Nüsken fills Chelsea’s striker void, PSG kick back into gear

In another busy weekend of women’s football across Europe, Wolfsburg’s loss to Hoffenheim was the big upset. Elsewhere, Chelsea fired back at Arsenal, Levante sunk to another draw and the second phase of the Italian season got underway.

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Nüsken fills Chelsea’s striker void

Following the loss of star striker Sam Kerr to an ACL injury, one of the problems Chelsea have had this season is a lack of balance when they don’t have a natural centre forward on the pitch. Emma Hayes’ first option as a false No. 9, Lauren James, has showed some good adaptability to score goals but is ultimately the wrong kind of player to keep opposition centre-backs busy as her natural game is about drifting around with freedom.

Since the loss of Mia Fishel to her own ACL injury and club-record signing Mayra Ramírez to an unspecified groin/abductor problem, Chelsea have again found themselves without an obvious striker and their shape has suffered.

In Friday’s 3-1 win over Arsenal in the Women’s Super League, Hayes opted for utility player Sjoeke Nüsken — who only last week was filling in at centre back — as a focal point up front. The gambit paid off and not only did Nüsken bag a bizarre brace, including a shot that deflected off her backside, she also allowed her teammates to pick up the positions that kept the Gunners under pressure in what was a vital and dominant win for the league leaders.

Liverpool return to winning ways at home

Liverpool’s home form took a hit as they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Leicester City at Prenton Park last week, stretching their run to four games without a win. Indeed, the Reds hadn’t won at home since November — although that was largely due to scheduling that has had them on the road so much this calendar year.

But Sunday saw a return to winning ways on home soil as Liverpool eased through the gears to get the better of West Ham 3-1, on what was a frustrating day for the Irons.

Save for the impact of summer signings Sophie Román Haug and Marie Höbinger, it was a win that felt like last season’s Liverpool, with Ceri Holland and Missy Bo Keans shining for the hosts. And it was a win that kept the Reds in fifth, level on points with Manchester United, to rubber stamp their development since their return to the league and suggest more is to come next season.

Villa grind into seventh

It’s been a season to forget for Villa so far, as the team that challenged at the top end of the table last season have slid further and further from a European finish this time. Call it an overcorrection on an overachieving season (as we’ve so frequently seen from WSL teams over the years), but the Villainesses’ comedown this year has been hard and unforgiving.

Yet Villa have still managed to find moments to build on and, against a chronically injury-riddled Everton team, the visitors secured their sixth win of the season to rise to seventh place and away from danger. Kenza Dali, one of the top performers of last season, notched her first goal of the season, which shows just how disconnected the Villa attack has been this year and how much work is needed during the summer.

Wolfsburg wobble

Coming into the weekend one point adrift of Bayern Munich at the top, with a home tie against the Bavarians scheduled for this coming Saturday, Wolfsburg handicapped themselves with a 2-1 loss away to third-placed Hoffenheim.

After a run of 11 competitive games without a loss — a 2-1 defeat away to Bayern in November — the She Wolves had picked up some momentum and reasserted themselves as one Germany‘s top two. Yet the loss to Hoffenheim is just another indication of Wolfsburg’s fading status, with too much polarisation between those in the squad softly eyeing retirement and those with promise for the future.

Wolfsburg have a lot of burgeoning talent, but most of those players are yet to live up to their potential and Bayern have invested well — including €450,000 to land Wolfsburg midfielder Lena Oberdorf this summer — and are the team currently making all the noise in the Frauen Bundesliga.

Levante lose ground

It was always going to be a tough season for Levante with budgets slashed and players either leaving (like Ramírez to Chelsea) or getting ready to leave in the summer. With the backdrop of everything going on off the pitch, sustaining form and consistently winning to keep their hopes of European qualification alive was always going to be an ask.

But against bottom-placed Sporting Huelva, who have just one win in their 20 league outings this season, Levante faltered yet again, surrendering a 1-1 draw that leaves them winless in their last four games.

Still in third, the gap to fourth-placed Madrid CFF has been cut down to a single point and the Frogs will be feeling both them and Atletico Madrid breathing down their necks for the rest of the season. At home to Real Betis next time out, Levante will need to pull themselves out of this tailspin before they slip any further.

PSG kick back into gear

Back in Champions League action in midweek and following a near slip-up against Paris FC in a 3-3 draw in the Coupe de France last time out, Paris Saint-Germain put in a thumping 5-0 win over Saint-Etienne this weekend.

Amid an up-and-down season, the clean sheet will be a boost and seeing Marie-Antoinette Katoto, Tabitha Chawinga, Grace Geyoro and Jade Le Guilly on the scoresheet, while making sure their attacking partnerships are working, is key ahead of a tricky visit to BK Häcken.

Häcken built their success in the Champions League group stage from their defensive strength and are likely to look to frustrate PSG and clog up the areas they like to attack. But with PSG coming off the back of a healthy win, the French giants should be comfortable asserting themselves and pulling the Häcken defence apart.

DellaPeruta sublime for Sampdoria

In the first week of Serie A’s relegation and championship mini-seasons, Sampdoria were the big winners, tearing Pomigliano apart at the back, with 19-year-old Victoria DellaPeruta stealing the show against her former team in a 5-0 win.

With a 14-point cushion down to bottom two, Napoli and Pomigliano, Sampdoria are arguably not in danger of relegation. But DellaPeruta made it safe as she starred with four second-half goals in what was just her first start for the club since signing in January. The icing on the cake for DellaPeruta was that her older sister Talia, who signed at the same time, was the one to set her up for her fourth of the game.

First appeared on www.espn.com

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