Following Manchester City’s worst-ever start to a WSL campaign, the race for the top three has become far less predictable than previous years.
Whilst the title race looks to be a straight shoot-out between London rivals and FA Cup finalists Arsenal and Chelsea, the quest for Champions League football will dominate the headlines over the next few months.
Will it be Manchester United or Spurs? Can you truly write off City? And, what about Brighton under Hope Powell – they couldn’t, could they?
Manchester United – 5th
Perhaps the favourites for that final spot. Marc Skinner’s side sit fifth in their second WSL campaign after promotion from the FA Women’s Championship in 2019.
Key to that rise has been Ella Toone, who, whilst quiet in Saturday’s 1-1 with Tottenham Hotspur, had already racked up two goals and four assists in her first five games.
Disappointments include a 6-1 defeat to Chelsea, a late equaliser against Spurs and a point in the Manchester United derby despite Georgia Stanway’s red card. Three performances which arguably all stemmed from a lack of experience in their ranks.
Still, there is no doubt that United could sneak into the Champions League at the expense of their city rivals, if their key individual talents continue to stand up.
Tottenham Hotspur – 3rd
Ria Percival’s late long-range free-kick saw Tottenham snatch a point against Manchester United and move third.
Previously, Rehanne Skinner’s side ran out 2-1 victors over Manchester City despite trailing at half-time. It was the first time Spurs had beaten one of the WSL’s ‘big four’, and set the tone for a serious charge for Champions League football.
Spurs defence has been particularly impressive, conceding just four times in six matches – including three clean sheets.
However, they look short for goals barring Rachel Williams, who has three goal contributions so far, and Kit Graham, who has, like the former, struck twice.
Against Birmingham City and Reading, Tottenham were only able to win 1-0. Their eight goals in the league is the joint lowest of any team in the top-half of WSL.
Simply, Spurs have to find the net more often to stay in the top-three come May.
Brighton – 4th
Brighton and the Champions League is not something you’d expect to be writing six games into the WSL, with no one predicting a top-three challenge pre-season, despite the quick rise of Powell’s side over the last few years.
Goals from Lee Geum-Min and Inessa Kaagman have been key in firing Brighton to 4th in the WSL, just one point off the Champions League places. Danielle Carter has also impressed with two goals and one assist following her move from Reading last summer.
Sure enough, Brighton will struggle to pick up points against the WSL giants, as shown by a 3-1 defeat to Chelsea. Their league position is also enhanced slightly, having not yet played Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City so far.
However, wins against Everton and Tottenham Hotspur shows that Hope Powell’s side is moving in the right direction, whether they hit the Champions League jackpot this year or not.
Manchester City – 7th
Manchester City have had a huge number of injuries, with Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton and first-choice keepers – Ellie Roebuck and Karen Bardsley – all currently sidelined.
Still, Gareth Taylor’s side should be doing far better than 7th place, a consequence of a run of one win in five league matches.
The return of key players aside, City still have enough quality to recover following defeats in three successive matches for the first time in their history – including a 2-0 defeat to West Ham.
Key to their push for the Champions League will be Lauren Hemp, who largely seems to be City’s outball at the moment. She was vital in the fight-back to win 4-1 against Leicester City last weekend.
Khadjia Shaw is just one of a few players yet to get going. She has two goals in six games following her move to England from Bordeaux last summer.
If last year’s Division 1 Féminine top scorer can form a partnership with Ellen White, City might just scrap their way to next season’s Champions League.
It would be some recovery, but if anyone can do it – it would be City.