A blue night for United as City ignite title race
Manchester City pulled rank on Friday evening when their 3-0 win against Manchester United served as a reality check for Casey Stoney’s side. United were top of the table at Christmas and their fans began dreaming about the title but City had a point to prove to their ambitious neighbours.
Gareth Taylor’s team have now won seven games in a row, scoring 28 goals in the process and it is hard to envisage their newly formidable form slipping between now and May. Although Taylor was without the injured United States international Sam Mewis, City remained far superior with the difference most pronounced in attack where injuries are really hurting Stoney.
With Tobin Heath out until April and Lauren James and Alessia Russo also sidelined, she could not afford to see another key attacking player removed from the equation when, with the winger under no pressure from an opponent, Leah Galton’s ankle suddenly crumpled beneath her.
It has taken Taylor time to adapt his managerial style but the adjustments evidently made by the former City men’s youth coach are really paying off now. One of the many admirable things about Lucy Bronze is her absolute honesty and, after returning to the Academy Stadium from Lyon, I’m sure she will not have been afraid to offer Taylor her opinions on what was initially going wrong this season.
After a slightly slow start to the campaign, Bronze, like City, looks back to her best and opened the scoring from the second phase of a corner as, once again, United were beaten from a set piece. Stoney’s side have lost three of their last five games and were cut adrift by Lauren Hemp’s volley before City’s victory was polished off by a gem of a goal from Caroline Weir, whose disguised chip was disgustingly brilliant.
Given that this is only United’s third year in existence and City have been fully professional for seven years it remains to Stoney’s immense credit that her team are still in strong contention to finish ahead of Arsenal and secure a European place but the night belonged to Taylor.
His players mean business and now sit second, five points behind Chelsea with a game in hand. Has their recent renaissance arrived too late though? An awful lot seems set to hinge on Sunday 25 April when Emma Hayes takes her defending champions to the blue side of Manchester.
Kirby’s purple patch goes on but Chelsea have no margin for error
A week after lowly Brighton ended their 33 game unbeaten WSL run, Emma Hayes named a very strong side at bottom placed Bristol City and those players proved absolutely merciless with Fran Kirby, Pernille Harder, Sam Kerr and Beth England all scoring as Matt Beard’s team spent the afternoon under siege.
I’m sure Hayes would like to rest Kirby at some stage but she knows City’s revival leaves her team with no margin for error and the England forward’s on pitch telepathy with Kerr and Harder is so strong that that it is no surprise she has started nearly every game this season.
Kirby also shone as Chelsea beat Arsenal 3-0 last Wednesday and it now seems hard to remember that it was not so long ago that she seemed to have slipped out of the England side and was no longer an automatic starter at Chelsea. Fran had terribly bad luck with injuries and was sidelined for a long time by a virus which attacked her heart but she has returned in the form of her career and it’s wonderful to see.
In contrast, watching a struggling Arsenal slip down to fourth place – and Vivianne Miedema being forced deeper in search of the ball – is increasingly frustrating. Another postponement at Aston Villa saw Arsenal’s scheduled game in the West Midlands frozen off on Sunday but whether their small squad policy was Joe Montemurro’s or the club’s, the manager will now know it needs a rethink in the summer.
Spots up for grabs in England and GB squads
The international break is approaching and England play Northern Ireland at St George’s Park next Tuesday. It will be Hege Riise’s first game in interim charge of the Lionesses and, unlike Montemurro at Arsenal, the Norwegian could be set to benefit from working with a smaller than usual 21-strong squad.
With only 18 players due to be named in the GB party for this summer’s Olympics in Japan – and maybe as many as five or six of them from Scotland and Wales – some England internationals will be getting really nervous about possibly missing the cut for Tokyo.
With the Chelsea and Wales midfielder Sophie Ingle among those building a compelling case for inclusion everyone involved will know they need to impress against Northern Ireland. Although Lyon’s Nikita Parris will surely come back into the fold after quarantine regulations forced her to remain in France during the impending international break, Riise revealed she had left Arsenal’s Beth Mead out as the forward’s WSL scouting reports had “not been great.”
That sort of Lucy Bronze-esque honesty is not only extremely welcome but infinitely preferable to the sort of woolly euphemism you so often get from managers.
It was also good to see Riise further intensify the competition for places by calling up some young players, including Bristol City’s Ebony Salmon. The 20-year-old former Manchester United forward not only deserves her chance with England but offers Bristol City their best chance of overtaking an out-of-form West Ham and avoiding relegation from the WSL.