Hectic schedules, goal difference and injury woes - where the WSL title race will be won and lost

  • Chelsea and Manchester City appear to be going head-to-head to win title
  • The Blues looking to send off departing manager Emma Hayes in style
  • City looking for first title success since 2016 to end Chelsea's four-year winning streak
Emma Hayes and Gareth Taylor are vying for the WSL title
Emma Hayes and Gareth Taylor are vying for the WSL title / Marc Atkins/Jess Hornby/Getty Images

Much like the last four seasons, Chelsea find themselves once again battling it out at the top of the Women’s Super League table.

Although, this time their direct rivals are Manchester City, who have won just one league title in the WSL era. The Manchester club have been runners-up six times, but this year they’ll be hoping to spoil Emma Hayes’ leaving party and prevent them making it five in a row.

City are currently top of the table and stand three points clear, but Chelsea do have a game in hand, which is against Aston Villa on Wednesday night. The last four title races have gone right to the wire, with the London club often clinching the prize on the last day of the season, and this year is expected to be no different.

Here’s where the title could be won and lost.

Chelsea face hectic schedule

Mayra Ramirez, Emma Hayes
Chelsea came up short against Manchester United in last weekend's FA Cup semi-final / Nathan Stirk/GettyImages

The cost of being a successful team is, more often than not, you’ll be playing the most amount of games. Hayes’ side lost the Conti Cup final in extra time against Arsenal last month and were edged by Manchester United in their FA Cup semi-final over the weekend, but they remain in contention for at least two other trophies - including the league title.

But at a time when fixture congestion is becoming a problem for teams across the game, Chelsea will need to make sure their packed schedule in the final months of the campaign doesn’t ultimately cost them when it matters most.

The current WSL champions will play a minimum of seven games between now and the end of the season, including a two-legged tie in the Champions League against Barcelona. That could rise to eight games if they’re to progress in Europe.

City, on the other hand, have a far kinder schedule with just four remaining league games. Their full focus is beating Chelsea to the WSL title.

Chelsea do have seasons of experience to lean on, of course. They’ve done it before and they can easily do it again. But, their failure to progress to the FA Cup final for a fourth consecutive year hints they may not be at their unstoppable best this season.

Goal difference could be decisive

Manchester City's players celebrate beating Chelsea in the WSL
City lead Chelsea by one on goal difference - the margin they beat the Blues by in February / Crystal Pix/MB Media/GettyImages

We’ve had some extremely tight and fiercely contested title races over the years and this year’s battle seemingly will not disappoint. City are three points clear at this stage, but if Chelsea win their game in hand against Aston Villa on Wednesday, the two will be level on points.

In the very likely scenario both sides win their four remaining league games, goal difference may be required to decide this year’s champion.

City are once again superior in that department, but only just. They have a goal difference of 37, compared to Chelsea’s 36. Winning is most important, but both teams may be looking at their goal difference in the final weeks and will hope to win a couple of their games by significant margins in order to create some form of a cushion.

City have the easier games on paper

Lauren Hemp
Lauren Hemp has been in terrific form for Manchester City / Jess Hornby/GettyImages

The direct comparison of fixtures is interesting. On paper, you could certainly argue that Gareth Taylor’s side have a far easier run-in compared to their title rivals.

City’s toughest fixture is without a doubt Arsenal at home on May 5. Their other match-ups against West Ham United, Bristol City and Aston Villa on the final day are games they’d be expected to win quite comfortably.

Chelsea, on the other hand, have to go away to Liverpool and Tottenham before they face Manchester United away on the final day. Spurs and Liverpool are both having impressive campaigns and reside in the top half of the table, making them tougher tests than in previous years.

Current injuries and squad depth

Mayra Ramirez
Mayra Ramirez became the world's most expensive player in January / Copa/GettyImages

With a greater number of games to contend, Hayes will need to be much more meticulous with her squad management. Chelsea arguably boast the strongest squad with the most depth in the league, but even they have been tested significantly this year.

Sam Kerr has often been their player for the big moments. It was her goals in two 1-0 wins over Aston Villa and Manchester United in last year’s FA Cup semi-finals and final that guided them to silverware.

This season, Chelsea are without their star striker after the Australia international suffered an ACL injury in January. Summer signing Mia Fishel has also been sidelined since February with the same injury.

The London club did break the British record transfer fee to sign Colombia international Mayra Ramirez from Levante for £384,000 in January, but with no WSL experience prior to her arrival, she presents no guarantees.

City are battling with their own injury problems. The club’s only summer signing Jill Roord was ruled out for the remainder of the season in January after also suffering an ACL injury. The Dutch midfielder had become an integral figure for Taylor and it was feared her absence would significantly dent their title hopes.


Khadija Shaw, Steph Houghton
Manchester City's moment may finally have arrived / Jess Hornby/GettyImages

As ever, the WSL title race is incredibly difficult to predict. Chelsea are, more often than not, a safe bet. They tend to get the job done regardless of circumstances.

However, this season feels slightly different and it is primed for City to end Chelsea’s dominance. After Hayes announced she would be leaving the London outfit this summer and moving to the United States to coach their national team, she has one final shot at winning the Champions League.

In recent years, Barcelona have been the team to stand in their way. Which makes this month's semi-final clash even more interesting.

It’s the one trophy that has always evaded the highly decorated coach, meaning it would be the perfect way for Hayes to close the Chelsea chapter. They just have to hope their pursuit of European glory doesn’t hinder their title charge over the coming weeks.