Women’s Football Weekend: Chelsea go to WSL title rivals Manchester City on Sunday

As Women’s Football Weekend continues on Sunday with Chelsea visiting title rivals Manchester City and Aston Villa hosting Leicester, Sky Sports assesses the state of play for those games.

Can anyone stop Chelsea’s charge?

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Chelsea Women manager Emma Hayes was pleased to see Kim Kardashian’s son, Saint, wearing a Katie McCabe shirt

Sky Sports’ Laura Hunter:

Chelsea are not untouchable but they are somewhere close. Manchester United manager Marc Skinner raged over two penalty appeals that were waved away by referee Cheryl Foster in their 1-0 loss to the champions last week. He had a point. But you could sense the desperate tone. This was a meeting of first vs second – not quite a title-decider but certainly an indicator, and Chelsea looked unflappable. United froze.

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The Ref Watch team discuss whether Man Utd were unlucky not to be awarded two penalties in their WSL loss at Chelsea

Sam Kerr’s winner epitomised their approach. Measured and assured. If any side were going to knock Emma Hayes’ charges off their perch, at this point in the season, it was going to be United. The pressure was on, yet calmness prevailed. The Blues are never coerced into playing any other way – it’s like they have a crystal ball and are already safe in the knowledge of a positive outcome before a ball is kicked.

The WSL title is now theirs to lose and I can’t foresee anything other than Chelsea blue ribbons attached to the trophy come May.

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Sam Kerr produced a moment of quality for Chelsea as her superb lob gave the Blues a 1-0 win over Manchester United

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Sky Sports reporter Anton Toloui:

If Manchester City can beat Chelsea on Sunday then the defending champions pretty much have to be perfect for the rest of the season to win the title.

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You wouldn’t bet against Emma Hayes’ side doing that but Champions League games against Lyon and, if successful, potentially Barcelona will stretch the squad’s ability and durability. Chelsea still have to take on Arsenal on the penultimate weekend of the league season too.

  • Reiten gives Chelsea advantage over Lyon in WCL last eight

It may be a cliche but Chelsea’s biggest title challenge may be themselves and maintaining their superiority every week between now and June.

Are Man City dark horses?

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Highlights from the WSL clash between Brighton and Manchester City

Sky Sports’ Laura Hunter:

Manchester City appear to have clicked into gear just at the right time. They were dumped out of the Women’s FA Cup at the weekend by Aston Villa, owing to a last minute Rachel Daly goal, but their recovery after losing their opening two games of the domestic season has been nevertheless impressive. City are unbeaten in their last 13 games in the WSL, although their last league defeat came in their last meeting with Chelsea, whom they face on Sunday.

During that upturn, striker Khadija Shaw has been emphatic. She has been involved in more open play sequences ending in shots (117) and goals (16) than any other player in the division this term.

Image: Khadija Shaw has scored 15 WSL goals this season – the most of any player

We all purr over the efficacy of Chelsea’s Sam Kerr – rightly so – but Shaw’s presence in front of goal is equally devastating. In fact, only Kerr (35) has more combined goals and assists in WSL terms than Shaw (31) since the latter made her debut back in September 2021.

City have been operating below the radar in the second half of this campaign and would cause a real upset if they managed to get the better of Chelsea this weekend. The race would blow right open. Stranger things have happened.

Sky Sports reporter Anton Toloui:

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Manchester City full-back Demi Stokes reveals how she balances motherhood with her football career. (Video courtesy of Manchester City FC).

Crucially, Man City believe they aren’t just dark horses – they’re the thoroughbred everyone should be backing.

Chatting to the players all season, they believe they’re no longer the side that often gets close but never takes home the title. City haven’t won any of their last 11 WSL meetings against Chelsea, which highlights the club’s ‘always a bridesmaid, never the bride’ status over the last few years.

  • Stokes on motherhood and Man City’s WSL title hopes

Gareth Taylor is entering the final three months of his contract, a title push is exactly what he needs to be assured of being back in the dugout when the new season rolls around.

Sky Sports pundit Sue Smith:

I’ve been impressed with City this season. They lost a lot of influential players in the summer, in terms of quality on the pitch but also leaders in the dressing room.

They have brought in some quality also but it often takes time to gel. They are turning into a decent side. Bunny Shaw is a constant threat. They will cause Chelsea problems defensively this weekend.

Is Rachel Daly signing of the season?

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Watch all of Rachel Daly’s WSL goals from the start of the 2022-23 season as she continues her superb form following the Euros

Sky Sports’ Laura Hunter:

What a player. It’s often hard to grab the headlines when you don’t play for a headline act. By that I mean players who represent clubs outside the traditional top four in the WSL – or the top six in the Premier League – often get overlooked. Not Rachel Daly. She is a star whose impact on Aston Villa has been profound.

It’s not just the goals she scores, it’s the contribution she makes all over the pitch. Effortlessly versatile. She’s won 19 aerial duals – that’s the fifth best of any outfield player in the league (including defenders). She’s regained possession 17 times in the opposing half – which ranks seventh best.

Only Shaw (15) has netted more goals than Daly (11), with her 11 league strikes already the most by a player in a single campaign for the Villans. Daly wants to be a No 9 and has proved how effective she can be if afforded the opportunity.

You could also argue that her leap of faith – joining Villa in the summer – has paved the way for others to follow suit. In January Jordan Nobbs moved from Arsenal while Lucy Staniforth made the switch from Manchester United. Her impact has given Villa credibility and they now exist as the most likely club to disturb the WSL’s established hierarchy.

Sky Sports reporter Anton Toloui:

Image: Rachel Daly scored the winner as Aston Villa reached the FA Cup semis for first time in their history

In addition to the individual stats Laura pointed out, just look at the impact Daly has had on Villa’s overall standing. Last season Villa finished fourth from bottom, having scored just 13 goals.

This time around they lie fifth, having more than doubled last season’s goal haul, and are through to the FA Cup semi-finals. Daly hasn’t just provided goals, she’s a leader, a winner and an exemplary professional.

Yui Hasegawa (Man City), Maya Le Tissier (Man Utd), Kenza Dali (Aston Villa) and Janina Leitzig (Leicester) have all had brilliant first seasons at their new clubs but Daly deserves the most credit and recognition of all.

Sky Sports pundit Sue Smith:

Aston Villa have made some really clever signings but Daly has been outstanding. You’ve got a manager in Carla Ward who is getting the best out of her.

Villa are the surprise package. They will be wondering how far they can go in the FA Cup after shocking Man City. Next season, if they keep their best players, they will be competing at the top end of the WSL.

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