16 November 2019
A data driven review of this weekend's FA WSL matches - using StatsBomb's industry leading football data and analytics.
Liverpool v Everton
Merseyside derbies are, traditionally, fierce and tightly-contested affairs. On the men’s side, Everton haven’t won at Anfield in 20 years. This weekend could well see the club break that run, thanks to their women’s team.
Everton are a good side who have taken full advantage of a great run of form for 21-year-old forward Chloe Kelly. She’s the league’s topscorer on four goals and, deservedly, won the September Player of the Month award. Playing from the left wing, Kelly gets chances, runs at defenders, and wins free-kicks. A bit of a devil to play against.
Chelsea v Manchester United
While Manchester United are nominal newcomers to the league, they’ve staked a genuine claim to be considered part of the WSL elite in their first five games.
For the past few years, the trio of Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal have been the top tier of England’s top tier – in fact, the last time that these three didn’t exclusively make up the podium of the WSL was in 2014.
Casey Stoney’s Manchester United have won three of their opening five games, and only lost their other two league ties narrowly to Manchester City and Arsenal. On expected goals, they clearly look like the fourth-best side in the league, and one can only imagine they’ll improve as time goes on.
Manchester City v West Ham
Manchester City may have lost Nikita Parris to Lyon in the summer but they’ve remained a strong attacking force, and that’s been without what appeared to be the marquee signing of Ellen White. White has now recovered from a knee injury and scored against Germany in England’s recent friendly, but she’ll face competition for a starting spot from Germany’s own Pauline Bremer.
Twenty-three-year-old Bremer has helped fill the hole that was presumably imagined for White, scoring twice in three appearances to make her City’s top league goalscorer. Nick Cushing also has a couple of very handy wingers to call on in Janine Beckie and Lauren Hemp (on the right and left respectively).
Beckie struggled to get a proper run in the team during 2018/19 but has started every league game this campaign and, despite being yet to find the back of the net, has been a consistently dangerous attacker. From open-play, her shots are worth an average 0.22 expected goals each, largely stemming from the tendency to be on the receiving end of incisive through-balls.
Brighton v Birmingham
This match, between the ninth- and eleventh-place teams in the league, will likely be overshadowed by the big-name derbies going on this weekend. But it might be a hidden gem.
These are two teams who are much more interesting – and probably a little better – than their league position suggest, and it’s a shame that they meet when they have just five points between them. The loser will start to feel like the league is getting away from them, when there will likely be some real nuggets of positivity they can hold onto.
For the hosts, it’s that their underlying statistics aren’t that bad. They’re about the same as Tottenham Hotspurs’, who sit five places and seven points ahead of them. Things look even better for Brighton if you take out their two matches against Big Three teams – in their case, Chelsea and Arsenal – whereupon their metrics look like a solidly midtable side. While they were deservedly beaten by West Ham, they could consider themselves a little unfortunate to lose to Everton and to only draw against Bristol City in the season opener.
Twenty-year-old Ellie Brazil is a good enough player that, at times, Brighton don’t quite seem to know what to do with her. A talented ball-carrier, she’s one of the more creative and positionally intelligent players on the team, and so finds herself almost as a second striker, but she looks most at home on the right wing, where her defensive workrate is also very valuable. Léa Le Garrec’s delivery is great, highlighted by her high rate of expected goals assisted from set-pieces, even if she could do with being a bit choosier about where she shoots from.
Reading v Bristol City
On last season’s showing, this would have been a solidly mid-table clash, between two of their lesser-fancied but nonetheless competent sides in the WSL.
This season Reading still belong to that description, but Bristol City are struggling far more than their sixth-place finish in 2018/19 would have led many to expect. Not only have they won just two points (one of which, a draw against Brighton on the opening day, being pretty fortuitous) but they have the worst underlying statistics of the league. One saving grace is that, when limited just to matches against the non-‘Big Three’ (i.e., everyone who isn’t Chelsea, Arsenal, or Manchester City), Liverpool have looked marginally worse than them.
The problem is threefold. Firstly, the Robins don’t try and win the ball back very actively and they instead defend very deeply. The location of their defensive actions is the deepest in the league and, up until the final third or quarter of the pitch opponents find it pretty easy to progress the ball up the pitch. This tactic works to drag down the average quality of chances their opponents get, but Bristol cede so much possession (Bristol themselves average just 39%) that they’re still conceding chances worth 1.56 expected goals per game, and that’s just from open play.
They’re not making that up in attack, though, averaging just an anaemic 0.42 expected goals. They’ve taken just 14 shots from inside the box across their opening five league matches. Only three of those have been on target.
Meanwhile Reading have a player in England legend Fara Williams who’s already got three assists for the season. It wouldn’t be much of an overstatement to say that Reading would be lost without the 171-capped 25-year-old: she’s been directly involved in all four of the Royals’ league goals this season, scoring the one of the quartet that she didn’t set up.
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