International Women’s Day: Who will be the WSL Player of the Season?

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On International Women’s Day, Sky Sports’ lead WSL pundit Karen Carney provided the perfect way to link the Women’s Super League and the Premier League.

“I always like to compare men’s and women’s football because it should all come together as one,” she told the Women’s Super League Special on Tuesday evening from 6pm on Sky Sports. “Millie Bright and Leah Williamson are like the Ruben Dias and Virgil van Dijk, who are always getting the Player of the Year Award in the men’s teams.”

As Manchester City and Liverpool tussle for one of the biggest prizes in the men’s game, here is a healthy reminder that the WSL has an equally exciting title race this season. Arsenal currently lead the way but the Gunners’ eight-point lead at the top will be undone if Chelsea win all of their three games in hand.

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While both sides have impressed WSL audiences with their attacking play, it’s their rock-hard defences that have put the two London rivals ahead of the rest of the pack. Arsenal and Chelsea have conceded just 16 goals between them since the start of the season – and defenders Williamson and Bright have been central to their team’s title challenges.

So with the title race heating up, Sky Sports’ experts assess which one out of Bright or Williamson is best placed to be named WSL Player of the Year at the end of the season…

Bright – ‘An aura, a presence and leadership’

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Karen Carney and Kelly Smith join the WSL Special to discuss the job that Emma Hayes is doing at Chelsea and how she is constantly evolving in the women’s game

Carney: “I think this season I’ve really seen an aura, a presence and leadership from Millie Bright. The modern defender, for me, has to be excellent in possession as centre-backs have naturally the most possession of the ball. She breaks lines and sets Chelsea on her way.

“Millie Bright, for me, will put her head where people don’t want to put their foot. She has that attitude about her with goalline clearances and sensing danger.

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“It is a cliché that goals win you games but clean sheets win you championships. She’s had a lot of responsibility on her and with captain Magdalena Eriksson being out, she’s had to set up and I think you’ve seen that in her.

Image: Arsenal's Leah Williamson (left) and Chelsea's Millie Bright (right) playing for England

“She’s good in possession, she can defend, set pieces [and is good] in and out of possession and can nick a goal.”

Smith: “She loves to defend. That’s her bread and butter. When a ball comes in and a player is in front of her she can nibble at your heels, she loves that defensive mindset of the game. She’s not afraid to clobber you and let you know you’re in a game. She’s like an old-school defender that loves to defend.

“I think she’s got better and better as the season’s gone on. Emma Hayes needs that at Chelsea and England need that too because that’s what she’s all about. She loves to defend and then give it to the more creative players to go and do your thing.

Image: Chelsea's Millie Bright (left) does the gritty defensive work for the club's attacking stars like Sam Kerr (right)

“She has stood up and been counted for with captain Magdalena Eriksson being out. Some people can crumble, shy away and not do that. She’s got the experience for that but she’s certainly got the ability, the hunger and the desire to defend. And it’s made her.

“When she scores these goals, you see the passion and what it means for her to score these goals. She’s the first name on that Chelsea teamsheet and one of the first to be on the England team sheet too due to her ability.”

Williamson – ‘Arsenal more direct with her’

Image: Leah Williamson celebrates after putting Arsenal 3-0 up versus Reading

Carney: “Both Bright and Williamson are right-sided centre-halves and they’re both very similar in terms of their traits.

“Centre-halves have to be very good in possession and she’s an attacking-minded player because she’s played centre midfield. She’s also played right-back at times so she’s naturally forward-thinking.

“When she’s in the team, Arsenal are more direct. And for me, there’s an inability to defend direct play in the WSL. And the teams that are doing well and the teams who go direct.

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On International Women’s Day, we take a look back at some of the best goals from the Women’s Super League so far this season

“It’s not a coincidence that when she’s not in the team, they’re less direct and they weren’t winning and were less successful. Centre-halves have to be good aerially and you have to put your head where you don’t put it at times.

“When Arsenal struggled in the dip when she was not in the team, they also got exploited in behind. The other centre-backs at Arsenal lacked pace – and what Leah Williamson has is pace.”

Watch the Women’s Super League Special on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Football at 6pm.

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