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WSL talking points: Slick City show best side, Arsenal can rival Chelsea


Lauren Hemp © Getty

Man City in free-flow should inspire fear

Plenty stood out from Manchester City's latest derby win over neighbours Manchester United but what resonated most - in stark contrast to the team in red - was City's conviction.

There was confidence in a clearly-defined game plan and a belief their match-winners, sooner or later, would rise to the big occasion. This was a contest dominated by big hitters and City simply had more of them.

As Jill Roord wheeled away in celebration, having netted her fourth WSL goal in seven appearances, the writing was all over the Old Trafford walls. Mary Earps had denied Bunny Shaw earlier, but was powerless to prevent Roord's pinpoint low strike from nestling in her net.

A minute later, Lauren Hemp sent a delicious curler in off the underside of the crossbar from a tight angle before displaying a customary ear-cup towards the home crowd and suddenly the game had turned on its head. A knee slide followed. City came to milk this.

Shaw added a third before the night was out in a performance that packed poise as well as punch, not least because Gareth Taylor's side entered the game off the back of consecutive defeats. Three losses would almost ensure they were out of the WSL race before the halfway point.

If we were awarding WSL honours on footballing efficiency and entertainment alone, City would have many more league titles than the one they managed back in 2016. But if they can click with greater consistency this term, as they did at the weekend, we may have a genuine race on our hands.

Man Utd's missing links

We thought this might happen. There were three players on the lips of every big European club over the summer and they all played for Manchester United. Two left, one stayed put.

Forward Alessia Russo got her much-anticipated move to north London to join Arsenal, right-back Ona Batlle swapped rainy Manchester for the sunnier climbs of Barcelona, while goalkeeper Earps chose to keep faith. Only time will tell if that's a decision she will come to regret.

Mary Earps reacts after conceding a third goal
Image: Mary Earps was the subject of bids from Arsenal in the summer transfer window

Unsurprisingly, where United suffered most against City was down their right-hand side, with Leah Galton acting as a makeshift full-back, and in attack, where United lacked any poignancy or joined-up thinking. Katie Zelem scored their only goal of the night and that was gifted from the penalty spot.

A clear gap remains between Marc Skinner's side and the traditional top three of Chelsea, Arsenal and City, yet last season's second-place finish appeared to suggest a narrowing. There was even talk of a 'big four' after United were the ones to go toe to toe with Chelsea at the top. Less so now.

United have to come to terms with their missing links or risk that gap becoming too vast to chase down.

Arsenal have joined the party

It took a bit of time for Arsenal to get going this season but now we are starting to see some serious output. It's been raining goals in recent weeks and the responsibility has been shared - the sign of a team in tune.

Arsenal's last three league wins have contained 11 goals scored by eight different players, and that's without the contributions of Beth Mead and Viv Miedema who are still managing phased returns from injury.

We know the Gunners play pretty football, and we know they attract big crowds, but where they have fallen short in recent years is prioritising style over substance. Now the squad feels more complete, with greater depth, it should lead to a more sustained title challenge.

Seven games in and Arsenal trail Chelsea by three points, before the big meet on December 10; that will be the earliest indicator of which way the pendulum is likely to swing this season.

Popcorn at the ready, that one will be tasty.

James is a superstar

"She's the most naturally gifted footballer in the country," says Emma Hayes. It's exactly how Lionesses fans felt over the summer when Lauren James was swaggering around World Cup arenas in Australia and New Zealand, scoring sublime goals on the biggest stage of all.

James says everything she achieves in a Chelsea shirt this season will be an ode to her departing head coach. The news Hayes will be leaving the WSL for a new US venture caught us all off-guard last week, and her players have remained coy, but deep down emotions will be whirring.

Hayes has built the most successful WSL side there's ever been. Chelsea's domestic dominance - monopoly over leagues and cups - is truly astonishing, but her cultivation of winners is what's most impressive.

James has so much talent it's almost unfair and under Hayes she's become a world-beater. Her finishing against Liverpool was so effortless it was as if she was playing unopposed - like a training exercise where the pressure is off, so everything you touch turns to gold.

Chelsea look devastating when James is at her best and now emboldened by a desire to give Hayes the ultimate send-off, she may just be untouchable.

Watch Manchester City host Tottenham in the WSL live on Sky Sports Football on Sunday from 6.30pm; kick-off 6.45pm

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