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Women's Super League Review: Alessia Russo, Bunny Shaw Both Hit Hat Tricks, Villa's Star Duo Dazzle
Russo and Man United brushed Leicester aside on Sunday to reassert themselves in the WSL title race. Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images
March 8th, 2023 | 07:50 AM | 349 views
Arsenal bested Chelsea this weekend to win their sixth Conti Cup, but there was plenty to discuss in the Women's Super League as well, from Reading's late winner to hat tricks over Manchester.
Russo is relentless
Despite their improvements in 2023 under Willie Kirk, with wins over Brighton and Liverpool, Leicester regressed in Leigh on Sunday with a broken defensive performance against Manchester United. Alessia Russo snapped a three-game scoreless streak with an impressive hat-trick for the dominant hosts, and really the only Foxes' highlight from the 5-1 final score was a second-half goal from winter signing, forward Remy Siemsen.
For a team that came into Sunday's game with just six goals scored so far in the WSL this season, the simple fact that they found the back of the net for the third time (in four games) since the turn of the new year should be classed as a small victory for the league strugglers too. Although the Foxes' season won't be defined in games away to the WSL leaders, there is something to be said for the improvements Kirk & Co. are making that have allowed Leicester to score with some degree of frequency.
What we've seen from United at points this season is the ugly, dragging themselves over the line wins in games they should have been comfortable in. On Sunday, against a shell-shocked opponent, Manchester United put in one of their best attacking performances of the season, completely overrunning and overloading the away box throughout the game, finishing the drubbing with 33 total shots and 70% possession.
Marc Skinner will take some relief from watching his players take their chances and hound their opposition into submission. So too will the United boss be happy to see Russo as involved as she was, the England striker put in a starring performance with three goals and an assist, after a bit of a stutter through the month of February.
A regal win for Reading
One of a handful of teams starting to stick at the wrong end of the table, Reading gave their survival hopes a sizable boost with a rare 2-1 win on Sunday, putting in one of their stronger performances to keep West Ham out and go forward with some meaningful bite. After taking the lead via winger Charlie Wellings midway through the second half, Reading rode their luck -- and a sharp equaliser by Viviane Asseyi, who turned home a brilliant Izzy Atkinson cross -- and got the winner five minutes from full-time via Rachel Rowe, who pile-drivered an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
Job done for another week, yes, but the worry for Reading moving forward that all three of their wins have come from the teams below them. Will that be enough to survive? Whatever happens from here, Kelly Chambers is again working her magic with the Royals and they have a strong chance.
As for West Ham, concern ought to be growing around their results, as they've picked up just two wins -- and they came against two of the current bottom three -- in their last nine league outings. With a comfortable buffer between themselves and the lower half of the table, the Irons aren't likely to get pulled into the battle at the bottom, but they'll need to address what is turning into a theme rather than a rare stumble.
The Shaw supremacy surfaces at Man City
Another Manchester-based player had a fun time of it on Sunday, too, as Khadija "Bunny" Shaw took home the match ball for an impressive trio of strikes against Spurs.
Playing some of their best football of the season so far against Arsenal last time out in the league, they struggled early on vs. Spurs, again falling into their season-long pattern of poor shot conversion. The Citizens one of the most creative teams in the WSL, but they're also a team that never fully capitalises on their attacking dominance to put games beyond doubt. While they did beat the Gunners on Feb. 11, the game was nervier than it needed to be given their control.
On Sunday with struggling Spurs -- who haven't won in the league since October -- in town, the hosts bungled several strong chances before conceding first. Celin Bizet Ildhusøy opened the scoring, converting Rosella Ayane's cross after half an hour before Shaw worked her magic in front of goal.
Shaw's first, on the cusp of half-time, was opportunistic, heading home after Tinja-Riikka Korpela's save wasn't sufficiently cleared. Her second was a calm penalty, converted after defender Ashleigh Neville fouled winger Chloe Kelly, and while Tottenham had chances to pull level again at 2-2, Shaw danced through two tackles to thunder in her third in the final 10 minutes, putting the contest beyond doubt.
As long as Shaw, currently the top goalscorer in the WSL with 13 strikes to her name, can keep scoring, City should be fine in their quest to finish in the top three or even go for the title. However, the question has to be asked of why it's so hard for them to put the ball in the back of the net given all the chances they spurn.
With Bethany England currently unavailable with a knock, there was a slight worry as to Spurs' ability to score goals without their January signing, yet the Lilywhites did manage to find the back of the net - something they have largely struggled with this season. Although they ended up losing, somewhat sucker-punched by the timings of City's goals -- just before the break and two minutes after the restart -- the team continues to inch in the right direction, there is the understanding that the team need to start picking up points, especially with two "relegation six-pointers" -- away to Liverpool, home to Leicester City -- on the horizon.
Dali, Daly delightful
The partnership we've seen this season between Kenza Dali and Rachel Daly has been one of the more memorable in the history of WSL. It's been even more remarkable considering both players moved to Aston Villa ahead of the new season and almost instantly striking up a strong pairing -- and it's here that we shouldn't forget Kirsty Hanson, on loan from Manchester United, who rounds out the attacking trio.
Against Everton, who have rapidly improved this season with three wins and one draw (against United) in their past five WSL games, Villa again showed some of their better football, getting more consistent in top to bottom 90-minute performances as they ran out 2-0 winners. Daly teed up Dali for the opener after just five minutes, while a Megan Finnigan own goal with 20 minutes remaining put the result beyond doubt. Although the Midlands team won't be breaking into the top four this season, their continued growth speaks to the promise for next year.
Inconsistency is probably the best way to describe the Toffees this term under new boss, Brian Sørensen, and while the Dane has made rapid improvements to the squad in a short space of time -- summer arrivals like defender Elise Stenevik, midfielder Karen Holmgaard and forward Katja Snoeijs have all played double-digit games this season -- they currently sit sixth in the table with as many wins as losses (6) for the season so far.
Again, against Villa, you could see Everton's development, but they again came up just short against a stronger opponent. But the project has always been a longer term one under their new coach, with this season about laying the foundations for the next, and so far, so good on Merseyside.
courtesy of ESPN
by Sophie Lawson
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