WSL talking points: Women’s Football Weekend

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Venue: Manchester City Academy Stadium Date: Sunday, 26 March Time: 12:40 BST
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport website & app; live text commentary on BBC Sport website & app

After a weekend of FA Cup quarter-finals, the Women’s Super League is back with an action-packed schedule on Women’s Football Weekend – an annual event which sees the women’s game take centre stage.

The Women’s Football Weekend first started in 2019 to coincide with an international break in the men’s game as a way of attracting more fans to women’s matches.

This time around it is bringing top-of-the-table clashes, relegation scraps, derby bouts and big stadiums.

Here are the main talking points ahead of this weekend’s games.

‘I can’t think of a closer title race’

WSL table top six

Just two points separate Chelsea at the top of the table from Manchester United and Manchester City.

“I can’t think of a time where the title race has been this close,” former City and England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“It’s so great to look at this table and think anyone could pip it at the end.”

Marc Skinner’s United side have the chance to go top on Saturday as they host West Ham at Old Trafford, before City and Chelsea go toe-to-toe on Sunday.

Lucy Staniforth, who joined Aston Villa after leaving United last summer, believes she can see a change in her former team this season.

“They’ve grown a lot and I do think they have the strength to get over the line,” she said.

Bardsley added: “United look like they are firing all cylinders, they are full of belief and they have this new mentality that they can beat the big teams and win the league.”

‘Ultra-competitive’ relegation battle

WSL table bottom six

At the other end of the table, three points separate Reading in 10th and bottom-placed Leicester, with Brighton in the middle.

Brighton, two points behind the Royals, travel to Select Car Leasing Stadium for what Reading boss Kelly Chamber calls an “ultra-competitive game” on Sunday.

“It’s in our hands to throw away,” Chambers said.

“We’re the ones that are leading that little pack at the bottom so it’s for us to make sure that we try and stay there.”

Seagulls defender Poppy Pattinson told BBC Radio 5 Live it is a “huge” weekend for her team. She says there is “no hiding” from the managerial inconsistencies Brighton have had this season after Jens Scheuer left Brighton just two months after replacing Hope Powell, with Amy Merrick being handed the reins on an interim basis.

“Obviously different managers have different philosophies and ways of working. As a team and a group of players we have had to adapt to that,” added Pattinson.

‘Fearless’ Villa

Rachel Daly of Aston Villa celebrates with team mate Jordan Nobbs

While Chelsea, United and City fight it out for the top spot – and Arsenal within touching distance – Aston Villa are proving they are next best as they sit six points above the rest of the field in fifth.

Carla Ward’s side are on a high after knocking Manchester City out of the FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday.

“The way that we are playing at the minute, there is a bit of fearlessness,” Villa midfielder Staniforth said.

“We go into every game thinking that it’s possible for us to get something.

“People’s perception from the outside, having looked at our results, are taking us a lot more seriously and are expecting a lot from us.”

Derby days

Having beat rivals Liverpool 3-0 in front of 27,574 fans at Anfield earlier in the season, Everton boss Brian Sorensen believes Liverpool will be “out for the fight” at Goodison Park on Friday night.

The north London derby on Saturday may not have as big a crowd at Brisbane Road after breaking the WSL attendance record at Emirates Stadium earlier in the season, but both teams have something to prove in the exciting encounter.

Arsenal are attempting to claw their way back into the Champions League places while Tottenham, under interim boss Vicky Jepson, will want to put breathing space between themselves and teams at the bottom of the table.

Meanwhile, Staniforth believes Villa’s most “difficult game yet” could come in Sunday’s Midland derby against Leicester, who have “turned a corner under Willie Kirk”.

On the big stage

For Women’s Football Weekend, some clubs will be taking to the pitch at their club’s bigger stadiums with Goodison Park, Old Trafford and Villa Park all open for business.

Having picked up their first win of the season at Anfield in September, Everton will be hoping to do the double over their Merseyside rivals at Goodison Park with Sorensen saying there has been “a lot of hype” around the game.

Meanwhile, West Ham will be Manchester United’s second WSL opponent at Old Trafford this season after they thrashed Villa 5-0 in front of 30,196 fans in December.

Aston Villa, who have played at Villa Park for three of their seven home games already this campaign – including their 4-3 opening day win over Manchester City – will return to the stadium on Sunday to play Leicester.

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