European women’s review: Man City top the WSL, Real Madrid lose

From goalkeeping heroics to drama at both ends of the table in Germany, these are the key talking points from the Women’s Super League (WSL), along with some highlights from Europe.

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There is certainly a precedent at Manchester City for trusting in young players. England regulars Keira Walsh and Georgia Stanway once flourished in the senior team despite their lack of experience, while Ellie Roebuck’s stunning debut as an 18-year-old in February 2018, when she came on in the second minute for the injured Karen Bardsley against Chelsea, showed that trust extends to goalkeepers too.

So there should be little surprise that 19-year-old Khiara Keating has been given a chance between the sticks for City this season. And even less surprise that she has impressed in every game. Watching the teenager keep her third clean sheet in four matches, in a 1-0 win over against Leicester City decided by Chloe Kelly’s 10th-minute goal, brought back memories of Roebuck standing tall against Chelsea five years ago.

In an even match (City had 51% possession and eight shots on target, to Leicester’s six), Keating trusted in her abilities and, time and again, found the claim, parry or block necessary to keep the opposition out — showing particular bravery in one frantic sequence. Much like Roebuck before her, there are still some rough edges that will naturally smooth as she grows into the role. But as City sit atop the WSL table heading into the international break, there is little reason for manager Gareth Taylor to bring in the more-experienced Roebuck or Sandy MacIver in rotation. Keating’s stock is certainly on the rise.

Goalkeepers are something of a theme this week as Brighton’s Sophie Baggaley also earned plaudits for her role in goal despite a 4-2 loss to Chelsea. With loanee Nicky Evrard not involved against her parent club, Baggaley, who spent the last two years warming the Manchester United bench, pulled off a number of incredible saves to deny the Blues an even bigger scoreline.

Particularly eye-catching during a first half in which she made seven saves, Chelsea boss Emma Hayes noted after the game: “The goalkeeper was having a worldie.”

In total, WSL champions Chelsea had 30 shots (12 on target) and showed their dominance despite going behind to an early goal from Pauline Bremer. Summer signing Sjoeke Nüsken scored twice, before Guro Bergsvand (own goal) and substitute Aggie Beever-Jones made it 18 successive WSL home victories for Hayes’ team.

Ahead of their clash against Arsenal, and after a 5-0 defeat to Man City last weekend, Bristol City boss Lauren Smith spoke at length about the ways in which her team were growing and trying to be better, pulling few punches about the defensive improvements required.

Inside seven minutes, the Robins showed the same naivety that had seen City walk all over them to allow Katie McCabe too much space outside the box in her favoured shooting position as she opened the scoring. But, unlike last weekend, Bristol City didn’t allow their heads to drop and they put in a strong team performance to deflect almost everything Arsenal could throw at them from thereon in. Rachel Furness’ 16th-minute equaliser gave the hosts hope, but ultimately McCabe struck again with a deflected effort that third-choice goalkeeper Olivia Clark could do little about in the second half to seal a 2-1 win.

The stats (79% possession for Arsenal; 25 shots to 1) tell the story of one world-class team against one that spent last season in a semi-pro league. But, roared on by a club-record women’s attendance of 12,008 fans at Ashton Gate, Bristol’s performance showed a rapid improvement and gives them some hope for the future despite no points from their first four games.

With five wins from five games in Liga F, Real Madrid may have looked comfortable this season. But, having fallen into the familiar step of grinding out wins more often than is comfortable — Signe Bruun’s 90th-minute winner over Villarreal last weekend a little too recent in the memory — Las Blancas suffered their first loss of the season, 2-1 at home to Levante.

In the driving rain on Sunday evening, the match saw plenty of individual performances to note from Madrid: from goal scorer Linda Caicedo, to midfield architect Sandie Toletti, and full-back livewire Olga Carmona. Yet the hosts could not find a response to Gabi Nunes’ header in the second half after Caicedo had cancelled out Paula Fernández’s opener.

It was not the first time that Real have come unstuck against Levante but it showed just how much they miss forward Caroline Weir, who is sidelined with an ACL injury. For the visitors, who remain the only unbeaten side in the league alongside Barcelona, albeit with three 1-1 draws from six games, it was exactly the type of result they needed. Although they will be ruing the timing of the international window as it stops them building momentum.

Before this season’s promotion to the Bundesliga, FC Nürnberg had only spent one previous campaign in the top flight: in 1999-2000 when the team [still over two decades from being integrated into the main club] managed just nine points from their 22 games. Four games into this campaign and last-placed Nürnberg had yet to get any points on the board, but goals at either end of the match proved enough as they scooped all three in a 2-0 win against an inconsistent Freiburg team to move up to 11th.

At the other end of the table, top side Wolfsburg found themselves two goals down at home to second-placed Hoffenheim inside 45 minutes. After a stinker of a week that saw them knocked out of the Champions League by Paris FC on Wednesday, things looked bleak at half-time on Sunday afternoon. But thanks to a penalty from Dominque Janssen and last-gasp equaliser from Alex Popp, they managed to avoid defeat at the hands of a Hoffenheim team looking to jump above their rivals.

With just two rounds left of the Swedish season, Yuka Momiki’s stoppage-time strike was enough for Linköping to snatch a 1-1 draw from title rivals Hammarby, after Ellen Wangerheim had opened the scoring for the hosts on Saturday.

And, fresh off a Champions League win over Twente in midweek, Häcken took advantage to open up a three-point lead at the top with a 1-0 win against Uppsala on Sunday. Their next match, a trip to Hammarby, is one that could settle the title with a game to spare.

In Norway, Arna-Bjørnar’s No. 1 (okay, their No. 24), Hanne Larsen, stepped up in the 86th minute against Avaldsnes to hammer a penalty beyond her opposite number, Siri Ervik, to equal the scores at 2-2.

Unfortunately for Larsen, she then had to pluck Susan Ama Duah’s matchwinner out of the back of her net three minutes later as Arna-Bjørnar remained rooted to the bottom, two points below Avaldsnes.

After 11 months on the sidelines recovering from an ACL injury, Arsenal striker Vivianne Miedema came on for her first minutes of the season deep into stoppage time as Arsenal saw out a 2-1 win away to Bristol City. The Netherlands international, who is the WSL’s all-time record scorer with 74 goals, entered the fray half an hour after Beth Mead who also returned from an ACL injury last weekend for the Gunners.

“She’s worked so hard over the last few months,” matchwinner McCabe told Sky Sports after the game. “It was a really special moment for Viv.”

Next up for Arsenal is leaders Man City on Nov. 5, so they will need everything they have at their disposal.

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