Hoping to secure their first points of the season at home, Aston Villa will host Reading this weekend targeting at least a draw. Despite the gulf between the two WSL sides in points and position (Reading lead Villa by eight and five respectively), Kelly Chambers’ Royals have only one more victory to their record.
The notably high pressing Reading side, whilst difficult to beat, have struggled to score goals and put games beyond the mid and lower table sides. However, they have become a thorn in the side of the more "elite" clubs. Even snatching 1-1 draws at home to both Man City and Arsenal. The Royals in fact have more draws - five - than any other side in the WSL.
By a strange quirk, their opposition on Saturday are the only club in the WSL not to have drawn a single match so far. Gemma Davies have earned the respect of critics for the passing style the young manager has terrifically integrated into her Aston Villa side. Their pass completion of 75% ranks an impressive fifth in the league. With a potential third defeat on the bounce unenviable, could it be that Villa’s continued errors on the ball at the back cost them once again?
The match kicks off on Saturday 23rd January at the Bescot Stadium at 12:30 GMT.
Gemma Davies could hand esteemed Japanese World Cup winner, Mana Iwabuchi, her first WSL start, having already made her debut off the bench in their 7-0 defeat away to Manchester City last weekend. The change could occur in tandem with Anita Asante being moved back into midfield from her role as a centre-back in the past two matches. Davies has shown a penchant for rotating her forwards at the top of her 4-3-3 formation, but expect at least two of Shania Hayles, Stine Larsen, Diana Silva, Emma Follis.
Solving a growing injury crisis will be Kelly Chambers’ biggest task ahead of this fixture. Having lost academy product Lily Woodham to a muscle issue before the Arsenal match, Reading went on to lose two more during the match. First midfield general Jess Fishlock departed after taking a significant knock and then first choice right back Kristine Leine was stretchered off after a dangerous head collision with the Gunners’ goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger.
Aston Villa: Weiß (GK), Ale, N’Dow, Haigh, Siems, Petzelberger, Asante, Arthur, Iwabuchi, Hayles, Larsen
Reading: Moloney (GK), Harding, Cooper, Bartrip, Mitchell, Eikeland, Rowe, Williams, James, Bruton, Harries
Ones to watch
The relentless Reading shot stopper, Grace Moloney, has received a lot of plaudits this season. However, she only has one clean sheet on the season - in a 1-0 away win against West Ham back in October - which gives her the second lowest clean sheet total in the WSL.
Considering the Royals average just 1.16 goals scored per game, the difference between a draw or a win could rest solely on the shoulders of Moloney in a decisive moment. Especially because Aston Villa have the lowest shot accuracy in the league, with just 28% of their shots even threatening the goal.
Having only just turned 19, you’d be forgiven for pre-emptively thinking that Asmita Ale was inexperienced. However, the defender played in all but two of Aston Villa’s matches in their Championship title win last season and featured in the majority of the games in 2018/19 as well.
Initially Ale started the season as an option off the bench, but has since started in Villa’s last four matches, in all competitions, including their 4-0 win over Bristol City. The right back is an expert at judging the run of opposition wide players, on or off the ball. Ale’s intelligent footwork makes her incredibly hard to beat in one on one situations.
Back in September, their first meeting of the season, Reading made lightwork of the newly promoted Aston Villa, winning 3-1 at the Madejski stadium. They were three goals to the good at half time and the match looked decided in Royal’s favour. The West Midlands side did manage to pull one goal back in the second half, thanks to a Stine Larsen penalty, but it was a flickering consolation on an afternoon that saw Reading take a season high 29 shots(13 on target).
How to watch
This match will be broadcast across the world on the FA Player.