As players and clubs across the Barclays FA Women’s Super League embark on their winter break, it’s time to reflect on the top-flight season so far, writes Ella Jerman.
It’s déjà vu as Arsenal are en route to retaining their league title but the Gunners face stiff competition from Manchester City and Chelsea in an enthralling season which continues to break ground both on and off the pitch.
Struggling Liverpool look ready to launch their survival bid, but back at the top will it be Everton or Manchester United who finish best of the rest?
Arsenal emerge as title frontrunners
It may be a different season but it’s the same old story at the top of the Women’s Super League with the Gunners leading the pack by three points as we enter the new decade.
Joe Montemurro’s side have won all but one of their fixtures so far this season, slipping to a 2-1 defeat away to rivals Chelsea in October.
They may not boast an unbeaten record like the Blues but to carry a three-point advantage into the winter break is quite the achievement from Arsenal – one that comes largely down to the work of Vivianne Miedema.
If you haven’t heard of her yet, you must be living under a rock. The Dutch striker has continually stolen the headlines this year for her prolific performances and took her goal tally for the season to 14 in nine games with a brace in last weekend’s win over Everton.
There’s no doubting that Miedema and the Gunners have been fantastic to watch but all evidence suggests the title race is going to be a three-horse battle this year, Manchester City and Chelsea sitting close behind in second and third.
Nick Cushing’s City were left depleted at the beginning of the campaign with the likes of Ellen White and Georgia Stanway out injured, before Aoife Mannion suffered an ACL injury, but now well restocked, we can expect them to launch an even bigger title charge.
But watch out for Emma Hayes’ Chelsea. The arrival of superstar Sam Kerr will give the Blues one of the most frightening attacks in the league. Partnered with the likes of Beth England, Fran Kirby and Erin Cuthbert, she’s bound to produce the goods.
Toffees the surprise package
If we were to revisit our pre-season predictions now, I doubt we would see Everton feature as highly as fifth in any.
Willie Kirk’s Toffees have no doubt been the surprise package of the season so far with five wins from nine – that’s already two more than they secured the whole of last season.
They’ve already got three more points (15) than they did at the end of the last campaign too.
That said, they sit level in fourth with Manchester United who have equally made an impressive start to life in the top-flight after winning the FA Women’s Championship in the summer.
With England prospects Lauren James and Chloe Kelly both boasting five goals to their name, it may become a question of which forward can step up to lift their team to solo fourth.
Reading look to be their main threat behind in sixth and if they keep up their flurry of late comebacks – they may well be in with a fighting top-four chance.
Late spark from Liverpool
Down at the other end of the table, there are two teams yet to celebrate a WSL win this season – Liverpool and Bristol City.
It has been a tough start to winter for the Bristolians, who suffered 7-0 and 11-1 defeats to Arsenal within the same week, with a 5-0 home loss to Manchester City sandwiched in between.
Until recently, Liverpool lay below them on even worse form, but a late spark from the Reds has seen them lift into 11th.
Positive way to end the year! Thank you to everyone that has supported us throughout 2019. See you in 2020 🔴 pic.twitter.com/UDoCBikOXG— Courtz Sweetman-Kirk (@_CSK9) December 15, 2019
They held title chasers Chelsea to a 1-1 draw at home this weekend and while they are yet to record a league win, Vicky Jepson’s side will take comfort from the fact that they only lost 1-0 to both Arsenal and Manchester City.
Records, records, everywhere
So far, the Women’s Super League headlines have told as much about off-the-pitch events than on-the-pitch action – in a good way.
New attendance records are constantly being set in women’s football, with 38,262 the current figure to beat after the North London derby at Tottenham Hotspur stadium.
Today's official attendance of 38,262 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for @SpursWomen is a new @BarclaysFAWSL record.— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) November 17, 2019
👏 Thank you for your incredible support. 👏#SpurHerOn ⚪️ #COYS pic.twitter.com/I6p1NdjlIk
Spurs smashed the previous WSL record attendance of 31,213 set on the opening weekend of the season at the Etihad Stadium, while Chelsea secured the record for a WSL game at a women’s home ground with 4,790 at Kingsmeadow in November.
In between, we’ve seen crowds of more than 20,000 flock to the London Stadium and Stamford Bridge to see WSL sides in action – all positive signs for the women’s game.
Tokyo clock is ticking
With just over seven months to go until the 2020 Olympics, it’s now or never for the Brits to impress if they want a seat on the Tokyo plane.
Phil Neville told the BBC earlier this week that Scotland will be well represented in the Great Britain Olympic women’s football team, giving certain faces in the WSL even more reason to up their game.
If there’s one player who deserves to be on the plane it’s Arsenal’s Kim Little.
The Scottish midfielder, who represented GB at London 2012, has been pulling the strings for the Gunners all season, her standout moment being scoring the opener in front of more than 38,000 fans in November’s North London derby.
There will be tough competition for spots, however, with Erin Cuthbert, Lisa Evans and Caroline Weir all excelling at their respective clubs, while Wales’ Sophie Ingle and Hayley Ladd will also be in contention.