The Football Association decided to conclude the 2019/20 Women’s Super League season prematurely last week with immediate effect, basing the final standings on points-per-game averages.
It would be Emma Hayes’ Chelsea, and not Manchester City, crowned champions. Arsenal would miss out on second place and Champions League qualification despite their star striker Vivianne Miedema clinching a second consecutive Golden Boot. And Liverpool will drop down to the Women’s Championship.
Those are the broad strokes. As for the stories and details behind them, our WSL guru (yours truly, Maryam Naz) is here to walk you through the last nine months of drama.
1. WSL champions Chelsea do the business, on and off the pitch
The Blues leapfrogged rivals Man City into first place, clinching their first WSL title since that impressive 2017/18 season.
It was a deserved accolade given the breathtaking nature of their attacking performances across the season, which were largely down to the contributions of their star forward: Bethany England.
England scored 14 goals in 15 WSL appearances and added four assists, which means she was directly involved in over a third (38.3%, to be more specific) of Chelsea’s 47 goals. She was also unfazed by any potential threat posed by the winter arrival of Sam Kerr, instead building a good partnership with the Australian, who scored one goal and recorded one assist in four appearances post-January.
Kerr quickly slotted into an attacking formation that already featured big talents like Guro Reiten, Erin Cuthbert and Ji So-Yun, the first of whom also enjoyed a fantastic debut season at Chelsea. Heralded by many as the signing of the campaign, Reiten scored five times (only England managed more for the Blues) and no player in the whole division beats her season total of eight assists.
The result is an unbeaten league campaign featuring victories in three of their four games against Arsenal and Man City, not to mention a thrilling 3-3 draw against the latter in what would ultimately seal the title. For Hayes, the next step forward is to have her attacking contingent flex their muscles against the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona in Europe. If future performances are anything akin to their success this season, there’s no reason they can’t transfer domestic success into European silverware in the space of a year.
2. Relegated Liverpool “give too little respect” to women’s football
The Liverpool men’s team are on course to win their first Premier League title in three decades and, as a club, they posted a record pre-tax profit of £43m last year. But the women’s side had a whole host of factors working against them behind the scenes. In fact, it’s the opinion of the UK’s shadow sports minister, Alison McGovern, that they are “still given too little respect, too little investment and too little equality.”
Their performances on the pitch were only good enough for one solitary win in 14 games (and six points in total), but manager Vicky Jepson still believes they could have survived the drop had the season been played in its entirety. “With eight games left to play,” Jepson said, “we only played 64 percent of our fixtures so we wanted to play those last eight games to prove a point that we could stay in the WSL.”
Her assessment does not line up with the reality of past results and such is the mismanagement at the club, many current players have opted to move on in search of a ‘new challenge’, from Courtney Sweetman-Kirk to Anke Preuss – although they will be boosted by news of Rinsola Babajide recently signing a new contract.
Whether next season yields better times for fans and players alike is in the balance. But there is a lingering hope that life in the Championship will be sobering enough to force the Liverpool board to channel the appropriate funding where it is needed to revive Jepson’s squad.
3. Silver lining for flat-track bullies Man City
Man City players may be kicking themselves for losing top spot to Chelsea. Had their head-to-head record against the other teams making up the top three not been so poor, they may have secured the WSL title in the aftermath of Nick Cushing’s departure.
Yet fans may still be relatively pleased with the way the season has panned out. Sure, the Citizens were leapfrogged by the Blues and struggled to find an attacking formation that played to their strengths, but City didn’t drop a single point to teams outside the top three and were able to effectively wrestle second place away from Arsenal.
With experienced new head coach Gareth Taylor now leading the charge into next season’s Champions League, there is every chance that City will emerge in renewed form and once again pose a threat to their rival’s hopes of clinching domestic and European glory.
4. Arsenal settle for third, but Miedma makes history
Such is the competitive nature of the WSL, each year one big fish misses out on a top-two spot and, by extension, a Champions League place. This season, the short straw went to Arsenal.
The curious case of the Gunners’ league performances this season has put manager Joe Montemurro under the microscope.
True, their Dutch wunderkind Miedema clinched another Golden Boot trophy, scoring 16 goals in 14 appearances, and will go down in history for her performance in Arsenal’s 11-1 win over Bristol City, where she scored six goals and assisted another four in just 70 minutes.
And Arsenal were not a one-woman team. Miedema was supported by the individual brilliance of partner-in-crime Danielle Van de Donk as well as the midfield maestro that is Jordan Nobbs.
Yet while Montemurro can be sure of his team’s attacking potential, defensive strength has been in short supply. As much is evident in their mishaps against current champions Chelsea earlier on in the season at Meadow Park.
As it stands, the Gunners still remain in this season’s Champions League, having been set to face PSG prior to the coronavirus outbreak – although, in facing such a talented side, they could be staring at a premature exit from another competition.
It would do Montemurro’s case a world of good to make the most of both Chelsea and City’s Champions League preoccupation to boost their 2020/21 WSL title charge.
5. Aston Villa take Liverpool’s spot
While Liverpool dropped into the Championship, the team very much on the rise last season were Gemma Davies’ Aston Villa. Their promotion to the WSL is certainly deserved, having finished six points clear of second-placed Sheffield United in the Championship.
Just like Tottenham Hotspur and Casey Stoney’s Manchester United before them, Villa will want to make an instant impact in the WSL and emulate the form they displayed last season to quickly get up to speed against the cream of the crop.
All in all, despite the fact that the 2019/20 season was cut short, the final outcomes decided by PPG seem to reflect ‘sporting merit’. Chelsea’s attacking talent did prove to be too dominant for their rivals, Jepson’s Liverpool were undone by factors on and off the pitch while their performances always warranted the drop, and runners-up Manchester City did have the edge on a defensively lax Arsenal side.
We can only hope the 2020/21 season kicks off in time, and with just as much talent and entertainment on show, for women’s football to capitalise on the momentum generated by what we’ve seen over the last nine months.
Women’s Super League 2019/20 top scorers
- Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal): 16 goals
- Bethany England (Chelsea): 14 goals
- Pauline Bremer (Manchester City): 10 goals
- Chloe Kelly (Everton): 9 goals
- Lauren James (Manchester United): 6 goals
- Ellen White (Manchester City): 6 goals
- Ji So-Yun (Chelsea): 6 goals
- Adriana Leon (West Ham United): 5 goals
- Ebony Salmon (Bristol City): 5 goals
- Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal): 5 goals
Women’s Super League 2019/20 assist leaders
- Guro Reiten (Chelsea): 8 assists
- Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal): 8 assists
- Janine Beckie (Manchester City): 7 assists
- Caroline Weir (Manchester City): 6 assists
- Fara Williams (Birmingham City): 5 assists
- Kiera Walsh (Manchester City): 5 assists
- Erin Cuthbert (Chelsea): 4 assists
- Lauren Hemp (Manchester City): 4 assists
- Lisa Evans (Arsenal): 4 assists
- Jonna Andersson (Chelsea): 4 assists