Women's Super League Judgement Day: How Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal & Man City's battle for the title and Champions League places has unfolded

Sam Kerr Stina Blackstenius Bunny Shaw Alessia Russo Chelsea Arsenal Man City Man Utd Women composite
The season's penultimate round of fixtures will be played on Sunday, with it all on the line in London and Manchester derbies

And so it comes to this. On Sunday, Chelsea will take on Arsenal before Manchester United welcome Manchester City on the Women's Super League's penultimate day, one which can certainly be described as judgement day at the top of the table, with the title and the Women's Champions League spots all on the line.

It's Chelsea who lead the way at the top with two games to go, a place they assumed after winning their final game in hand in midweek against West Ham. United are hot on their heels, two points behind, with Arsenal then three points behind them in the final UWCL spot. It's Man City who have it all to do to get one of the European places, currently three points outside and with a significantly worse goal difference.

The picture, though, could all change this weekend when these four huge names clash in two massive fixtures, just six days before their final games on Saturday, May 27. It would be naive not to expect any twists and turns in these final two weekends, as we have been treated to so many along the way.

But what have been the most pivotal moments in this WSL season? GOAL takes a look at the games that have contributed to this perfectly, and precariously, poised end to the campaign...

  1. Aston Villa 4-3 Man City

    Aston Villa 4-3 Man City

    Man City's start to the season could not have gone much worse. The club had a busy summer window, with seven players in and eight out - the departures of both Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh to Barcelona among the latter - and one can't help but feel that mass change disrupted them in the early weeks.

    One of those players who left in the summer, Caroline Weir, knocked them out of the Champions League at the first qualifying stage with Real Madrid, then they lost their first WSL fixture to an Aston Villa side that finished ninth the previous season.

    With this result compounded, with defeat to Chelsea the following week, City were immediately on the back foot in a league where each team only plays 22 fixtures and slipping up against those outside of the 'big four' can be detrimental to your title challenge.

    "In terms of the transfers, I was surprised," Karen Carney, the former England international who now covers the WSL for Sky Sports, tells GOAL. "The final game of last season, I looked at their squad and I thought, 'If they could add few here, I fancy them to win the WSL'. I said it on air. Then, obviously, they went through their kind of transition.

    "Football is about cycles and they wanted a refresh of their whole squad. The proof will be in the pudding on whether it was the right decision, whether they get a Champions League spot."

  2. Arsenal 2-3 Man Utd

    Arsenal 2-3 Man Utd

    This game, decided by Alessia Russo's goal in second-half stoppage time, announced United as a contender for not only the Champions League spots, but the title. Since promotion to the top flight, the club has struggled to take points off the big teams above them, but to do so at the Emirates, to silence a hostile crowd and to do it in such dramatic fashion was a statement. It was a show of the new belief and character that has played a key role in getting United to the point they are at now - still in the title race.

    "In previous seasons, we’ve gone into those sorts of games as the underdogs and now we don’t feel like that’s the case at all," Katie Zelem, the United captain, said recently of the mentality shift in the team. "Everyone knows in this league, if you drop any points then it’s really tough to keep up. Not only beating the teams below you but taking points off the teams around you is so important.

    "We don’t change now for the other [big] teams whereas, maybe in the first few seasons, it was more about staying in the game, maybe take a point or maybe nick a win. We want to win, we genuinely believe we can win and that’s what we accept now."

  3. Man Utd 0-0 Everton; West Ham 0-0 Arsenal

    Man Utd 0-0 Everton; West Ham 0-0 Arsenal

    Historically, it's rare that the 'big' teams drop points against those below them in the WSL. That is starting to change as the league becomes more competitive from top to bottom, but it is still uncommon.

    That both United and Arsenal did so on the same day back in early February, facing Everton and West Ham, respectively, was a big shock, then. That the results came a day after Man City had managed to overcome a resilient Leicester side was more significant, too, as it suddenly let the Cityzens back into things.

