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Unbeaten Manchester City fall short in WSL where every game matters | Suzanne Wrack

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A lot has been written about the battle at the top of the Premier League and the likelihood of Liverpool finishing in second place with more than 90 points. That two teams have kept pace and driven each other to the limit is hugely impressive. And as a result many a comment piece has lamented the misfortune of the Merseysiders’ bid for a first league title in 29 years. But when we are discussing teams that have run out of luck, spare a thought for Manchester City women.

Nick Cushing’s team are one game from an unbeaten Women’s Super League season but on Saturday 11 May they will line up to give Arsenal a guard of honour. Should they slightly dampen the party on the final day at Borehamwood, City would complete their second undefeated season, having achieved the feat in 2016 on the way to their first and only league title.

So how did this slightly surreal situation come about? Well, the arithmetic is simple enough; Arsenal have dropped six points, via two defeats, and City have dropped 10, with five draws.

Arsenal are worthy winners. They have played outstanding, free-flowing football while managing a staggering injury crisis. Manchester City, meanwhile, have been brutally efficient. A solid defence and youthful attack, spearheaded by the England pair Nikita Parris and Georgia Stanway, has enabled them to find the consistency they were lacking last year when their season collapsed in February.

Either team would have made worthy winners. What is exciting about the Women’s Super League is that fear, anticipation, intensity and so on define the competition from the outset every season.

The Chelsea manager, Emma Hayes, has said more than once that, if a side lose more than two games, they will not win the league. In her case this season she said she knew early on that Chelsea’s title defence was over. Their standout striker, Erin Cuthbert, went as far as saying it was over by October.

Four draws and a defeat in their opening six games put paid to the domestic ambitions of last season’s double winners. Chelsea have lost only once and drawn twice since, but their die was cast in those opening two months. With only 11 teams in the league – rising to 12 next season – that is what happens. Every game matters.

Every game is tougher too, professionalism having predictably brought about an increasingly competitive league. With Manchester United having won promotion from the Championship and Tottenham needing a point from two games to join them, there is more money, and thus more competition, coming into the league.

For the spectator domestic women’s football is in a really exciting place. And not just for the delicacy of every result but also because the first young generation of full-time professionals are breaking through into first teams. The quality of play is improving at an almost alarming rate. Manchester City’s north London jaunt, though beyond significance, will with luck showcase just how far it has come: the two top teams going toe to toe with an unbeaten season and a title party at stake.

The current intensity to every league match will probably not last forever. As women’s football grows, the leagues will surely expand and, with more games, the week-on-week pressure will be reduced. That will not be soon, though, so there is plenty of time to enjoy it as it is.

Talking points

Barcelona beat Bayern Munich 2-0 over two legs to put them in their first Champions League final. Barça are three points behind the holders, Atlético Madrid, in the Spanish league, with one game left to play. They face the five-times winners Lyon, who saw off the tough challenge of Chelsea, in Budapest on 18 May.

Barcelona celebrate seeing off Bayern Munich to set up a Champions League final against Lyon.

Barcelona celebrate seeing off Bayern Munich to set up a Champions League final against Lyon. Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters

NWSL champions North Carolina Courage continued their strong start to the season with a 4-1 win at Houston Dash. Lynn Williams, Crystal Dunn, Debinha and Leah Pruitt scored for NCC while England’s Rachel Daly provided a late consolation. A Carli Lloyd double earned Sky Blue a draw with Portland Thorns. Chicago Red Stars beat Seattle Reign 3-0, while Marc Skinner’s Orlando Pride remain bottom of the league having lost to Laura Harvey’s Utah Royals, Christen Press scoring the only goal of the game.

Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema was announced as the PFA player of the year. The 22-year-old has scored 31 goals across all competitions and was a vital part of Arsenal’s first league title in seven years. Georgia Stanway was named young player of the year which, weirdly, Miedema was also nominated for. Meanwhile Nikita Parris beat the Dutch forward to the football writers’ award.

Glasgow City scored eight goals for the second time in seven days to crush Rangers. Having dispatched Motherwell by the same 8-0 scoreline the week before, Glasgow City sit top of the league with a 100% record and have scored 38 times in seven games. Last year’s title rivals Hibernian beat Spartans 2-1 while Celtic overcame Forfar Farmington 4-3. Motherwell bounced back from their thrashing by Glasgow with a 4-1 win against Stirling University.

The National League northern champions, Blackburn Rovers, will play the southern champions, Coventry United, at Bradford City’s Valley Parade on 18 May to determine promotion to the Women’s Championship.

EltasZone Sportswriters, Sports Analysts, Opinion columnists, editorials and op-eds. Analysis from The Zone Team
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