Things are tightening up at the top and bottom of the Women’s Super League with matches coming fast and well.
Can either bottom side put a wrench in the works for a title contender? What’s happening in the transfer market? And who will emerge victorious from the battle of the strikers?
Here are five things to watch out for.
London Derby kicks off title race
Sam Kerr’s 89th-minute equalizer last week London Derby gave Chelsea and Arsenal a point and left the Blues top of the table with Jonas Eidevall’s side three points behind.
Meanwhile, Manchester United beat Liverpool 6-0 to keep the pressure firmly on the London clubs, moving into second place, level on points with Arsenal but ahead on goal difference.
Arsenal, Chelsea and United have lost a game each this season – the title race is now more open than ever – but United and Arsenal have a game in hand.
Moreover, with Manchester City now unbeaten in their last eight WSL games, Gareth Taylor’s side shouldn’t be ruled out.
Chelsea boss Emma Hayes has said she needs to see more of her side if she is to retain the title, her fourth in a row.
“I will demand the maximum from my team and the supporters. I want the supporters to demand the maximum from the team at a time when everything is tight and as a club we must continue to push on all fronts if we want to end up where we want,” she said.
This weekend the top three sides will face bottom half opposition as Arsenal take on Brighton, United take on Reading and Chelsea take on Liverpool, the only team to beat them so far this season, which will be streamed live Sunday on the BBC.
The whereabouts of the WSL
It’s been another busy week of signings, rumors and managers biting their tongues over ins and outs.
Japanese midfielder Mana Iwabuchi signed for Tottenham on loan from rivals Arsenal while Liverpool brought in Midfielder Miri Taylor and Brighton signed experienced goalkeeper Lydia Williams.
Arsenal boss Eidevall has said he is keen to sign a “prolific” striker in the absence of regular goalscorers Vivianne Miedema and Beth Mead, while at the other end of the table Reading boss Kelly Chambers, hopes to bring back “one, hopefully two” before the window closes to give her “a little more depth and strength”.
With England internationals Beth England and Jordan Nobbs already making big moves this window – to Tottenham and Aston Villa, respectively – will we see any other big names on the move?
The threat of relegation already looms
We may only be halfway through the season, but managers are already talking about the ‘R’ word – relegation.
While Leicester secured their first points in the table last weekend under new manager Willie Kirk, things between the bottom sides are tighter than ever.
“It would make a few other teams really uncomfortable if we got back-to-back wins,” Kirk said.
“Even though we focus on ourselves, the reality is that we want as many people to be drawn into the [relegation scrap] as possible. If we can win on Sunday, it will drag another team into this battle.”
Reading and Brighton are just above the drop on seven points with Liverpool just one point ahead of them and Tottenham also likely to be dragged into the conversation a point further back.
Spurs have suffered five straight defeats and Rehanne Skinner’s side will face a tough challenge on Sunday when they take on a confident Leicester side, dynamic of their win over Brighton.
“If there’s a good time to face a team, it’s probably after five losses and knowing they have a few tough games after that,” Kirk said.
“They’ll want to pick up points as soon as possible after going through this shape.”
The Reading Chambers boss also had relegation on her mind this week, echoing the fact that several teams are currently in the frame.
“There are a lot of teams that have been brought into battle,” she said. “It makes the pressure harder. For the neutral it probably makes it a bit more exciting, but that’s the point of football.
“We just have to keep focusing on ourselves and making sure every game we play knows what’s at stake. Our goal is to stay in this league.”
Battle of the strikers
This weekend, the league’s two best forwards face off in Saturday’s kick-off as Manchester City host Aston Villa.
City’s Khadija Shaw and Villa’s Rachel Daly have both scored nine goals in 10 games this season, the joint WSL record.
Although it’s still early days to talk about the Golden Boot, the pair each have three more goals than Sam Kerr, Fran Kirby and Katie Stengel.
Shaw also registered two assists against Daly’s, but the Jamaican’s overall shooting accuracy sits at 44% while the England international boasts a more powerful 53%.
The last time the two teams met fans were treated to a seven-goal thriller where Daly scored two and Shaw scored one as Villa ran out winners 4-3, so who will be the difference for their team this time?
Skinner’s solid United defense
Manchester United have one of the best defensive records in the WSL and the fourth best in Europe, having scored just six goals and scored 30.
They have kept seven clean sheets this season, more than any other team in the league, and if Mary Earps does not concede against Reading this weekend she will become the first WSL goalkeeper to reach a record 50 clean sheets. in the league.
What does Skinner attribute this to?
“Honestly, teamwork,” he said. “My teams will always defend as a group. It starts with Alessia [Russo] from the start, the way we structure ourselves, I think as a team you work better.”
With margins so tight at the top of the table, a superior goal difference could prove essential for his side to clinch their first-ever WSL title.
“Our teams will never be about a star player, it will be about the collective and we work hard for that, we work hard to press, we want to win the ball so we can play with the ball. When you keep the ball like we do, it’s always difficult for the other team to attack,” Skinner said.