January 27, 2023

“They made the game interesting for everyone back home,” Emma Hayes reflected in a snowy Kingsmeadow on Sunday, perfectly capturing the undercurrent of this year’s intriguing Women’s Super League title chase.

A moment of weakness followed by a flash of panic. Two goals conceded in 84 short seconds.

Chelsea already led Reading by three, but that detracts from the point. The two sequences were naked. A fascinating highlight under the hood of Chelsea.

Millie Bright attempted a scraped clearance, Magda Eriksson was brushed aside, all before Ann-Katrin Berger squirmed the ball under her. Unusually sloppy.

The next phase, another Reading attack, was even more revealing. Niamh Charles was passed, Sophie Ingle was dragged towards the ball, as Eriksson’s outstretched leg was powerless to prevent a shot off the inside of Berger’s post.

“Cheap targets”, they were labeled by Hayes. Similar in design, but proportionately sloppy.

Negligence is not often an accusation against Chelsea. Hayes’ charges are well-coached and well-rehearsed. Minutely even. But not on this occasion. “As a team we were complacent,” Hayes admitted.

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Chelsea manager Emma Hayes was critical of her team’s ‘complacent’ performances in the second half after conceding two blistering goals against Reading in a thrilling 3–2 win.

Complacency is a kryptonite that chases titles. If it sneaks in and manages to gain traction, it can derail an entire campaign in one fell swoop.

That’s not to say that Chelsea has self-destructed, far from it. But there are signs that the Blues aren’t completely invincible. That is, they have vague, but observable weaknesses.

The fact that third-bottom club Reading were able to force two identical entries against the division leaders in such blasé fashion suggests they too have weaknesses.

Perhaps that argument in itself ignores the wider context, which is that Chelsea came through that Reading scare to cement their status at the top of the WSL table – a position they will maintain over the Christmas break.

But if those captivating 84 seconds of football have taught us anything, it’s that this season’s title chase is intriguingly wide open. More than it has been in years.

Chelsea was the biggest winner when Manchester United beat Arsenal at the end of November. The striking result in the first half of the season. Chelsea settled things against Leicester that weekend, as United stole a march on Arsenal to stun a record-breaking crowd at the Emirates. Example.

That result was an eye-catcher – United were announced as part of a four-horse race. So we have Chelsea, front and center, followed by Arsenal, United and then Manchester City.

That grouping isn’t surprising, but as the season squirms midway through, the final order of that four-team alliance is amusingly up for debate. There is no impenetrable force. No runaway winner. And enough room for exchange.

Here Sky Sports reporter Anton Toloui assesses the current runners and riders…

Chelsea

Much has been made of Chelsea’s “vulnerabilities” after conceding two goals against Reading after winning by three, but did anyone ever doubt they would win the game? Hayes is back on the sidelines, players are signing long-term contracts and they have the deepest squad in the league. They are back-to-back-to-back champions and have a nine-game winning streak. They remain favorites for very good reason.

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Highlights from the Women’s Super League match between Chelsea and Reading.

Arsenal

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Highlights from the Women’s Super League match between Aston Villa and Arsenal.

Does anyone actually know how good Arsenal are? They have the worst defense in the league even without Leah Williamson and Raffaele Souza over long stretches and yet we are still not talking about Arsenal as an unstoppable force. Much of that is due to missing two of the best in the league in Kim Little and Beth Mead. But let’s be honest: did the plan of ‘Middenvelder Miedema’ work? Figuring out this question could be the difference between a good season and a great one.

Man Utd

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Manchester United Women’s manager Marc Skinner says his side are disappointed they failed to beat rivals Manchester City after their 1-1 draw in the WSL.

What is Marc Skinner up to in January? United’s head coach has been teasing potential signings in this period, but will they be of the caliber to make this team title winners?

Skinner knows the US market well from his time at Orlando Pride and there are some very, very good free agents available, but can any of them make a big impact soon after the NWSL season ended a month ago? The biggest signatures United can land in 2023 will be the soon-to-expire pair of Alessia Russo and Ona Battle.

Man City

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Highlights from the Women’s Super League match between Manchester City and Manchester United.

Gareth Taylor insists Manchester City are still in the title race, despite a sometimes disappointing performance against Manchester United on Sunday.

Chelsea dropped just ten points in all of last season, Man City have already dropped eight and there are still 13 games to go. No major signings are expected at City in January, so it’s all up to Taylor to go unbeaten until the end of the season by developing the players he has.

No matter looking for their first WSL title since 2016, City are outside the Champions League places at Christmas for the second year in a row. Last year they turned it around, but this year the competition at the top is even stronger.

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