Here’s a team of the week for Matchday 5, comprising the games played on the 4th and the 5th November 2023. In a week where Emma Hayes has announced she is stepping down as Chelsea boss after what will be twelve years at the helm, could there be any events as shocking taking place on the pitch?
GK: Sophie Baggaley (Brighton & Hove Albion)
LB: Jamie-Lee Napier (Bristol City)
CB: Molly Bartrip (Tottenham Hotspur)
CB: Amanda Ilestedt (Arsenal)
RB: Grace Fisk (Liverpool)
LCM: Drew Spence (Tottenham Hotspur)
RCM: Johanna Rytting Kaneryd (Chelsea)
CAM: Fran Kirby (Chelsea)
LW: Grace Clinton (Tottenham Hotspur)
RW: Melissa Lawley (Liverpool)
ST: Khadija Shaw (Manchester City)
I always seem to start at the back with these things, so let’s turn it around and start at the front this gameday, with the only loser on the list. Khadija Shaw is one of the best strikers in the world for a reason, and even in defeat, she got a chance to show it off. Akin to Riko Ueki in her performances for West Ham so far this season, Bunny holds the ball so well. She is powerful and commanding and composed, and the clip of her taking a ball that was spinning wildly under control without touching it and set up a teammate was spellbinding. Speaking of Ueki and her play, she’s beginning to display a fine understanding with those behind her, many of those plays stemming from the boot of Izzy Atkinson. Other forwards who had a good weekend include Brighton’s Elisabeth Terland, who is swiftly becoming one of the most clinical finishers in the league, and Bristol City’s Amalie Thestrup, who is one of the key figures in Bristol City’s search for a spark to ignite their season — their first win on Sunday could well mean touch-paper lit. It would be hard to deny for anybody watching however, that the title of Robins’ spark belonged to Jamie-Lee Napier, who just managed to use that magical third eye to carve out crevices of creativity. Brighton’s other goalscorer does get an honourable mention, as Guro Bergsvand always seems to be throwing everything she has at each game, the 2–2 with Man U being no different. Meanwhile, Madison Haley and Lee Geum-min split their responsibilities, with the latter replacing the former at half-time, both having the desired effect in taking the fight to a much-fancied opponent.
But to the rest of the team! Playing in just behind (and either side of) the striker we’ve got two players who dictated the game going forward for their respective teams in Grace Clinton and Melissa Lawley. Anytime the game progressed for either side, you could count on them being involved. Everyone’s favourite player Fran Kirby proved that she only needs an hour to put a game beyond any doubt for Chelsea as well. With a trio like that, it’s no wonder why Manchester United’s Geyse and Everton’s Hanna Bennison (still their most potent attacking threat) can’t grab a cigar. Further into the midfield and we have the marauding pivots of the side — able to spring forward, but just as adept while staying back, and always right where you need them. Drew Spence, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd — take a bow. They kept Manchester United’s Ella Toone, Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert, Sjoeke Nüsken and Jessie Fleming, and Liverpool’s Jasmine Matthews and Marie Höbinger at bay.
At the back, we’ve already mentioned the bright bulb of Jamie-Lee Napier (who keeps out Spurs’ consistent (and guaranteed first name on the team sheet) Ashleigh Neville), and while she was nearly joined by teammate Megan Connolly, one finds it difficult to deny the tenacity of Amanda Ilestedt combined with the composure of Molly Bartrip, the former making herself at home in the Women’s Super League, and the latter playing the role of oxygen tank as new life is breathed into her squad. To their right is another Liverpool number, Grace Fisk, filling in for the outstanding Emma Koivisto with aplomb — once again demonstrating Liverpool’s reliance on their wing-backs, but also their vast industrialisation of them. In goal was a load of drawers (as in ‘those who drew’). Courtney Brosnan’s saves didn’t look as if they were going to count for much as Spurs refused to leave her alone, but The Toffees can thank her for the point they salvaged. Mary Earps doesn’t often get a chance to show why she’s the best in the world at what she does, but with The Seagulls giving Manchester United a harder game than they’ve been used to consistently, she showed up. But it was Earps’ opposite number on the day, one Sophie Baggaley, who claims the gloves today. Coming off a great game against Chelsea last time out, she picked up where she left off as she looks to reclaim her title as best stopper in the top flight.
Two at the front and two at the back in the running for Player Of The Week, and if Grace Clinton hadn’t have given away the penalty that saw two points dropped, she might be sitting atop the throne. Similar rules for Sophie Baggaley — if all three points were Brighton’s, her saves would have been that much shinier. But for the sheer fact that Fran Kirby only played an hour (one could say that’s all she needs), the Player Of The Week this gameday goes to Bristol City’s Jamie-Lee Napier for outstanding cultivation of victory. I should probably start doing a Save Of The Week, but I might do so officially next season — I just wanted a reason to shout-out Khiara Keating’s penalty save as well as Baggaley’s immense reflex save as well as her double save as well as her scoop away.
Goal Of The Week also manages four contenders, and if I was to rank them I’d go…
- 4th Place — Missy Goodwin’s thump into the far top corner to equalise for Leicester against Liverpool.
- 3rd Place — A bronze for Melissa Lawley’s dance through the Leicester defence to give Liverpool the lead.
- 2nd Place — Aggie Beever-Jones and her almost casual drifting beyond the Aston Villa defence grabs silver.
- 1st Place — Ella Toone’s immense strike into the upper echelons of a determined ‘keepers net (sans backlift) grabs the gold medal of Goal Of The Week.
Keep it streets ahead,