Chelsea have won the last three consecutive WSL titles, albeit in rather dramatic and unprecedented fashion. The first was after a season halted by the Covid-19 pandemic, while the last two required dramatic wins on the final matchday. In search of a fourth, the champions were active in the transfer market, targeting quality and depth, making them a favorite once again, possibly even more comfortably than the previous three.
Then Chelsea went to Liverpool, the only newly promoted team in the division, and lost 2-1. One of their expected primary challengers, Manchester City, lost a 4-3 thriller versus Aston Villa. The WSL hasn’t had a season end without Chelsea and Manchester City in the top-3 since 2014. The season is only one matchday old, but the manner in which both teams lost should give other clubs hope.
Big clubs, bigger problems
Most worryingly for Chelsea is that the loss didn’t follow the trend of their other annual shock defeats throughout the years. When Chelsea lost 1-0 to Reading last season, they took thirty-four (34!) total shots but couldn’t find the back of the net. The year prior to that, Brighton beat them 2-1 while facing 30 shots. Against Liverpool, Chelsea turned in a timid 10-shot performance, with just four on target. For a defending champion that went up 1-0 in the third minute, that borders alarming.
Then there’s Manchester City, who are attempting to cope with the loss of their entire midfield. Georgia Stanway left for Bayern Munich, Caroline Weir went to Real Madrid and Keria Walsh signed to Barcelona. City made exciting signings, but the midfield will have to be rebuilt from the ground up, and on the fly. Manchester City struggled to execute their typical buildup play and instead gave the ball away deep in their own half, leading to two Aston Villa goals.
Coincidentally, things could get even worse for one of these teams when they face each other this weekend. It’s much too early for a must-win game, but a six-point hole, with a lot of trial and error still needed to problem solve, would remove the bulk of any margin for error.
Who doesn’t love free gifts
Right now, the benefactor of all this stumbling appears to be Arsenal, who routed Brighton 4-0 to start their season. However, the Gunners have an early North London Derby to contend with as they welcome Tottenham Hotspur across London. Spurs are a defensively stout team and rivalry games tend to take all normal advantages and throw them in a blender.
If Arsenal stumble, Manchester United will be right there to frolic over the scraps. This weekend, they face West Ham, who narrowly defeated Everton 1-0. Another win would be an early signal of intent from United.
It’s far too early in the season for grand declarations, and unless you have a kink for throwing money in the toilet, we wouldn’t bet on City and Chelsea missing out on the top 3. However, an opening day loss last season sent Chelsea chasing another title until the final day of the season. One week in and the league already seems prepared to offer something different from the previous three years.