FA WSL: Thrills and spills keeping women’s football season alive but it’s the same old story at the top
On Saturday, Arsenal and Manchester City will meet in the FA Women’s League Cup final, also known as the Continental Cup, at Bramall Lane, but lack of competition means its déjà vu.
It’s not surprising that two of the most dominant sides in English women’s football are meeting in the final of a domestic competition this weekend, because the ‘Conti Cup’ has only ever had these two names engraved on it.
Since its inception in 2011, Arsenal have won five times, while Manchester City have collected the trophy twice and Saturday marks another red or sky-blue opportunity.
In the competition’s short history, Birmingham City (three times), Lincoln Ladies and Notts County Ladies have all tried and failed to overturn the giants of north London and Manchester.
Saturday’s final, despite the repetition, is the ideal match up for neutrals. The quality of football should be high and some of the best players in Europe will be on show. However, it also shows just how much work is still to be done to address the imbalance in women’s football.
This year, the Football Association revamped the league, creating a full-time top tier and despite the 11-team WSL having some familiar names lying atop of it, the season has ebbed and flowed.
City are the only unbeaten team in the top division but they certainly haven’t been perfect.
Arsenal, who lie in second with two games in hand, had led from the front, building a commanding early lead, but injuries to key team members, including England’s Jordan Nobbs, forced manager Joe Montemurro to dig deep into the youth team.
Momentum could only hold for so long and the team eventually succumbed to a first defeat of the season against City in December. This was quickly followed by a 2-1 home loss to Chelsea and a sudden change of narrative. City were now in charge and Chelsea had kickstarted their season after w rocky beginning, or so we thought.
Weeks later, Emma Hayes’ side were sucker punched by a last-minute Ellen White winner. That surprising 3-2 defeat to fourth-placed Birmingham City seemed to put any renewed title retention hopes to bed.
The drama continued into February as Chelsea, now realistically fighting for a Champions League place, pulled off a great comeback against City. Two Ji So-yun goals rescued the point and kept things interesting.
A year of full-time football is not enough to change the status quo, but in that short space of time there’s been a visible lift in the quality of the league and the strength of competition.
In a World Cup year, when more eyes than ever before are watching the women’s game, it is also crucial that the extra attention and media coverage is validated.
Although the same old story will play out on Saturday, a different narrative is slowly finding its feet in English women’s football. It might take a while to see new champions, but we’ve got time.
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