Women's Super League: Six talking points to look out for this weekend

By Emma SmithBBC Sport
Mary Earps
Mary Earps' Manchester United face Bristol City in the early kick-off on Sunday
Women's Super League - Bristol City v Manchester United
Venue: Ashton Gate Date: Sunday, 26 November, 12:30 BST
Coverage: Live coverage from 12:15 GMT on BBC Red Button, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website & app

With the final international break of 2023 on the horizon, all 12 sides in the Women's Super League are in action this Sunday.

Unbeaten Chelsea are looking to extend their lead at the top, while the six sides in the bottom half, separated by just four points, are all seeking any advantage to pull themselves away from the relegation place.

Here are some things to look out for in all six WSL matches this weekend...

'If I was not happy coaching I would go back to building houses'

There was surprise news out of Everton last weekend when midfielder Nicoline Sorensen announced she will retire during the WSL winter break, aged just 26, as she is no longer enjoying football.

Sorensen has made herself available for the three WSL matches before the break - starting at Aston Villa on Sunday - and Everton could well do with her help, having accrued just five points from their first seven league games.

Everton manager Brian Sorensen, despite sadness at her decision, praised his fellow Dane for stopping football due to her lack of enjoyment - saying he would do the same.

"If I was not happy coaching I would go back to building houses," he said. "You have to do what makes you happy.

"It sticks out, not many make that choice, but she is a smart girl. She had an injury for 15 months, that changed something in her. She tried to find motivation but couldn't, not that she didn't give everything."

While Nicoline Sorensen is available this weekend, striker Martina Piemonte is not after the Italian was given a three game ban on Friday for violent conduct during Everton's 2-2 draw with Bristol City last weekend.

'Mead's England return is so pleasing'

Beth Mead
Beth Mead was an unused substitute during Arsenal's League Cup win at Southampton on Thursday

Arsenal fans will be hoping to see star forward Beth Mead complete 90 minutes this weekend for the first time in more than a year following her return from a knee ligament injury.

One year and five days ago, Mead limped out of Arsenal's home defeat to Manchester United with an injury which caused her to miss the World Cup and England's run to the final in Australia.

But Mead is back for Arsenal - making her first start of the season and playing 64 minutes of the 3-0 win over Brighton last weekend - and for England, after being called up by Sarina Wiegman for the final two Women's Nations League matches.

Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall said he was "very pleased" to have Mead back and is looking forward to seeing her in an England shirt again.

"We know all these players have individual hopes and dreams, highs and lows, and they work so many hours," Eidevall said. "To see her return for England is so pleasing, and will be exciting to follow in the international break."

'That is a ridiculous stat'

In pushing Chelsea all the way in the WSL title race last season, Manchester United dropped just 10 points in the 2022-23 league campaign.

This season, they have dropped nine already with three draws in their first six games before losing the Manchester derby 3-1 to City at Old Trafford on Sunday.

It leaves Mark Skinner's side already facing must-win games to keep up with Chelsea, starting away to Bristol City on Sunday lunchtime.

"That's the nature of a competitive league - we have only lost three games since the start of last season," Skinner said. "We've had too many draws, but that is a ridiculous stat.

"From our aspect, we don't want to drop points, but barring Man City and parts of Arsenal [their 2-2 draw at Leigh Sports Village in October], we have outperformed our opponents.

"We have to make those points up. But now we have to focus on Bristol, and not think about other points."

'I'll be disappointed if it ends 25-0'

Chelsea v Leicester City in the WSL
Chelsea scored 14 goals in two games on their way to six points against Leicester in the WSL last season

Few fixtures in WSL history have been more one-sided than Chelsea versus Leicester City. In four previous league meetings, the Blues have racked up a scarcely believable 25 goals without reply.

This includes a 9-0 victory away to Leicester in March 2022, while last season Emma Hayes' side put eight past the Foxes away from home then hit them for six at Kingsmeadow.

Leicester have looked more solid this season, scoring in eight of their nine fixtures, and manager Willie Kirk is putting a brave face on his side's dreadful form against the champions.

"I will be disappointed if it ends 25-0," he said, tongue in cheek, at his pre-match press conference. "If it's 26-1 I'll be ok with it.

"The past is irrelevant, there have been so many firsts this season, little landmarks, so we hope to get another first this weekend."

'We have to get on with the schedule'

Television schedules have been an ongoing matter for debate in the WSL, and reared their head again this week with the director of ITV Sport suggesting games could be shown during the traditional TV blackout at 3pm on Saturday.

The schedule is a particularly pressing issue for Manchester City, who host Tottenham in the contentious 6.45pm slot on Sunday evening, then return after the international break with a Saturday midday kick-off against Aston Villa.

"It feels like we are making steps, the women's game is more visible and rightly so," City manager Gareth Taylor said. "It will need some calendar compromises to allow fans the choice of men's and women's games. It is so hard to fit everything in.

"We get told the schedule and have to get on with it. After this weekend we go into an international break, then Villa on Saturday morning which really limits your time with the players.

"Chelsea had that before, with their Australian players flying back in on Friday."

'Four points from four games is a lot to be proud of'

Brighton celebrate
Lee Geum-min scored a late winner as Brighton stunned Manchester City in the WSL earlier this season

Speaking of the fixture schedule, it has certainly not been kind to Brighton in recent weeks. Their past four games saw them face last season's top four - Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal - in successive matches.

Manager Melissa Phillips was very satisfied to come out of that nightmare sequence with four points - including a smash-and-grab win at City - but warned there can be no let-off for a comparatively kinder looking run of fixtures before Christmas.

Brighton visit Liverpool on Sunday, before matches against Leicester and Aston Villa before the winter break.

"We have shown we can compete with all of them [the top four]," Phillips said. "Four points from four games is a lot to be proud of.

"I don't think there is a mentality change now, we do not underestimate Liverpool in the slightest. The mentality of the group has always been resilient, the mindset is wanting to be difficult to play against and break down. We always set up to do that, regardless of opposition."

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