Can Emma Hayes deliver back-to-back WSL titles for Chelsea?

Defending champions Chelsea beat Manchester United 2-1 at home on Sunday to replace the Red Devils at the top of the Women’s Super League.

Emma Hayes’ side are above Casey Stoney’s United on goal difference, with both on 26 points having played 10 and 11 games respectively.

An intriguing title battle lies ahead and here the PA news agency takes a look at some of the key questions surrounding the season’s action so far.

Do Chelsea look like they are headed for the title?

Certainly it appears things are shaping up very well for the Blues. The triumph in Sunday’s big match followed a 5-0 victory at Reading a week earlier, and Chelsea are the only club in the division yet to be defeated this term – indeed, the result against United meant they equalled the record for the longest unbeaten run in WSL history, 31 games. In England star Fran Kirby, they have one of the league’s most in-form players.

Who else is in the race?

The result at Kingsmeadow was the first loss of what has been a hugely impressive campaign so far for United, only their second in the league – they have also drawn 1-1 with Chelsea, held Manchester City 2-2, beaten Arsenal 1-0, and very much looked the part as title contenders. Joe Montemurro’s Gunners were left three points behind the top two, having played 11 games, after coming from a goal down to draw 1-1 at Reading on Sunday. Meanwhile, City are a further two points back in fourth after 10 games. City, leaders when the 2019-20 season was halted by the coronavirus pandemic, have had some troubles since then under new boss Gareth Taylor, but significant momentum appears to be building for the FA Cup winners, who showed their ruthlessness with their 7-0 win over Aston Villa on Sunday.

Which players have shone?

Arsenal's Vivianne Miedema is the WSL's all-time leading scorer (Adam Davy/PA).
Arsenal's Vivianne Miedema is the WSL's all-time leading scorer (Adam Davy/PA).

Kirby is really catching the eye at the moment – she has scored five goals in her last two games to take her to eight for the campaign, and also has four assists to her name. Currently topping the scoring chart for 2020-21 with 12 goals is Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema, the Golden Boot winner for the last two seasons who broke the competition’s all-time scoring record when she reached the 50 mark in October. Of the high-profile new arrivals to the division signed since last term, City midfielder Sam Mewis is arguably the one who has made the brightest impression so far. Fellow United States international Tobin Heath has netted four times for United.

Who looks in trouble at the bottom?

Matt Beard saw Bristol City lose his first game in charge 4-0 at Everton on Sunday (Martin Rickett/PA).
Matt Beard saw Bristol City lose his first game in charge 4-0 at Everton on Sunday (Martin Rickett/PA).

Lying at the foot of the table and looking in considerable danger are Bristol City. Sunday’s 4-0 defeat at Everton left them with two points from 11 matches – and a goals against tally of 49. That was their first outing under Matt Beard, the former West Ham boss who has taken charge for the rest of the season while Tanya Oxtoby takes maternity leave. They are currently four points adrift of 11th-placed Villa, having played two games more. Meanwhile, the Hammers – now under Olli Harder following Beard’s departure in November – are a point and a place above Villa after 10 matches.

What kind of impact has the pandemic had?

Club statement: Manchester United encounter postponed.#BarclaysFAWSL 🔵 #EFC

— Everton Women (@EvertonWomen) January 8, 2021

There have been a number of games postponed for coronavirus-related reasons, not least on the weekend of January 9-10, when the Reading-Chelsea contest was the only WSL fixture that went ahead. Last term Chelsea were named champions on a points-per-game basis after the campaign was stopped in March due to the pandemic and not resumed – a few days ago the Football Association, Premier League, EFL and WSL released a joint statement in which they expressed confidence their tightened coronavirus protocols would enable them to finish the season.