Covid clarity needed and Manchester United soar: WSL talking points | Women’s Super League

Bristol City battered as Covid strikes squad

Manchester City prepared for next week’s derby against Manchester United by sweeping aside Covid-depleted Bristol City 8-1, with six Sky Blue players on the scoresheet plus an own goal, but I’m not sure there’s a lot you can read into the game. Bristol equalised two minutes after Sophie Baggaley’s ninth-minute own goal started the scoring, and held on until the 39th minute before the floodgates opened.

Five of Bristol City’s first-team players were self-isolating after one of them reported Covid-19 symptoms, and they were replaced by academy prospects after the FA turned down a request to postpone the fixture. The club will wonder why they were forced to play one of the country’s best teams when Aston Villa were allowed to postpone two of their games, including a potentially vital fixture against Bristol City themselves, after one of their players tested positive last month. There needs to be clarity about the consequences of positive Covid tests or symptoms to avoid situations like this, where the different treatment of two teams in similar situations raises questions about basic fairness.

Villa, meanwhile, claimed a massive win over Brighton. They looked fresh and bright after a month without a match because of their positive Covid test. These could be really important results in the battle at the bottom of the table.

Manchester United mute Miedema to go top

Manchester United ended Arsenal’s 100% record and looked slicker and fresher than the Gunners, who had played London City Lionesses in the League Cup in midweek. Casey Stoney’s team were strong in defence, organised and gritty when they had to be, limiting Vivienne Miedema’s chances not just to score but to get any kind of possession. They stopped anything getting to her, limiting the supply of crosses and through-balls from the likes of Danielle van de Donk and Katie McCabe. Eventually Miedema became frustrated, started dropping deeper just to get the ball, and they crowded her out.

At the end of the game several United players dropped to their knees – they put everything into this game, so much harrying and pressuring, and executed the gameplan brilliantly. Stoney’s preparation was excellent and her decision making during the game inspired – such as bringing on Jess Sigsworth at half-time ahead of Kirsty Hanson, and it was Sigsworth who set up the only goal of the game for Ella Toone. For United it was one of those games where, thanks to good organisation and a lot of hard work, it all worked out.

Blues beaten as Chelsea keep home run going

Chelsea won their 11th home league game in a row, and in some style, defeating Everton 4-0. Beth England got two goals and two assists to fully justify the decision to start her ahead of Sam Kerr, and a beautiful finish in the dying minutes from their record signing, Pernille Harder, put the shine on a dominant performance. Everton started the season, like the men’s team, with a phenomenal run, but again like the men, things started going wrong when Manchester City beat them in the League Cup a month ago. This weekend they dropped out of the top three.

Maybe those early results put them in a false position, because when you look back they have beaten the teams you would think they should beat and been beaten by the teams you would expect them to lose to. This was their first league defeat, though, and both men’s and women’s sides have a sense of momentum and a brightness that they have not had for a while. It’s still a great time to be a Blue. They just have to pick themselves up and get back to winning ways. For Chelsea, next week’s trip to Arsenal could be decisive.

Hammers’ first win another close shave for Beard

West Ham won their first league game, Emily van Egmond heading the winner after Birmingham’s Claudia Walker had scored at both ends. The result lifts the pressure building on Matt Beard and his side, who have the ambition and the profile but have not been delivering on the pitch. The expectation might be weighing heavily on the team, but hopefully they can now approach the next few games – they play Brighton, Bristol City and Villa, as well as Chelsea, in the league this side of Christmas – with a bit of confidence and optimism.

Birmingham might have lost but they impressed again with their work ethic and team spirit. Walker’s opening goal was outstanding, they hit the woodwork twice, and this was certainly a game that could have gone either way. I would be surprised if there hadn’t been conversations, just a few weeks before the season started and with just a handful of senior players on the books, about whether they were able to meet the criteria for having a WSL team or if they should give up and fold. It must have been a close call, but they’ve been getting all their decisions right since then.

Morgan finally takes first steps for Spurs

Alex Morgan came on with 20 minutes to play against Reading to make her debut, less than six months after having her baby. But the player who made the difference for Spurs was Ashleigh Neville, who scored the equaliser in a 1-1 draw against Reading. She couldn’t be further from Morgan in terms of background: the American is a superstar, a World Cup winner, lauded by the world of women’s football. Neville gave up a job as a primary school teacher to commit to going full-time last season, has never got near the England set-up, had been around the Championship for a few years, but has been a very consistent player for Spurs since they came up to the WSL.

She’s still very passionate about her previous career, where she worked with children with behavioural problems and autism, and still helps out occasionally on a voluntary basis. She must be pinching herselfto now be a professional athlete sharing a dressing room with Morgan. She has certainly grabbed her chance in professional football, and she’s only 27 – who knows what dreams might become reality over the next few years?

Watch women’s football on BT Sport – including a double header of matches next weekend. Manchester City v Manchester United (from noon) on Saturday 14 November and Arsenal v Chelsea (from 2pm) on Sunday 15 November.

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