Manchester City beat Manchester United in a derby at Old Trafford to stay in touch with Chelsea at the top of the Women’s Super League (WSL) and Liga F leaders Barcelona continued their Clasico dominance over Real Madrid as clubs across Europe dealt with a first post-Champions League weekend of the season.
The strains of Champions League status
With the group stage of the Champions League getting underway last week, the impact was felt all over the European leagues at the weekend as some teams appeared bleary eyed for their domestic commitments that put their squad depth to the test.
Lyon‘s return on Friday set the tone, and they had an error from Dijon‘s young goalkeeper Alice Pinguet to thank for letting them draw level after going 1-0 down at home. A late flurry of goals sealed a 4-1 win that made a frustrating evening look far more straightforward than it was. In Germany, neither Eintracht Frankfurt (against lowly Nuremberg) nor Bayern Munich (at Werder Bremen) looked as secure as their respective 2-0 wins suggest, and it was the same elsewhere for Benfica against Braga (1-0), Roma vs. Sassuolo (2-0) and Paris FC as they faced Bordeaux (1-0.) Paris Saint-Germain‘s 2-1 win over Fleury looked like it would never come until Jackie Groenen stuck a sweet swirler into the top corner in the 97th minute. Ajax, who pulled off the shock result of the first round of UWCL games by beating PSG 2-0, were not as fortunate, succumbing to a 1-0 home defeat against high-flying Twente.
It’s a problem that was highlighted by Chelsea boss Emma Hayes after the Blues’ routine 5-1 win against Liverpool. Having arrived home at 4 a.m. on Thursday with a Saturday lunchtime kickoff to prepare, the manager bemoaned the scheduling and reiterated the importance of sufficient recovery time, hammering home the simple need for her squad to get enough sleep between games. Although the depth of the Chelsea bench allowed for Hayes to make six changes to her starting XI, and only have the side look stronger for it, most teams do not boast the same depth.
City stop slide with derby win at Old Trafford
Having suffered two losses on the spin, against Arsenal and Brighton & Hove Albion, Manchester City’s first visit to Old Trafford proved just the tonic as they showed their strength against Manchester United.
The hosts were helped by Laia Aleixandri‘s second-half dismissal as City surrendered possession and put everyone behind the ball, inviting pressure from a flat United side. But the damage had already been done in an imperious display from City, who repeatedly pulled the home defence out of place over the first 70 minutes to win 3-1. From a toe poke to a stunner and a chased-down clearance, the mix of goals and scorers was the feather in the cap of the win.
For United, who had looked smart on the counter during the first half and even took the lead through Katie Zelem‘s penalty, there wouldn’t be another shot on target until deep into the second half as the home side struggled for footing. Their uninspired performance was enough to see City leapfrog them into third place, although both Manchester teams sit well adrift of Chelsea at the top of the table.
Arsenal love a late show
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Arsenal left it late to seal a 3-0 win at Brighton. The Seagulls failed to offer much going forward, but the Gunners did little to build on Stina Blackstenius‘ 12th-minute opener until Caitlin Foord’s clean strike 10 minutes from time.
In many ways, it’s been the story of Arsenal’s season so far, dominance without too much to show for it. But just like against Manchester United, Aston Villa and Manchester City it was the late goals that were so important for the visitors as Foord’s strike was added to in stoppage time by Frida Maanum to help Arsenal’s goal difference.
There is no surprise really, given how well Arsenal press and counter-press their opponents and how much depth coach Jonas Eidevall has on the bench that the introduction of fresh legs and a different attacking dimension has consistently been the difference-maker. Indeed, if Eidevall’s goal scorers aren’t entering the fray late in the day — like Maanum against Brighton, Cloe Lacasse against United or Blackstenius against City — then it’s those with the assists who impact from the bench, like Victoria Pelova and Beth Mead versus Villa.
Leicester restore resilience as Spurs struggle for wins
Leicester City‘s last league outing, a bruising 6-2 home loss to Arsenal, showed none of the defensive nous fans have got used to since the start of the calendar year. In their return to action against Spurs, the hosts responded strongly by stamping their authority on the game from the outset and taking a richly deserved lead less than 20 minutes in through Janice Cayman.
The Lilywhites came back into the game and began to work Foxes goalkeeper Janina Leitzig. But the end of the game, despite surrendering a goal, Leitzig had 10 saves to her name for the afternoon including an eye-catching triple save in the first half, with Leicester clearly having left their forgettable showing against Arsenal in the past.
Spurs finished on top as they drew 1-1 for the third match running, and they had their chances to wrap up three points but there was again a lack of clinical edge. Indeed, Robert Vilahamn’s team, who looked like they were fine-tuning their sharpness in front of goal before the last international break, have been lacking goals since the last international break. Having only taken three points from their last three outings, the team that were flying high at the start of the year have come off of the boil this season. Although Vilahamn notes the steps being taken each game, with others around the league also dropping points, a little more ruthlessness in front of goal could have seen the Lilywhites mixing it amongst the usual top teams.
When it rains, it pours
Goal! I think pic.twitter.com/pWCq86ZV6K
— Sophie Lawson (@lawson_sv) November 19, 2023
Sunday’s early WSL kickoff saw Everton host Bristol City at Walton Hall Park in a lively 2-2 draw that had the Robins snatch a late point after having gone behind twice. However, the details of the actual football remain something of a secret for all but the 886 fans in attendance.
Although some games selected for live TV broadcast have the benefit of multiple cameras in use, most WSL games are shot through one single camera on a perch above a stand. Which is fine, sometimes you miss key angles but, largely, you get what you pay for on a platform (FA Player) that offers you free football. But the lone camera on Merseyside couldn’t cope with the heavy rain, with the lens covered in a film of precipitation for most of the match despite the best efforts of the camera operator and their chamois cloth. The league’s official X (formerly known as Twitter) account didn’t even bother to post Amalie Thestrup‘s equaliser as the action was barely visible.
Given the constraints on the league and the free-to-air nature of FA Player, maybe we should all just be grateful to have regular access to all the games across the Women’s Super League and therefore don’t have to sit in the driving rain (unless we’re one of the 886 hardy souls who wanted to, of course.)
Barcelona give Real Madrid reality check in Clasico
Since Real Madrid’s women’s team was officially incorporated into the club in 2019, they have played 12 Clasicos against Barcelona. Their record: W0, D0, L12.
Madrid had seemingly been getting closer to competing with their all-conquering arch-rivals, but Sunday’s 5-0 defeat at Montjuic was a tough one to take.
The timing of the goals (17′, 43′, 45’+1, 90’+1, 90’+3) may suggest that Las Blancas put up a fight before succumbing to morale-sapping late goals at the end of each half, but there was little question about the dominance of the home side. Indeed, it was the poor finishing from the hosts, rather than the defensive interventions from the visitors, that stopped this match setting a new record for the heaviest defeat in the short life of this fixture.
Still, the aggregate scoreline in the dozen Clasicos that have been played since the first one in 2020 reads Barcelona 42-6 Real Madrid. In those games, Madrid have failed to score in seven of them, and have only scored two goals on one occasion.