European women’s review: Mead boosts Arsenal; Putellas breaks record

Amid an international break for the men, there was plenty of domestic action in women’s soccer this weekend. These are the key talking points from the Women’s Super League (WSL), along with some highlights from Europe.

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Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Aston Villa on Sunday was arguably the game of the weekend as the return of England star Beth Mead, from an ACL injury sustained 11 months ago, saw the Gunners snatch a late victory from the jaws of defeat.

It’s been an arduous start to the season for the Gunners. Their unceremonious ejection from the Champions League at the first round of qualifying was followed by an opening WSL defeat to Liverpool and 2-2 draw with Man United, so when they found themselves 1-0 down to Villa in the 90th minute, things did not look great.

Despite having the bulk of possession (65%) and shots (28 to 5) against Villa — reminiscent of their first day loss to Liverpool — Arsenal looked largely flat and predictable after going behind to Maz Pacheco’s 25th-minute effort.

It wasn’t until Mead — who won the Golden Boot and Player of the Tournament awards as England won Euro 2022, before being voted runner-up in the Ballon d’Or — entered the fray in the 88th minute, that the Gunners showed any dynamism in the final third. Katie McCabe gave the Gunners hope with a goal in the 92nd minute and then Mead set up Alessia Russo for the winner just two minutes later to grab an unlikely three points.

It was a familiar story for Villa, with three of the six goals they’ve allowed this season coming after the 90th minute. But their loss was Arsenal’s gain as Mead’s return to the pitch seemed to galvanise the hosts and give them a conviction in their play that has been waning.

It would be overly simplistic to say that Arsenal have merely been missing Mead — or striker Vivianne Miedema, also on her way back from an ACL injury — this season (and the end of last), as manager Jonas Eidevall has a vastly talented squad at his disposal. Yet, it is clear Arsenal lose dimensions in attack with both sidelined and the club will get a mental boost from both this late win and Mead’s return.

Leicester boss Willie Kirk likes to focus on the bigger picture and, after their 1-1 draw away to Manchester United on Sunday, said: “I said [before the match] I would take losing the game if we play our way because I think, long term, we’ll get a lot more out of it.”

In the end, Leicester played their way and held on for a point to continue their unbeaten start to the season after Aileen Whelan’s 60th-minute opener was cancelled out by Maya Le Tissier seven minutes later. It wasn’t the prettiest game, and United had the bulk of the attacking play, but the Foxes showed their organisation throughout to keep them quiet.

Indeed, the composure shown by Leicester is indicative of the hard yards the team have been putting in so far this season to rise to second in the table, after they narrowly escaped relegation last term.

United, who had half an eye on their midweek Champions League trip to face Paris Saint-Germain, will rue their chances and an injury to defender Gabby George, but also did well to battle back from behind. “We have the mentality, but there are times we are trying to pass rather than shoot,” United boss Marc Skinner told MUTV. “If you are in a shooting position, shoot. That is where we have to grow.”

After two weeks of toil, Chelsea finally looked like their old selves on Saturday evening as they extended their incredible winning run at home in the WSL to 17 games, with a 2-0 victory over West Ham. Sam Kerr’s opener, a header from a cross by Niamh Charles, was far more what viewers have come to expect from Emma Hayes’ team and highlighted the strengths of having good connections between the players. England forward Fran Kirby — making her first start since February after a long-term knee injury — was also part of the move and impressed on her return to the side.

Substitute Erin Cuthbert secured the win with a late goal and, with three wins from three, the champions are starting to purr. Now they have their exhausted players returning to fitness, it is an ominous sign for the rest of the league.

An away game at Manchester City is not easy for any side — not least when the league leaders are playing with the type of attacking freedom that wins titles — but Bristol City continued to show their inexperience in a 5-0 defeat that saw City set a new record for headers scored in one WSL game.

With the gap between the two tiers seeming to grow wider every season, so far the newly promoted Robins have looked like a Championship side as they’ve struggled against established WSL teams. Here, the damage was done in the first half and, after Jill Roord had opened the scoring on nine minutes, a 13-minute spell saw four more goals nodded beyond goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese.

Roord (2), Khadija “Bunny” Shaw (2) and Laia Aleixandri got on the scoresheet for City and, even with some half-time tweaks that helped reduce the number of clear-cut chances for the hosts, Bristol had no way back. With Arsenal up next, the question of where the Robins’ points will come from this season continues to hang heavy for a club that reached the Champions League quarterfinals less than a decade ago.

In the eighth minute against Brighton at the AMEX, Spurs conceded first as Elisabeth Terland netted a header. That usually means a defeat is coming, but what happened next was a surprise for the Spurs fans who have watched their team toil over the past few seasons. Martha Thomas got Spurs level just before half-time, then the highlight of the game came as Grace Clinton’s belter from outside the box sailed over Nicky Evrard to put them ahead. And Ria Percival wrapped things up late on to complete the comeback.

What was different for Spurs was that they controlled the flow of the match after that early concession. It’s yet another match since Robert Vilahamn took over as coach that the Lilywhites have shown renewed fight and a belief in their own abilities, while it ended a nine-game streak without a win on the road.

In a less-than-comfortable 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid in Liga F, Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas made Barcelona history by netting her 182nd goal from 404 games to break the club scoring record set by her Spain teammate Jenni Hermoso.

Putellas’ winning goal was her third in as many games as she starts to reach her best form after suffering an ACL injury last season. And, five games into the campaign, the Catalans have yet to drop a point, only sitting above rivals Real Madrid at the top of the table on goals scored.

Bayern Munich once again have injury problems to deal with, and that will always put an asterisk next to any dip in form, but the reigning Frauen-Bundesliga champions have not started their title defence well so far, with eight points from four games.

Against an Eintracht Frankfurt team halfway through Champions League qualifiers, who had yet to keep a clean sheet in the league this season, the Bavarians again came up short in a 0-0 draw.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a team without the likes of Pernille Harder and Sydney Lohmann are missing a creative spark in midfield, but the hosts were markedly flat against Frankfurt.

After their own patchy start to the season (with two defeats in their first three games), returning from Munich with a point should add a renewed sense of belief to the Frankfurt dressing room. Having smashed five past Sparta Prague on Tuesday, the Eagles have all but confirmed a spot in the Champions League group stage, but will have to juggle the increased games and travel over the coming months.

On Saturday night, PSG’s clash with Stade de Reims was abandoned less than 10 minutes into the second half as fireworks let off outside of the stadium began to rain onto the pitch.

A date for the remaining 35 (or so) minutes to be played has yet to be announced, with the two teams deadlocked at 0-0 at the point of the hiatus.

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