32 points. That was what it took for Chelsea to clinch the WSL title last season, 32 points from 14 games with City snapping at their heels all the way down the home-straight and the Blues managed to overturn the pain of missing out on the last day in 2014.
13 games into this [16 game] season and the Citizens are already in a stronger place, sat atop the table on 35 points, unbeaten in 13 league matches. But it’s far from a smooth run to the finish for City. Their last three games are staggered over seven weeks, the timeline littered with cup commitments, a week before they head to Borehamwood to lock horns with Arsenal they host the Gunners in a cup semi-final.
A potential cup final would only be an appetiser before their maiden games in the UWCL. The meaty gap between their second last and penultimate games will filled out with international commitments and European travel before the gruelling wait for their last match of the season.
After facing third place Arsenal and second placed Chelsea, City will round out their season at home to third placed Birmingham City, the most trying of possible run-ins, the path to the finish line littered with obstacles and teams desperate to take a chunk out of their armour.
Arsenal at Borehamwood is a test for any team, let alone a side that’ve already stung them in the league this year, Arsenal keen not just to level the scores but bolster their chances of finishing in a European spot for next year. If Chelsea can win all of their games in hand and best the leaders that potentially puts the Blues just one point behind the Citizens and City will have to complete the double over Birmingham in their last game of the season.
The only team that could unseat City are the current champions, Chelsea, and their run-in is considerably easier. Their trip to the Academy Stadium is sandwiched by a Reading double-header which itself is sandwiched by a Notts County double-header.
With both Reading and Notts sitting in the wrong half of the table Chelsea will feel their season rests very much on the result in Manchester. Like City, they will have to work around the international break and UWCL commitments but boast a far deeper squad than the sky blues, always with options off of the bench, Emma Hayes has plenty of wiggle room during matches should things not be going to plan.
Ten points adrift but with two games in hand, Chelsea are still very much in the race, a commanding 4-0 win over Birmingham the tonic to revitalise their push for top spot, their goal difference looking healthier and healthier.
This year the Blues have struggled to look like the team they were last year, more options up top has paved way to more rotation but the team has struggled to gel, Hayes even opting to go three at the back to add more higher up – a gamble that hasn’t always paid off.
With Eni Aluko, Gemma Davison, Ji So-Yun, Karen Carney, Beth England and Fran Kirby (when fit) all vying for a starting spot there just aren’t enough spaces in the stating XI for everyone. Pushing the full-backs up to play as wing-backs has added width but left others out of position the selection headaches continue.
After sixteen competitive games in 2016 Carney thinks the team has finally come together successfully, the constant league breaks coupled with injuries and frequent rotation has hampered the cohesion. However now, as the season enters the last handful of games the attacker could only praise her team’s performance in the win over her former team, suggesting it was the first time the team has really clicked this year.
Chelsea aren’t the only team who’ve struggled to put together the kinds of performances from the 2015 season as City haven’t always looked convincing either, often relying on individuals. A fact recognised by former Gunner and league winner, Jennifer Beattie, the defender suggesting that everyone needs to move into a higher gear and do what it takes to win the league. Already having lifted the WSL trophy, Beattie is eager to do the same in a sky blue shirt.
The new-look Manchester City is an ambitious outfit and the Scottish international insists that not only does everyone have more to give, but each and every player wants to be better and perform to a higher standard, individually and as a team.
Having sprung to the top of the WSL 1 table on the first night of the season the Citizens have rarely wavered from the summit, always the team to be shot at, where they’ve lacked full team performances they’ve always had results.
With no black marks against their name so far this season, the only blemishes are the two draws they played out against Liverpool, the Reds providing the biggest stumbling block this year. But Carney and her Chelsea teammates are resolute, insisting that the Blues aren’t going to relinquish the title without a fight.
The top two will go head-to-head for the third time this year at the end of September when sparks are sure to fly as City hunt for their first title and Chelsea bid to hold onto theirs.