“We’re in a rut. We’re in a tough place but that’s football… the fight and bite in this team is what keeps us together… our first win is right around the corner.” - Rachel Daly, after Aston Villa Women lost 6-0 to Chelsea.
Villa’s start to the season has been painful, but the recent defeats and the late-October international break have also offered opportunities to analyse players individually and see if the issues are actually down to the players themselves, or a consequence of something not working within the team.
Villa started the Chelsea game strong and within the first 10 minutes were finding opportunities in the wide areas. So it seems like the perfect place to start the analysis with the muscles of Scotland, Kirsty Hanson. It’s been so good to see Hanson back on the pitch with a hunger for scoring and has reinforced what a strength she is for Villa. For Scotland, she was a constant threat in both recent games against the Netherlands, applying good pressure throughout both games and leading the Scottish attack.
During the Chelsea match, she was a constant threat down the left wing for Villa and delivered some brilliant crosses into the box. But unfortunately, there was no one on the end to convert the chances.
Our captain and Scottish skipper Rachel Corsie showed why she’s in charge of the back line as she kept the Scottish defence strong throughout both legs against the Dutch. However, there were still a couple of sloppy passes that escaped the skipper (which we saw in the loss against Spurs before the break) which may be attributed to a loss in confidence at club level.
Her vital role within the Villa squad is why it was such a shock when the skipper didn’t start the Chelsea game. In her pre-match interview, Carla Ward said it was a “tactical decision to keep Corsie on the bench…she’s a massive part of what we’re doing.” While we applaud the chance to shake things up in a team that doesn’t seem to have clicked this season; we needed a strong leader on the pitch and while Daly did a decent job wearing the captain’s armband, as soon as Corsie came on she had an instant impact. Hopefully, that shows how vital the usual skipper is to gaining points this season, even if she is part of the defensive line who haven’t been as watertight as they should be.
Additionally, it was interesting to watch Daphne van Domselaar back with the Dutch national team to see if she’d be more comfortable around a team she was more familiar with. Since the Euros, we’ve all known she’s an incredible talent; but something just isn’t clicking at Villa and she doesn’t seem to be settling into the role. She’s made some good saves and helped keep the scoreline down against Chelsea, but whether it’s confidence or something else behind the scenes, it feels like she’s unsteady, spilling the ball more than saving it. Overall, it hasn’t been an easy watch.
Although we know our defence is a shadow of what it was last season, there needs to be trust both ways and conceding 16 goals in five games is very worrying indeed. There needs to be more power and control from the back going forward if Villa want to challenge those around them this season.
Our Swiss international, Alisha Lehmann, who had some really good moments last season, has been very disappointing in recent performance, ultimately costing the team in vital moments. During the international break, she had her moments in front of goal (four shots in total over Switzerland’s two games) but against Chelsea, she was too weak defensively. She gave Niamh Charles far too much space to the point where it didn’t even look like Lehmann was on the pitch. In games like these, there’s an obvious gap in quality. To combat that, it has to go back to basics: open communication and tight footwork.
Moving forward, our Canadian international Adriana Leon should be starting in place of Lehmann, as she’s much more dangerous on the ball. She would have made it much harder for Charles down the wing and would have also supported Sarah Mayling, who was pretty much on her own for most of that match. During her time with the Canadian national team, Leon was one of the highest-rated players and was so unlucky not to score. An underrated player who needs more minutes in claret and blue and I can’t wait to see it.
Similarly, Simone Magill, our Northern Irish representative, came off the bench during the international break to score a penalty during the first away fixture and grabbed an assist in the home game. However, Simone was not named in the starting XI or even on the bench on Saturday with no clear communication from Villa. We have our fingers crossed that this is a short illness or slight injury and our forward is back with the club soon, as we needed her firepower and intelligence on the ball during the match.
Finally, we come to our senior Lioness, Rachel Daly. Although she didn’t start for England during the international break, she made an immediate impact when she came on as a substitute in both games. Much like Leon, it was so unlucky she didn’t get her name on the scoresheet during this time.
Hungry for her first goal since last season, Daly’s versatility is a blessing and a curse for Villa. In the Chelsea match, Daly found herself deep in midfield battling for and ultimately winning the ball, just to lose out because there was no one in front to pass to. The curse of playing alone upfront without the right support behind you. However, Daly had some fantastic chances herself and almost scored in the 15th minute after Millie Bright missed her clearance. It was a moment someone of her calibre should have converted, and from her reaction you could tell she knew those chances would be few and far between. Her link-up play with Jordan Nobbs, however, showed incredible game intelligence and it begs the question: if Kenza Dali was fit, could Daly, Dali, and Nobbs (alongside Hanson) have made it more difficult for Chelsea?
Outside of the international members of the team, the quality of the other members of the Villa squad shouldn’t be forgotten and actually fantastic clearances by Anna Patten and Danielle Turner helped keep the scoreline down. However, an unusually sloppy turnover from Turner did allow Rytting Kaneryd to drive through the whole Villa defence and go alone on goal to secure Chelsea’s third of the match.
As much as Villa would not have seen this match as one to take any points from, I truly believe if Villa had been able to convert their chances and been tighter on the ball, the score line would have more accurately reflected the effort from Villa. Something Daly also echoed in her post-match interview.
There is a stark contrast between Chelsea, the best team in the WSL, and Villa, who are limited in their options and have had their confidence knocked so low in a really tough run of fixtures. With the wind knocked out of most Villa players and only a handful still fighting to take something from the match, the best moments of hope came from runs by Hanson and Maz Pacheco until the dying moments, reflected Ward’s comments about there being an “energy” in the team.
“The first win just around the corner,” said Ward. Fingers crossed.
Aston Villa Women’s next fixture is in the Continental Cup midweek against Sheffield United, where hopefully Ward’s claret and blue army can gain a much-needed confidence boost to get their first WSL win against Bristol City at the weekend.