Football, like other sports, has this fantastic quality: nothing else matters beyond the result on game day. All the media and all the talk is drowned by the sound of a ball hitting a post and denying a title-contender the three points.
In a week that saw the announcement of the return of Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood to Manchester, the arrival of Tobin Heath and Christen Press to United, and the -and we will struggle to believe this for some time- signing of Alex Morgan by Spurs, the biggest news over the weekend were Jill Roord’s antics, which have seen her top the goal scorers table after two hat-tricks in two weeks. Funny how the predictions at the start of the year mean absolutely nothing and yet we still insist upon them: by round 2 a new hero emerges that had not been anticipated by any pundits or fans.
Less hype, more goals = the Arsenal way?
With all the headlines generated by the ludicrous amount of signings in the few weeks that preceded the start of the season, it is easy to get caught in the novelty of the names and forget that a period of adaptation is required. There has arguably been much less hype around Arsenal than around City or Chelsea, purely from the perspective that they have not made any September signings besides the return of academy young prospect Lotte Wubben-Moy.
The reality is that half the Arsenal roster, however, is new, with the arrivals of Maritz, Catley, Williams, Gut, and later last season, Caitlin Foord. They have had marginally more time to put all the pieces together, forced partly by the resumption of the UEFA Women’s Champions League at the end of August, and it is truly starting to show. They have not signed big American names, but realistically, just getting new players on their list was perhaps the aim, as Montemurro’s insistence on small groups proved a losing strategy to better equipped Chelsea and Man City last season.
Unassumingly but steadily, Arsenal have found themselves two from two with two bags of goals, and Jill Roord leading the goal scorers table – who would have thought? Their efficiency is a sign that the gulf of quality between teams, despite the obvious signings across clubs, remains there. It also highlights that one single player, never mind how exciting a prospect they may be (I am thinking Jess Fishlock for Reading or Rachel Daly for West Ham) will not change a team’s fortunes overnight.
Names won’t always win games
Women’s football’s worst kept secret, the return of prodigal daughter Lucy Bronze to Manchester City, was finally a reality midway through last week. With a roster more and more resembling the England national team, we were all looking forward to what City was going to bring to the table on their first game at home. And what they got was a goalless draw against a very well structured Brighton & Hove Albion who can thank their goalkeeper, Megan Walsh, for the stolen away point.
Did City think they had it in the bag before the game started? Despite their incredible midfield roster, Caroline Weir remains City’s most dangerous midfield weapon and she only came in as a substitute with 15 minutes to go. Rose Lavelle continues to not make the final roster: injury or quarantine, we do not know. There have not been any news and the City media squad is not prolific in the provision of information. Georgia Stanway was again their most active playing going up forward, but had a couple of misses and then was extraordinarily denied by Brighton’s Walsh.
Bronze and fellow UWCL champion Alex Greenwood played all game, with very little impact in the end. Gelling will be the top priority on their agenda, as the Manchester derby looms large in just over three week’s time, and this time United have good reason to believe they can take the bragging rights.
Nine scores, all smiles for Chelsea
In other news, and as the Arnott tagline goes, there is no substitute for quality. Pernille Harder has played just over half an hour in the WSL and has already scored an absolute pearler. She had a chance to see a little bit more of action this time, and her first attempt on goal was saved… but then it fell to Niamh Charles to toe poke it in. Her second real attempt, back heel on the run with the pressure from the defence on top of her. Seeing her play compared to other ‘massive’ signings does make one feel that perhaps, perhaps, European football is better than originally anticipated, and there is really no distance in quality with what goes on on the other side of the Atlantic.
Chelsea found nine different goal scorers in a game that was earmarked for them to shake off their stuttering start. Bristol City will struggle this year despite all the recruiting. The tale is even more embarrassing when Chelsea’s main strikers (England, Kerr and Harder) did not score until the second half, when the result was already 5-0. Emma Hayes might need less time than originally anticipated to make all the pieces fit together. What a headache to have!
Everton pushes up
They got rid of Bristol City convincingly last week, and Everton did it again against Tottenham, this time with Izzy Christansen the hero with a second half goal. Everton are looking solid and hungry, and their recruitment has been excellent, despite not having the same bill as the Manchester clubs. Raso and Christansen signed during the Christmas transfer window, but never took the field for the Toffees. They have hit the ground running and are producing the sort of performances we would expect from the other exports.
Everton have a kind draw for the next three rounds until they meet Chelsea in November, which will be a real test of where they truly are. They should reach this clash still ahead on the ladder, and therefore will be a key game to watch to test the temperature, not only of the Toffees’ aspirations, but of the whole competition, and to check how wide the gap between the top three and the rest of the league really is.
United comeback an eye opener for reds
Manchester United had moments of great football last year, but they were never consistent enough to challenge for the top three. It was an unreasonable task then (as much as it is now) given that they had just been promoted that season. After a strong outing against Chelsea last week, you could have forgiven the United girls to think they were going to beat Birmingham without putting in the hard yards. They were soon shown otherwise.
Despite leading early through Jane Ross, Birmingham were ahead by the half hour mark. It took a Katie Zelem free-kick special to draw United level (2-2) by half-time. At the break, whatever Casey Stoney said in the changing rooms helped, because the reaction was immediate. A triple substitution at half time, bringing in Ladd, Turner and Russo also worked wonders. United saw their way to a three-nil second half, and the debutant Russo provided the final assist – a sign of things to come.
Meanwhile, Heath and Press are yet to be spotted in Manchester, however United showed that, as a long-term project, they might be able to do a little bit more than last year. That is, if Everton allows it.
We are all suckers for a long-range goal, and certainly Katie Zelem’s free kick effort is up there with the goals of the round. But you cannot go past a bit of elite goalscoring skills, and therefore Pernille Harder’s debut goal for Chelsea takes the chocolates on this one. A back-heel flick under pressure, the sort of stuff we have seen her do before in the Bundesliga, but now in a competition as strong as the FA WSL, it takes another layer of awesome to accomplish. I mean, let’s face it, I will always find a good reason to give Harder the goal of the week, even if she scored it with her butt.