The Barclays Women’s Super League was back with a bang this weekend, as teeming stadiums greeted the return of the women’s domestic game.
Wins for defending champions Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea had home fans cheering as the latter two played their matches at the Eithad Stadium and Stamford Bridge respectively.
There was plenty to reflect on as a record-breaking campaign beckons; here is a look at some of the standout moments.
Strong attendances show women’s game in positive shape
With all the talk after this summer’s World Cup centring around how to maintain the popularity of women’s football going forward, any fears over a decline will have been allayed.
This weekend’s opening round of Barclays Women’s Super League fixtures attracted unprecedented attendances, with 31,213 fans flocking to the Etihad for the Manchester derby and 24,564 going to Stamford Bridge for Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Spurs.
Phil Neville and his Lionesses helped pioneer a marked spike in the popularity of the women’s game, as their memorable run to the semi-finals in France gave the sport a huge boost to visibility.
And such a trend has clearly continued into the new season, as fans young and old made their way to grounds all over the country – Meadow Park and Ashton Gate also saw healthy attendances – to watch some of the nation's finest players take to the field.
It may only have been the opening weekend, but this season certainly looks set to be well-attended.
Wonder goals set early benchmark for quality
There’s no chance this season’s Barclays WSL will suffer from a paucity of quality, with supporters being treated to no fewer than four spectacular strikes across the six matches.
Manchester City midfielder Caroline Weir started the trend at the Etihad on Saturday, picking the ball up 30 yards from goal before drilling an unstoppable left-footed drive into Mary Earps’ top corner.
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) September 8, 2019
And on Sunday it was Chelsea’s Beth England who joined the party, curling in an equally audacious attempt from a similar distance.
Reading’s Fara Williams and Arsenal’s Beth Mead also netted from range, on a weekend where the benchmark was set for what promises to be a compelling season of Barclays WSL action.
Arsenal not at their fluent best
Reigning champions Arsenal may have kicked off their title defence with a winning start, but Joe Montemurro’s side were far from their polished best against West Ham at Meadow Park on Sunday.
Mead’s precise strike had opened the scoring for the Gunners on 14 minutes, before new summer signing Jill Roord showed why the club acquired her services with a cool finish on the stroke of half-time.
But the Hammers rallied and came back into the contest valiantly, scoring through summer signing Martha Thomas then hitting the woodwork twice through French international Kenza Dali.
Arsenal were without top scorer and last season’s Barclays WSL player of the year Vivianne Miedema, but signs of their defensive fragility may have served as cause for alarm for some fans.
Newcomers Manchester United show signs of promise
Despite Casey Stoney’s side’s 1-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium, the United boss remained upbeat following what was an impressive first-half performance.
The Red Devils more than held their own against last season’s Barclays WSL runners-up, creating a wealth of opportunities and only being denied the opening goal through a wonder-save from City keeper Ellie Roebuck.
Unbelievable experience playing in front of 31,000 fans. This is just the beginning, so proud of the team🔴⚫️ pic.twitter.com/nt4VXghina
— Kirsty Hanson (@KirstyHanson3) September 8, 2019
And they went close again in the final exchanges, with Dutch midfielder Jackie Groenen striking the post.
If United’s performance was anything to go by, they should be competitive in their inaugural WSL season, particularly given the chances they created as well as their remarkable 98 goals in the Championship last term.
United fans will not be perturbed after what they saw this weekend.
Everton arrive as dark horses
A lowly finish last season may have disheartened many Everton fans – only points-deducted Yeovil finished below them – but this weekend’s triumph away at Birmingham City will instil them with a much-needed dose of optimism.
The Toffees enjoyed the lion’s share of possession at Damson Park, with a Kerys Harrop own goal at the beginning of the second-half giving them the three points.
The result meant the club’s inventive recruitment strategy reaped early rewards, with new arrivals Tinja-Riikka Korpela, Lucy Graham, Molly Pike and Esme Morgan all featuring for Willie Kirk’s side.
It may be early days, but Everton – who only won three games last season – already look a much-improved outfit.
To follow the action, buy tickets and sign-up for The FA Player’s live Barclays FA Women’s Super League coverage visit womenscompetitions.thefa.com