WSL Title Race
The NWSL may have just started but other leagues are nearing the end of their current seasons. One, in particular, is WSL1, which saw a big shock this weekend when Reading beat first-place Manchester City 2-0. Reading have been a tough team to beat this season and are starting to really show just how good they can be. An improvised bicycle kick finish by Remi Allen put the Royals in front and Kirsty Pearce secured the win for them despite going down to 10 players. City had plenty of chances but just couldn’t get past Mary Earps in the Reading goal.
Had City won, they would have capitalised on Chelsea dropping points to their London rivals Arsenal. The Chelsea-Arsenal matchup is always close and full of drama, and this one lived up to it. Sari van Veenendaal made an error in clearing the ball, which Ramona Bachmann latched onto before sending it into Fran Kirby. Kirby took a touch and poked it past Veenendaal to get her 20th goal in all competitions this season. Beth Mead leveled it up for Arsenal right before halftime with a great solo goal. She made a good run, beat a couple of the defenders, and finished well. She was easily one of the best players in that game and fully deserved the goal.
Birmingham City quietly moved up to third in the table with a good 2-0 win against Sunderland and Liverpool kept themselves near enough in the top five with a 4-0 win against Yeovil Town. Arsenal are just ahead in fourth of Liverpool on goal difference.
With matches still to be rearranged after weather delays, and some teams having games in hand, this title race could go right down to the wire. There is no room for error for any of the top five.
As most of you will have heard by now, Christen Press has joined her former team Kopparbergs/Göteborg on a short team deal after the interesting saga with the Houston Dash. Press was last with this team after WPS folded, a spell with the club saw the team win the Svenska Cupen.
It’s been a few years, so let’s look at where the club is now and where the league is currently. Press has come into the league at the start with the Damallsvenskan kicking off April 14. Kopparbergs will kick off their season away against Rosengard on the 16th. Rosengard were runners-up last season, while Kopparbergs finished eighth last season out of 12 teams and will be looking to improve on that.
UEFA Women’s Champions League
This is another club competition nearing its finale for the season. UWCL is highly regarded as it really shows who is the best in Europe. History has already been made, with both WSL1 teams in the tournament—Chelsea and Manchester City—making it to the semifinals for the first time. It’s also the furthest that Chelsea have ever made it. They faced Montpellier in the quarterfinals, and while the French side did make it tough, Chelsea progressed through 5-1 on aggregate.
Manchester City made it interesting for themselves in the second leg against Linkoping. City took a 2-0 lead into the away leg and what ensued was a goalfest, with both teams going for it. The second leg ended 5-3 to Manchester City. The other two in the semifinals are usual suspects at this stage, with Lyon and Wolfsburg both making it through. Wolfsburg secured their place with a 5-0 win over Slavia Praha in the first leg, but drew 1-1 in the second. Lyon faced quite a tough test against a great Barcelona side but won both legs to put them through.
Both semifinals are on the same day with the first leg on April 22 and the second one on April 29. Both English teams will start off at home. Manchester City face Lyon, who they faced at this stage last year. Lyon won the first leg last time, but City managed to win the second one—although it wasn’t enough to put them through. City will be looking to go one step further this year.
Chelsea, meanwhile, will be facing their nemesis Wolfsburg. The German team has put Chelsea out twice before in earlier rounds, but the third time could be the charm for the Blues. Chelsea have already come through a tough journey, beating Bayern Munich, currently second in the Frauen Bundesliga, on away goals. They then went on to beat Rosengard 4-0 over two legs before facing Montpellier. This is not the same team as in previous seasons, with manager Emma Hayes bringing in players to really strengthen Chelsea’s ability to compete on various levels. Chelsea are currently unbeaten in the league, and could finally beat Wolfsburg over two legs. These two semifinals are really unpredictable and we could see yet more history made.
This month sees four federations kick off or resume their World Cup Qualifications. AFC will see the Asian Cup take place in Jordan, with five teams qualifying for the World Cup. CAF will see teams in the first qualifying round for the African Women’s Cup of Nations, and the Copa America will directly qualify two CONMEBOL nations and send a third to a playoff against the fourth-place CONCACAF team.
The fourth federation is, of course, UEFA, and the European qualifiers look to be at the business end. Eight teams will qualify out of seven groups. Group 1 sees the top two teams, Wales and England, go head to head for the first time in this campaign. Wales currently top the table with 10 points, but England are behind by just one point with a game in hand. England have won all three of their matches so far, and will be full of confidence after performing well in the SheBelieves Cup.
England are now second in the world, but Wales won’t be too much of a pushover, with players like Jess Fishlock and Natasha Harding in their ranks. 15,000 tickets have already been sold for the encounter, which takes place at St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton on April 6 and it should be a great atmosphere. Expect England to win and thrash their next opponents Bosnia with Wales ending their campaign later on in a playoff spot.
Group 2 is a bit more wide open, with Switzerland on top, with 12 points, and Poland second with six points and a game in hand. Group 3 is quite close, with the Netherlands and Republic of Ireland level at seven points, while Norway have six points. The Netherlands and Republic of Ireland face off on April 10. Group 4 has Denmark and Sweden first and second based on goal differential, with Denmark to face third-place Ukraine. Germany will look to regain their form against the Czech Republic, who are second. Rounding out the groups, the top two in Group 6 (Italy and Belgium) face each other April 10, while Spain and Finland in Group 7 play April 6.
We could see teams going a step closer to their place at the World Cup and maybe a few shocks as well.