Manchester City go into this weekend’s derby on a 10-game winning streak in the Women’s Super League. At this stage in 2022-23, they shared the lead at the WSL summit but poor form saw them fall away at the end of season. We look at why 2023-24 might have a different outcome.

Manchester City go into this weekend level on points with Chelsea at the top of the English Women’s Super League table ahead of the final six matchdays of 2023-24. Neither side can afford to drop points in the title race, so this week could prove pivotal in the battle for glory.

While Chelsea travel to struggling West Ham on Sunday, Man City have the chance to overtake Emma Hayes’ side at the top a day earlier with a Manchester derby against Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium in the Saturday lunchtime kick-off.

City have been here before. At this exact point last season, with 16 games played, they were level on points at the top of the WSL table with Man Utd. Then they collapsed, losing three of their final six games and finished the season in fourth, nine points off eventual winners Chelsea.

To go some way to avoiding that fate this time, they’ll hope to do something they’ve never previously managed in a WSL season: beat Manchester United twice. A 3-1 win at Old Trafford in November has set them up to end that hoodoo and victory would see them enter the final five games confident of taking Chelsea all the way.

It won’t be easy. This is a Chelsea side that have won the last four WSL titles and collected all six of their competition crowns across the last eight seasons (ignoring the Spring Series success in 2017).

Unfortunately for City, they’ve become accustomed to finishing second best. They’ve ended as runners-up in five of the last eight WSL seasons, winning it just once in 2016, five points ahead of Chelsea.

So why might 2023-24 be different? Well, their current run of 10 WSL wins in a row suggests the momentum is with City.

A Winning Culture

Gareth Taylor’s side went into their Matchday 7 clash at Old Trafford against United under pressure. Having dropped eight points in their opening six games (W3 D1 L2), including a shock 1-0 away defeat at Brighton in their sixth match, City were six points off the top of the table ahead of that derby.

Since then, they’ve won an impeccable 30 points from their 10 games to draw level with the Blues – six points more than their table-topping rivals and nearly double the tally of Man Utd (16).

Their current winning run is just two away from their club record in the competition – 12 wins in a row between December 2020 and April 2021 – and four off the all-time competition record set by Arsenal (14 in a row) between March and November 2022.

Longest WSL Winning Runs

Ahead of this weekend, both Chelsea and Man City have got 13 wins with six games remaining. Only one team have ever won 19 matches in a single WSL season, and that was Chelsea last term. There’s every chance that’ll need to be equalled in 2023-24 to decide the WSL title.

Chelsea passed a stiff test last weekend by beating Arsenal 3-1 at Stamford Bridge, and it’s a challenge City still need to face later this season when they host the Gunners in their penultimate game at the start of May.

Defensive Solidarity

A lot of City’s success this season stems from their solid defensive performances. They have conceded the fewest goals (10) and allowed their opponents the lowest expected goals (xG) total both overall (14.0) and from non-penalty situations (12.4).

While nowhere near their defensive peak of 2016 when they won their only WSL title – conceding a record four goals in 16 games, with three of those from the penalty spot – Man City’s rate of 0.56 non-penalty goals conceded per game this season ranks 10th in the all-time league rankings and there is a decent gap between them and Chelsea (0.81) this season.

While they have nearly halved their non-penalty goals conceded per game average from last season (0.56 vs 1.09), the quality of chances that they are giving opponents compared to 2022-23 has hardly changed. They’ve allowed opponents a league-best 0.78 xG from non-penalty shots per game this season compared to 0.77 per match last term. A combination of luck, poor opposition finishing and great shot-stopping from Khiara Keating have changed their fortunes at the back.

Based on the Opta expected goals on target model (xGOT), Keating has prevented 6.1 opposition goals this season, the best tally in the league and over double that of the next most regular number one in the competition this season, Mary Earps at Man Utd (2.3).

Khiara Keating

Having a reliable goalkeeper between the posts has made a big difference to Taylor’s side. In 2022-23, when their title challenge fell away in the final months of the season, first-choice stopper Ellie Roebuck conceded 18 goals from opposition shots totalling 13.8 xGOT – 4.2 more than the expected rate.

