WSL PREVIEW: The Penultimate Gameweek

It’s fair to say that fans of the Barclays FA Women’s Super League have been treated to an absolutely wonderful season, and with plenty still to be decided at both ends of the table, the action is far from over yet. With two matches left to play, there are still three sides that could mathematically lift the trophy – while five teams aren’t yet safe from the sole relegation spot. We’ve taken a look at all six games, highlighting the key matches to keep an eye out for – and how they could influence the table. It gets wild, so make sure you’re sitting down for this.

The Matches

Tottenham Hotspur v Reading

16:15, Saturday 20 May 2023 – FA Player

Spurs have managed to make history with this game before a ball has even been kicked, as it marks the first ever Premier League + Women’s Super League double header. With the men’s side facing Brentford at 12:30, the club hope that fans will stay behind to cheer on the team for this relegation six-pointer.

Spurs have failed to appoint a permanent replacement head coach since sacking Rehanne Skinner more than two months ago – so it’ll be Vicky Jepson in charge once more. It’s not a pretty picture for the Lilywhites, as they sit just three points above Reading, who occupy the bottom spot as things stand.

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Since sacking Skinner, Tottenham’s fortunes appeared to have turned. They won Jepson’s first game in charge, picking up three points against fellow strugglers Leicester – and they’ve managed a further two draws since. Reading’s last win came on the 5th March, and so their North London opponents will feel confident of securing a crucial result in front of what’s expected to be a bumper home crowd.

A win for Spurs would ensure they are mathematically safe from the threat of relegation – as 17 points would mean they can’t be caught by Reading. While Spurs could still theoretically be relegated with a draw, their superior goal difference would almost guarantee safety. Things would get interesting if Reading pulled off a shock win though, as that could lead to a three-team battle on the final day… but more about that later.

Chelsea v Arsenal

12:30, Sunday 21 May 2023 – BBC Two

There’ll be a huge clash of the titans at Kingsmeadow on Sunday, as we’re treated to a repeat of this season’s Conti Cup Final. Emma Hayes’ Chelsea head into this fixture off the back of winning their third consecutive FA Cup – a feat that only Arsenal had achieved beforehand. Both sides made it to the semifinals of this season’s UEFA Women’s Champions League, though Arsenal bowed out against Wolfsburg while a draw at the Spotify Camp Nou wasn’t enough for Chelsea.

Domestically, these two sides are still in contention for the title. Emma Hayes’ side are well and truly in the driving seat, sitting two points clear of Manchester United – who themselves are three points better off than Jonas Eidevall’s Gunners. Arsenal have been plagued by injuries this season though, and while third place may not live up to their pre-season expectations, they’ve done incredibly well under the circumstances.

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With Vivianne Miedema, Beth Mead, Leah Williamson and Laura Wienroither all ruled out through injuries to their anterior cruciate ligaments, the Gunners are working with an insanely depleted squad. Things turned from bad to worse last time out against Everton, as Lia Walti is now set to miss the rest of the campaign following an unfortunately mistimed challenge from Aggie Beever-Jones.

Arsenal have proven this season that they’re capable of finding a way past Chelsea, as demonstrated in their Conti Cup win at Selhurst Park. In the return league fixture in January, the sides settled for a 1-1 draw, with Kim Little and Sam Kerr on the scoresheet. This is arguably one of the most important fixtures of the weekend, and we’ll discuss its potential influence on the table at the end of this article.

Everton v Brighton

13:00, Sunday 21 May 2023 – FA Player

Everton are on course for a top-half finish, which they’ll look to confirm with a win over Brighton. However, the Toffees have looked shaky lately – conceding four against Arsenal just a week after shipping seven against Chelsea. It’s hard to judge just how well a team have truly performed when they’ve played two of the division’s best teams, but this fixture against Brighton will give us the opportunity to assess Brian Sorensen’s side.

The Danish manager seems to have found an identity for Everton, but his counterpart at Brighton has also received plaudits for her relative success since taking over on the South Coast. Melissa Phillips is Brighton’s fourth manager of the season, and it appears they’ve finally found the boss that will guide them back to where they belong.

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Brighton also conceded four against Arsenal recently, but a win against West Ham and a draw at Spurs show that the Seagulls have what it takes to grind out results. Three points against Everton would secure their top-flight status for another season, though a draw may suffice depending on how Reading perform on Saturday.

