With the mid-season break now over, the FA Women's Super League 1 returns for its sixth week of action. There are plenty of mid-table clashes to watch out for this week as well as a pretty big relegation scrap. Here’s the scoop on this week’s upcoming matches.
Arsenal - Sunderland
Arsenal will aim to use the positivity and momentum from their FA Cup win to close the 12-point difference between themselves and league leader Manchester City, with inconsistent Sunderland standing in their way.
Saturday will be the first time Arsenal play since they lifted the FA Cup, with their league game away to Doncaster Rovers rained off due to a waterlogged pitch at the end of May.
A hat-trick from Arsenal’s Danielle van de Donk helped her side to a 7-0 win against Sunderland in the FA Cup semi-final and the Dutch No. 10 could prove troublesome yet again for the Lady Black Cats.
Sunderland’s away form is also a sign of concern, with the side only taking two points from three away games, which included a 2-1 loss to Chelsea before the mid-season break.
Manchester City - Liverpool
Academy Stadium will play host to a top four clash between FA Women’s Super League 1 leaders Manchester City and fourth placed Liverpool.
Before the mid-season break, Liverpool held City to a goalless draw at the Select Security Stadium to snap the Blues’ 100% record in the FA WSL 1.
The high flying City side have kept seven clean sheets this season, a remarkable achievement for first choice England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, with solid central defensive pairing of skipper Steph Houghton and Abbie McManus also key to their impenetrable solidarity.
Liverpool manager Scott Rogers faces a tall order away from Merseyside, with City scoring nine of their 15 goals on home turf this season. Another three points for the Blues would likely mean the title race comes down to themselves and Chelsea.
Notts County - Doncaster Rovers
It’s a clash with plenty of relegation ramifications, as sixth places Notts County play hosts to bottom side Doncaster Rovers who have yet to pick up any points this season in the WSL 1.
The winners of the FA WSL 2 last season, Rovers have failed to adjust to the incredibly fast pacing of the premier division thus far.
With 12 goals conceded in three games, aside from their defensive woes one of the biggest factors behind Rovers’ struggle has been their inability to score. The side have only netted twice this season; one of which was a Claire Rafferty own goals during their 4-1 loss to Chelsea.
Hosting the struggling Rovers at Meadow Lane, County; who are only four points clear of Doncaster, will be boosted by forward Ellen White who returned to the England senior squad during the mid-season break and managed to score two goals in two games against Serbia to help seal the Lionesses’ qualification for UEFA Euro 2017.
Sunderland - Chelsea
The defending champions Chelsea will look to close the gap behind Manchester City when they travel to the Hetton Centre to play eighth placed Sunderland.
It’s a tough ask for Sunderland – who have to play Arsenal and Chelsea in the span of five days – having only scored one goal at home this season, but FA Women’s Young Player of the Year, Beth Mead will be aiming to end her team’s drought against free-scoring Cheslea.
Chelsea’s hopes of taking all three points will be enhanced through the inclusion of WSL 1 top goalscorer, Fran Kirby who has five goals from six games. Before the mid-season break, Kirby helped her side onto a 2-1 win over the Lady Black Cats at Staines Town FC.
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes – recently awarded an MBE – will be confident ahead of her side’s visit to Sunderland, with the Blues three wins from three on the road this season.
Birmingham City - Arsenal
It’s third versus fifth, dark horses in this year’s title race Birmingham City look to extend their five game unbeaten run against fellow title hopefuls Arsenal.
Just 12 points behind league leaders Manchester City, Pedro Martinez Losa’s Arsenal have two games in hand - including their game against Sunderland at the start of week six – and are still firmly in the hunt for the FA WSL 1 crown.
One of the biggest criticisms of Birmingham this year is their lack of goals having scored just two goals in their last four games. Despite strong attacking options which include the likes of Freda Ayisi and Melissa Lawley, as well as midfield talisman Jo Potter, Birmingham have failed to utilise their chances, which could prove costly against well-drilled Arsenal.