesky also got off to an excellent start.
Let’s chat about some of the WSL highlights this weekend:
Arsenal run riot
Arsenal was absolutely dominant in their WSL opener against Brighton & Hove Albion, although they were given a helping hand when just seven minutes in Emma Kullberg brought down the Gunner’s Swedish forward Stina Blackstenius by clipping her heel when she was through on goal, forcing the referee to send her off. From here, it would be an uphill battle for them to even stay in the game, never mind thinking about trying to win it.
Kim Little opened the scoring in the 28th minute when Caitlin Foord had made it to the byeline and pulled the ball back to Little who was clear to fire the ball into the back of the net. Blackstenius nearly made it two shortly after but her shot hit the frame of the goal, but she wouldn’t have to wait long before she got her goal when in the 50th minute she fired the ball into the top left corner.
Beth Mead, one of the standout players in England’s Euro campaign then scored twice in 20 minutes slotting the first past the keeper before a ball, fortunately, falling to her from a save for the second which she calmly placed into the net.
Arsenal ended the game 4-0, dominating with 74% possession and managing 38 shots to Brighton’s lowly three, with 14 on target compared to their one. In all honesty, though, it could’ve been a much higher scoreline if it wasn’t for some fantastic saves from Megan Walsh in between the sticks of the Brighton goal.
Champions stun Champions
Having won back-to-back-to-back titles for the last three seasons, Chelsea were favourites not just for this fixture, but also for claiming another WSL title this season. But their first obstacle came in the way of former champions Liverpool who won back-to-back titles themselves under returning coach Matt Beard and were promoted back to the WSL this season following a dominating campaign that saw them win the Women’s Championship last season.
In front of a record crowd at Prenton Park of 3,006, and with a number of new recruits to their side, Beard anticipated a game where Chelsea would dominate and set Liverpool up in a way where they would remain tight and compact and try to hurt Chelsea on the counter. However, his plans were scuppered when just one minute into the game, new signing Gilly Flaherty brought down Guro Reiten in the box, allowing Fran Kirby to put away the subsequent penalty. They then had the chance to go two up when Kirby played a lovely ball to Sam Kerr who put the ball into the back of the net but was flagged offside by the narrowest of margins.
Going in at half-time just one goal down against reigning champions, no one knows what was said in the Liverpool dressing room but whatever it was worked, as they looked like a different team in the second half. They allowed Chelsea to control the game, but their constant pressing often gave them slight chances here and there, and with just one goal in it, you felt like they were always in the game. Then came a long throw-in from Megan Campbell which was flicked onto the arm of Millie Bright, the referee blowing for a penalty that Katie Stengel stepped up to take on her WSL debut and fired it into the back of the net.
Stengel then won a second penalty in the 87th minute when she was through on goal and Kadeisha Buchanan brought her down in the box, sliding in and going through the player to get the ball. Stepping up once more, she went the opposite way this time with the keeper diving the wrong way to give Liverpool a 2-1 lead in their first game back in the WSL. There was then a barrage of attacks from Chelsea as seven minutes were added on, but Liverpool held out strongly and claimed a first and very impressive win on their return.
Villains upset City
Liverpool stunning champions Chelsea wasn’t the first upset of the day though, as a refreshed-looking Aston Villa hosted Manchester City. With plenty of new recruits on their side including some big-name signings such as Rachel Daly who had been playing in the US, you could tell they were up for this game right from the first whistle.
Villa took a shock early lead in the 22nd minute when Rachel Daly made a tackle to knock a ball through to Alisha Lehmann who ran through on goal and unleashed a long-range effort from the edge of the box into the bottom left corner. Daly herself would then get on the scoresheet curling the ball into the back of the net from a set piece that City failed to clear. On the stroke of half-time though City got themselves back into it when Laura Coombs hit a rocket at Hannah Hampton who parried the ball into the air and watched it roll into the back of her own net.
There were then two quick second-half goals with Khadija Shaw nodding on from Steph Houghton’s header following a corner, the ball making its way into the net off the post, before Coombs controlled a cross from Chloe Kelly on her chest, and volleying the ball into the top right corner to give City the lead for the first time in the game.
Villa wasn’t going to set back though and in the 58th minute, a poor clearance from City fell to Kenza Dali who fired from outside the box, hitting the shoulder of the defender in front of her and deflecting the ball out of the reach of the City keeper and into the back of the net to draw level. It was then Rachel Daly who popped up again on her Villa debut and managed to slide in a ball fumbled by Ellie Roebuck in the City goal to give Villa a shock win on the opening day of the WSL.
We’re sure there will be plenty more shocks to come in the WSL this season, and can’t wait to see what next week holds especially with a Merseyside Derby at Anfield and Manchester City vs Chelsea also on the cards, both games taking place on Sunday. Which games are you most looking forward to this season? Will you be attending any of the games?
Let us know all your thoughts including who you think could challenge for the title this season, which players you’re looking forward to seeing grace the turf and more in the comments below.
You can find more coverage like this over in our Football section.