This has been a very weird WSL season. Manchester City were truly struggling and were at one point closer to the bottom than the top. Chelsea looked to be figuring out the 343 then suddenly lost to Reading and played five halves of WSL football without scoring. All that, it seems, has ended. A resurgent Chelsea now face a resurgent Manchester City with both looking to (re-)surge up the table.
Chelsea are only five points behind league leaders Arsenal and with two games in hand, thanks to Manchester United taking two points off the Gunners on Saturday. City are on twenty points and in fifth place, and securing Champions League football next season is going to require leapfrogging two teams currently ahead of them.
Three points are crucial to both sides, though sharing the points benefits City much more than it would Chelsea. As a result, the Blues must approach this match with the familiar intensity we rediscovered against United in Wednesday’s League Cup semifinal win. While Chelsea mustn’t look ahead, collecting all three points would set up an opportunity to replace Arsenal at the top of the table in a head-to-head battle at Kingsmeadow five days later.
But first, City.
Date / Time: Sunday, February 6, 2022, 12.30 GMT; 7:30am EST; 6:00pm IST
Venue: Kingsmeadow, Kingston Upon Thames, UK
Forecast: Light rain; 48°F/9°C
How to watch: BBC Two or BBC iPlayer (UK), CNBC or NBCsports.com (US), Sportnest.ca (Canada), The FA Player (most everywhere else)
Chelsea team news: Maren Mjelde, Melanie Leupolz and likely Magdalena Eriksson will be unavailable for this match. The trio have been missing since the start of the calendar year, and as a result Emma Hayes has made a number of adjustments. The Blues have tried a rotating crop of players in midfield, much more fluidity to cover midfield spaces (wingbacks/fullbacks tucking in), and a switch back to a back four.
The good news is that Sam Kerr is back with the squad and even though was in a nasty collision in the game against United, Hayes expects she’ll be available and ready to start. Fran Kirby was able to rest versus United so should be fresh for this crucial match, and Pernille Harder has found her most wicked form. Lauren James has also improved enough to have made appearances in back-to-back matches.
Manchester City team news: In addition to long-term injuries to Chloe Kelly, Esme Morgan and Janine Becky, City will also be without veteran defender Steph Houghton. However, their goalkeeping merry-go-round seems to have ended now that usual starter Ellie Roebuck is back from injury.
Striker Ellen White will also be available for selection after recovering from injury, but it's Bunny Shaw who has scored six goals across City’s last four matches in all competitions. Never rule out Gareth Taylor doing something silly, but benching Shaw in favor of White after such a run is likely too silly for even him.
Previously: The (right shade of) Blues ran riot in a 4-0 win that featured a Jessie Fleming goal two minutes in, as well as Sam Kerr, Fran Kirby and Magdalena Eriksson getting on the scoresheet.