Preview: WSL Final Weekend

And like that, it’s over, well by 4:30 pm on Sunday afternoon it will be. This whole season has absolutely flown by and in great news for the neutral, there is so much to play for and be decided this weekend and I am going to guide you through what to expect and make my own predictions of what I see happening.

Arsenal vs Aston Villa 
Baring a 13-0 loss for Arsenal and a 14-0 win for Manchester United, Arsenal have secured the final Champions League place, overtaking United after Casey Stoney’s side suffered injuries to key players and their form stuttered earlier in the year. Aston Villa are scrapping for their Super League lives and will need a draw to secure their place in next season’s competition as their goal difference is twenty goals superior to Bristol City’s.

Villa have drawn their last four games but keeping Arsenal’s mighty forward line quiet while also finding the net themselves might be a bit too much of an ask. Especially as this will be Joe Montemurro’s final league game in charge of the Gunners and they will want to provide him with a send-off which he deserves for such a successful period in charge.

Prediction: Arsenal win

Photo: @ArsenalWFC

Birmingham City vs Tottenham Hotspur
Birmingham City have found out that they have been given a one-point deduction for playing suspended Ruesha Littlejohn against Reading in April. Carla Ward’s side now sits two points above bottom of the table Bristol City with a safety net of a plus twenty-four goal difference. Like Aston Villa, a point in this game will confirm their WSL safety. Considering the position Birmingham were in on day one of the season, the fact that their future is in their own hands is a fantastic credit to the work of Carla Ward and her team of players and staff. Many, including myself, were struggling to see a scenario where they would have avoided relegation.

Spurs’ season has been an odd one, they would have been hoping to push to be the best of the rest underneath Everton but instead, it’s shown just how much money needs to be invested in order to make an impact at the top of the WSL.

Rehanne Skinner’s side has drawn once and lost four times in their last five matches and if the league went on for another few weeks they may also have been looking over their shoulders and fearing for their position in the league.

Prediction: Draw

Photo: @BCFCwomen

Brighton & Hove Albion vs Bristol City
This is very much the game to watch as so much hinges on its outcome, a win for Hope Powell’s side and its bye-bye for the Robins (or Vixens for our friends). Nothing short of a victory will provide Matt Beard with the greatest of escapes.

In Ebony Salmon, Bristol City has arguably the best striker outside of the top four clubs and a constant goal threat. Salmon has scored six goals this season, only she and Charlie Wellings have scored more than a single goal. The club has scored seventeen in total but they are not the lowest scorers in the league, Villa and Birmingham have both scored fifteen goals. It’s the Vixen’s defensive record that could be their undoing as they have conceded over twenty goals more than their nearest rival!

As for what Brighton team will turn up on Sunday is anyone’s guess. The seagulls possess quality throughout their team, especially within Inessa Kaagman, Aileen Whelan and Maya Le Tissier. On their day they can take points from any side in the WSL, last month picking up a 1-0 against Manchester United. On the other hand, they have dropped points to Spurs and Villa who are both comfortably beneath them in the league. I guess much depends on if Powell’s side has their flip-flops on or are ruthlessly looking to send Bristol down.

Prediction: Draw

Chelsea vs Reading
We do not need to remind you about Chelsea’s recent form which has secured them a Champions League final place against Barcelona. Emma Hayes’ side are playing out of their skin and even in tight games, they have so many match-winners capable of producing magic to conjure up a result.

Hayes is unlikely to rest any of her squad in the build-up to the Champions League final, she will know that Reading has taken points from Manchester City, Everton, Manchester United and Arsenal, and will be motivated to get a result and deny her side a second league title in two as many seasons.

This will be Fara Williams’ final game for Reading after her side was eliminated from the FA Cup in the fourth round. A player of her stature deserves a great send off and it’d be a fitting end to her WSL career to see her scoring in a high scoring draw that involves a late equaliser somewhere. Could you just imagine that drama?

In reality, we are likely to see another ruthless masterclass from Hayes’ “mentality monsters” and with Fran Kirby, Sam Kerr and Pernile Harder in such hot form it is hard to see past a Chelsea win.

Prediction: Chelsea win

Photo: @ReadingFCWomen

Manchester United vs Everton
After sitting top of the league for so long this season, Casey Stoney will see fourth place as a failure and I believe that had it not been for long term injuries to the likes of Alessia Russo, Tobin Heath, Lauren James, Leah Galton and Christen Press then they will have challenged for the league and pipped Arsenal for a top-three finish.

Before her injury Leah Galton would’ve been up there in many fan and football writer’s list for player of the season. So it was great to see that Galton was an unused substitute last week and Russo has returned to training. It’d be great to see them both get a run-out either this week or in the FA Cup next weekend.

There isn’t much more than pride at stake for both sides and whatever happens, Willie Kirk can be proud of how his side have developed under his management. Three years ago Everton finished second from bottom above Yeovil Town. In Kirk’s first season in charge, Everton occupied sixth place at the point the league was stopped and would have been confident for a top-half finish had they been allowed to complete the season. This season they will finish fifth, marooned between Manchester United above and Reading below them.

Everton go into the game on good form, their last four games have seen 5-0 and 3-1 wins against Brighton and Villa respectively, as well as a 0-0 draw with West Ham and a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal. Everton have lost every game in the league against the top four sides and that is something that they’ll need to change if they want to challenge for Europe next season.

Prediction: United win

Photo: @ManUtdWomen

West Ham United vs Manchester City
For me, both of these sides have overcome unconvincing starts to the season, although West Ham’s lasted a little longer. Ever since Olli Harder’s side hammered Reading 5-0 they have looked a little more like their old selves and their place in the WSL has seemed more confortable. Two recent 0-0 draws against relegation rivals Aston Villa were missed opportunities to make this run in a little less tense but on the other hand, those points have given them a three point buffer over Bristol City along with a superior goal difference.

Gareth Taylor’s first full season in charge took a little while to get started with only three wins in their first seven games but since December the 6th City are unbeaten, winning all their games bar one, a 2-2 draw against Chelsea. Their winning run has been remarkable and in many other seasons they would be lifting the WSL trophy but Chelsea have shown the levels required to achieve that prize.

As it’s not mathematically impossible for City to still lift the trophy they will be doing everything they can to get an early goal and make sure that the news reaches Kingsmeadow and tests the nerve of Chelsea. I can see a comfortable win from City however I don’t think that it will be enough.

Prediction: City win

Photo: @ManCityWomen

With so many interesting outcomes it is going to be a fascinating Sunday afternoon. Personally, I shall be taking in the Bristol City match as it has so much riding on it. If Matt Beard’s side goes ahead early it will cause a chain reaction of mounting pressure across the WSL. Irrespective of the result on Sunday I feel that Bristol will be dropping into the Championship and looking at the number of goals they have conceded you would argue that overall they deserve it. It would be a shame to see them go but it would be a shame to see any of the clubs drop down.

As a fan of lower league women’s football, I think that it is vital for Villa to stay in the Super League and show the likes of Leicester that it can be done and Championship clubs can break into the cartel that is the WSL.