Welcome to Full Time, The Athletic’s women’s football column — a one-stop shop every Monday to discuss the big issues in the game in the UK and Europe.
The main story
If you were looking for goals in the Women’s Super League this weekend, Kingsmeadow was the place to be.
Despite Chelsea scoring twice in the opening five minutes, Leicester City were resolute, fighting back first to 2-1 (in the 26th minute through Jutta Rantala’s goal) and then 3-2 (in the 44th minute when Sam Tierney scrambled home). League leaders Chelsea eventually pulled away to seal a 5-2 win but it was a brave performance from Leicester, who are dedicated off the ball, even if their high defensive line looks foolish.
There were plenty of rocky moments for the home side but their attacking confidence was enough to see them through, despite being without captain Millie Bright due to a knee injury.
Sam Kerr took the armband again in Bright’s absence, having been captain in the 4-1 win over Paris FC three days before. Maren Mjelde, who had been captain against Liverpool, also started this game, giving Kerr’s role added weight.
Bright out of England squad through injury, uncapped Turner selected
Yet the defence was shaky without Bright — Jess Carter was out of position for the first goal and goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger was lucky not to be sent off before the second. Her hefty collision with forward Lena Petermann just outside the box earned her a yellow card.
Regardless of those wobbles, Chelsea’s attack continues to be breathtaking. Lauren James’ second-half chip took her to six goals for the season, equalling her best tally and taking her level with Manchester City’s Bunny Shaw and Tottenham Hotspur’s Martha Thomas in the WSL’s Golden Boot race.
James has a new poise in front of goal recently, finding plenty of space darting off the left wing. That side is a major threat for Chelsea, with full-back Niamh Charles registering her fourth assist of the season (the highest in the WSL) by breezing past defenders into the box to set up Kerr’s goal.
And just when it might have been looking nervous for the champions, substitute Aggie Beever-Jones became only the fourth Chelsea player to score in five consecutive WSL matches (after Fran Kirby, Kerr and Bethany England).
Heading into the international break, Emma Hayes’ side are three points clear at the top of the league. They have the only unbeaten record and have scored eight more goals than their nearest competitors. No surprise, then, that Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall said that this might be “the strongest Chelsea I have seen”.
Their first game back after the break? At the Emirates.
What you might have missed
Liverpool forward Shanice van de Sanden was unavailable for the midweek Continental Cup tie against Manchester United, but she more than made up for it in their 4-0 win over Brighton.
Van de Sanden had flown home to be with her partner after she gave birth to a baby girl this week, and celebrated the addition to the family by scoring her first WSL goal for 12 months. Van de Sanden’s speed on the break is still a deadly weapon as she finished off Sophie Roman Haug’s pass from a tight angle, celebrating with the ‘rocking baby’.
“I’m so happy. I’m flying back tonight to see her. I can’t wait to see my baby girl again,” said Van de Sanden after the match.
Player of the week
Manchester City tore apart what had been a resurgent Tottenham, inflicting their biggest-ever WSL defeat on them as they romped to a 7-0 win. Key to their success was Shaw, who gobbled up a first-half hat-trick in 14 minutes and 52 seconds to leave Spurs flailing at half-time.
All three goals demonstrated how crucial it is for City to deliver balls into the box for Shaw, with her movement and dexterity clear to see.
Spurs right-back Asmita Ale was run ragged in her first WSL start of the season, giving Shaw the chance to feast off balls in from the left side. Centre-backs Luana Buhler and Molly Bartrip had no answer as they failed to get tight.
Shaw’s third goal showed her speed in those areas, too, chesting down a ball from defender Laia Aleixandri and into the far corner. It was a dazzling first-half display, leading City to their most comprehensive win of the season.
Moment of the week
It had been 428 days since Beth Mead last scored a WSL goal.
She was making only her second league start of the season since coming back from an ACL injury, but Mead was instrumental in Arsenal’s 3-0 win over West Ham United.
She scored twice but her first was truly Mead at her best, gliding through the penalty area with the ball at her feet before curling it into the top corner. After the ball hit the back of the net, she raised her arms to the sky, dedicating the goal to her mother, June, who passed away in January.
“You see her confidence cutting in and using her left foot and she puts herself into good scoring positions,” said manager Jonas Eidevall after the match. “It’s a really good week for her to get recalled for England and hopefully she can come back and really contribute in the final block before Christmas.”
‘Sometimes I need to tell Beth: ‘Keep chatting to me, I feel really stressed and anxious’
Mead’s second marked her 100th WSL goal contribution, making her the second player after team-mate and partner Vivianne Miedema to hit that mark in the league. Returns from long-term injuries can be fraught but it was a big milestone for a player who will be crucial for Arsenal and England moving forward this season.
What’s up next
WSL and Women’s Championship players are off on the international break, with England finishing their inaugural Women’s Nations League group stage with two crucial matches. They host the Netherlands at Wembley on Friday before heading to Hampden Park to face Scotland next Tuesday.
England vs Scotland vs Team GB: The curious ramifications of the Women’s Nations League
Both matches are must-win if want to have any chance of qualifying for the Olympics.
(Top photo: Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images)