Left unplayed for over a decade, the Women’s Community Shield returns on Saturday. Jessy Parker-Humphreys asks what the close match-up between Chelsea and Manchester City could tell us about this season’s potential WSL frontrunners, and questions whether the fixture will bring new audiences to the women’s game.
When the Community Shield kicks off on Saturday, it will be six months to the day since the English women’s football season was abruptly stopped.
Chelsea’s Continental Cup final victory over Arsenal marked an unexpected end to a season that has not yet finished, with the FA Cup due to be played out over the coming months.
This weekend’s match is therefore hardly a Community Shield in the traditional sense. Chelsea qualify as league winners on a points-per-game basis, whilst Manchester City compete thanks to their FA Cup win in2018.
Yet the significant break, coupled with an unprecedented transfer window, means that the women’s game is raring to go. And unlike the men’s fixture – awkwardly contested before an international break – the match will kick off a new season: one which everyone hopes will get played to completion.
The FA could hardly have been more delighted to have this match-up of teams fall into their lap. In fact, one can’t help but wonder whether they decided to relaunch the women’s Community Shield based purely on the fact that this particular fixture arose.
Multi-goal draws tend to be the go-to result for Chelsea and Manchester City. Last season’s 3-3 was an end-to-end fixture with neither team able to get any real grip on the game. Previous seasons have also thrown up several 2-2 draws.
It is that kind of hotly contested match that the FA will want to see on Saturday.
Last played in 2008, the women’s Community Shield has been dusted off to be played directly ahead of the men’s game. In ordinary times, the back-to-back games at Wembley would presumably have offered a selection of Arsenal and Liverpool fans the opportunity to watch the Chelsea and Manchester City women’s teams.
As is, the FA are free to use the match as a symbolic gesture. The fact that the two games are being shown on separate channels (the BBC will show the women’s match before BT Sport screen the men’s) only emphasises how small the crossover audience is likely to be.
Yet clearly for the players and fans, the opportunity to enjoy a teaser for the incoming WSL season – at Wembley, no less – does give the women’s league a sense of parity. It is a match that many hope will shed light on some key plot points for the season ahead.
Manchester City’s landmark American signings in Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle have dominated the headlines, though Lavelle will be unable to feature due to a mandatory quarantine period. The standout nature of City’s transfer business probably gives them the edge as favourites for the upcoming season, but it would be foolish to write off Chelsea or Arsenal.
On a long-term basis, Chloe Kelly is perhaps the most exciting acquisition of the lot for City. She has a penchant for long range shots – including scoring from a corner last season – and likes to cut in from the wing. She also has a strong incentive to stake a claim for a starting position, as she will be competing against Lauren Hemp and Georgia Stanway for minutes. And that’s even before Rose Lavelle is added to the mix.
Chelsea’s transfer window has been more subtle and low key; that was to be expected after they made Sam Kerr the most expensive signing in women’s football in January. Having taken the time to find her feet, the club will hope Kerr can hit the ground running, especially after her partnership with Bethany England began to bear fruit towards the end of last season.
Emma Hayes described having Fran Kirby back to full fitness as being akin to a new signing, whilst the addition of Melanie Leupolz from Bayern Munich adds competition to an already talented midfield.
Both teams will be looking to lay down their title credentials, and the fine margins of the WSL means that whoever wins could deal a significant psychological blow to the loser. For the past couple of seasons, whoever has emerged victorious from the Arsenal-Chelsea-Manchester City mini-table has ultimately emerged as champion. Whilst this match obviously won’t contribute to league standings, it could lay down a marker to the rest of the sides, showing what they will be up against. Meanwhile, any weakness could be pounced upon by teams like Manchester United and Everton who have strengthened significantly over the summer.
Whether this Community Shield will have any crossover impact to new viewers is another question entirely.
Whilst there is no need for women’s football to pander to the audience of the men’s game, there is always the risk that putting them side by side dilutes the already limited media coverage. The FA will hope that Saturday’s fixture offers enough drama and excitement to justify the decision.
Fortunately for them, Chelsea and Manchester City almost always put on a show.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph