The final round of Women’s Super League games take place this weekend as teams aim to end the year on a high before the Christmas holidays halt action until mid-January.
More than 40,000 tickets had been sold on Friday for the Manchester derby, which is one of two matches held at Premier League stadiums and will start with hosts City three points behind second-placed United.
Here are five things to watch out for.
United to break the derby duck?
Manchester United will try to beat Manchester City in the WSL on the sixth attempt in front of a crowd of at least 40,000 at the Etihad Stadium.
“We have a lot of Manchester United fans in our team so it’s deeply real for them,” said manager Marc Skinner, calling himself “Manchester United through and through” in his broad Birmingham accent.
“Obviously I was born in Birmingham but, every time I go to a team, I encapsulate and embody everything about the team I’m on,” he added. “It’s real for people.”
Skinner knows that starving WSL top scorer Possession’s Khadija Shaw will be key against her opponents on a run of nine wins in all competitions – and navigating the thrill of the occasion is equally important.
“Whoever finds the right balance will control the game,” he said, adding nervousness would be inevitable and pointing to United defeat Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium and Aston Villa beating at Old Trafford in their last two WSL games.
“It’s probably the first game you’re looking forward to on the calendar. It’s huge and everyone knows it, but our players are getting used to playing on big occasions.”
Villa enjoying a restorative break
Following their 5-0 defeat at Old Trafford On Saturday, exhausted Aston Villa can reaffirm their four ambitions when Arsenal visit Villa Park.
Manager Carla Ward is full of praise for a squad including WSL Player of the Month Rachel Daly, but called the women’s football schedule “absolutely ridiculous”, wondering if the Premier League would leave so little time between games. men’s international and national matches.
Ward wants the physical and mental well-being of the players to be paramount and wholeheartedly agrees with the reservations expressed by Arsenal striker Vivianne Miedema, who took a break in November and is looking to score for the fourth game in a row.
“It’s very important – it’s the game of the players,” Gunners manager Jonas Eidevall said of the issue, stressing the importance of players speaking up when they’re struggling.
“We need a calendar that allows players to express themselves. They should definitely be the most important when we plan calendars and see how we are going to develop the game.”
Eidevall and Ward shared glowing assessments of their next opponents. “It’s an amazing team that you love watching,” Ward said. “They are one of the best teams in Europe – with United, Chelsea and City they are all up there.”
‘Final’ games for Everton’s eyes
Brian Sorensen was unimpressed to see Everton concede four goals in the first half at Manchester United in the FA Cup on Wednesdaybut the Toffees manager described the second half as a “pure power play” from his side as they lost 4-2.
“We have to learn from it, be better and put in a 90 minute performance,” said Sorensen, speaking ahead of Everton’s trip to face a Brighton side whose speed and builder he compares to Arsenal and Manchester United.
“There are four teams in this league that are on another level but we are not far behind them. If you look at the numbers behind, we are probably the closest team to the top four.
“The next two games are going to define where we’re going to be in the standings this season. If we lose we’re probably going to be stuck in the bottom and we’ll have to fight our way out.”
A second win in eight home games for Brighton would condemn Everton to a fourth successive defeat.
“We are the best team and we have to make sure we are full of confidence, take our chances and have the power and the aggression that we want for 90 minutes,” Sorensen said.
London clubs share a rambling shape
Tottenham’s problems in front of goal are “definitely not” a problem in training, manager Rehanne Skinner has said, as his players risk losing without scoring in three consecutive WSL games for the first time.
Skinner is all too familiar with the kind of struggles West Ham have had to find form this season. A uninspired attacking display in Reading left Spurs three points behind sixth-placed Hammers, who were largely dominated by Liverpool and lost the most points in the division – nine – from winning positions.
“We’re doing a lot of really good work getting the ball through with quality in the final third,” Skinner explained. “We created several chances.
“Some days we took every single one of them, and other days we weren’t able to force him across the line – so it can get a bit frustrating for everyone in those situations.
“We work diligently on it all the time and it’s just a matter of moving from training to matches.”
West Ham have never won at Tottenham but could finish the year fifth if they avoid a third straight WSL away defeat.
Harries hopes Royals repeat
As Chelsea’s Emma Hayes targets an 18th win in 19 WSL games, Reading’s Emma Harries is still relishing one of the most memorable days of her life as the visitors target an upset at Kingsmeadow.
At the age of 20, Harries captained the club which she joined aged eight in their home win over Tottenham. His sister accompanied Harries down the tunnel and his family was in the stands at the men’s team home.
“It was just a ‘pinch’ moment,” said the striker, who spent eight months with an ACL injury this year.
“Sunday was the perfect day. I think it was an almost perfect performance – everyone did their job, had a great shift and the score could have been bigger.”
The Royals are winless in 10 WSL away games but seven points clear of Danger. “Chelsea are a brilliant team and have a lot of great quality players which is why they are top of the table right now,” said Harries, calling on Reading to “step up”.
“But we have already shown that if we put in a good performance, we can be a good test for anyone.”