The Women’s Super League made an electric return this weekend with shock results, record crowds and impressive debut goals.
Clubs looking to build on the buzz created by England’s success at Euro 2022 were made to wait an extra week – after the first round of fixtures were postponed following the death of Queen Elizabeth II – but it was certainly worth it.
Questions have been asked of Manchester City after their large list of departures, including the world record transfer of midfielder Keira Walsh to Barcelona, and whether anyone could knock champions Chelsea off their perch.
But few would have seen both of those clubs losing on the opening weekend as City were beaten 4-3 in a dramatic and frantic encounter at Villa Park, before Chelsea suffered a shock defeat to newly promoted Liverpool.
It was a reminder of the competition facing the top clubs this season as City look set for a challenging battle to secure Champions League qualification.
Manager Gareth Taylor was under pressure last season after a poor start during an injury crisis but City clawed it back to finish third, only to lose in the qualification rounds of the Champions League last month.
That loss to Real Madrid, compounded by the late departure of Walsh a day before the transfer deadline and now this opening loss to Villa have darkened the clouds hanging over the club.
Their defeat was made worse by the fact rivals Manchester United – who many predict will be City’s closest challengers for third spot – comfortably beat Reading 4-0 with a slick performance on Saturday.
The pressure on City – and Taylor – to deliver increases as scrutiny of the decision to allow several high-profile players to leave in the transfer window grows.
“The spine of Aston Villa’s team was up against a broken spine in Manchester City’s team,” former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis said on BBC Two. “A spine that has been taken apart with players leaving left, right and centre.”
The dramatic scenes continued at Prenton Park as Liverpool, in front of a record 3,006 crowd, scored two second-half penalties to win 2-1 and spoil the start of Chelsea’s title defence.
Chelsea also lost to Arsenal on the opening day of last season but looked surprisingly short of creativity and quality in the final third against Liverpool on Sunday.
Emma Hayes was evidently frustrated and said her team “couldn’t hit a barn door” on a weekend when rivals Arsenal won 4-0 comfortably at home to Brighton.
The Blues lost just twice in the league in 2021-22 but with just one point separating them and runners-up Arsenal last season, they cannot afford to throw away further points against sides they will be expected to beat.