Welcome to Full Time, The Athletic’s women’s football column — a one-stop shop to discuss the biggest issues in the game every Monday across the UK and Europe.
In Manchester City’s last two Women’s Super League games – defeats to Arsenal (2-1) and Brighton (1-0) – their fast quickly turned into disappointment.
And Manchester United’s 43,615-strong crowd in front of the stadium in the 21st minute was understandably worried by captain Katie Zelem’s penalty. It looked like it was about to go from bad to worse when United forward Guise scored, but the ball was ruled out of play.
United’s derby party is ruined when nerves are lost – and City exploits Erpes’ weaknesses
That moment shook City out of their daydreams and they went ahead with two brilliant plays in the space of three minutes. First: Chloe Kelly sets up Jill Ruth to go into the bottom corner. The next, the second. Lauren Hemp finds the first corner with a stunning curve.
The decision to put Hemp on temporary left-back Leah Galton and Kelly at left-back was upheld.
Hemp and Kelly are flexible wings; As with Gareth Taylor at his club, he was encouraged by English coach Sarina Wigman. Kelly now has goals against Chelsea and Arsenal this season in support of his brace on Sunday and is proving to be a big player at City.
The game was as good as it should have been when City forward Khadija Shaw deflected Mary Earps’ shot wide in the 55th minute.
Even City going down to 10 players couldn’t help United. Spain’s Laia Alexandri was sent off for a second yellow card, City’s fourth of the season, for pulling back compatriot Lucia Garcia. Only one red card has been issued for the rest of the WSL this season.
Fortunately, ill-discipline only cost City once – both Alex Greenwood and Hemp dropped a point to Chelsea after being sent off – but it certainly looked like they were playing with fire.
Explaining Greenwood’s ‘funny red card’
For now, this win moves them to third. Although this was United’s first defeat of the season, they were six points clear of the leaders, but one point ahead.
Taylor was keen for the town to enjoy the holiday without getting ahead of themselves: “I’d like to think we’re not celebrating too much. This is a good balance because otherwise, if you lose, you may feel like a failure. It’s another step in our journey.”
Despite setbacks in recent weeks, City are the only team to have played three of their title rivals. With four points taken from those matches, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them go on a strong run of results later this year.
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Everton play Bristol City in their first game since being handed a record 10-point deduction for breaking the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules.
While the Premier League’s ban will not have a predictable impact on the women’s team, concerns about the potential knock-on effect on the men’s side will no doubt be considered.
Both goals from Martina Piemonte and Megan Finnegan saw Amy Rogers and Amalie Thestrup equalize twice to take the points away from Bristol City.
It was a disappointing game for Brian Sorensen’s side, who are 10th in the table and sit just one point above the relegation zone.
But Everton suffered another injury after the game – the surprise announcement that 26-year-old Denmark international Nicolin Sorensen will retire in December to “pursue other interests”.
— Nicoline Sorensen (@nicoline_rensen) November 19, 2023
“My promise to myself was to play as long as I enjoyed it and that time is now over,” she said in a statement. Her decision is now in January, Everton needs to strengthen the striker.
Player of the week
For a team that returned from Madrid at 4pm on Thursday, Chelsea certainly didn’t look bored at a half-empty Stamford Bridge.
They made light work of beating Liverpool 5-1, mainly through Lauren James.
It was the 22-year-old’s first WSL senior hat-trick – her previous came back in 2019 for Manchester United in a Women’s Championship game against Crystal Palace. It was an early demonstration of her agility. James stole the show this weekend, giving manager Emma Hayes an early parting gift.
How the USWNT lured Emma Hess from Chelsea: In a nearly $2 million deal
One of the amazing things about James is the way she makes powerful balls look like easy balls. She took two touches on the move before smashing the ball past Liverpool goalkeeper Rachel Laws for her second goal.
Her assist was not to be overlooked – a superb cross from which striker Aggie Beaver-Jones dived beyond Taylor Hinds to score his fourth goal in as many games for Chelsea. It was the 20-year-old’s first senior start for the club.
There’s no doubting James’ talent, but adding these kinds of consistent goal contributions will take her to the next level. Her four goals and assists this season are close to matching last year’s tally of five goals and two assists.
This is England’s golden girl Lauren James – the world’s best player in waiting
Her current 0.48 expected goals per 90 is her best since her debut season in the WSL at age 17.
For Chelsea’s opposition, her continued improvement is a devastating development.
The moment of the week
Aston Villa manager Carla Ward hopes this latest run of games proves she is still the right man for the job, although she is looking for more convincing jobs.
Rachel Daly beat West Ham 3-2 in the second half before Villa secured their first point of the season with a 2-0 win over Bristol City. Lisa Evans’ stunning volley in the 80th minute looked to have sealed a point for West Ham as Daley managed to meet Maz Pacheco despite a spectacular drop.
Although she hasn’t scored as much as she did last season, she’s been a fantastic striker who can get her team – and her manager – out of tight spots.
What comes next?
Southampton are set to welcome a record crowd when they visit Arsenal at St Mary’s on Thursday evening as the Continental Cup group stages return to action this week.
Liverpool’s match against Manchester United is a special game on Wednesday. Chelsea, on the other hand, will host Arsenal in a UWCL qualifier. Paris FC at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League on Thursday night.
(Top photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)