Leicester survive, Liverpool go down?

Five and a half games into the Women’s Super League season, Leicester City are supporting everyone else but are yet to take a point from their six league games. Then there are three teams with three points and everyone hopes to stay up in the league.

Even if it’s a little too early in the season to yell, “Danger, Danger, Will Robinson!” Heading toward Reading or Liverpool, two of those teams are still with three points and five games in a 22-game season a substantial sample size.

For any team in the bottom third, there are many questions and reasons to be uncomfortable with where they stand. But everyone can still take positives from their performances to date and find a glimmer of hope for the rest of the season – even second-bottom Brighton, demolished 8-0 by Tottenham at the weekend, have shown flashes of good football.

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Here’s a look at the teams in the relegation zone of the 12-man WSL, where it all went wrong and where solutions may still be found. Only the bottom club will be relegated – can Leicester break away from that or are they doomed to the Championship?

Leicester: Bottom and in need of an equaliser

Sitting on league bottom are the Foxes, who have a desperately disappointing record in WSL despite an initial surge in earnings when Lydia Bedford took over as manager from Jonathan Morgan last season.

The biggest problem for Leicester is their lack of goal threat: the Foxes are so focused on staying compact off the ball to avoid conceding, but the downside is they look so ill-prepared when they break forward. The inclusion of striker Natasha Flint in the starting XI against Reading at the weekend gave them some incision, but even the attacker who showed such promise in her youth cannot be the magician Leicester can rely on for the most part in their goals.

Rather, the team must find the balance between their crushing defense and the ability to counter.

Brighton & Hove Albion: A change of manager won’t settle everything

Of the bottom three teams with three points – all with a win from their first five games – Brighton & Hove Albion have the lowest goal difference, a distinction they already held prior to their substantial loss to Spurs on Sunday.

For a team with high ambitions and high investments off the pitch, Brighton, bottom of the table, don’t quite pay attention. There are a number of questions that urgently need to be answered, but there is no oracle in sight for the Seagulls, not least as they are now looking for a manager again, a process that took over a year last time.

The bigger problem for the Seagulls was never Hope Powell, who resigned as manager after that 8-0 home win but lost players like defender Maya Le Tissier and midfielder Inessa Kaagman over the summer. Le Tissier moved to Manchester United and Kaagman to PSV, only Brighton failed to replace them with players who could immediately take the mantle.

By the looks of it, the Brighton squad are arguably a little more caliber than others in a similarly precarious position in the table, but they’re too much of a patchwork quilt that’s becoming increasingly threadbare: they’ve fielded just 15 players so far this season.

The team are in dire need of stability and cohesion on the pitch, but if they were to return to their first game of the season – a 4-0 loss to Arsenal after being reduced to 10 players early in the game – they were left hanging by the circumstances correspondingly well together. In that match, Brighton even had a couple of promising counterattacks; It’s clear they’re not a bad team, just that something hasn’t paid off for them so far this season.

Liverpool: Always close, but always too short

Goal difference alone sees Liverpool move up the WSL table. The Reds have enjoyed a mixed fortune so far in their first season in the top flight. An opening day win over reigning champions Chelsea could have been a stepping stone for the team – but it was quickly followed by a 3-0 defeat in the Merseyside derby at Anfield.

Stability is the issue here once again as Liverpool have rarely been played off the pitch this season. Their 2-0 defeat by Arsenal included a superb goal from Gunners midfielder Lia Walti to score the opener – a goal the Reds could do little about. This was also the case in the defeat against Manchester City: although the Citizens dominated the chances, they still needed a late goal from winger Hayley Raso to snatch all three points from the Reds.

For Liverpool, who were promoted to the WSL at the end of last season, this campaign is all about growth and acclimatization, even with a squad full of WSL veteran players and a manager in Matt Beard who won a title with the club previously in the second division.

This season it’s all about finding those margins that turn a 1-0 loss into a believable draw or accelerate a win after a draw. So there shouldn’t be much concern for Liverpool’s survival, but the problem would be if they keep finding themselves on the wrong side of the 2-1 score.

Read: An unpredictable anomaly in the WSL

Rounding out the quartet of WSL contenders are Reading, who needed a very, very late blitz from midfielder Rachel Rowe to take their three points on Sunday. Victory over laggards Leicester ended Reading’s 17-game winless streak in all competitions and secured their first points of the WSL season.

There’s something almost odd about Reading – maybe it’s just that they’re not part of a Premier League team, the only WSL side to have such an accolade, or maybe it’s the up-and-down seasons they’ve enjoyed since Promotion to WSL. Indeed, if there is one team in the league that is difficult to pin down, let alone predict, it is the Royals, a team capable of a comprehensive win over Man United between draws with stragglers Aston Villa and Everton win, as was the case during the game the 2021/22 season.

With striker Deanne Rose lost to a serious injury earlier in the season, there are renewed concerns about how well Reading will fare. Their late win against Leicester this weekend could very well be an outlier in their ongoing struggles since last season, suggesting a bigger problem with their place in the league.

Reading’s win over the Foxes might just be enough to keep them afloat in the WSL for the time being, but with a side like Leicester able to invest with more enthusiasm and potentially sign more established players, questions about their long-term sustainability are revived plague the royals.

Even though most teams have only five games into their league season, they are also nearly a quarter of the way through. Some may have floundered too early to break out, while things could still turn upside down, not least with the narrow gap in the WSL, which has quickly split into three “mini-leagues”. At the moment, none of the teams mentioned should be making long-term plans for a stable life in the top flight.

https://www.espn.com/soccer/english-womens-super-league/story/4788203/wsl-relegation-battle-will-liverpool-leicester-reading-or-brighton-go-down Leicester survive, Liverpool go down?

Emma Bowman

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