    All they had to do now is make sure they didn't fall behind again on their own accord...

  4. Chelsea 1-0 Man Utd

    Chelsea 1-0 Man Utd

    After picking up a 3-1 win at Leigh in November, Sam Kerr's gorgeous goal from Lauren James' equally brilliant pass meant that Chelsea did the double over United with this narrow victory in March.

    It gave the Blues, who slipped up away at Liverpool on the opening day, an advantage in the title race over the Red Devils and saw them ascend to the top of the WSL for the first time this season.

    Chelsea's run to the Champions League semi-finals means they would lose that spot, accruing games in hand instead, but they have never lost the advantage in the title race.

    Kerr hasn't had her best season in terms of goals, her tally no doubt impacted by injuries to key attackers Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder, but this wasn't her first crucial contribution of the season and it wouldn't be her last.

    "Give Sam a moment and she'll just sniff it out," Carney says. "I don't think she had that in her when she first came to the WSL. I think she needed quite a few opportunities. But I think the WSL and being at Chelsea has made her more clinical.

    "I think with her movement, her aerial ability, her pressing from the front, her speed, her strength, her power and her match-winning moments - her unbelievable backflip that I think any human would love to be able to do - I think she's the best."

  5. Man City 2-0 Chelsea

    Man City 2-0 Chelsea

    In terms of results, no team has had more of a rollercoaster ride this year than City. At times, they have looked too inconsistent to challenge for a title. At others, they've been unplayable and showed all the qualities needed.

    In late March, they welcomed Chelsea to the north west and put on a simply superb showing to put themselves right back in the race to finish top.

    "I've been telling family members for months and months that we're hoping to win the league," City defender Esme Morgan said after the game. "I sort of get met with sniggers and giggles as if, 'Oh, come on Esme. Get real!' But obviously we've managed to just chip away in the background and climb the table and we've got ourselves into a position now where everyone genuinely considers us title challengers."

    "To get to a position where we are after losing those two games at the start of the season, it's remarkable," head coach Gareth Taylor added. "The players need to take credit for that. We're a new-ish team. To be in this position now is top. We've not done anything yet - six games left, lots of challenges left - but we go into it with high levels of confidence."

    With the momentum from this win, the class they showed to get it and both Arsenal and United still to come, the feeling post-match was that it could actually be City's year. It was in their hands...

  6. Arsenal 2-1 Man City

    Arsenal 2-1 Man City

    And just as quickly, one week later, it felt like Man City were out of the title race all over again. They went to Arsenal and took the lead, but would be beaten by Katie McCabe's superb strike.

    Though the Cityzens were only three points off leaders United after this result, both Chelsea and Arsenal had games in hand that, if won as expected, would put City massively on the back foot in the race for both Europe and the title.

    Imagine how differently things might look right now if Taylor's side had followed up that Chelsea win with one against Arsenal? The momentum they'd have had would have been incredible.

    It's amazing how quickly things can change in football.

  7. Man Utd 1-0 Arsenal
    Getty Images

    Man Utd 1-0 Arsenal

    If the WSL had a three-horse race after that result, it had a two-horse race after Arsenal's trip to Leigh in mid-April. The Gunners were beaten narrowly by an impressive United side who sent a message to Chelsea to tell them they were not going away.

    But this game is probably remembered more for something else. It was 11 minutes in when Leah Williamson, the England captain and stand-in skipper for Arsenal after Kim Little's injury, suffered an ACL rupture. Her season was over - as were her chances of going to the 2023 Women's World Cup.

    That was significant in the race at the top of the table, not only because of how good a player Williamson is, but also because it added to an ever-growing list of absentees the Gunners had. It felt impossible that Jonas Eidevall's side could continue to fight for the title - while also balancing a UWCL semi-final tie - with so many players missing.

    "Sometimes when things happen, it galvanises the group a little bit," Carney says. "I see a good group there, a good group of players that want to do well for each other.

