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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Liverpool outfoxed and Barcelona close to five in a row – Full Time with Jessy Parker Humphreys

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.

Main story

Manchester City faced a big setback this week in their attempt to win a first Women’s Super League (WSL) title since 2016 as midfielder Jill Roord was ruled out for the rest of the season with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. The 26-year-old Netherlands international was surprisingly City’s only signing last summer, but she has slotted into Gareth Taylor’s side perfectly.

Following her team’s back-to-back losses against Arsenal and Brighton & Hove Albion in the WSL in November, Roord spoke about transitioning from her former club Wolfsburg to City.

“Everywhere you go, you always learn new things and also take things with you. At City, we care too much about how we play and we should care more about needing to win. That’s something that I can tell the team.”

Roord has scored six WSL goals for City (Stu Forster – The FA via Getty Images)

Since then, City have won six WSL matches in a row — the latest coming in a 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. That was their first match without Roord, with Filippa Angeldahl replacing her in midfield alongside Laura Coombs and Yui Hasegawa.

It was Hasegawa who most epitomised Roord’s win-first attitude, winning seven out of 10 ground duels and all three of her attempted tackles as she stemmed Tottenham’s attempts to get back into the game after an Amy Turner own goal put City ahead inside the first 10 minutes. The Japan international is often associated with her creative passing but her defensive awareness shone in London.

Despite Bunny Shaw’s goal after 51 minutes, City’s attack was far less potent without Roord. They managed 12 shots all game, with only four on target — their second-lowest total of the season behind their 1-1 draw against Chelsea in October, in which they had two players (Alex Greenwood and Lauren Hemp) sent off.

“There’s no denying she’s such a top player,” Taylor said of Roord after the match. “I don’t think we can replace Jill. Sometimes, these things happen.

“What I like about this group is that we’ve shown a different side this season and players step up. We spoke about Jill before the game, about how it’s a lot, but this is where you see the best of us.”

Roord’s injury presents an opportunity for 22-year-old Jess Park to stake her claim on a starting place. Park replaced Coombs in the final 10 minutes.

“We’ve got options and Jess can do that, she can play wide. Usually with those types of players, they’re able to do both in terms of the wide positions and attacking midfielder ones. Mary Fowler can play in that position too.”

Shaw is the WSL’s top goalscorer with 13 goals (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

The manager has relied on a settled team this season, with Park and Fowler having limited minutes. And City are in a strong position, sitting second in the table, with just three points separating them and title-holders Chelsea, who are on 31 points.

But Taylor will now have to show he can evolve this team in Roord’s absence.

What you might have missed

Bristol City replaced West Ham at the bottom of the table after a 2-1 defeat this weekend when the two sides met.

Before this game, the Hammers had failed to secure a WSL win since October but managed to put three points between themselves (8) and the Robbins (5) thanks to forward Viviane Asseyi’s winner in the 55th minute.

Asseyi was a key figure in her side’s win (Ben Hoskins – The FA via Getty Images)

West Ham midfielder Honoka Hayashi opened the scoring in the 13th minute with an impressive effort from the edge of the area but Bristol forward Amalie Thestrup equalised in the 48th after a bizarre period of play in which West Ham thought they had scored only for Bristol to break after it was flagged offside.

Despite the loss, Bristol will take heart from the fact that they continue to score goals (13 this season). The recruitment of defender Lisa Evans last week will be a big boost in their attempt to avoid relegation — bizarre as it is that West Ham let her go to a relegation rival.

And even with the victory, it is hard to say that West Ham are home and dry.

Player of the week

USWNT defender Emily Fox might only have been making her second WSL appearance for Arsenal but she is certainly making herself at home. The right-back was crucial in creating both goals in the Gunners’ 2-0 win over Liverpool which ensured they kept pace with Chelsea.

Much of the focus was understandably on forward Vivianne Miedema who scored the opener in the 60th minute — her first goal for Arsenal since December 2022. But it was 25-year-old Fox’s dribbling that stole the show, with one sequence taking her past three Liverpool players to open up the space for Miedema’s shot.

