WSL

WSL title race heads to the wire as Chelsea and Man City face final countdown

By Sports Desk May 17, 2024 185

The WSL title race could hardly be any closer heading into the final game of the season. Chelsea and Manchester City are locked together on 52 points apiece, with goal difference the only factor nudging the Blues ahead.

It is finely poised, and both sets of fans are in for a roller-coaster ride on Saturday.

Chelsea put themselves in pole position on Wednesday by winning their final game in hand, beating Tottenham 1-0. The Blues are now two goals ahead on goal difference ahead of facing Manchester United on Saturday. City, meanwhile, take on Aston Villa.

There could be the scenario that the teams finish level on both goal difference and goals scored. The determining metric would then be the number of league wins, followed by head-to-head record against their title rivals. In that scenario, Man City would be crowned Champions, having won away and drawn at home.

The Opta Supercomputer, though, has Chelsea in the driving seat on the final day with a 56.3 per cent chance of retaining their title.

 

City manager Garth Taylor, however, backed his team to prove the computer wrong.

"Well, I think we have a great chance. We're capable of going and scoring four," he said.

"We know we're capable. Does it mean obviously that you're able to go and do it at the weekend? Of course, because there are many factors that need to go into that. But yeah, I'll leave the data to the other guys.

"I think what we have to do is really concentrate on ourselves and make sure we don't take our eye off the ball. And like I say, start as impressively and as fast as we possibly can and see where that takes us. But you've seen with this team, they can score goals. 

"So it's just about constantly realigning them on the focus and what we need to do. Like I say, the more we've done that this season, the better we've been."

How many days have each of these teams led the way this term?

Chelsea lead the standings with an impressive 152. City have only managed 64 days at the top, and have spent much of their time chasing down the Blues.

Hayes' last hurrah

Emma Hayes will bid farewell to Chelsea and the WSL, and she is determined to go out in glorious fashion.

The last few weeks have been challenging for Hayes, with Chelsea losing to Arsenal in the League Cup final, going down to Barcelona in a controversial Champions League semi-final and then suffering a heavy defeat to Liverpool days later. Hayes had declared the title race "over" at that stage.

However, her players had other plans, and put themselves back in contention with an emphatic 8-0 win over relegated Bristol City to turn the goal difference in their favour, and followed that up by beating Spurs. City also handed them hope by losing 2-1 to Arsenal.

This last game will be an iconic goodbye, as the Blues travel to Old Trafford and face last season's challengers for the title, Man United. The fact that this match is at the men's stadium really does emphasise the huge growth the women's game has experienced in the 12 years Hayes has been in charge of Chelsea.

The United Way: Will FA Cup winners decide the title?

When Hayes started managing the Blues, United did not even have a professional women's side. United were promoted to the WSL after just one season following their establishment in 2018, and have not looked back.

Last season, it was the red side of Manchester running Hayes and her Chelsea side to the wire for the title race. This season, United created history by winning their first ever major trophy by beating Spurs 4-0 at Wembley.

United now have the fate of the title partly in their hands, though it would mean possibly gifting the crown to their rivals City.

United have won three of their four WSL games on the final day of the season, including the curtailed 2019-20 season, though that sole loss came in a 4-2 defeat to Chelsea in May 2022.

The Blues will also feel confident having got the better of Man Utd of late, unbeaten in their last eight WSL matches (W7 D1 L0).

Chelsea have scored the most goals in the WSL this season (65), six more than Man City (59), at an average of 3.0 per match, while also having the best xG (55.9) in the division.

United are looking for their first league win against Chelsea since November 2019. They have been outscored 21-7 during this streak.

Chelsea have lost just one of their last 11 away league matches played on a Saturday (W9 D1 L1), winning all of their last four on the road on this day while keeping a clean sheet in all of those victories and scoring 20 goals in the process.

United trio Mary Earps, Maya Le Tissier and Katie Zelem have played every minute of their WSL campaign this season, with City in 2019-20 the last team to have three players play 100 per cent of their total minutes in a WSL campaign (Caroline Weir, Gemma Bonner and Steph Houghton).

Zelem has created 55 chances for her team-mates, the most of any player in the competition, as well as playing 198 passes into the box, also a league-high.

Fran Kirby will pull on a Cheslea shirt for one final time. She has the most direct goal contributions 89 under Hayes in the WSL.

With 33, Kirby has also provided the most WSL assists in Hayes' tenure. She has also created the second-most chances (227), behind Ji So-Yun (228). One final crown would mark the end of an iconic stint at her time with Chelsea.

If Chelsea can get in front, they will be confident of the victory, the team have dropped a league-low three points from winning positions this season. 

City always the bridesmaid, never the bride?

City are hoping to end an eight-year wait to lift their second WSL title. In that time City have been runners up on five separate occasions.

Last time out, City suffered a 2-1 defeat against Arsenal at Joie Stadium, handing the momentum back to Chelsea in what has been an enthralling title race. This defeat snapped a 14-match winning streak and was a blow in what has been a record-breaking season.

City are unbeaten on the final day of the season across each of the last four WSL campaigns (W3 D1 – including curtailed 2019-20 season), winning each of the last three in succession.

Meanwhile, no team has had as many shots on target as City (171), who are one ahead of Chelsea's tally of 170.

Lauren Hemp has scored five goals in six prior WSL meetings with Aston Villa, including netting a brace in the reverse fixture earlier this season. She has also recorded seven assists so far in the league this season, the most of any player in the competition.

City will be without leading scorer Khadija Shaw, but they have been imperious at the back.

They have the best defence in the league in terms of goals against, having conceded only 14 times in 21 matches. However, their xGA of 18.8 is actually second-best, ranking behind Arsenal (17.7)

The star of the City defence has been shot-stopper extraordinaire Khiara Keating, in her first full season as City number one. Even ahead of the final game, the 19-year-old has been named the Golden Glove winner with nine clean sheets, beating England's number one Earps (seven).

Keating is the youngest goalkeeper ever to bag the award. Villa will present a stern test, having opened the scoring in each of their last three WSL home games, but they have failed to win any of them (D2 L1); in fact, the Villans have failed to win six of the seven home league games theyve taken a 1-0 lead in this season (W1 D3 L3).

However it plays out, one thing is for sure - Saturday will be filled with drama, tension and goals.

As these two heavyweights go toe to toe, history will be made. Either a fifth consecutive crown for Hayes as she bows out, or for the first time in many years, Chelsea could end a campaign with no silverware. 

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Last modified on Friday, 17 May 2024 09:09
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