The WSL is back this Sunday after a month-long winter break. There are five tasty fixtures to look forward to. What can we expect from the second half of the season?
How’s the League Shaping Up at the Top?
Arsenal are currently sitting pretty at the summit of the Super League. Their lead at the top was reduced to just goal difference as they tasted defeat for the first time this season at the hands of their nearest title rivals, Manchester City, in their last league outing. However, the Gunners still have a game in hand over Nick Cushing’s side. They will be hopeful of getting back to winning ways as they visit West Ham on Sunday.
Dutch pair Daniëlle van de Donk and Vivianne Miedema have been in fine form for Arsenal this season, contributing 22 goals between them in just 10 games. Miedema is just 22, and is joined by a young English core of Beth Mead, Dannielle Carter and Leah Williamson, giving Arsenal one of their most exciting sides since they dominated English football under Vik Akers a decade ago. The Gunners got off to a spectacular start to the season. They won their first 10 games, including a 5-0 demolition of last season’s champions Chelsea.
However, Arsenal’s title chances have been dealt a series of blows over the last three months. Playmaker Kim Little suffered a fractured fibula in October, although she is expected to return to action this month. She was joined in the treatment room by midfield engine Jordan Nobbs, who heartbreakingly ruptured her ACL to rule her out for the remainder of the season and this years World Cup. With arguably their two best and most experienced players side-lined, this next month will be a real test of Arsenal’s strength in depth.
Who are the Nearest Challengers to Arsenal Women?
After an inconsistent start to the season, Manchester City have really begun to hit their stride. Since their disappointing home draw with Reading, City have hit 20 goals without reply. This is little surprise considering the talent they possess in attack. Nikita Parris is lightening quick, and has added a lethalness in front of goal to her armour this season. She is the joint top scoring English woman in the WSL this season alongside teammate Georgia Stanway.
With the incredible maturity and composure she demonstrates, it is easy to forgot that Stanway is just 20 years old. She has been a joy to watch since bursting onto the scene as a 17-year-old. Stanway is so fearless and is always a regular amongst the goals despite still being in her formative footballing years.
City have an exciting blend of youth in the form of Stanway, the tricky Mel Lawley and the calm presence of Keira Walsh, combined with the steely experience of Steph Haughton, Jill Scott and Karen Bardsley. Although Man City arguably don’t boast the strength in depth they had during their championship winning campaign of 2016, with Lucy Bronze, Toni Duggan and Izzy Christianson all moving abroad, this squad still has title winning experience that perhaps the more youthful Arsenal side lacks.
Excitingly, City and Arsenal meet on the final day of the season. With the title race looking like it could go down to the wire, the WSL could not have thrown up a more hotly anticipated fixture. Manchester City will aim to keep the pressure up on Arsenal this Sunday. They travel to Bristol City, a side they slipped up against earlier in the season.
Can Anyone Stop Arsenal and City?
However, the battle for the WSL title may not be a two-horse race just yet. Chelsea went into the new season as reigning champions, but kicked off their title defence with a hattrick of stalemates against Manchester City, Bristol City and Everton. They sit five points off top spot, but are in a rich vein of form, having won eight on the bounce in all competitions.
In Karen Carney, Ji So-Yun and Fran Kirby, Chelsea’s squad contains three of the most technically gifted players in the WSL. All three are capable of turning a game on its head with a flash of brilliance. With Emma Hayes at the helm, they have the most experienced championship winning manager in the division. With trips to both of their main title rivals still to come, it would be foolish to rule Chelsea out of the title race just yet. The Blues welcome Everton on Sunday.
The Dark Horses…
Level on points with the Blues are this seasons surprise package, Birmingham. Although they don’t tend to batter teams, Birmingham have been a very difficult side to beat this season. They held Chelsea to a 0-0 draw at home and narrowly lost to Man City by one goal twice. The fact that they are within five points of top spot is even more impressive considering they have done so without talisman striker Ellen White.
Last seasons WSL top scorer has been out of action since September with a back injury, but is expected to return within the next month. Manager Marc Skinner has done a fabulous job to have his side even mentioned as title contenders. Although they probably don’t possess the world class talent that those above them do, with White back they could continue to surprise a few people. Birmingham host fellow surprise act Reading on Sunday.
Reading have also made many people sit up and take notice. When looking at their squad, their success shouldn’t come as any bag surprise. Reading have the likes of Jo Potter, Jade Moore and Gemma Davidson, three of the most underrated players in English football, in their ranks. Veteran Fara Williams has shown she is still the class act she has been throughout her career.
The 34-year-old has been one of the most remarkably consistent players of her generation, and has already netted six goals this season. Despite being too many points off the top to mount a real title challenge, Kelly Chambers should be applauded for how she has transformed Reading into a team capable of competing with the best.
How’s the Bottom-half of the League Shaping Up?
At the other end of the table, Yeovil, Brighton and Everton are all in trouble. Everton got a priceless first win of the season over Liverpool in December to lift them out of the relegation zone. Their Merseyside rivals are not completely safe, sitting seven points off bottom club Yeovil.
It has been a turbulent few months for the reds following the resignation of manager Neil Redfearn after just one league game in charge. They should have enough about them to avoid the drop. For a club of Liverpool’s stature, just a bottom half finish would be considered a disappointment.
Liverpool are at home to fellow strugglers Brighton on Sunday. Victory for Brighton could really drag Liverpool into danger.
With a tasty title race and tense relegation battle, the second half of the WSL season leaves us with plenty to look forward to.