Miedema scores after her injury lay-off (Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

Just nine minutes later, Fox shrugged off defender Jasmine Matthews to drive inside from the right, setting Alessia Russo free. Russo’s cross was then turned in by Caitlin Foord for Arsenal’s second.

Afterwards, Fox credited the club for her immediate success.

“Coming here, being welcomed and just fitting right in, I feel so lucky. (My coaches and team-mates) make it easy for me to do well and excel.

“It looks like she’s played with us forever,” said her manager Jonas Eidevall. “It’s hard to remember that she’s only been with us this month but she’s integrated very well. She’s phenomenal both in defence and in offence.”

Moment of the week

It has been a couple of years since we have seen a player who cost a world-record fee in the WSL. But being 3-0 up against Brighton with 67 minutes gone, Chelsea brought on their new €450,000 (£384,000; $487,000) forward Mayra Ramirez.

The Colombia international signed this week from Liga F club Levante, with Chelsea deciding they needed to bring in another forward given Sam Kerr’s long-term absence with an ACL injury.

The 24-year-old scored 20 goals in 34 games in Spain and it was obvious, even in this cameo, that her physicality will cause issues for WSL defenders.

From left: Ramirez, with Hannah Hampton, Sjoeke Nusken and Eve Perisset (Charlie Crowhurst – The FA via Getty Images)

Post-match, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes made it clear that Ramirez is a signing as much for now as she is for the future: “I’m not here to waste time: I’m here to win. I have to bed her into the squad as quickly as possible.”

Fortunately for Hayes, the fact her side was 3-0 up after 59 minutes thanks to goals from Fran Kirby and Lauren James meant Ramirez had the opportunity to get her first minutes with minimum pressure.

Goal of the week

Defender Janice Cayman’s superb turn and strike in the 53rd minute ensured a 1-0 victory for Leicester City against Everton. It was their third win of the season.

The Foxes will have taken confidence from thrashing Everton 5-1 in the Continental Cup during the week. And despite it being the first time they had won in the league since October, the three points take them up to seventh in the table.

Elsewhere in Europe

Having won La Liga F for the last four seasons, it is hard not to imagine a Barcelona league monopoly for the next 10 years — especially following their 6-0 dispatching of Real Betis this weekend.

Barcelona went into the fixture off the back of three tough games in January: the semi-final of the Supercopa de Espana Femenina against Liga F’s second-placed Real Madrid, the final against third-placed Levante, and then faced Eintracht Frankfurt in the group stage of the UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL). Still, Barcelona finished these three games with 13 goals scored and none conceded.

Against Betis, Barcelona manager Jonatan Giraldez made several rotations, preferring to field a young team (average age 23) but one name stood out: 17-year-old Vicky Lopez.

Lopez (Diego Souto/Getty Images)

The Spain Under-19 midfielder tirelessly recovered possession and scored Barcelona’s fourth goal with a superb strike from the edge of the area in the 42nd minute.

The youngest player of the match was also named the best player — with the permission of Barca forward Caroline Graham Hansen, who scored another brace that no longer surprises anyone. In 418 minutes, Lopez has three goals and one assist for her side.

In case anyone thought that Barcelona might have grown tired of winning, the new generation of players who are coming through the ranks are still strong and hungry.

Lopez was not the only young player in the starting XI; the Catalan club had Lucia Corrales (18), Martina Fernandez (19), Esmee Brugts (20), Bruna Vilamala (21 and back on the scoresheet after last scoring in January 2023), Claudia Pina (22) and Cata Coll (22) all on the pitch.

The future looks very assured.

What’s up next

The Continental Cup quarter-final draw will take place today (Monday) at 18:30 (UK time), having been delayed from Friday due to the adjudication process over Aston Villa fielding an ineligible player in their final group-stage game.

Chelsea will head to France tomorrow for their final UEFA Women’s Champions League group-stage game against Paris FC — but they do so with confidence that they are already confirmed as group winners.

(Top photo: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

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