The Women’s Super League made an electric return this weekend, with shock results, record crowds and spectacular debut goals.
Clubs hoping to build on the buzz created by England’s success at Euro 2022 had to wait an extra week – after the first round was postponed following the death of Queen Elizabeth II – but it was certainly worth it.
Questions have been asked of Manchester City after their long list of releases, including midfielder Keira Walsh’s world record transfer to Barcelona, and whether anyone can knock champions Chelsea off their perch.
But few would have seen those two clubs lose on the opening weekend City beat him 4-3 In the dramatic and frenetic encounter at Villa Park, ahead Chelsea suffered a shocking defeat newly promoted Liverpool.
It was a reminder of the competition facing top-flight clubs this season, with City facing an uphill battle to secure Champions League qualification.
Manager Gareth Taylor was under pressure after a poor start to the injury crisis last season, but City bounced back to finish third, losing in the Champions League qualifying stage last month.
That loss to Real Madrid, coupled with Walsh’s departure a day before the transfer deadline and now this opening loss to Villa have darkened the clouds hanging over the club.
Their defeat was compounded by rivals Manchester United – who many predict will be City’s closest rivals for third place – who comfortably beat Reading 4-0 with a superb performance on Saturday.
The pressure on City and Taylor mounts as scrutiny grows over their decision to let go of several high-profile players in the transfer window.
“The broken backbone of Aston Villa’s team was against Manchester City’s team,” former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis told BBC Two. “Spine broken spine with players leaving left, right and centre.”
Dramatic scenes continued at Prenton Park as Liverpool, in front of a record crowd of 3,006, 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 creativity and quality were surprisingly lacking in the final third against Liverpool on Sunday.
Emma Hayes was visibly frustrated as she said her team “couldn’t hit a barn door” after rivals Arsenal comfortably won 4-0 at home to Brighton at the weekend.
The Blues lost twice in the league in 2021-22, but with only one point separating them from runners-up Arsenal last season, they cannot drop more points against teams they will be hoping to beat.
Villa score again as Liverpool show their credentials
Villa showed ambition in the transfer window, signing England international Rachel Daly, France midfielder Kenza Dali and taking Scotland winger Kirsty Hanson on loan.
They scored just 13 goals in total last season, but concerns about their ability to do so this year were quickly dashed against City.
They were on the front foot, aggressive and clinical in front of 6,785 supporters – another record – at Villa Park.
“We wanted to be bold, take risks, create opportunities and make this a tremendous place to play and I think we’ve done that,” Daly said.
It was a testament to Villa’s intent to ruffle the feathers of those top-of-the-table teams as they bid to improve on last season’s ninth-placed finish.
And if anyone wondered if Liverpool were equipped to compete with the best teams in the WSL on their return, they were given a clear indication of the Merseyside club’s pedigree.
Chelsea’s victory marked the hosts’ return to the top flight after a two-year layoff, but they played with similar belief and confidence that they have shown so often in the Championship.
Under manager Matt Beard, who guided them to the WSL titles in his first spell in charge, Liverpool were solid and clinical, which they needed on Sunday.
Chelsea caused them problems and dominated possession but Liverpool grew into the game and took chances when they came.
As Beard said afterwards, there should be “no more doubt” for Liverpool, who have shown their credentials as a WSL team.
England stars in the headlines
Across the country fans lined up outside stadiums and clubs received record crowds as they hoped for the return of England’s Euro winners.
Golden Boot winner Beth Mead took no time to return to club football as she scored twice and set up Swedish striker Stina Blackstenius in Arsenal’s win over Brighton on Friday.
Manchester United fans chanted Ella Toone’s name as she entered Leigh Sports Village on Saturday and it was full of sparks in their win over Reading, while England team-mate Alessia Russo headed in before half-time.
Nikita Parris also shone off the bench for United in his debut cameo.
But it was Aston Villa’s new signing Daly who stole the show with two superb goals in his debut win over City, while Euro 2022’s latest goalscorer Chloe Kelly grabbed an assist for the losers.
“[Daly’s] winner, he sets the standard, people go after him, but he can play confidently,” said Villa boss Ward.