A nicely poised title race
While the men’s Premier League looks set to have a runaway winner, the WSL looks to be a good three-horse race. They do play each other fairly early in the new year, which may mean the race doesn’t extend right until the end of the season, but at the minute there still feels like a good amount of uncertainty regarding who will be lifting the trophy come May.
Arsenal went into the break in first spot. A feat that was made even sweeter as Chelsea dropped points away to Liverpool, meaning they can’t overtake the Gunners even if they win their game in hand. City are ahead of Chelsea with a game in hand but have let themselves down in the two games against their rivals.
From the first half of the season, it feels as though Chelsea will have the most reason to be frustrated with themselves. They have the best xGD (per game) in the division and took maximum points from their rivals only to draw against strugglers Brighton and Liverpool.
Chelsea’s strong numbers mostly stem from an incredible defensive record. Their 0.57 xG against per game is the best in the division and also skewed due to a massive outlier against West Ham – a game where they conceded 2.0 xG. Removing that game (which seems silly) their xG against has been just 0.4 per game, which still includes the games against Arsenal and Manchester City.
Chelsea’s strength to stop the opposition progressing the ball is a big reason why they concede so few chances. They regularly top the charts when it comes to pass completion for progressive passes by the opposition and see the lowest percentage of opposition possessions that start in the middle third reach the final third.
Chelsea have the best xG numbers in the division, are difficult to play against and have Sam Kerr joining in January. It all makes it feel hard to look past them, but there’s still hope out there for Arsenal and City fans.
Chelsea have had their two matches against their rivals on home soil. In the second half of the season, they have to travel to both Arsenal and City. After the strong results in the first half of the season, you can argue the ball is still in their court but their dropped points have levelled things up a bit, making it so (though still early) it’s not in Chelsea’s hands.
On the flip side of Chelsea, City will welcome both Arsenal and Chelsea to Manchester in 2020, possibly giving them a bit of an edge. The bad news for City is just how poor they were in these big games in the first half of the season. They lost both and offered little in attack. They only created 0.2 xG against Arsenal and 0.4 xG against Chelsea. It might be okay if they were tight games which City just happened to be on the receiving end of, but Arsenal created 1.7 xG against them and Chelsea 2.4.
The good news for City is how well they’ve dispatched the rest of the league. Looking only at games excluding the top three, City have the best xGD in the division. Their defence, conceding 0.58 xG per game, is bested only by Chelsea while their attacking xG is almost identical to Arsenal’s – who currently lead the way. These numbers shouldn’t come as a huge shock, they’ve won every game against the rest of the league without even conceding a goal, but they’re still hugely impressive.
Whether or not City can go on to win the title may well come down to the two home games they have against their rivals.
Champions Arsenal know that the rest of the season is in their hands, but will be hoping their small squad can cope when competing on four fronts. On the surface Arsenal’s first half of the season has been great, they’re top of the league and in the quarter-final of both the Champions League and Conti Cup.
Their xGD per game is behind Chelsea’s, with their xG against taking a bit of a jump from last year, but it may not be a huge worry for the Gunners.
Last season they had the best xG against numbers in the division with 0.57 per game, but this season has seen that leap to 0.71 per game. However, looking a bit into the numbers, it doesn’t look to be a huge concern. Conceding a penalty rebound from Yana Daniels late on against Bristol City skewed the numbers slightly. Removing that chance they’re conceding around 0.62 xG per game, which isn’t significantly more than last season. It is worth pointing out though, the penalty came through some sloppiness at the back, with Daniels intercepting a pass from the ‘keeper before being brought down.
Like with the xG against numbers, it’s not enough to worry about just yet but the last three games have all featured some sloppiness at the back leading to a good chance. The penalty against Bristol City late on was the first example, then a poor pass by Daniëlle van de Donk led to a Fara Williams 1v1 against Reading and a misjudgement by Leah Williamson led to Chloe Kelly’s goal for Everton in their last match. They were comfortably leading in two of these instances but it’s something they’ll be hoping doesn’t resurface in the New Year.
Like in the first half of the season, Arsenal’s crunch games are back to back in 2020. They face Chelsea at home on January 19th and City away on February 2nd. If Arsenal can come out of those two games still in first place, it may well be back to back titles for the North London club.