In the last weekend of domestic football before the final international window of the year, Women's Super League teams showed just how much work still needs to be done by those teams outside the top four. That said, matches on the continent, from Italy to Norway, saw some more competitive results.
Chelsea's James shines again
Having stolen the show in Chelsea's past two outings against Paris FC and Liverpool, forward Lauren James dazzled again as the Blues beat Leicester 5-2 to continue their unbeaten start in the WSL on Sunday.
Scoring her first goal inside 70 seconds, the England international was involved in all the positive moments from Chelsea in the opening exchanges, hounding the visitors' defence and forcing mistakes. Leicester showed some fight and got back to 3-2, but James' chipped finish for her second just before the hour mark put the game beyond them and Aggie Beever-Jones put some gloss on the scoreline late on.
James' tracking back and defensive work have drawn plaudits from Blues boss Emma Hayes this month and, despite some early questions about her attitude when it came to applying herself to the game, she is showing how far she's come under her manager's tutelage.
Liverpool respond after Chelsea mauling
Liverpool have been licking their wounds after a dismal showing in a 5-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge last weekend, but got back to winning ways against Brighton with a fine 4-0 victory.
Much like the Reds, Brighton have struggled to string consistent performances together -- beating Man City, drawing with Man United and losing to Chelsea and Arsenal in recent games -- but looked short of defensive stability as Liverpool were able to poke holes in their backline.
Gemma Bonner opened the scoring before summer signing Sophie Román Haug bagged two assists, then put the cherry on top in stoppage time with her own well-taken goal. Matt Beard's team have plenty of experience so will need to pick up some steam when the league returns after the international break and begin to turn losses into draws and draws to wins. In fifth place, they have won four of their first eight WSL matches but will need to see more consistency to battle for a top-four spot.
Mind the gap in the WSL
From Chelsea scoring five against Leicester, to Manchester United's 2-0 win over Bristol City, to Arsenal's 3-0 over West Ham and Manchester City's shock 7-0 thrashing of Tottenham, the weekend saw some comfortable scorelines for the traditional top four teams.
Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United have occupied those spots for the last four seasons and the gap in quality is starting to widen. Yet, despite this weekend's results coming at an aggregate of 17-2, the margins are tighter than they may look.
Leicester looked like getting back into the game before James stole the show, while Bristol City held firm in the first half and Amy Rodgers was denied a goal by Mary Earps that could have put them ahead. Elsewhere, West Ham almost responded to Frida Maanum's second-minute strike at Boreham Wood as Viviane Asseyi's header hit the post before the game got away from them thanks to Beth Mead's first WSL goals in more than a year.
As for Spurs, a 7-0 scoreline looks awful but they held their own early on and forced City's teenage goalkeeper, Khiara Keating, into three fine saves before Khadija Shaw struck a first-half hat trick in a 15-minute spell.
The WSL's big guns were certainly good value for their wins as their experience and squad depth told, but the weekend's results belie the progress made across the division and the growth outside of the top teams.
Inter Milan claim derby honours
AC Milan have been underperforming in Serie A and, despite the strength of their squad, things have not been going right for the sixth-placed Rossonere. Something had to give and, last Monday, manager Maurizio Ganz was dismissed, with Davide Corti promoted from his position with the development team. The change may yet bear fruit but Corti was handed a 1-0 defeat by a familiar foe in his debut this weekend.
The game was balanced precariously throughout, as a chance for the hosts would prompt a chance for the visitors, but was settled courtesy of Michela Cambiaghi's fine header on 72 minutes.
Inter may get bragging rights, but the wider question is over who will challenge Roma. With the champions unwavering at the top of the tree, three points clear of Juventus, neither Milan team are poised to unsettle the Giallorosse and are 11 (Inter) and 18 (Milan) points behind them already.
Paris FC continue to struggle
Going behind to a Rachel Corboz penalty in the eighth minute, the visitors equalised with a stunner from Margaux Le Mouël but couldn't find another spark of inspiration to take more than a point from their last game of the month. Last season's third-placed finishers are still second in the domestic table, five points adrift of Lyon and four better off than PSG who have two games in hand, but the worry for Sandrine Soubeyrand's young team is how much they're exerting on their European travels this season. Not least as they keep returning home tired and beaten.
Graham Hansen inspires Barcelona
With Barcelona boss Jonatan Giráldez forced to shuffle his pack for the Liga F trip to Athletic Club, it took the visitors the best part of an hour to look comfortable in their eventual 4-0 win. With a number of key players unavailable and Ballon d'Or winner Aitana Bonmatí starting on the bench, it was a test for Barcelona's depth, but Norway international Caroline Graham Hansen stepped up for the Catalans.
Having teed up Marta Torrejón to open the scoring in the first half, Caroline Graham Hansen fired home the second goal herself 10 minutes into the second half to give the visitors a cushion. And she continued to work the Athletic defence throughout, setting up Barcelona's late double from Patri Guijarro and then Bonmati.
Rosenborg get last laugh
It was a frustrating season in Norway for Rosenborg, as the 2021 champions missed out on the Toppserien title by a single point to Vålerenga. But Rosenborg were able to get a modicum of revenge against the newly crowned champions with a 1-0 win in the NM Cup final. It was, predictably, a close affair in the capital with the only goal coming from Cesille Andreassen, who fired home in a melee after her penalty had cannoned back into the danger zone.
Vålerenga fought back and even found the net with a thunderous effort from Thea Bjelde from outside the box -- the attacker even busted out a Sam Kerr-esque backflip in celebration -- but the jubilation was cut short when the goal was ruled out by VAR (a benefit of playing at the Ullevaal Stadion) for offside.
Southampton in FA Cup shock!
In the second round of the FA Cup, Southampton Women's FC (an independent club not to be confused with Southampton FC, who have a team in the Championship) pulled off a stunning 4-3 win against Brentford.
The Bees had come back from three goals down to force extra time, but more drama was to come five minutes from time through the most unlikely of sources.
Southampton reserves' goalkeeper Leah Etheridge, thrown on up front as an emergency substitute, netted the winner just 10 minutes into her senior debut after being superbly found by Isabelle Thorogood.