Passing and Pressing

Much like their very successful men’s side, Man City like having a lot of the ball. They average the highest possession figure in the WSL this season (60.4%) and only two teams in the history of the competition (Arsenal in 2019-20 and Man City themselves in 2020-21) have averaged a higher number of successful passes per game than the current City side (490).

More impressive is the fact City’s average of 250 successful passes in the opposition’s half of the pitch is the highest ever seen in a WSL season by a single team. This is not possession for possession’s sake, but keeping the ball in dangerous areas.

Even when opponents do win the ball from City, their players work hard to win the ball back in attacking areas. Across this season, only Arsenal (268) have made more high turnovers than City (254) in the WSL, but it’s City who lead the league for high turnovers leading to a shot (47). Perfecting the timing of their press has been integral to City’s success this season, with a league-high 18.5% of their high turnovers ending in a shot.

Man City Pressing WSL

It’ll be interesting to see if they can have success with the high press against a Man Utd team who remain the only side yet to concede a goal following an opposition high turnover in the WSL this season, with only Arsenal (107) seeing opponents provoke a high turnover less frequently than United (137) overall.

Integral to their pressing in attacking areas of the pitch is Japanese star Yui Hasegawa, who has been responsible for 45 of the high turnovers this season. That’s not only a league-high tally, but nearly double the tally of any other City player in the competition this season, ahead of Jill Roord’s 23.

Shaw to Score

Khadija “Bunny” Shaw is enjoying yet another prolific season in front of goal. Last weekend’s strike in the 4-1 win over Brighton took her season tally to 16 and three ahead of Lauren James in the WSL Golden Boot race.

She’s now scored in three successive WSL appearances and tallied 14 goals in her last 10 league games, including three hat-tricks over that period.

Across all players to have played at least 1,000 minutes in the WSL this season, Shaw leads the charts for shots per 90 (5.1) and both overall (0.78) and non-penalty (0.72) xG per 90.

Bunny Shaw WSL Goals

Since her competition debut in September 2021, Shaw leads the WSL scoring charts (45) ahead of Sam Kerr (36), with just one of the Jamaican international’s goals coming from the penalty spot.

Having played 54 games in the competition, there’s every chance Shaw can find the five goals in the remainder of this campaign to become the second fastest player to 50 WSL goals. The exceptional Vivianne Miedema holds the record, scoring 50 in her first 50 WSL appearances, with Kerr currently holding second place with her first 50 goals coming inside 62 games.

While Shaw’s been a constant menace this season for Man City, scoring in nine separate WSL games, she’s been helped by the consistency of England international duo Lauren Hemp (scored in seven games) and Chloe Kelly (five games).

Hemp has been the leading creator for Shaw’s shots this season, setting up nine, with Kelly just behind on eight. Overall in the WSL this season, no players have been able to create as many open-play chances for teammates as Kelly (33) and Hemp (29) while they also both lead the overall xG assisted rankings thanks to Hemp’s 4.61 and Kelly’s 4.36 in the competition.

Most Creative WSL Players

The Title Beckons?

Only five teams have previously won as many as 40 points after 16 games in a WSL season, as both Chelsea and Manchester City have done in 2023-24.

The last time City had this many points from 16 games was in 2019-20, when they led the WSL table having played a game more than Chelsea. The COVID-19 pandemic robbed them of a chance to finish the job that season, though.

Although they also shared the lead atop the WSL at this stage last season and failed to capitalise with a poor finish to the campaign, their current 10-game winning run gives them the platform to go on and end Chelsea’s four-year reign as WSL champions. Unlike the Blues, City don’t have the distractions of Champions League and domestic cup commitments as Emma Hayes’ side hunt for a historic quadruple, which could work in their favour.

Manchester United will provide a stern examination in the derby on Saturday, but if Taylor and his side can successfully navigate this hurdle then he could ruin Hayes’ farewell party in May.

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