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Friday, December 3, 2021

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‘It’s an important weekend for women’s football’

Women’s football weekend was first introduced in 2019Two derbies and another meeting of English football giants headline the third annual Women’s Football Weekend.

The event, which sees the women’s club game become the focal point of the domestic football schedule in England during the men’s international break, kicks off with Tottenham hosting Arsenal in the north London derby on Saturday (kick-off 13:30 GMT – watch live on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website, or listen via BBC Radio 5 Live commentary).

On Sunday, Aston Villa boss Carla Ward expects “a bit of stick” from Birmingham supporters as she faces her old side for the first time in the Second City derby (14:00 GMT).

Chelsea boss Emma Hayes takes her side to Manchester City, where they have never won in the league before, and said “it is an important weekend for women’s football in general”.

“It is a great showcase,” she added.

City will be at a better level – HayesHayes says she will demand even move of her players against City at the Academy Stadium after beating Servette 7-0 in the Women’s Champions League on Tuesday.

She asked for “relentlessness” against the Swiss champions and has asked for the same against the side Chelsea beat to the WSL title last season.

While Chelsea got past City a fortnight ago at the same venue to reach the delayed 2020-21 Women’s FA Cup final, Hayes says it “will be a completely different game”.

“That game was after an international break and you just have to come through them,” she said.

“They have had a week to prepare for this. They will be at a better level for that reason.”

Hayes said she expects to be without Denmark forward Pernille Harder again for the trip to Manchester because of the quad injury sustained during October’s international break.

In the league, Gareth Taylor’s injury-hit City have taken four points in two games either side of that cup defeat to Chelsea.

While City are seventh in the table and 11 points adrift of top spot after six games, Taylor refuses to concede that the club’s title ambitions would be over even if they are beaten by Chelsea again.

“It’s never make or break, it’s still too early to tell,” he said. “Obviously we need to maintain some distance and not make that distance too much that it’s irretrievable.

“We need to be in touch at Christmas to give ourselves the best possible chance. We have targets and they are still targets for us, no matter what’s happened.”

‘Blues will want to step onto us’Carla Ward guided Birmingham City to WSL safety last season before leaving for Aston VillaAfter a solitary season as Birmingham City boss, Ward crossed the Second City divide to take over as Aston Villa boss in the summer.

The 37-year-old guided Blues to WSL safety last term in what was a campaign dogged by off-field problems over playing and training conditions at the club.

Birmingham have struggled again this season and sit 11th in the table, with just one point from a possible 18 so far.

Mayling on playing for both Birmingham teams”As much as Birmingham are at the foot of the table, they are improving,” Ward said.

“They will be a team that are difficult to break down and no doubt they will want to step onto us.

“I’ve said it to the girls all week, ‘forget form and forget what you have been seeing’. This is all about a derby.”

Blues boss Scott Booth said the derby is “one of the reasons why I took the job in the first place”.

“It is a big match, one I’ve been looking forward to,” he said.

“It would be nice to get the win in this game. I think the players have put in so much hard work. They have really tried to gel together as a group. It would be nice to have a win in this game to show we are getting there.”

‘My dad’s a Spurs fan but he couldn’t convert me’ – Arsenal’s Williamson on north London derbyThe first north London derby in the women’s top flight took place during the inaugural women’s football weekend in 2019 and drew a WSL-record crowd of 38,262 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Arsenal beat Spurs that day and have won each meeting since.

The Gunners have already overcome Tottenham once this season, cruising to a 5-1 victory in the delayed quarter-finals of the 2020-21 Women’s FA Cup.

But Spurs, who rescued a dramatic late draw against Manchester United last week, are enjoying their best start to a WSL season and are third in the table.

Arsenal defender Leah Williamson, whose father is a Spurs fan, says the derby has taken on the importance of “a top fixture” and “one that will excite”.

“North London derby days are some are my best memories with watching the men’s team,” she said.

“Don’t get me wrong, we are professionals and it is another game in the calendar, there’s a limit of how much you maybe can get carried away by that.

“But at the same time it gives you an extra incentive to win – as if you ever needed one playing for Arsenal.”

Tottenham boss Rehanne Skinner said the focus for the match at the Hive Stadium remains on “trying to move the team forward”, but “knows from a fan perspective everyone wants to beat their closest rivals”.

“That will always be part of the game – everyone loves a derby,” she said.

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