Arsenal beat Chelsea this weekend to win their sixth Conti Cup, but there was a lot to talk about in the Women’s Super League as well, from late winner Reading to hat-tricks over Manchester.
Russo is relentless
Despite an improvement in 2023 under Willie Kirk with victories over Brighton and Liverpool, Leicester fell back on Sunday at Leigh with a marred defensive performance against Manchester United. Alessia Russo broke a three-match goalless streak with an impressive hat-trick for the dominant hosts, and in fact the only highlight of the Foxes’ 5-1 final score was a second-half goal from winter striker Remy Siemsen.
For a team that went into Sunday’s game with just six goals scored so far in the WSL this season, the simple fact that they netted for the third time (in four games) since the turn of the new year should be classed as a small victory for the contenders as well with the league. While the Foxes’ season will not be defined in away games against the WSL leaders, there is something to be said for improvements being made by Kirk & Co. that have allowed Leicester to score with some frequency.
What we’ve seen with United in points this season is ugliness, dragging themselves beyond the win line in games where they should be comfortable. Against a shaken opponent on Sunday, Manchester United delivered one of their best attacking performances of the season, completely overshooting and overloading the visitors box for the entire match, finishing crushing with 33 total shots and 70% possession.
Marc Skinner will breathe a sigh of relief as his players take advantage of their chances and force their opponent to surrender. Also the United boss will be happy to see Russo as committed as she is, the England striker who starred with three goals and an assist after stuttering a bit in February.
Reading Royal Victory
One of the few teams starting to stick to the wrong end of the table, Reading gave them hope of survival with a rare 2-1 win on Sunday with one of their stronger performances to hold off West Ham and move forward with some meaningful bite. After winger Charlie Wellings took the lead midway through the second half, Reading took advantage of luck – and Viviane Asseyi’s sharp equalizer brought home a brilliant Izzy Atkinson cross – and scored the winner with five minutes to go thanks to Rachel Rowe, who made an impossible stop shot in the top corner.
Yes, job done for another week, but the worry of Reading moving forward is that all three wins come from teams below them. Is it enough to survive? Whatever happens, Kelly Chambers is working her magic again with the Royals and they have a good chance.
As for West Ham, their result should be a cause for concern as they have managed just two wins – and they faced two of the current bottom three – in their last nine league matches. With a comfortable buffer between themselves and the bottom half of the table, the Irons are unlikely to be drawn into the bottom battle, but they will have to deal with what becomes a theme rather than a rare slip up.
Shaw’s supremacy is revealed in Man City
Another Manchester player also enjoyed Sunday as Khadija “Bunny” Shaw took the match ball home with an impressive trio against Spurs.
Playing one of the best games of the season against Arsenal for the last time in the league, they struggled early on against Spurs, falling back into a season-long pattern of poor shot conversions. The Citizens are one of the most creative teams in the WSL, but it’s also a team that never fully uses their attacking dominance to put matches beyond doubt. Although they defeated the Gunners on February 11, the game was more edgy than they needed to be given control.
On Sunday with struggling Spurs – who haven’t won a league game since October – in the city, the hosts botched a few good chances before conceding first. Celin Bizet Ildhusøy opened the scoring with Rosella Ayane’s cross after half an hour before Shaw made her magic move under goal.
Shaw’s first goal just before half-time was opportunistic, heading home after Tinja-Riikki Korpel’s defense had not been sufficiently cleared. Her second penalty was a quiet penalty, taken after defender Ashleigh Neville fouled winger Chloe Kelly, and while Tottenham had chances to equalize again at 2-2, Shaw danced two tackles to thunder in her third in the last 10 minutes , putting the fight without doubt.
As long as Shaw, currently the top scorer in the WSL with 13 goals to his name, can keep scoring, City should be fine in their quest to finish in the top three and even win the title. However, the question has to be asked why it is so hard for them to put the ball in the back of the net considering all the chances they throw away.
With Bethany England currently out of the knockout, there was little concern about Spurs’ ability to score goals without their January signing, but the Lilywhites managed to find the back of the net – something they’ve largely struggled with this season. Although they ultimately lost, somewhat overwhelmed by City’s scoring moments – just before half-time and two minutes after the restart – the team is still moving in the right direction, there is an understanding that the team must start scoring, especially with two “six-point relegation” on the horizon – away to Liverpool , home to Leicester City.
Dali, Daly delightful
The partnership we saw this season between Kenza Dali and Rachel Daly was one of the most memorable in WSL history. It was even more remarkable considering both players moved to Aston Villa ahead of the new season and almost immediately formed a strong pair – and here we should not forget Kirsty Hanson, on loan from Manchester United, who completes the trio’s attack.
Against Everton, who have improved rapidly this season with three wins and one draw (against United) in their last five WSL matches, Villa again showed some better football, becoming more consistent in their best performances to the last 90 minutes as they ran out of a 2 winner :0. Daly equalized Dali in the opening just five minutes into the game, while Megan Finnigan’s own goal with 20 minutes left put the score beyond doubt. Although the Midlands team will not break into the top four this season, their continued growth speaks volumes for the promise for next year.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga and more (US)
Inconsistency is probably the best way to describe the Toffees this season under new boss Brian Sørensen, and while the Dane has made rapid improvements to the squad in a short time – summer newcomers such as defender Elise Stenevik, midfielder Karen Holmgaard and striker Katja Snoeijs have all played in double-digit matches this season – they are currently sixth in the table with an equal number of wins and losses (6) this season.
Again against Villa, Everton’s development could be seen, but again they fell short against a stronger opponent. But the project has always been a long-term one under their new coach and this season was designed to lay the foundations for the next and so far so good on Merseyside.