Aston Villa v Liverpool

14:00, Sunday 21 May 2023 – FA Player

Liverpool head to Villa Park on Sunday, with over 7000 fans already having purchased tickets for this mid-table tie. Carla Ward’s Aston Villa have been one of the standout performers of the WSL campaign, and that’s why they currently sit fifth in the league table. It marks a huge improvement on their ninth-place finish last season – and under Ward’s guidance, they could quite feasibly mount an attack on the top three next year.

Matt Beard’s Liverpool sit eleven points behind the Villans, occupying the seventh spot in the league standings ahead of this tie. They’ve had a mixed bag of results recently though and while a 2-1 win over Manchester City is undoubtedly the highlight, they’ll look to right the wrongs we saw in defeats against Chelsea and Leicester City.

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It was the hosts that claimed the three points in the return fixture though, as a Rachel Daly penalty in the 57th minute was enough to secure a narrow win on Merseyside. The England international’s influence cannot be understated – and a hat-trick against Reading last time out has seen her reach twenty goals this season. That keeps her ahead of Khadija Shaw in the race for the Golden Boot; not bad at all considering she started at left-back for England last summer!

Leicester City v West Ham United

15:00, Sunday 21 May 2023 – FA Player

This is another huge fixture that could have significant bearing on the battle at the bottom of the table. Willie Kirk’s Leicester City have shown signs of quality throughout the season, with the loan signing of Ruby Mace from Manchester City helping to stabilise the midfield. However, their season seems to bear resemblance to that of the club’s Premier League campaign – as the relegation battle goes right down to the wire.

Conceding six against Chelsea certainly hasn’t helped their goal difference though, and they enter this gameweek with the worst differential out of the bottom three. However, there are signs of promise for the Foxes – as they managed to just ship one goal against Arsenal in the form of a stunning strike from Frida Maanum. Before that, consecutive wins against Reading and Liverpool helped the East Midlands side to pick up six vital points.

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West Ham sit in eighth – four points clear of the Foxes ahead of kickoff. The Hammers haven’t won a league game in 2023 as of yet though, picking up just two points thanks to goalless draws against Arsenal and Liverpool. It’s fair to say that’s a dire run of form for Paul Konchesky’s side, and it’ll provide Willie Kirk’s side with the confidence that they can pile on more misery onto the Clarets.

Manchester United v Manchester City

18:45, Sunday 21 May 2023 – Sky Sports Football

We’re really being treated this weekend! If the prospect of Chelsea v Arsenal wasn’t exciting enough, you’ll have just four and a half hours to recover before the Manchester Derby kicks off at Leigh Sports Village. Gareth Taylor’s side are out of the title race following their shock defeat to Liverpool, but they remain in contention for the final European spot.

Manchester United have sat at the top of the table for the majority of the season, but Chelsea have retaken the top spot following wins over Leicester City and West Ham. Marc Skinner’s United were defeated by the Blues at Wembley, but the boss will be hoping that his players remain motivated for the final two games of the league season.

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At this point, it’s out of United’s hands. They’ll need Chelsea to drop points in either of their final games and in all honestly, I can’t see them doing that against Reading. That leaves one way for the Red Devils to get their hand on the trophy – Arsenal need to pick up three points at Kingsmeadow. United will know how Chelsea have fared before they kick off, and should the Blues manage to defeat their London rivals, then the title race would be blown wide open and a third team could enter the fray.

The Title Fight

Chelsea could be crowned champions if they win against Arsenal, and Manchester United fail to win at home against Manchester City. If United don’t pick up three points, then a draw would realistically be good enough for Emma Hayes’ side – unless they stutter at Reading next weekend.

United can’t be crowned champions just yet, but they would retake pole position if they pick up three points and Arsenal defeat Chelsea. United could still rise to the top of the table if Chelsea draw, but they’d need to beat City by a five-goal margin.

What about that third team? Arsenal could pull off a miracle and put themselves back in contention for the title – but it’s out of their hands. The Gunners would need to win both of their final games, and hope United drop at least three points. There’s also the small matter of Chelsea losing both of their final two games, and while we can’t predict the future, we can say you’d be stupid to bet on that.

The Relegation Battle

Reading will be relegated if they fail to win on Saturday, and Leicester pick up three points against West Ham. Leicester would maintain their top-flight status if they win, and Reading fail to do the same. Spurs would be mathematically safe if they pick up all three points against Reading.

Any other chain of events would see the race to avoid relegation continue, with the team dropping down to be decided on the final matchday. As a reminder, all six fixtures will kickoff at the same time next weekend – 14:30 UK time on Saturday, 27 May 2023.

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