It’s crunch time in the Women’s Super League and with less than two weeks of the season left, the fates of the top four teams in the table are yet to be decided with the title and Champions League qualification places still on the line.
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Arsenal and Chelsea still have three matches left to play, and therefore each have a game in hand on both Manchester United and Manchester City, but United are top of the table by one point over defending champions Chelsea. Arsenal and City are five points behind Chelsea, with goal difference splitting the two sides as they battle for the third and final European place.
Starting with the leaders United, here’s what to watch for in the top four — and a prediction on how each will ultimately finish.
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In just their fourth season in the top flight, United have already bettered their previous points tally of 47 from 2020-21 as they top the table with 50 points with two games remaining, They are all but guaranteed Champions League football next season with a far greater goal difference (+42) than City in fourth (+25).
The Red Devils won’t be given an easy ride in their last two games of the season, however, and after hosting a Manchester derby they will have to travel to face a Liverpool team who have already beaten both Chelsea and City at Prenton Park.
Although they are six points better off than their cross-town rivals, United have never beaten City in the league but have managed some very credible draws so far over their short existence. Coming into this one off the back of an FA Cup final loss to Chelsea, the Red Devils will have even more incentive to take maximum points but it’s a fixture that will likely throw up a draw.
After City, United have to face Liverpool on the last day of the season and, depending on how the penultimate round of fixtures pans out, they may well be playing for the title. The Reds, despite their standing in the table (seventh), have proven to be tricky opposition on their day and should United not be on a song, they could easy fall to a last-day defeat. However, I can see this team finishing strongly and taking all three points on Merseyside.
Predicted finish: Second place
The reigning champions have certainly struggled for their very best football this season but have kept themselves in contention by sheer force of will and self-belief, as they demonstrated at Wembley over the weekend when they picked up their third successive FA Cup.
Still working through their backlog of games, Chelsea will have to face West Ham United before hosting Arsenal and then ending the season at bottom club Reading. Just one point behind United with 49, Chelsea have been chasing them down and eating up all their goal difference — bringing themselves level on +42 with the last kick in last week’s 6-0 win over Leicester City.
West Ham are in a sorry state this season; they haven’t won a game in the WSL since December. Even against a tired Chelsea team, the Hammers are likely to struggle on Wednesday as they did last time they met when the Blues dished out a 7-0 humbling in the League Cup.
After West Ham, Chelsea will come up against familiar foes Arsenal, who themselves are battling for something from this season. In a similar state of midweek games to get through, both teams are likely to come into their clash with heavy legs and players struggling through various levels of fitness and readiness.
But Chelsea, with their better squad depth and more players returning from injury — as opposed to Arsenal seem to be struggling with things going the other way for them at the moment — will like their chances against their London rivals. However, just to keep the last weekend spicy, I’m predicting a second league draw between the two this season.
Lastly, Chelsea will travel to the Select Car Leasing Stadium to face the relegation-battling Reading — the Royals may even have had relegation confirmed by the time they kick off next Saturday. Chelsea could also have already confirmed another title by May 27, but are much more likely to go into the game needing all three points, which should be a formality.
Predicted finish: Champions
Having started the season at a rate of knots, injuries have derailed Arsenal’s campaign somewhat. Although they are still mathematically in the mix for the title on 44 points, they would need an extraordinary run of results to finish top of the pile.
With a midweek trip to Everton first up, the Gunners will then return to London to square off against Chelsea before finishing the season at home to Aston Villa, the WSL’s current “best of the rest” in fifth place with 33 points. Although the Toffees have shown bright moments this season, they’ve struggled for consistency and their last outing — a 7-0 thumping away to Chelsea — highlights some of the issues facing manager Brian Sorensen.
Whilst no one expects Everton to ship seven goals again, Arsenal should prove too much for the hosts on Wednesday and are likely to return to the capital with all three points. Like their weekend opposition, Arsenal will have the extra midweek game in their legs, although unlike Chelsea, the Gunners got a rest at the weekend. But, to rebalance the scales, Arsenal will have a trip to Merseyside and back in their legs by the time they line up at Kingsmeadow on Sunday.
Two teams who are probably a little bored of the sight of each other by now, I can see this one ending in a draw to set up a grandstand last day of fixtures. Finally, Arsenal will face Aston Villa which will be no easy task, not least with European qualification on the line. A stubborn team who’ve gone forward well this season, Villa will provide a late headache for Arsenal but the Gunners can lean on a strong home record and are likely to edge the tie to claim all three points.
Predicted finish: Third place
A mixed bag this season, City have shown moments of brilliance but too often have failed to capitalise on their dominance in games and left the door open, leaving them heading into the business end of the season outside of Champions League qualification with a sub-par goal difference.
With 44 points City are level with Arsenal, but are fourth in the table by virtue of having an inferior goal difference (+25) to the Gunners (+34) 44 points. City will need to produce two very strong performances in their last two games of the season, but could already be out of the running should things turn sour in their match this weekend against Manchester United. Already having played some classic matches against their neighbours, City have the benefit of the game almost being a free hit. Many have already written them off for a top-three finish, with most of the pressure on their opposition.
This may be the key to City digging out some of their better football and dipping into their strong league history against United, but a draw seems the much more likely result. Lastly, City will host Everton, who themselves have had a very busy month and will likely be coming into the game will a little more fatigue and focus that is more on getting to the end of the season rather than going out in a blaze of glory with little left to play for.
Conversely, for the tumultuous season the Citizens have had, they will want to finish with a show of strength and should be picking up three points from their last outing of the campaign.
Predicted finish: Fourth place
Predicted top four finish, with points and goal difference
1. Chelsea, 56 points, +48
2. Manchester United, 54 points, +43
3. Arsenal, 51 points, +39
4. Manchester City, 48 points, +28