The results are in. Jessy Parker-Humphreys analyses the outcome of the 2019/20 WSL and Women’s Championship seasons.
The decision to base the Women’s Super League and Championship results on points-per-game (PPG) was announced almost a fortnight after the Football Association terminated the season with immediate effect. The verdict saw Chelsea awarded first place, with Liverpool relegated to the Women’s Championship and Aston Villa promoted. Meanwhile, Manchester City settled for the second Champions League place, with last season’s WSL champions Arsenal missing out.
Chelsea crowned champions
The decision to alter the table based on PPG saw Chelsea leap-frog Manchester City from second to first place due to Chelsea’s game-in-hand. Emma Hayes’s team have had an undoubtedly impressive season — going unbeaten throughout, and winning three out of their four games against Arsenal and Manchester City. Their resilience saw them pick up an astonishing 18 points from losing positions, including two of those important victories against Arsenal and Manchester City.
Worryingly for the rest of the league, Chelsea look like they will only get stronger next season: Sam Kerr will have the time to properly integrate herself in the team, and the club is hopeful that Fran Kirby will be able to return from the illness that has sidelined her for most of this season. The addition of current Bayern Munich captain Melanie Leupolz will do nothing to ease up competition in midfield, too. Hayes will be pleased that Chelsea have the Champions League to compete in next season, as she will look to show off her squad’s depth.
Liverpool finally put out of their misery
Liverpool have done their best to come across as hard done by with their relegation to the Women’s Championship, but it is difficult to see it as undeserved. The gaping chasm between the success of the men’s team and stagnation of the women’s has hung over the club for the entire season. Vicky Jepson’s side might feel like they could have escaped the drop with games still to play against fellow strugglers Birmingham City and Brighton, but one win in 14 speaks volumes.
Numerous players have already announced their departure from the club, citing the desire for more ‘challenging’ environments, all of which highlights a mismanaged team in a very sorry state indeed. Fans will have to hope that relegation gives the club the kick it needs to invest in its women’s side once again, as the 2013 and 2014 champions complete their fall from grace.
Manchester City lose pole position
Like Arsenal, Manchester City did not drop a single point to a team outside the top three, but their head-to-head record against Chelsea effectively ended their hopes of winning the league. The six-goal thriller at the Academy Stadium ended up being their last game of the season, and Bethany England’s spectacular equaliser to level the game at 3-3 gave Chelsea an advantage even then.
It was a somewhat unsettling season for Manchester City; the unexpected departure of long-term manager Nick Cushing in January didn’t seem to destabilise them, but it perhaps removed some of their positive momentum. Ellen White did not slot in like she might have been expected to after such a strong World Cup, whilst the departure of Pauline Bremer this summer sees them lose their season’s top scorer.
Despite all that, City will surely be pleased to clinch a Champions League spot, and with new manager Gareth Taylor now in place, they will just have to hope no more positions at New York City become available.
Arsenal stuck with third place
In a league with three highly competitive teams and only two Champions League places, every year one team must miss out on European competition. This season it has fallen to Arsenal to finish third and forgo a sought-after spot. Technically they remain in this season’s tournament — they were due to face Paris St-Germain in the quarter-finals — and it is currently unclear whether it will be resumed. If the competition were to be played out, Arsenal would have the opportunity to qualify by winning — but the German teams competing would have a huge advantage having continued to play out their season.
The margins for error at the top of the Women’s Super League are so small that Joe Montemurro’s tactical mishap which saw Arsenal 3-0 down to Chelsea within 20 minutes at Meadow Park stands out in particular. They will have been aggrieved to miss out on the Continental Cup as well — again being held off by Chelsea. But with Chelsea and Manchester City potentially distracted by the Champions League next season, Arsenal might be the best-placed team to fight for the 2020/21 title.
Manchester United and Tottenham show Aston Villa what can be done
Confirmation of Liverpool’s relegation also saw Aston Villa’s promotion from the Championship to the WSL. Six points clear of second-place Sheffield United, Aston Villa will hope they can emulate the impressive fourth- and seventh-place finishes of Manchester United and Tottenham. Both teams made their debut in the Women’s Super League and showed how newly promoted teams can make an instant impact in the top division. Casey Stoney’s Manchester United in particular look well placed to really push the engrained top three and potentially expand the competitiveness of the Women’s Super League.
All in all, the 2019/20 season will always have an asterisk by it, but Chelsea will surely be pleased with the performances they put in to feel like they have justified adding the WSL trophy to the Continental Cup they won before the season was curtailed. With Arsenal, Manchester City, and Chelsea all continuing to improve the quality of the league, the title race was always going to be close; and with other teams kicking on, fans will be hopeful that the lengthy summer break will give the opportunity for even more competition. There’s an early September start pencilled in for the 2020/21 season with some rumours that the FA Cup might still be completed. The financial decisions of parent clubs are yet to be seen, but teams will hope that the return of the Premier League and Championship might offer some protection.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph