The Women’s Super League season is in its third round of games. Already, despite most teams having played only two regular season games, questions are being asked about title contention.
This is because the FA Women’s Super League is a notoriously tough league to win. It’s current twenty-two regular season games mean that there is almost no margin for error. Since its creation in 2011, no team has won the FA Women’s Super League by losing more than two matches.
Last year Chelsea won the league after dropping seven points, losing just once. The difference between their final standing and second placed Manchester City was a single draw.
This Sunday’s match is therefore extremely important for both the reigning champions and Manchester United who have yet like to finish a season in the top three.
While it may seem ludicrous three games into a season to describe an encounter as a “must win,” given the history of the modern professional English women’s game, it could end up being just that.
Emma Hayes, Chelsea FC’s head coach, did concede that she believes this could change slightly this year. Speaking of the Blues opening day loss and the expectations going forward Hayes said:
“I think when you lose the opener you are up against it but I do think this season more teams will take points from each other than any other season.
“I don’t go into games fearing things and worrying about things. Our approach will be how do we get the three points.”
Manchester United will be hosting Chelsea in the encounter. Expanding on her view of the opposition Hayes stated:
“A bright start. Some changes in their attacking play have been different, you can see Marc (Skinner) imprinting a new style on the team. They have got quality throughout and have got a lot of internationals.
“They are at home. I think they will cause us as many problems as the top teams. I think they have enough quality to do that. I expect it to be a really really close game.”
Really close is a reasonable expectation. While a number of departures including their head coach left fans of Manchester United worried in the off season, the cohesion and fluid style of play from the Mancunians in their first two matches of 2021-22 has been reassuring.
The Red Devils are on a high at the moment, having won their previous five WSL games. This is their longest streak in the competition. This year they have outscored their first two opponents Reading FC and Leicester City by an aggretate of 5 to 1.
The Chelsea clash will be a lot more demanding though than what they have faced so far. While Reading and Leicester are good sides, current WSL champions Chelsea have been atop the English league for nearly a decade and were Champions League finalists last year.
With little change in their squad in the offseason having been able to keep the bulk of their players, and despite their opening game loss, the Blues entered the 2021-22 season as strong as ever.
Manchester United have never won against Chelsea, with a record of three wins and one draw for the Blues in the history of both teams meeting. The games have never been blowouts though. Chelsea won all their winning encounters against United by one goal margins.
Speaking ahead of the match, Manchester United head coach Marc Skinner said of Chelsea: “I expect a team that will create a lot of chances because that is what they do against everybody, a team that we are hoping to exploit and looking to exploit the things that they give us.
“You can still definitely attack Chelsea and create things against them too. I expect an exciting game where we have to be sharp at both ends of the field really.
“I feel that we will be in the position to create the spaces and then we have to be in the mindset of finish them too because if you don’t you don’t get into Chelsea.
“We know how good they can be but our job is to focus on us. I think we have to get to a stage where we focus on us.”
One player that will not feature in the upcoming game will be Lauren James. The former Manchester United player made the swap to Chelsea in the offseason. Since joining the club she has yet to feature.
Speaking of her absence from the line-up Emma Hayes said: “She (James) is settling in really really well. She is home and is an environment that was much needed for her, with her family around. She is not available for selection, not at this moment in time. Still we have got to get some things right off of the pitch.
“If we want Lauren to be successful we have to get everything in and around Lauren right. She is still a young player that has played a lot of football and had a substantial injury.
“My job is to make sure that I keep her on the pitch once she comes back into the team. For now I am taking the time to build all those areas around her.”
Hayes went on to specify that their is no timeline for James’ Chelsea debut.
“I need to feel that she is picking up all the advice, the support, everything she needs not to pick up recurring injuries. That is the big goal here.
“For us we want to get everything right so that we are building Lauren for the long term, not just for the opening few weeks of the season.”
The game will kick off at 12:30 pm (BST) at Leigh Sports Village. It will be broadcast on BBC Two/iPlayer in the UK and the FA Player in the United States.