The Red Devils are the surprise leaders as the Christmas break looms, though there are plenty of twists and turns to come yet
It’s been six years since the Women’s Super League had a title race as exciting as this.
Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have locked out the WSL’s top three places for the last five seasons, but as we approach the Christmas break, none of that trio leads the way.
In just their second campaign in the top flight, and third season in their history, Manchester United are the pacesetters.
After the final fixture between the top four was played on Sunday, with Man City beating Arsenal 2-1, the picture at the top is becoming a lot clearer.
For the Gunners, that picture is concerning. They have just one point from a possible nine against their title rivals this season.
“We can’t seem to get over these mental blocks, these abilities to be smarter in these scenarios,” head coach Joe Montemurro said on Sunday, after his team lost in the 94th minute. “It is a problem and we need to address it.”
The Gunners haven’t beaten any of their big rivals since October 2019, having also lost to Chelsea in the Continental Cup and City in the FA Cup this season.
That’s not to say they should be written off, though. Arsenal have really struggled with injuries, so much so that the club are conducting an internal review into the situation. The Christmas break could be huge in getting players back to full fitness.
They are also unbelievably consistent against the teams outside of the top four.
While Man City, for example, have dropped points to Reading and Brighton, Arsenal have been relentless, hitting six against Reading and Tottenham and nine against West Ham. It’s no surprise that they have the best goal difference in the league by some distance.
Chelsea and Man City are both wonderfully consistent, without a WSL defeat to anyone other than each other, and Arsenal, since January 2019 and May 2018 respectively. The Gunners, though, rarely draw.
Man United are starting to build that same title-winning consistency. They’ve only dropped points to City and Chelsea this year, whereas last term they lost to both Bristol and West Ham.After her side came from 2-0 down to draw with City, head coach Casey Stoney said she was “probably prouder” of that result than when her team beat Arsenal, “because of the shift in [the team’s] mentality” to stage a comeback.
While things are shaping up a little more with nearly half of the season gone, it may not be until March or April that things really start to change such is the competitiveness at the top.
Both Chelsea and Man City could have the latter rounds of the Champions League to contend with by then, which could hand both Man United and Arsenal an advantage.
“[Balancing the Champions League with the WSL] is tough for anyone, especially in the women’s game where we don’t have a private jet,” Arsenal defender Leah Williamson said earlier this year. “It does take its toll.”Chelsea and City aren’t struggling with those demands just yet. The pair played their first games of the new European campaign last week, winning at Benfica and Goteborg respectively, and both won this weekend.
After all, these are two clubs that have built squads capable of juggling the demands of not just these two competitions, but the two domestic cups too.
For now, we’ve seen each contender go head to head, and almost half of the WSL schedule too, and it is Stoney’s United who sit top.
Plenty will happen that could change that between now and the final day, one unlikely to be as dramatic as that memorable afternoon in 2014 which concluded the WSL’s most incredible title race to date.
Liverpool were in third place at the beginning of the day, but were lifting the trophy by the end of it. Goal difference won it for them, after leaders Chelsea lost and second-placed Birmingham could only draw.It’s unlikely we will ever see a final day quite like that ever again, but this season is promising a title race more entertaining than anything the league has seen since.