    "I think if you said, 'Look, Jonas, you could cement Champions League football again, you'll win a cup and you'll get to the semi-finals of the Champions League', I think he would take that, considering you've got Beth Mead, Vivianne Miedema, Leah Williamson and Kim Little injured. Given the circumstances, I think he's done a really good job."

  8. Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool

    Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool

    When Chelsea hosted Liverpool in early May, they did so off the back of a gruelling Champions League semi-final defeat to Barcelona, a night at Camp Nou that had been physically, emotionally and mentally draining.

    The Blues' state was evident in the game, with Emma Koivisto giving the Reds the lead inside two minutes. But there is a reason that Chelsea have won the WSL title three years in a row. There is a reason they have had so much success across the board under Emma Hayes. Those reasons showed in a gritty and crucial comeback win, with Kerr coming up clutch with an 86th-minute winner.

    "I'm never surprised by last-minute winners from Chelsea," Carney says. "They do what they've got to do. They just want to win football matches. That culture has been in place for a long time. They're like the Manchester United men's team of old, Sir Alex Ferguson's group. They just never stop, never give in, never give up and I think that's to be admired."

  9. Liverpool 2-1 Man City

    Liverpool 2-1 Man City

    If there was any hope left for Man City in the title race, it was put to bed at the beginning of May when they slipped up at Liverpool and were condemned to a damaging 2-1 defeat that also left their chances of a Champions League spot hanging by a thread.

    It leaves them three points outside the top three with two games to go, making a victory away at United this week absolutely imperative. Should they fail to win, finishing inside the top three will be all-but-mathematically impossible.

    "City knew there was no room for error," Carney says, hitting the nail on the head. "When you've lost your opening two games of the season, there's no room for error. So I think I was surprised in terms of that alone."

  10. Brighton 0-4 Arsenal

    Brighton 0-4 Arsenal

    That result meant that, three days later, Arsenal could move into the top three at City's expense. They didn't miss the chance to do so, putting Brighton to the sword in a dominant performance that saw Stina Blackstenius steal the show.

    The Swede, who scored two on the night, has had a difficult season. With injuries to Mead and Miedema, the goal-scoring burden has rested on her shoulders a lot more, all while rumours around her future have circulated. In the January window, it was reported that Arsenal had offered Blackstenius to United in exchange for England star Russo.

    "Stina was brilliant," Carney remembers. "Her runs behind were brilliant. I think she's been a revelation to be honest and I'm really, really pleased for her."

    Her brace set Arsenal on their way to a win that moved them inside the top three heading into the final games of the season.

  11. West Ham 0-4 Chelsea

    West Ham 0-4 Chelsea

    In the build-up to this big weekend, both Arsenal and Chelsea had games in hand to tick off, and it was the latter's game, away at West Ham, that was particularly significant as it saw the reigning champions retake the lead at the top of the table for the first time since March.

    For a while, it has felt like Chelsea have been in pole position to win the title, but managers will always say they'd prefer to have points on the board rather than games in hand.

    While it would've been a shock had the Blues not won those fixtures, it was a big moment when they finally ticked them all off and went top of the table, finally level on games played with the rest of the top four.

    Hayes' side are two points clear of the chasing pack with two games to go. It's theirs to lose.

  12. This weekend...

    This weekend...

    And so, it is all set up for the final two weekends of the season. Chelsea lead United by two points, Arsenal are three behind the Red Devils and Man City are another three behind the Gunners. With so much at stake for all parties, it makes the bumper weekend of fixtures all the more exciting.

    "It's just awesome to be in this position where there's four teams fighting for three spots, the title is still undecided, the bottom of the table is undecided," Carney says.

    "I think it's been the most competitive WSL to date, in terms of every team. Liverpool beating Chelsea and Man City in their first season since promotion - we can't knock the competitive level of the league. I think it's been awesome."

    How will it all end? You really couldn't call it.

    Watch the final few games of a dramatic WSL title race live on Sky Sports Main Event, Sky Sports Football, Sky Showcase and NOW.