Women's Super League: Chelsea or Manchester City for the title?

By Jo Currie and Tom GarryBBC Sport
Women's Super League One title race: Chelsea or Man City?

The final day of the 2014 Women's Super League One season could hardly have been more dramatic, as Liverpool went from third place at kick-off to winning the league on goal difference.

This year the title race has again come down to the last weekend of the season and, just like 12 months ago, it is Chelsea Ladies who have it all to lose.

Chelsea 'are in control' - Lindahl

However, second-placed Manchester City are the only team still harbouring hopes of pipping leaders Chelsea to the title.

Just like last year, Chelsea hold a two-point lead. Will Emma Hayes's side hold their nerve? Or is history about to repeat itself?

BBC Sport assesses the chances of the two contenders ahead of what promises to be a tense Sunday evening for the women's game.

Where they stand

Leaders Chelsea host fourth-placed Sunderland knowing that a win will secure their first league title.

A draw will also be enough for Chelsea if City fail to win by more than a two-goal margin at home to Notts County.

The top two
If Chelsea and City finish level on points, goals scored and goal difference, a play-off will decide the title

Should Chelsea lose, City would then win the title if they beat Notts.

But City have taken four points from their two league games against Chelsea this season, so why do the London club hold the advantage in the table?

First half of the season blues

City made a slow start to the season, and went into the international break in sixth place in the table, with just five points from their opening five matches.

The club were not helped by key players including Steph Houghton and Lucy Bronze missing the start of their campaign with injuries, while goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and midfielder Jill Scott both received three-match bans for separate violent conduct charges.

Lucy Bronze
Lucy Bronze missed City's first three league games of the season following knee surgery

Scoring league goals was a problem as well, with City only netting three times in those five games.

Manager Nick Cushing also put their poor start down to his players being distracted by the World Cup, with five of them eventually being called up for the tournament in Canada.

Chelsea set the bar

By contrast, Chelsea won their first four league games and held a nine-point advantage over City before the break for the World Cup.

In July, a 4-0 defeat at Sunderland and a 2-1 home loss to City cast doubt over Chelsea's title credentials, but they responded strongly, winning the FA Cup and developing what defender Gilly Flaherty called a "champions' mentality".

Ji So-Yun
South Korea forward Ji So-Yun is widely hailed as one of the most skillful players in the world

With an in-form front four of Eniola Aluko, Fran Kirby, Gemma Davison and PFA Women's Player of the Year Ji So-Yun, Chelsea have found the net 32 times in their last nine games in all competitions.

If they play with the same ruthless, clinical edge they showed in easing past Liverpool last Sunday, Blues boss Hayes knows her side can "finish the job" this weekend.

City's lucky 13

Since the World Cup, City have gone on an extraordinary run of form and are now unbeaten in 13 league and Continental Cup games, winning 12 of them.

In that time, they have only conceded six WSL goals and scored 20, including five each by Toni Duggan and Isobel Christiansen.

Manchester City Women
Nine City players have scored league goals since the Women's World Cup

Scott said the team were fully aware of what they needed to do after the break to give themselves a chance of winning the title.

"We knew we'd have to win all of our games and that was our aim," she told BBC Sport.

"I remember talking to Lucy Bronze about it at the World Cup and we said 'let's get back and win them all'.

"But if you ask me honestly if I thought it would happen, probably not."

The only blip on City's post-World Cup record was a 2-2 draw with Notts County at the end of August when, having gone 2-0 in front, the team were pegged back by a 90th-minute equaliser.

Those two dropped points could prove costly for City.

Who else could have a say on the final day?

Sunderland certainly have the potential to ruin Chelsea's party, having surprised them with a 4-0 win in the reverse fixture.

Beth Mead
Sunderland striker Beth Mead scored a hat-trick as Sunderland thrashed Chelsea in July

And the Lady Black Cats have something of a point to prove, after failing to win any of the last six games in all competitions.

Meanwhile Notts, who drew 2-2 with then-title-chasing Birmingham City on the final day last year, say they are determined to upset the odds once again - this time in Manchester.

"It means a lot to all of us, it is our last league game of the season and you always want to go out on a high - that is what we are focused on," said Lady Magpies captain Laura Bassett.

"We can build on confidence and it can be a rehearsal run for our Continental Cup semi-final against Liverpool.

"We didn't convert the chances against Birmingham City (in last Sunday's 1-0 home loss), maybe against Manchester City it is the week we do that."

A win for Notts County would not only see Chelsea crowned champions, but could also see Arsenal move into second to clinch the last remaining Champions League spot.

Stepping stones

Having added to their squad at the start of the year and now having their own stadium to play in, City have been compared to an "international team" by Liverpool Ladies boss Matt Beard.

And while title success is not in their own hands, finishing second and gaining a Champions League qualifying spot would be a huge achievement for a club in only their second season in the WSL.

City lifted the Continental Cup in 2014 but, following a fifth-place finish in WSL, they were determined to produce an improved league performance this time around.

The Academy Stadium
City are playing their first season in their new purposely built Acdemy Stadium

And midfielder Jennifer Beattie said the progress City have made in the last 12 months was obvious.

"There's always more to come from us, that's why we work so hard on the training ground," she said.

"It's just stepping stones, if we get Champions League that'll be fantastic, but if we get anything more then we'll be ecstatic."

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