Jordan Nobbs is back! Women's Super League winners and losers as ex-Arsenal star marks Lionesses recall with Aston Villa hat-trick
Manchester City's hopes of securing Women's Champions League football - and maybe more - increased massively this weekend with a 2-1 win over Arsenal, whose own ambitions this season were hit hard by defeat.
That was the headline fixture in a reduced schedule of Women's Super League action, with only four games taking place. However, there was no less drama, with Saturday's clash of titans followed up with a big game in the relegation race as Leicester beat Liverpool.
Elsewhere, Manchester United needed some luck to beat Tottenham in a game that had everything, while Aston Villa hit struggling Brighton for six as Jordan Nobbs made a statement ahead of a potential return to England action.
So, who signed off for February's international break in style? And who will have plenty to ponder as the league pauses? GOAL takes a look at this weekend's winners and losers...
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WINNER: Manchester City
What a two weeks it's been for City.
Last week, Gareth Taylor's side beat Leicester in what was a tricky outing against a resurgent team. A day later, both Manchester United and Arsenal dropped points. The results threw City right back into the race for the Champions League - if not more.
That was consolidated with an absolutely massive win over Arsenal on Saturday, one which saw them leapfrog the Gunners into third place.
Taylor and his players haven't been shy in admitting their ambitions to win the title this season, despite being off the pace for large spells. Now, though, they're well in the mix.
The way City performed in this game was aided by a very sloppy opponent, but that shouldn't take away from how brilliant they were.
There's an argument that, with a front three of Chloe Kelly, Bunny Shaw and Lauren Hemp, they have the best attack in the league. With firepower like that, you can't write them off.
LOSER: Arsenal's back three
Saturday was a tough day for Arsenal - but particularly the defence. The Gunners were extremely error-prone in dangerous areas, regularly giving the ball away in their own defensive third and causing their own problems.
"We’re not good in our possession. We lose the ball in really dangerous areas. We don’t use the ball well enough to sustain attacks," head coach Jonas Eidevall said afterwards. "This game here, it’s my responsibility."
For the first time under the Swede, Arsenal played a back three when they faced Man City in the cup on Wednesday. They were 1-0 winners in extra-time, but switched to a back four just after the hour.
Eidevall set-up his team that way to combat City's excellent wingers but, throughout the game, it was clear that his centre-backs didn't appear too comfortable in the unfamiliar formation.
Not only that, but it limited the influence a player such as Leah Williamson could have in possession, with the England captain more focused on keeping her shape instead of driving into midfield with the ball to start an attack.
Three days after that game, Arsenal started with a back three again this weekend and those same problems remained - but more came, too. As well as the mistakes on the ball, the space that Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly had out wide was incredible.
Ultimately, those two issues led to the two goals City scored. The Gunners pulled a goal back in the second half, after changing to a back four again mid-game, but they'd left themselves too much to do and couldn't get anything from the game.
Will that spell the end of the back three experiment? We'll see.
WINNER: Beth England
Things have been difficult for Spurs as of late, with defeat to Manchester United on Sunday afternoon their seventh successive loss in the league.
But despite the team's struggles, Beth England has been on fire since her January transfer from Chelsea. She netted her fourth goal for the club at the weekend - in just her fifth appearance - and what a goal it was.
A quick free-kick from Mana Iwabuchi inside her own half released England down the right, but she had it all to do still. With three United players back as she charged towards goal, the striker slowed up, cut inside of Maya Le Tissier and rifled a low shot into the far bottom corner, past Mary Earps.
What a finish!@Bethany_Eng15 is loving life at @SpursWomen 🔥#BarclaysWSL pic.twitter.com/eS8AHaTgwB— Barclays Women's Super League (@BarclaysWSL) February 12, 2023
It was a wonderful effort that continued a rich vein of form which will keep her well in the picture for England's Women's World Cup squad, even if she was not selected for the upcoming Arnold Clark Cup by Sarina Wiegman.
On the other hand, though, it illustrated how things have been for England since she joined the club - incredibly isolated.
If Spurs can get more players around her and create more chances, it'll only increase the likelihood of them staying up - while also improving England's chances of getting on the plane to Australia and New Zealand this summer.
LOSER: Ella Toone
At several points on Sunday, it looked like United were going to drop points for the second successive week in the WSL, which would've been a significant setback in the race for Champions League football.
Fortunately for them, Leah Galton broke the deadlock after a frustrating hour and, after England's equaliser, they got lucky with a Molly Bartrip own goal that proved the difference between a disappointing draw and rising back to the top of the table.
However, the day wasn't without bad news for Marc Skinner's side. Shortly after going 2-1 up, Ella Toone was involved in an altercation with Spurs midfielder Eveliina Summanen that saw the England international raise her hands.
Whether it was a sending off or not is something that many will debate, but red was the colour of the card the referee brandished after Toone gave her a decision to make.
It means the creative midfielder will miss United's next three games - Durham in the FA Cup, bottom club Leicester at home and, crucially, Chelsea away.
There's no doubt that Toone - still a young player at 23 years old - will learn from this, but to lose such a key player for such a huge game is a massive blow for Skinner and his United team.
WINNER: Jordan Nobbs
An England call-up AND a hat-trick? It wasn't a bad weekend at all for Jordan Nobbs.
On Saturday, she got the news that she would indeed be included in the Lionesses' Arnold Clark Cup squad, after Fran Kirby had to withdraw through injury.
It's a huge chance for the midfielder to impress as she looks to force her way into Wiegman's thinking ahead of this summer's Women's World Cup.
The following day, she starred as Aston Villa absolutely thumped Brighton, only a week after struggling against them in a 1-1 draw.
🚀 @JordanNobbs8 pic.twitter.com/g9nfvPAGwm— Aston Villa Women (@AVWFCOfficial) February 12, 2023
Each of Nobbs' three goals were impressive in different ways. The first showcased her box-to-box qualities, the midfielder arriving late into the area with a great run that ended with her emphatically converting a low cross from Kirsty Hanson.
For the second, she had to improvise as the ball set up awkwardly for her to strike, but managed to divert it past former Arsenal team-mate Lydia Williams, while the third was sheer quality - a rocket into the top corner.
Nobbs has started very well at Villa, after joining them in January for more minutes, and Sunday's hat-trick was the latest indication of that.
Now, she'll hope to translate that form onto the international stage and show Wiegman why she should be on the plane this summer.
After a big point away at Aston Villa in the league last week, which came after back-to-back cup victories, it felt like Brighton were gathering real momentum in their fight for survival, bouncing back brilliantly from an awful 3-0 defeat to bottom club Leicester last month.
Eight days later, they played Villa again on Sunday, at home. What unfolded this time, though, was quite different. By half time, the visitors were 5-1 up and out of sight.
It was a disastrous 45 minutes from Jens Scheuer's side, the game completely unsalvageable before the second half had even kicked off.
It wasn't just the number of goals that was a concern, either, but the manner in which they were conceded. The first three were all from crosses, with the threats constantly from out wide, but Brighton just didn't have an answer to the problems Villa were posing.
A final score of 6-2 means the Seagulls stay third-from-bottom, just two points above the drop zone after Leicester's win at Liverpool. It's imperative that they fix these issues they are having in defence this season, with no team having conceded more in the WSL.
Their quest to do that, though, doesn't get any easier. Next up in the league? Chelsea.