Monday, October 3, 2022

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Women’s Super League: What we learned when Chelsea and Man City lost

The Women’s Super League is back and fans were treated to a thrilling weekend with two particularly shocking results.

Reigning champions Chelsea lost 2-1 to newly promoted Liverpool and Manchester City lost to Aston Villa for the first time in the league.

Although the two giants of English football do not score any points, the top of the table still has some familiar faces.

Arsenal and Manchester United are leading after winning their opening matches 4-0. But the unexpected turn of events has already blown the league apart.

Here are five things we learned:

England’s Keira Walsh was one of a host of stars who left Manchester City this summer, but she is arguably their biggest loss. The defensive midfielder, who won Euro 2022 with England this summer, is currently one of the best players in the world.

She left City for Barcelona for a record fee in women’s football. It was clear the English club didn’t want to lose her, rejecting an initial offer, but Walsh reportedly made it clear she wanted a new challenge and she was reluctantly allowed to travel to Catalonia.

Manager Gareth Taylor had tempered fans’ expectations ahead of their clash with Aston Villa, saying the team needed time to lie down with new signings. But no one expected the result that came. A 4-3 defeat handed City their first league opener defeat since 2014 and Walsh’s absence was immediately noticeable.

The holes and space left in midfield allowed Villa to run around the visitors and commentator Fara Williams remarked that she hadn’t seen a City side give away as much possession as on Sunday. When Walsh was at the club, she pulled the strings and closed the attacking options. Villa played well and would likely have scored more than once even if the England star was playing, especially with their new signing Rachel Daly proving to be a live thread, but after City fought back to lead 3-2 they could have benefit from his us to maintain this advantage.

There is a Walsh-shaped hole in their midfield and they need to fill it if they are to have any chance of competing for the title this season.

Matt Beard’s Liverpool left Chelsea reeling on Sunday with a 2-1 win to upset the defending champions. It was the first WSL game to score three penalties, with Katie Stengel converting twice from the spot to give the Reds their fairytale return to the top flight.

Liverpool were promoted to the WSL after winning the Championship last season and were set to suffer a heavy defeat against the Blues. But a sublime defensive display, combined with kicking opportunism after going down 1-0 after just three minutes, saw them deservedly come away with three points.

Many would think Liverpool’s aim would be to avoid relegation this season, but the result set an early marker. Player of the Game Stengel said: “It’s stupid to say you just want to stay in the league. We are here to compete, we are not just here to survive. Let’s race for it. We are in the league to win every game. We won’t go into any game just wanting to be here and be happy.”

Tottenham’s Ashleigh Neville impressed last league campaign, leading many fans to call for the star to be named to the England squad, although she is still awaiting her first international cap.

Some players would let the rejection take its toll on their game, but instead Neville continued her fine form. She scored the goal of the round with a world from a 40-yard screamer against Leicester City on Sunday. After spotting goalkeeper Kirstie Levell off her line, she kicked the ball towards goal, shaking the back of the net.

She hopes England manager Sarina Wiegman was watching, there’s not much more the 29-year-old can do to demonstrate why she should be called up.

VAR may have been introduced in the men’s game in 2019, but the women’s domestic competitions haven’t included it in their matches. It was a talking point last season with offside calls and phantom goals seeing many, including Chelsea manager Emma Hayes, calling on the WSL to bring it in.

Technology will again be talked about this season, especially with two official calls proving particularly controversial. The first was Brighton’s Emma Kullberg red card against Arsenal on Friday night. Kullberg tackled Stina Blackstenius on the edge of the box and was shown a straight red – the Gunners went on to win 4-0.

The team appealed to the Football Association and Kullberg told Fotbollskanalen: “It’s up to the FA now. I hope they watch the clips again and see that they made a bad decision. In the best case, they take back my red card.

The other call in question was a Chelsea goal which was scored due to the offside flag being raised against Sam Kerr. The Australia captain was played off and hit the back of the net, but the flag went up to prevent her from doubling Chelsea’s lead – the Blues went on to lose 2-1. Commentators and fans were unconvinced by the call, with many saying the goal should have stood.

The impact of the European Championship, particularly England winning the trophy, was evident over the summer, with clubs reporting record season ticket sales. But it was particularly highlighted during the opening weekend with attendance records for the majority of matches.

Arsenal’s Meadow Park sold out and Liverpool’s Prenton Park saw 3,006 fans descend to see their impressive victory.

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