After a summer off for good behaviour, the Women's Super League (WSL) returned on Sunday with an entertaining a day filled with goals, cards and debuts. These are the key talking points from the WSL weekend, along with some highlights from European action.
Cards, cards, cards
With WSL referees encouraged to mirror the men's game and clamp down on things like dissent and time-wasting, we saw an influx in cautions over the weekend, with an increased willingness from officials to go to their pockets for the type of fouls that have historically been overlooked in the women's game.
Indeed, across the six games, 17 yellow cards were handed out for a variety of offences including dissent, with Aston Villa's Lucy Parker the first player to be booked this season in a match that saw six yellow cards in total issued by ref Rebecca Welch. It was a notable day in WSL that also saw two straight red cards -- for Aston Villa's Kirsty Hanson and Manchester City's Leila Ouahabi -- which hasn't happened in the league for over a decade.
As well as the increase in cautions, just as there was at the Women's World Cup this summer, there was ample time added on at the end of each half following new guidelines for stoppages in play, meaning some teams played well over 100 minutes of football.
It's not how you start, but how you finish
On the topic of increased added time, particularly at the end of the second half, there was late drama at Villa Park when Manchester United claimed all three points with a stoppage-time winner from Rachel Williams. After Villa's Hanson was dismissed for a high tackle on Hayley Ladd, the hosts took a shock 1-0 lead via Rachel Daly's low shot. But Lucía García had United level within minutes, converting from a corner and setting the scene for Williams' dramatic late header from Nikita Parris' cross.
The Red Devils are clearly picking up where they left off from last year with their late, often game-changing, goals. Those heroics were absent for their rivals, however, with Everton (who lost 2-1 at home), Tottenham (who fell 2-1) and Arsenal (1-0 losers) all unable to find similar late goals against Brighton, Chelsea and Liverpool respectively.
With almost every WSL team having strengthened over the summer in hopes of bridging some of the gaps and creating a bit more parity, there was a glut of goals across the day's fixtures as well.
Only Manchester City (in a 2-0 win at West Ham) and Liverpool (1-0 winners at Arsenal) managed to keep their clean sheets on Sunday afternoon, thanks to the improved attacking across the league. Daly, last season's golden boot winner scored the first WSL of the campaign when she got the better of Man United keeper Mary Earps. And both Spurs and Leicester -- two teams who struggled for goals last campaign -- would have been relieved to see their new recruits finding the back of the net bag on what was, a memorable day for new signings.
Martha Thomas scored for Tottenham in a losing effort, while Jill Roord opened the scoring for Man City in their win, but Foxes' boss Willie Kirk will probably be happiest about his new players: three of his summer recruits, Aimee Palmer, Lena Petermann and Jutta Rantala scored all the goals on their Leicester City debuts in a 4-2 win at Bristol City.
Debutantes having a ball
On the topic of new faces, it was a Sunday to remember as so many of the players signed over the summer came up big for their new clubs.
The tone was set in the first game of the afternoon. Geyse picked up where she left off at Barcelona by straight balling out for Manchester United, running at defences and causing panic among Villa defenders who were struggling to contain her. But it wasn't just the Brazilian international who starred at Villa Park: the Villanesses' new No.1, Dutch international Daphne van Domselaar, made a string of eye-catching saves to keep the visitors frustrated until their late breakthrough.
In the West Country, Rantala stole the show for the Foxes after coming on at half-time for the visitors. The Finnish international was instrumental in Leicester's strong second-half showing, scoring four minutes after the restart and adding a second seven minutes from time among a flurry of strong debuts across both teams.
At Stamford Bridge, Mia Fishel starred for hosts Chelsea and Thomas impressed for the visitors; both scored well-taken goals as the Blues ran out 2-1 winners. However, it wasn't just about the goalscorers, as Spurs winger Olga Ahtinen and Chelsea midfielder Sjoeke Nüsken turned in strong WSL debuts as well.
It was a similar story in North London, where Liverpool's savvy showing in a 1-0 win was punctuated with key performances from newcomers Miri Taylor (who grabbed the game's only goal) and Austrian midfielder Marie Höbinger, though Arsenal's summer signings were left looking to the next game to impress. The bigger delight, though, was the record WSL crowd in attendance for the Gunners' opener, as 54,115 turned up for Sunday's clash, only for the visitors to take the three points.
Across London, Roord put in a vintage performance for Manchester City on her return to the Super League, scoring City's second in a dominant performance against the Irons.
Likely to be key to the Seagulls in their quest for a top-half finish, Brighton's debuting duo of Vicky Losada and Pauline Bremer both impressed, even if the plaudits went to regulars Elisabeth Terland and Katie Robinson.
As well as a busy day in WSL, Sunday saw plenty of action across the continent
Usually left for later in the first cycle of fixtures, champions Lyon had their first clash with familiar foes, Paris Saint-Germain, on Sunday evening. Having handed a debut to new star striker Tabitha Chawinga, the Parisiennes enjoyed their spell of chances early in the game before Lyon found a gear with which to exploit their opponents, running out 1-0 winners thanks to Eugénie Le Sommer's 20th-minute strike.
In Germany, Wolfsburg were put through their paces at the Waldstadion, twice having to come from behind against Eintracht before stamping their dominance on the match thanks in no small part to stunning strikes from Lena Oberdorf and Joelle Wedemeyer. The 4-2 win leaves Wolfsburg in an advantageous position early in the season after champions Bayern had dropped points in their first outing, a 2-2 result vs. Freiburg.
Meanwhile, in Liga F, Spanish juggernauts Barcelona were put through their paces against a resilient Huelva team, which affirmed the closing margins across the women's football landscape. It took a 92nd minute own goal from Ana Carol to secure Barca's win, though an even later finish by Laia Ballesté made things a little nervous.