Morgan confirms WSL’s star status
The WSL has welcomed a dizzying array of talent in recent weeks, with Spurs’ addition of Alex Morgan the icing on the cake. For anyone new to the league, I want to emphasise just how much it means to women’s football in England for players like Morgan, Tobin Heath, Christen Press, Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis to have come over here from the US. These women are superstars over there, both inside and outside the sport. Someone like Morgan is a household name, known to everyone. That is partly because their brilliant national team gets such huge coverage, but mainly because they are such outstanding talents. The list of names is one I could never have imagined playing here, and when you add Pernille Harder to it then things look even better. She chose Chelsea when she could have gone anywhere, including Lyon, and it shows how top footballers view the standard of the WSL. It is now the best league in the world.
The FA deserve credit for handling the Covid-19 pandemic very well. They decided to curtail last season and it meant there was no waiting around: teams and players could prepare to restart and plan their moves. The league was ready for these new arrivals when, in the meantime, the US league was disrupted. We are now seeing so many historical “firsts”, including television rights being sold all over the world, and the months ahead look truly mouthwatering.
Harder points way for Chelsea’s winning machine
Chelsea are playing for European supremacy, and Harder’s arrival was further evidence of that. She was one of nine different goalscorers in their demolition of Bristol City and it was some way to banish any disappointment from the draw with Manchester United, which was probably the highest-quality WSL match I have seen. Chelsea have unparalleled depth in their squad now, the WSL player of the year Beth England fighting for time up top alongside the Australia captain Sam Kerr and a raft of sparkling options available to Emma Hayes. This team could sweep up all before them but, make no mistake, they are prioritising the Champions League. Hayes has built a technical staff who all preach the same aim: to think and behave like winners. The head of performance, Bert Caubergh, has been key to that since arriving last summer.
Prolific Roord can help Arsenal’s title push
Arsenal have been scintillating in their first two games and while a 9-1 win over West Ham – who were hindered by Gilly Flaherty’s red card – might not have made pretty reading for everyone else it was further evidence of their firepower. Jill Roord, their Dutch midfielder, has now scored hat-tricks on consecutive games and it is fascinating to see the way she has stepped up. Last season she brought much with her link-up play and driving through the middle, and if she becomes prolific as well then she will be a marvellous proposition. Alongside Roord, the suave orchestrating of Kim Little and devastating finishing of Vivianne Miedema were simply a taste of things to come. The only real concern for Arsenal is their squad depth but their lack of Champions League football may actually help them.
A note about the scorelines, because people unaware of the context might raise their eyebrows at two such thudding scorelines in this round of games. It’s important to remember that this is only the third season in which the WSL has been fully professional, and you will see these disparities as big stars start to arrive. It will take time but things are going in the right direction and we are already seeing a clutch of teams below the front runners who are capable of taking points from the best.
Stuttering City still searching for style
Brighton are one of those teams, as they showed in a battling draw at Manchester City. Perhaps we should not be too surprised, because Hope Powell always ensures her players are well organised and her players know their roles perfectly. That does not seem to be the case at City, though, and their performance raised some alarm bells. Perhaps their recent arrivals are just taking time to gel, but they have stuttered so far and do not appear to have an established style of play. Gareth Taylor has a tough act to follow after Nick Cushing’s departure and there is always the risk of changing too much, too soon. In the past you knew City would build from the back, make full use of their overlapping full-backs, and provide excellent service for Ellen White and Georgia Stanway. Their approach is clearly changing but it’s currently hard to make out, and unclear whether the players are clear about it. To be fair it may be that Taylor’s philosophies just need time to implement, and City will only improve as Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood – who both played yesterday – settle in having joined from Lyon. But they need to pick up quickly, otherwise he may have to start reflecting. They are a club that demands success and results are imperative.
Could Manchester United break into top three?
Manchester United are making huge strides to break that top three of Chelsea, Arsenal and City. They won comfortably at a young, but spirited, Birmingham and it will be fascinating to see how Heath and Press add to an already thriving attacking line. In contrast to City you can already see a really clear, defined style and it is a testament to the coaching of Casey Stoney and her staff. Katie Zelem and Ella Toone, who both scored on Sunday, are still young but already have plenty of top-level experience and it is shining through.
This will be a tough season for Birmingham. They lost a lot of experience over the pre-season and something, whatever that is, seems to have gone wrong. They do have a good young manager in Carla Ward, who has arrived from Sheffield United, and their players showed quality and belief at times even in defeat. But they need points on the board soon.
Everton’s transformation gathers pace
Everton’s drive towards Champions League contention is no joke. Willie Kirk wants to see them on the highest stage and now has the players to make that move. They have two wins from two after Izzy Christiansen gave them the edge against Spurs, and have players who can make an impact all over the pitch. I feel proud of the way the club has developed and changed since I played there. Back then we didn’t even have digs for players to live in, so it was hard to recruit anyone from outside the local area. But they have shown real vision and, with the France forward Valérie Gauvin also starting the season well, and look capable of troubling anyone. For Spurs it is a case of ‘watch this space’ until Morgan makes her debut. As I mentioned earlier, she is probably the biggest name in world football and they need to see her as soon as possible.
Villa may need to get more streetwise
Aston Villa have been a little naive in their first couple of games. They ripped through the Championship last season, playing out well from the back, but that was their downfall against Manchester City on the opening day and again at times in their defeat to Reading. Their open style leaves them vulnerable to mistakes, even though Lisa Weiss in goal makes a big difference to them, and they will need to find a way to mix things up a little. That said, it is a joy to see them back at the top level and I fancy them to learn from those early lessons.
BT Sport is set for its biggest season of women’s football, with at least 22 live Barclays FA WSL matches this season plus action from the FA Women’s Continental League Cup and Women’s FA Cup.