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Only three matches took place during Matchweek 13 in the FA Women’s Super League, as the remaining matches were postponed due to weather. For the first time all season, something other than COVID put the league on pause, with several fields freezing over in the cold.

The next few matches for the league will all be games that have been postponed from as far back as Matchweek 5. Should there be no more postponements, the FAWSL will get back on schedule on February 6th with Matchweek 14.

This matchweek and the upcoming rescheduled games are essential to the title race, as managers will be tasked with ensuring that players don’t get burned out given the abundance of minutes they’ll be playing in a short amount of time. And as games begin to stack up on the calendar, it’s now, more than ever, that teams with the deepest squads are proving to have the advantage.

 

ASTON VILLA’S SIGNINGS ALREADY MAKING AN IMPACT

First up this weekend was Aston Villa hosting Reading at Bescot Stadium. Villa, who are 11th in the league, went into this match as underdogs against their opponents, who are in sixth with 14 points.

Reading started strong, opening the scoring in the third minute when Angharad James was able to head the ball in from close range.

From then on, Reading controlled the first half, getting a couple more shots on target that were saved by Lisa Weiß. In the second half, however, Villa came out much more robust and were able to withstand the pressure. 12 minutes into the half, Villa won a freekick, and new signing Mana Iwabuchi was able to get on the end of it, scoring in her debut.

Reading scored a second through Rachel Rowe, but Villa remained in the game and scored a late equalizer through Diana Silver, with Iwabuchi providing the assist.

Iwabuchi’s fantastic debut showed that Villa was right in adding more depth up front. They also had a full bench, with eight players, allowing Gemma Davies to make three substitutions, including Silva who scored the equalizer.

Reading, on the other hand, haven’t made a signing this transfer window and did not have a full squad, with only six players on the bench. After the match, manager Kelly Chambers said that the draw felt “like a loss” and that “[t]he second half doesn’t even come into contention if you put the first half to bed. That cost us today.” Her team, unfortunately, could not keep up with the intensity, and it resulted in a loss of points.

 

MANCHESTER UNITED RECLAIM THE TOP SPOT

Birmingham City faced the same problem when they travelled to Leigh Sports Village to face Manchester United. Unlike Reading, Birmingham were not the favorites in this match, as United have spent the year at the top of the table. But when United came into a match with an almost full squad (eight players on the bench), while Birmingham could only afford four players on the bench, it made it seem like United had the game won before the first whistle blew.

United did indeed win the match 2-0, with goals from Leah Galton and Ella Toone. And while they struggled offensively, and lacked creatively for large spells, defensively United were solid, with Birmingham only managing two shots compared to the host’s 23.

With the win, Manchester United returned to the top of the FAWSL standings, having now played two more games than Chelsea.

 

BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION IN NEED OF REINFORCEMENTS

While Birmingham are another team whose situation has become more dire due to a lack of available players, Brighton & Hove Albion have clearly been hit the worst, and their 1-7 loss against Manchester City proved that. This month, seven Brighton players have gone into self-isolation, while a few key players remain out due to injuries.

Their squad has been so depleted that head coach Hope Powell decided to recall 21-year-old Bethan Roe, who Brighton had loaned to Championship side Charlton Athletic back in August of 2020. It’s a sign that the club is doing everything they can to find enough fit and available players.

Brighton faced Manchester City with five players on the bench and a starting XI that contained quite a few non-regular starters. The match was essentially only played for the sake of appearance, as Manchester City, who were fantastic, and wholeheartedly deserved the win, ran circles around their opponents.

Unfortunately, Brighton did not have the grounds to ask the Football Association to have their matches postponed since they technically have not gotten to a point where they hit all of the FA’s requirements regarding COVID-19 to cancel matches. (Even that is a point of controversy.)

Given the current circumstances, the opportunities for upsets are growing few and far between. Bigger clubs would be advantaged even in normal circumstances; with so many players being shuffled in and out, they’re almost impossible to overcome given their depth. It’s a trend to keep an eye on as the season continues, and one that could carry over into next season as well.