This weekend sees the Barclays FA Women’s Super League take centre stage, with some mouth-watering match-ups on an exciting Women’s Football Weekend.
It all kicks off on Saturday as Tottenham host Arsenal in the North London derby, before struggling Birmingham take on Aston Villa – and former manager Carla Ward – on Sunday afternoon.
Sky Sports will also play host to two of the blockbuster fixtures as Everton host Manchester United and champions Chelsea travel to Manchester City.
With plenty to get stuck into this weekend, we take a look at the storylines to look out for across the league…
Can anyone stop Arsenal?
Jonas Eidevall’s side head into Saturday’s North London derby in truly formidable form. Arsenal are yet to lose or draw in the WSL this season, scoring 23 goals and conceding just two – both coming against Chelsea in the opening game of the season.
The Gunners manager has won both WSL Manager of the Month awards this season, with Beth Mead and Katie McCabe scooping up the player accolades. McCabe also won the WSL Goal of the Month award for October too.
Appearing on the Essential Football Podcast – Women’s Football Weekend preview, West Ham captain and former Arsenal defender Gilly Flaherty said: “Arsenal have always been a great team, but over the years, they’ve not been finishing where they want to be finishing. I think it’s that consistency they’ve lacked too – they won the title a few years ago and then dropped back down the following season.
“But now, it’s their play off the ball. When we played them the other night and we won the ball, there was just instant pressure on us. It wasn’t just one player, they were coming in numbers and it was so difficult to play out.
“You’ve also seen them being more direct. They’ve not had that in previous years, and now they’re not afraid for Leah Williamson to play a long ball and it’s not a hit and hope, it’s a picking out the pass. They know how good their midfield is and it’s about beating that and getting to the goals as quick as they can.”
It’s all looking rather rosy for the red side of North London. But they face a Tottenham side who have been one of the surprises of the season.
Having finished in seventh and eighth in their first two seasons in the WSL respectively, Spurs find themselves sitting third under Rehanne Skinner, just two points behind Chelsea in second. If they ended the season in the same spot, they would qualify for the Champions League first round.
“Rehanne obviously has the respect, all the players have bought into this front foot, possession-based philosophy at Spurs,” Sky Sports’ WSL presenter Caroline Barker also told the podcast.
“She had the end of last season just to get that under way, and then seeing what they’ve done at the start of this season shows how they’ve bought into it.
“You’ve just got to give managers the time, believe in what they want to do, give them that support too. The facilities Spurs have got too are phenomenal, Rehanne talked about wanting to bring in more of her team too, to expand the squad and going full-time into the training facilities has obviously helped.
“But I think all that she learnt as assistant boss at Arsenal, taking that in now to Spurs with the way she talks and the way she has got them going, I think it’s been brilliant, a real revelation this season.”
Jean-Luc Vasseur faces another test
Everton dismissed Willie Kirk during the international break and landed an incredible coup to replace him – Champions League-winning manager Jean-Luc Vasseur.
The Frenchman joins Everton after a wildly successful spell at Lyon, winning almost every trophy available during his two years at the club. He also won the UEFA Women’s Coach of the Year award in the 2019/20 season.
But Vasseur has already had a wake-up call in his first WSL game. Everton were beaten 1-0 by Brighton last weekend, and the assignments do not get any easier as they welcome Man Utd on Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
“The likes of Everton and United are going to be pushing more and more,” Man City right-back Lucy Bronze told the Women’s Football Weekend preview podcast.
“The investment is there for these teams. You saw that at Everton, the investment was put in, the club had high expectations and unfortunately, they didn’t see what they felt was those being met so they changed the manager.
“It’s what you see in men’s football, it’s so cut-throat. It’s not nice to see it because you don’t want people to lose jobs, but that’s the expectation level now. If you’re not performing how the club wants, then they need someone that can do that. These clubs are chasing after trophies or certain club positions.”
Marc Skinner’s United will be looking for a touch of redemption of their own. They have drawn their last two WSL games, with their 1-1 draw against Tottenham a particularly tough pill to swallow.
