If anyone needed convincing of the WSL’s entertainment value, they only needed to tune in to Arsenal vs Chelsea on Sunday as the league’s two most successful clubs went head to head on the opening weekend.
It took just 14 minutes for the first WSL goal of the Jonas Eidevall era at Arsenal, as last season’s Golden Boot runner-up Vivianne Miedema thundered an effort home into the bottom corner. It was a similar finish at the other end as Chelsea equalised just before the break, Erin Cuthbert producing a wonderful finish to make it 1-1.
But four minutes after half-time, and Arsenal restored their lead. Beth Mead went it alone, firing a wonderful effort home. 11 minutes later and the forward added her second of the afternoon, rounding the oncoming Ann-Katrin Berger to roll the ball over the line.
Pernille Harder pulled a goal back for Chelsea shortly afterwards with a leaping header, but there was to be no miraculous comeback for the title holders.
It was the big game of the weekend and the real watershed moment for the WSL with the game played at the Emirates Stadium live on Sky Sports. The action did not disappoint either, packed full of goals, superb play and plenty of edge of you seat drama as Chelsea pushed for that elusive late equaliser.
Sky Sports’ Sue Smith said on co-commentary: “That was brilliant. We have seen two top-quality sides who will be going for the title.”
The joy of inclusivity
The taking of a knee remains a part of the 2021/22 season across the English leagues, and the WSL is no different.
However, at the start of each men’s game, you are often listening for the low level of booing that sometimes precedes the applause. But at the WSL games this weekend, there was nothing but loud cheers as fans openly welcomed the gesture.
Women’s football has always been openly inclusive. Many of the players are part of the LGBTQ+ community – Chelsea captain Magdalena Eriksson and striker Pernille Harder are one of the couples within the game.
It was also a rather strange sight, albeit nice, as fans from both teams mingled freely in the stands. There was a large section of Chelsea supporters embedded among the Arenal fans at the Emirates, and the same between Man Utd and Reading, with each trying to out-sing each other. It is a sight never seen in the men’s game.
And yes, there are caveats. There are far fewer fans to deal with and much of the crowd is made up of young children. But it is still a reminder of the goodwill and inclusivity that is prevalent across the WSL.
World-class goals light up the league
There has been some undeniable quality across the WSL on the opening weekend, but there have been some sumptuous goals to really catch the eye.
Manchester City and England captain Steph Houghton – who is not renowned as a goalscoring centre-back – netted an incredible fourth goal in City’s victory at Everton on Saturday. It was a stunning free-kick that left goalkeeper Sandy MacIver rooted to the spot.
There were also well-taken debut goals from summer signings Vicky Losada and Khadija Shaw, demonstrating the incredible quality City have their squad this season.
And anything Houghton can do, Aston Villa’s Sarah Mayling can match. She curled her own sensational free-kick home to equalise for Villa in their 2-1 win against Leicester on Saturday. Even Cristiano Ronaldo would be proud of both efforts.
On Sunday, live on Sky Sports, there were some incredible finishes at the Emirates. Mead’s first goal, in particular, was a wonderful finish as she collected a world-class pass from Miedema, splitting the defenders before an emphatic finish. It’s no surprise when she was named Sky Sports’ Player of the Match after the game.
WSL providing accessibility and visibility
Walking to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, you were met with a crowds of friends and family, packed with kids of all genders and ages in their football shirts, filled with excitement for Sunday’s game. Undoubtedly, it was the same scene across England for WSL games this weekend.
One of the league’s great qualities is the accessibility for children – prices for kids at the Emirates saw under 16s pay £6 and £12 for adults. There was a superb turnout in North London too, with 8,705 fans watching the Arsenal victory, and the WSL offers a good introduction for children to live football.
When you consider too that the England men’s side were playing Andorra on the same evening just a few miles away at Wembley, the attendance numbers are even more pleasing.
One of Sky Sports’ aims in airing the WSL is to increase the visibility of the women’s game, especially for those young girls who want to see players like themselves at the highest level on TV. Older female football fans have been rejoicing on social media – there was nothing like this for us when we were younger.
While some families will not be able to attend every WSL game of their favourite side, they will be able to follow all the action on Sky Sports, the BBC and through the FA Player – there has never been more comprehensive coverage of the women’s game.
The moments the WSL deserves
As part of Sky Sports’ flagship football offering, the Women’s Super League was in for the full treatment, giving new views key insights into the league.
This was perfectly demonstrated in Friday’s league opener as Manchester United hosted Reading. Sky Sports’ lead WSL pundit Karen Carney was joined by former Man Utd manager Casey Stoney to analyse the impact of Ella Toone for United last season.
The touchscreen was out, the stats were up and Toone was under the spotlight.
“When I signed her, I saw a lot of potential – she could give and go, the way she used space, there was potential there. City weren’t using her as much so I bought her to United,” Stoney said on Sky Sports.
“It’s a credit to her an the hard work. She’s the first on the training pitch and the last to leave. She worked on her game, she watched her clips and I think she’s done exceptionally well because of that.
“She’s not the most physical of players. She worked on that during lockdown, but can she play one and two touch to stay out of pressure? Can she scan so she knows the situation all the time? She needs to get into situations where she can stay forward because she has a lot of quality.”
It was the expert analysis that those long involved with the WSL have been vying for…
I know we always discourage people in women’s sport from being grateful when they deserve this but seeing all the slides, tables, graphics from the Premier League coverage repurposed for the WSL is dizzyingly good fun and this is now a Stan account for the touch screen pic.twitter.com/Wu77NPuakY
— Katie Whyatt (@KatieWhyatt) September 3, 2021
Each incident was analysed by those who have been there and done it, including former England striker Emile Heskey, who joined Carney and Stoney on Friday evening. He is now an ambassador and coach for Leicester Women.
It was these moments of in-depth analysis from expert pundit and guests – touchscreen or not – that gave the WSL the spotlight it deserves.
Sky Sports – All 35 games will be available across Sky Sports’ flagship channels, including Sky Sports Premier League, Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event.
Sky Sports News – Running 24 hours a day, seven days a week Barclays FA WSL fans can enjoy Sky Sports News (channel 409) rolling editorial coverage of the league and its storylines throughout the season.
Inside the WSL – Hosted by award-winning broadcaster and journalist Jessica Creighton, Inside the WSL is a comprehensive round-up of all things Barclays FA Women’s Super League and women’s football. Airing weekly from Thursday, September 9 on Sky Sports Premier League, the half an hour show will review and preview matches, include in-depth analysis and exclusive player interviews. Viewers can expect gripping behind the scenes access as well as a summary of all the action both on and off the pitch.
Sky Sports Social – Alongside coverage and visibility for the league across all Sky Sports’ main social media channels, a new bespoke Twitter channel @SkySportsWSL will be the home of all Barclays FA WSL content on Sky Sports.
Sky Sports online – Read all the latest news, analysis, features and reports across Sky Sports’ digital platforms, online and on the Sky Sports apps. Watch in-game clips from the games live on Sky Sports, plus free match highlights from every game.
Sky Showcase – All Sky customers will benefit from being able to watch the opening weekend fixtures on Sky Showcase (channel 106) without a Sky Sports subscription. This newly branded channel is designed to curate some of the top shows, films and sports from across Sky’s channels and will highlight Sky Sports’ coverage of Manchester United vs Reading on Friday, September 3 at 7pm, followed by Arsenal vs Chelsea on Sunday, September at 11.30am for the opening weekend.