The Women’s Super League title race isn’t the only thing that has got fans on the edge of their seats this season. Whilst two sides constantly try to topple one another at the head of the table, a four-way battle is being had at the opposite end.
Although everyone is itching to see if Manchester City will be able to snub Chelsea of a second consecutive title, the most thrilling action lies in the dust of the relegation scrap. West Ham, Aston Villa, Bristol City and Birmingham are all fighting the pull of the drop zone as the WSL nears its conclusion.
Since its inception, England’s top flight has been somewhat predictable when it comes to winners and those less fortunate. Everton and Bristol City were both relegated from the WSL during its early years, but made their comeback almost immediately.
On the flip side, Yeovil Town gained promotion to the top tier in 2016, but lasted just one season before a points deduction sent them tumbling straight back down the following year.
Only four different sides have ever won the WSL title and three of those are still as large as life within the league’s ranks. Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal continue to be the English heavyweights any side dreads to face, but two-time winners Liverpool have had a heavy fall from grace since their back-to-back titles.
The Reds were relegated from the WSL after the 2019/20 season was curtailed and decided on a points-per-game system. After losing ten of their 14 matches played, they were demoted to the Championship, much to the relief of a struggling Birmingham. Whilst many predicted Liverpool to come straight back up, their inconsistent performances leaves them with no mathematical chance of gaining promotion this season.
This turn of the tide left a lot of fans surprised, as is to be expected when two-time champions of the league are relegated six years later. But this is living proof that the competitiveness of English football is improving and just about anything could happen.
Underdogs Villa could cause upset
On paper, Aston Villa perhaps looked the favourites to face relegation this season, simply due to being the fresh meat in the league. The Villains thwarted Sheffield United and Durham last campaign in their title run, finishing the term on 40 points thanks to an incredible unbeaten run.
The Midlands side didn’t drop a single point the entire season and cruised their way over the line and into the top bracket of football. Whilst the WSL is a huge step up from Championship level, this year has shown that any team can take points from anyone.
Title hopefuls and reigning champions Chelsea were left looking foolish when Brighton & Hove Albion snatched all three points at Kingsmeadow in February. Relegation candidates Bristol City also caused huge upset for steady-going side Reading earlier this month, which was a huge boost in their fight for survival.
Villa have been subject to some disappointing results in their maiden WSL season, but have equally produced some gritty displays to notch ten points on the board so far. Whilst this still puts them in huge danger, they are ahead of bottom of the table West Ham by one point and are one behind Bristol.
It’s a fight that’s going to go right down to the wire, but Aston Villa could have enough to edge the battle and stay afloat. Summer signing Mana Iwabuchi has been the club’s star player this season, producing goals against Reading and Spurs to ensure her side came away with a positive result.
According to FbRef, the Japanese international has scored twice in the WSL this season and has assisted once. Only Ramona Petzelberger has found the back of the net more times for Villa so far.
Iwabuchi’s influence in front of goal has been magnificent for Villa. Her long distance wonder strike against Tottenham last month was not only a goal for the archives but enough to bank Villa a massive win.
With five fixtures left of the 2020/21 season, there’s everything to play for at the foot of the WSL table. If Villa can avoid the dreaded drop zone and secure their survival, it means a high status side is going to take the hit. Whether it’s West Ham, Bristol or Birmingham, it will be another huge plot twist if the season’s underdogs can force another side in taking the fall.