Ria Percival scored a last-gasp free-kick to secure a point for an in-form Spurs, keeping Man Utd in fifth. They are two points behind Rehanne Skinner’s side in third.
“It will be interesting up against Man United because they also have ambitions of chasing that third place this season,” Barker added. “Before the season, many said both did have potential for that third spot. I’m not sure how I read it now, but they still believe.
“If you listen to Everton, they still believe they can make that third spot. With Man City having some problems this season, and Chelsea really having that intent now to go and beat Arsenal again, it’s going to be tight and that third place will be up for grabs.”
With United hoping to overcome a stuttering Everton, and the Toffees hoping for their own new manager boost, it’s set to be an intriguing contest on Sky Sports this weekend.
How to follow Women’s Football Weekend on Sky Sports
Follow all six WSL games on Women’s Football Weekend with our dedicated blogs across Sky Sports’ digital platforms and on Sky Sports News.
Live games on Sky Sports will include in-game clips and free match highlights shortly after full-time.
Watch Everton host Man Utd from 11.30am, live on Sky Sports Premier League; kick-off 12.30pm.
Man City then take on Chelsea from 2.45pm, also live on Sky Sports Premier League; kick-off 3pm.
Free match highlights from the remaining four WSL fixtures will be available from midnight on the day of the game.
Can City continue their recent improvement?
It is not an understatement to say Man City’s season has not gone to plan. One of the title favourites in pre-season, Gareth Taylor’s side have won twice and lost three times, already leaving them 11 points off Arsenal at the top of the table.
However, one of those victories came last weekend against Leicester, winning 4-1 at the King Power Stadium. It followed a 3-0 win against Durham Women in the League Cup – only their third clean sheet of the season.
Bronze explained: “The players are working hard every day, doing their best. I think you can see it in the games, the players are trying.
“Ultimately, leagues can be won and lost because of draws or games which you should’ve put away, but you didn’t. It seems like we’ve had a few of them, as well as some performance where the team we’re playing against has been better.
“Gareth is very process-driven, which sometimes can be good and sometimes a bad thing. He’s quite direct and straight down the line, wanting to get on with what we’ve got. There’s not use in feeling sorry for ourselves with injuries or what have you.
“But we’ve still got world-class players on the pitch, but a lot of things have happened to us, whether it’s inflicted by other people or us just not killing off a game. There’s plenty of excuses in the book, but all we can do is crack on and focus on the next game.”
Despite signs of improvement, they will face the ultimate test when they take on Chelsea on Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
After the Blues’ opening weekend defeat to Arsenal, they have only drawn once since, winning the remaining games. This includes a 7-0 thrashing of Servette in the Champions League on Tuesday, having rediscovered their form at both ends of the field.
City and Chelsea are regular rivals both on and off the field, with the tactics and dangers well known. Emma Hayes’ side won their FA Cup semi-final meeting a few weeks ago, beating Man City 3-0 at the Academy Stadium. It ended City’s hopes of defending their FA Cup title for a third successive year.
But Man City have never lost at home to Chelsea in the WSL (W3 D5) – the only team Hayes’ side have not defeated away from home in the league. They will be hoping to summon the same spirit when the Blues visit again this weekend, live on Sky Sports, as City look to get their season back on track.
Will Ward win on her return to Birmingham?
It’s not only London that has a huge derby this weekend – Carla Ward will be taking her Aston Villa side the short distance across the city to take on her former team, Birmingham.
Ward left the Blues in the summer to take up the open spot at Villa. It was disappointing for Birmingham fans, with the former midfielder keeping the team in the WSL despite tricky circumstances. One of these manifested as a formal letter of complaint from players to the board, raising issues around facilities, travel, and budget restrictions.
On the field, things have not improved too much under Scott Booth. Birmingham have registered just one point in the WSL this season, and are only being held off of bottom spot by Leicester.
