How the ‘return’ of the WSL was decimated by Covid, Dubai-gate and injury
You could be forgiven for having missed the return of the WSL this weekend - as five of the six matches were called off.
The only match to go ahead was defending champions Chelsea’s clash against Reading where the Blues ran riot.
They demolished the Royals 5-0 with Fran Kirby scoring four goals, securing her hat-trick in the first half, and Ji So-yun adding the fifth. The win has seen Chelsea move to second in the table, now just three points behind leaders Manchester United.
But what happened to the other matches? And what’s next for the WSL?
Manchester City v West Ham
Man City’s match against the Hammers was the first to be postponed last week as City said they couldn’t name14 players required for a match.
The reason was four of their players had tested positive for Covid-19, forcing others into isolation. It was the first match to fall in what has been dubbed ‘Dubai-gate’ as the players who tested positive had been on a trip sanctioned by the club.
The fixture will be played at a later date but nothing has yet been confirmed.
Arsenal v Aston Villa
The Gunners’ fixture was the next to go and was also due to a Dubai visit.
One player tested positive on their return from a trip with two other Arsenal team-mates. The result meant other Gunners had to isolate and so the club said they couldn’t field a side of 14 and requested postponement.
Similarly to the City game, this fixture will be played later in the season.
Everton v Manchester United
The Toffees requested their match against United was rescheduled as they also couldn’t field a side.
The club said this was because five players tested positive between Christmas and New Year.
The players had all returned to training but weren’t fit enough to play and Everton also cited five players being injured as an additional obstacle.
While the fixture didn’t go ahead due to Everton’s request, United boss Casey Stoney apologised for allowing some of her players to travel abroad.
She said: "Everything we allowed them to do was within government guidelines, but I have to be honest and on reflection it was a poor error in judgment from me. I am sincerely sorry for that. I’m human and I make mistakes, I take responsibility for it.”
Bristol City v Brighton and Hove Albion
City’s fixture against Brighton was called off after a second Brighton player tested positive which meant five others had to self-isolate.
The match will be played later in the season after the FA granted the postponement.
Tottenham Hotspur v Birmingham City
Spurs’ match was called off against City as Carla Ward’s side didn’t have enough players to fulfill the fixture due to injury.
Unlike the matches called off due to Covid cases, this game won’t be rescheduled and instead the result will be decided by an independent tribunal.
The FA said: "A request for postponement was made by the club under the competition’s epidemic rule, but was not able to be granted as this is an injury-related issue.
"The outcome of the fixture will be determined by an independent tribunal. The FA will provide an update on that decision in due course, and wishes the players concerned a full and speedy recovery."
Reaction to postponements
The main reaction to the rescheduling is confusion around the 14 player rule. While the clubs who had Covid results could postpone, the match surrounding injury couldn’t and while some want clarity on the rule others have accused the FA of favouring the bigger clubs.
West Ham captain Gilly Flaherty has said the players who went to Dubai and caused some postponements should apologise for their actions.
She said: "Hopefully the girls who are involved will do the decent thing and come out and apologise. As much as the growth of the women's game is brilliant now we are able to be full-time professionals and inspire the younger generation, I really don't like the arrogance that the money and wages have brought into it.
"Players need to remain humble and remember how quickly it can change."
Reading player Emma Mitchell tweeted: "We see you FA. Different rules for different teams."
And United boss Stoney said: "It’s [the 14 player rule] a big concern for me, very big. I’m not saying it’s an easy time for the FA, but there has to be a level of consistency and consequence. I would never ask for a postponement - unless there was an absolute outbreak or crisis.
"Obviously I'm saying that we've potentially made poor decisions over Christmas, but had that come back to us, I still wouldn't have wanted to call the game off because of the integrity of what we're doing."
It’s safe to say clubs won’t be allowing trips during the pandemic again after the disruptions this weekend.
But it’s unclear at this stage how this weekend’s upcoming fixtutres will be affected.
Chelsea v Manchester United and West Ham v Tottenham should be on course as none of these clubs requested postponements this past weekend.
While Man City v Aston Villa, Everton v Bristol City, Reading v Arsenal and Birmingham City v Brighton must all be in doubt.
Whatever happens this weekend, Chelsea boss Emma Hayes has echoed fans and pundits alike in urging people within the WSL to ‘behave themselves’.
She said: "We’re a professional league with an elite status - if you don’t want the Government to take that away from us, then behave properly.
“It’s been a dark week for women’s football. Let’s make sure these fixtures happen and that we’re not irresponsible as clubs. It’s not good enough, and we have to do better.”