1. Manchester City v Arsenal – A terrific advert for the WSL.
On Thursday after City’s narrow 1-0 win against Notts County the buzz around the league was the impending arrival of England International. Jodie Taylor to Arsenal from Seattle Reign. It was not lost that Arsenal announced the signing 24 hours after the transfer window closed , whilst their next opponents, Manchester City, we’re suffering an injury crisis of their own naming 4 development players and a player sat in the stands on their bench for their first league game. Arsenal’s plethora of attacking options, City missing key players and the addition of the BT Sport cameras made this a huge game in the buildup.
The reality was that the game was even better as advertised as Fara Williams smashed a free kick off the underside of the crossbar early on and two superb tackles from Abbie McManus denied Asisat Oshoala before the game turned with the dismissal of Gemma Rose after 15 minutes as she tripped Jane Ross when through on goal.
Neutrals at home could be forgiven for thinking that was game over as City sought to make the most of their numerical advantage but Oshoala continued to be a goal threat in the first half and by no means did they resort to two banks of four in front…until the second half.
The game had everything, some terrific passing, great chances, some superb saves, baffling refereeing decisions, a pantomime villain in Emma Mitchell and a superb goal to win it as Toni Duggan outpaced Leah Williamson to a ball down the touchline and whipped in a superb cross to Jane Ross who powered a header home. In front of an excellent crowd of 1,900 on an otherwise awful day weather wise the game had everything.
2. Important first goals for Toni Duggan and Jane Ross
In his post-match comments Manager Nick Cushing talked of the difference in the mentality from last season where they set out to ‘nick a point’ in some games and how this season they’ve decided to set out to win every game. One of the key issues with their start to last season’s WSL campaign was two-fold as City lacked goals in the first half of the season as well as an over reliance on Toni Duggan to score those goals. To remedy this City went out and signed Scottish International striker Jane Ross to play as a true number nine so it will be of great relief to Ross to get off the mark having not scored in pre-season or in her first two competitive games.
It was a terrific first goal to score as Toni Duggan outpaced Leah Williamson down the right and delivered a terrific cross from the right having won the ball. However there was still a lot to do and Ross’ timing to meet the header AND steer it into the far top left hand corner showed terrific technique.
Toni Duggan got herself off the mark with a superb penalty, lashing it passed the impressive Arsenal goalkeeper off the inside of the post to get her off the mark for the season. A goal made more important by her penalty miss against Notts County. After 3 games City have five different goalscorers which shows that already they’ve managed to reduce their reliance on Duggan but the England international is hardly about to let anyone else the lead the way to goal as the reigning holder of the Manchester City goal of the season award for the last two seasons.
4. A new role for Daphne Corboz
It’s often been said that when a foreign player moves to England they need 12 months to settle in, getting used to both the English lifestyle and the English game. Of course, this doesn’t apply to Daphne Corboz who arrived after the 2015 World Cup and made her debut 15 minutes into her first game cementing her place in the side until injury prematurely ended her season. Initially drafted onto the right hand side in place of the injured Tash Harding, Corboz also excelled in the middle playing behind the striker to unlock defence’s that so often came to park the coach in front of goal and hope the best for a point.
Corboz’s passing ability, vision and movement, both on and off the ball, have made comparisons to David Silva all too easy but in light of injuries to Jennifer Beattie and Keira Walsh City had not natural replacement in the midfield holding role.
Against Arsenal she was influential in the middle, deftly able to collect the ball from the City defence inside the centre circle before being able to link up with Lucy Bronze and Nikita Parris on the right hand side, turning defence in to attack. Off the ball, despite her slight stature Corboz was brave in the tackle and didn’t shy away from the physicality of the role light she might have been forgiven for doing so given her normal role in the team. Corboz’s showing was a revelation and undoubtedly a huge relief to manager Nick Cushing who will be without Kiera Walsh for the next five months and will be relying on Jennifer Beattie to fill the role until then despite having been earmarked for the role of Steph Houghton’s partner in the centre of defence.
4. Women’s goalkeeping stepping up a level
On opening night there were no fewer than four penalty misses around WSL as Liverpool’s Siobhan Chamberlain saved a Kirsty Linnett effort before Toni Duggan’s spot kick was also saved by Birmingham goalkeeper Megan Walsh who was only playing due to an injury to Carly Telford.
So there was a tough act to follow on Monday for Karen Bardsley and Sari Van Veenendaal in front of the BT Sport cameras, and whilst Bardsley was largely a spectator on her way to a third consecutive clean sheet it was Van Veenendaal who produced a goalkeeping master class.
Van Veenendaal rightly received the plaudits as she made four big saves in the game. The save when she pushed away a superb goal bound effort from Kosovare Asllani with the score at 1-0 rightly received the plaudits post-match but the Dutch International made an even better save in the first half, racing off her line, to block a Jill Scott effort at the edge of the penalty area at point blank range. She was called into action in the first half when she had to push a terrific long range effort from Demi Stokes over the bar and denied Nikita Parris from close range with almost the first move of the second half.
- WSL organisers need to be careful with the fixtures
The formation of WSL came about for several reasons, either directly or indirectly; to raise the standard and the profile of the women’s game, to increase participation levels in women’s football and to increase attendance levels. A regular watcher of Liverpool Ladies came to the mid-week meeting between Manchester City and Liverpool last season and noted that whilst the crowd was bigger the make-up of the audience was a lot older. The two home attendances at the Academy Stadium have been terrific as 1,100 people turned out on Wednesday night for the season opener whilst 1,900 braved a cold, wet and windy Bank Holiday Monday for the Arsenal game. However aside from this weekend’s FA Cup tie against Sporting Club Albion City will play at home on a Sunday just once between March and June whilst they will play away on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday! In fact after next Sunday’s game City will place just once at home, a bank holiday Monday, until they break for the summer.
Whilst City will only have minor control over when and where they play the FA need to be wary of their fixture scheduling as ultimately they will be looking for supporters to buy enough tickets, at all clubs, to sustain the league and whilst Sunday’s are perfectly geared up towards families I can imagine a mid-week away in May at Chelsea is going to draw too many young families out to the match. With only nine teams in the division and the League Cup reverted to a straight knock out competition the competition organisers need to be doing their upmost to maximize attendance and there is clearly an appetite for Sunday afternoon football.