Aston Villa also had a tricky time last year. Having been promoted from the Women’s Championship, they quickly found themselves in a relegation battle, with manager Gemma Davies being replaced by Marcus Bignot halfway through the season.
Ward has gone some way to steady the ship. Villa sit rather comfortably in eighth spot, with two wins this season – almost matching the entire win total from last season (3). However, they have lost their last three WSL games, though this did include matches against the current top two of Arsenal and Chelsea.
“That aspect of it [Ward’s return to Birmingham] adds to it, I think,” Villa forward Sophie Haywood told the Women’s Football Weekend preview podcast.
“It’s been great, she’s a good character to have around. She’s very confident in us and very vocal in what she thinks we can achieve.
“But the biggest thing she brings is her realism. She’s confident, but realistic in where we are, where we want to be and how we get there.
“We’re realistic in that we know the talent that we’ve got and the football we can play against certain teams. We go into every game wanting to get something from it, but we need to be realistic in how we achieve that.”
Ward’s weekend return to St Andrew’s is a prime chance for both Birmingham and Villa to pick up more vital points, as well as city bragging rights.
Another 3-0 for Reading?
Just over a month ago, Reading were one of three WSL sides yet to register a point this season. However, something has begun to click for Kelly Chambers’ side, winning their last two league games against Birmingham and Aston Villa by a 3-0 scoreline.
It marked their first WSL goals of the season and their first shutouts. After beating Birmingham, Chambers told Reading’s official website: “We’ve entered a window now where we are playing the teams that we believe we will be competing against in the league.
“It’s ever so important that the last two league games that we’ve played, we have picked up maximum points, and now the attention turns to West Ham.
“West Ham are a great side, they’ve made some brilliant additions to their team. So, for us, we’ve got to prepare properly, as we do every week, and make sure we go into that game at the highest level.”
Olli Harder’s side have had an equal start to the season – winning two, drawing two and losing two of their WSL games. In fact, since their defeat to Arsenal on Sunday, West Ham had been unbeaten since their opening weekend loss to Brighton.
“We’re in a much better position this year than we were last year. We looked at our fixture list and targeted games where we wanted to come away with three points,” Flaherty said.
“Obviously we got a great result against Man City, but against the teams in and around us, that’s what cost us last year, not picking up points against those teams.
“It’s been more consistent and now Olli has had more time to embed his philosophy, we’ve made some great signings too and we’ve just got great people there.
“I say it all the time, I don’t care how good a player is, if they’re not a great person and they don’t bring the right values, then I’d rather they weren’t in the team.”
Is this the weekend Leicester register their first point?
It has been a tough start to life in the WSL for Leicester. Promoted as Women’s Championship winners last season, Jonathan Morgan’s side are yet to register a point with six successive defeats.
Despite scoring inside 60 seconds against Man City last weekend, the Foxes ended up losing 4-1. But striker Jess Sigsworth – who netted the early goal – is seeing improvements in the side.
She told the club’s official website after the City defeat: “We’re still quite new to this league and have still got a lot to learn, but I feel like each week, we are improving as a team and our performances are getting better. We just need to stop conceding silly goals.
“Preparation starts now [for Brighton]. We’ll go into that game full of belief that we can win it and we’re excited. Hopefully, we can get off the mark with our first win.”
But they will come up against one of the league’s in-form teams in Brighton, spearheaded by one of the WSL’s most experienced coaches in Hope Powell.
The Seagulls have lost just two league games this season, winning the remaining four, including victories against Tottenham and Everton.
Barker told the Women’s Football Weekend preview podcast: “I think they’re settled, they’re organised and they’re picking up those points that you wouldn’t necessarily think that they would, but beating the teams that you think in the moment, they would shade that one.
“I don’t know if they’ll hit the top three heights and stay there, the same with Spurs. They’ve had brilliant starts to the season, but you think fourth or fifth and how remarkable that would be given what is a really competitive season.”
With home advantage, Leicester will face a tough task in recording their first points in the WSL. But football is ever unpredictable and the Foxes will be hoping to use that to their benefit on Sunday afternoon.