Sunday sees the Everton Women return to competitive action against Reading. The WSL clash with the Royals will be the first of three home fixtures for Brian Sorensen’s side, with West Ham to follow and then an FA Cup tie against either Birmingham City or Huddersfield.
Everton headed into the Christmas break out of the Continental Cup but had climbed to sixth in the table with a resounding 3-0 win away at Tottenham Hotspur in December. With nine departures and ten additions, Sorensen knew that steadying the ship and improving on last season’s 10th place finish would be this season’s priority. A top four that is virtually a closed shop has left four or five sides in the 12-team league vie for the title of ‘best of the rest’, something the Toffees will feel they have a good chance of being.
So how have they done? Let’s break it down:
The Case For The Defence
With 10 league goals conceded in just nine games, only the top three of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United can boast a meaner rearguard. The Blues have produced four clean sheets in those nine games, having only conceded more than once in a game against both Manchester clubs and the league leaders from West London.
Sorensen has opted for a back five for most of the season, a system that has seen Gabby George deliver some excellent performances, either in the middle or as wing back, while Nathalie Bjorn’s commitment to the cause has been commendable and highlighted by some brave last-ditch defending, which has also seen her accumulate four yellow cards. The arrival of the experienced and versatile Katrina Veje has so far proved shrewd business for the Blues boss, who will be hoping the strong foundations will add more points to the 12 already secured.
Pine For A No. 9
While Everton has looked a resolute outfit capable of giving almost every team in the division a game, the absence of a target women has been an issue, with only bottom-placed Leicester City scoring fewer in the WSL.
Toni Duggan’s pregnancy sees her sidelined for the season, which has given the chance for a number of others to step up to the mantle. Jess Park, on-loan from Manchester City, tops the scoring charts with four league goals and some eye-catching displays, followed by Katja Snoejis and Hanna Bennison, who each have have two WSL strikes a piece from midfield. Sorensen prefers a front three, and while Aggie Beever-Jones and Gio Queiroz, who has now returned to the Gunners, have shown glimmers of promise.
The absence of a recognisable target to hold the ball up and be a focal point has been a miss. Indeed, should the Blues venture into the transfer market this month, it may well be to boost the forward line, which now will be even more important following Arsenal’s decision to end Gio’s loan spell early.
The Loan Ranger
Sorensen raided the loan market during the summer, with moves for Park, Gio, Beever-Jones and Emily Ramsay all subject of loan deals from the WSL elite. While it means that these players will not be able to compete against their parent clubs, the desire for these stars to prove themselves at the top level has been to the benefit of the Blues.
With more striking reinforcements needed, it will not be a surprise to see the Blues try to bring in at least another established striker this month.
Faith In Youth
Sorensen’s faith in youth now sees Everton boast the youngest average starting XI in the WSL, Coupled with some older heads, including Veje and Izzy Christiansen, there is a real hunger and determination throughout the squad.
While the result against Durham FC was disappointing, it is worth noting that a trio of up and coming stars, Abby Clarke, Annie Wilding and Taylor Howarth were given their senior bows, Sorensen’s vision for Everton is one that won’t be achieved in one season, but a squad full of promising youth promises exciting times for the Walton Hall Park faithful.
The Star So Far
There have a been a number of the squad that could justify this title and, while Jess Park has often grabbed the headlines with her flair, as well as a player-of-match display in the 3-0 win over Liverpool, it could well be argued that Everton’s rearguard has been the main reason for the points tally.
And Gabby George stands tall above the rest. At 25, the England international is already a veteran of the squad and has assumed the captain’s armband in a few Continental Cup fixtures this season. A natural leader, George has shown her versatility this season by going from centre-half to marauding wing back in Sorensen’s team and her form will be pivotal if the Blues are to have a good second half to their campaign.