Revisiting 2023-24 WSL predictions: Man City to pip Chelsea?

Lawson: Chelsea at their vintage best in win over Man United (1:53)

Sophie Lawson reacts to Chelsea's 3-1 WSL victory over Manchester United, as Lauren James stars with a hat trick. (1:53)

The teams who have traditionally made up the top four in each Women's Super League (WSL) season since the truncated 2019-20 campaign look set to remain in situ. Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United are in pole position, which puts our preseason predictions in some jeopardy.

It was always going to be a stretch for relegation-threatened Brighton and Hove Albion to crack the top four, just as it would have required something catastrophic happening to Man City for them to slip to fifth, but sometimes you have to throw in some chaos to see if you get anything back. Likewise, there was method to the madness that placed Aston Villa third, not to mention plenty of caveats, but things haven't panned out that way as they sit eighth and well off the pace.

So, after 14 games and with eight matchdays left, it's time to review some of that preseason madness as well as well as casting an eye towards how things will settle in mid-May.

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Preseason prediction: 2nd
Current prediction: 3rd

The most successful English team in women's football are no strangers to the WSL top four. Yet for all their quality, they boast just three titles in the WSL era. Although the Gunners have been there or thereabouts this season, the familiar issue of dropping needless points to teams lower down the table has them chasing the top two.

Arsenal have occasionally snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, but their three losses this season have come against West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, while there has again been a predictability about those dropped points from a team who haven't always been the most dynamic on the pitch.

While just three points behind the top two (albeit with a considerably weaker goal difference), trips away to Chelsea and Manchester City could ultimately halt any title hopes.


Preseason prediction: 3rd
Current prediction: 7th

Things went well for Villa last season when they finished fifth, so much so that the idea of coach Carla Ward adding to her squad and building on that success was alluring. However, their football has told an entirely different story.

In hindsight, it's been something of a theme in the WSL that a team which pushes into fourth or fifth in one season then suffers a jolt back to earth the next. But few have found themselves sliding as far as the Villainesses. The problems have been hard to ignore and while there have been gaps in personnel due to suspensions and injuries, the form of those who have been available has not been anything to write home about.

Overall, the team have looked stretched and unable to muster much resistance to the rigors of the league. There has been a recent uptick in form, which has allowed for some breathing space, but a rebuild doesn't seem very far away.


Preseason prediction: 4th
Current prediction: 11th

With 10 players leaving, 11 coming in, and a few loans thrown in for good measure over the summer, Brighton entered this season with almost a new team. That kind of thing can create momentum (like San Diego Wave's inaugural season in NWSL when they claimed a third-place regular season finish), but Brighton have not hit the ground running.

There were some gambles taken by the club that, if they had paid off, should have given the team more rigidity and flavour going forward. But they did not pay off and it has already been a season to forget for the Seagulls.

Currently without a permanent manager -- a position they found themselves in twice last season -- after the shock sacking of Mel Phillips on Feb. 2, they sit 11th out of 12 teams but have a five-point cushion to Bristol City propping up the table.

Brighton have potential: they have beaten Man City and held Man United to a draw this season, so they should stay safe. There is undoubtedly talent in the squad, but they need to find the right manager to take them forward and bring in a style that showcases the ability of their players.


Preseason prediction: 12th
Current prediction: 12th

Bristol City have improved as the season has progressed. Indeed, no other team in the WSL have learned so much in such a short space of time and shown such palpable week-on-week growth. But that's of little comfort to a team who have just one win and three draws in their 14 matches. For all their encouraging performances, they haven't been backed up with all-important results.

There are still points out there for the Robins this season, but it's not easy to see them overcoming a five-point deficit and avoiding the drop straight back down to the Championship again.

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Preseason prediction: 1st
Current prediction: 2nd

Perennial winners and current WSL leaders Chelsea have not actually looked that good this season. Like others around them, there has been a helping of luck involved in some of their wins, going back to the first day when they could have dropped points had Spurs not been lacking a clinical touch.

But Chelsea's most concerning performances have come against the two teams hot on their heels, as the lack of ideas against Man City in a 1-1 draw October and in the 4-1 defeat away to Arsenal in December sounded the alarm. And that was before the loss of star striker Sam Kerr to an ACL injury -- the same ailment that has just sidelined her replacement Mia Fishel for the rest of the season.

Kerr has so often been a player for the big moments, one to grab a game by the scruff of its neck and influence the result. Without the Australia international, the Blues have strayed into rudderless territory and despite spending €500,000 to sign Mayra Ramírez in January, there's a question over where Chelsea's key goals will come from. That's a concern if the title race goes down to the wire with goal difference having a say.

Chelsea fans will, of course, remember how Emma Hayes' team chased down a deficit last season, claiming win after win as they dispatched each game in hand en route to being crowned champions. Last season they could rely on Pernille Harder's exquisite form upon her return to fitness, but she left for Bayern Munich and the return of defender and captain Millie Bright won't have the same impact on the attacking side.

In Hayes' last season at the club before taking the USWNT job, it looks like they might just be pipped to the post.


Preseason prediction: 11th
Current prediction: 9th

It has been an attritional season for Everton and has, at times, even felt like they have incurred some sort of cosmic punishment. Week after week, players have succumbed to injury and an already threadbare squad has struggled for consistency.

The team that coach Brian Sørensen has on paper is not one of the strongest in the league, but their performances routinely draw praise, even when not picking up points, as there is a fighting mentality to the Merseysiders.

Indeed, even with the injury handicap that Everton are working with, there's no question they've exceeded expectations. Eight points clear of Bristol City, the Toffees should be able to solidify their safety, even if half the team is stuck in the treatment room.


Preseason prediction: 9th
Current prediction: 8th

After flirting with relegation last season, Leicester City came racing out of the blocks this campaign, winning their first two games on the bounce. But after such a strong start, three months without a league win followed. That could have taken its toll, but the Foxes stayed the course and have begun to pick up wins again in the WSL and look to be going through a period of maturation.

One of the midtable teams who aren't able to close in on the top four but look safe from the threat of relegation, Leicester have some work to do over the summer if they are to move forward under coach Willie Kirk.


Preseason prediction: 7th
Current prediction: 5th

If there was one alarm bell for Liverpool ahead of this season, based on the last, it was their forgettable away form. Their hopes hinged on an uptick of form on the road and a 1-0 win at the Emirates against Arsenal on opening day set the tone for the Reds, who have claimed some important wins (against Man United and Brighton) away from Prenton Park -- though have also been on the end of thrashings by Man City and Chelsea.

Liverpool's adaptability has been key and the experienced Matt Beard has shown some of his best coaching since the last time Liverpool won the WSL in 2014. On course to pick up more points this season, Liverpool still look like they will finish just behind Man United outside the top four, but a win over their rivals at home in the penultimate game on May 5 could change that trajectory.


Preseason prediction: 5th
Current prediction: 1st

No team have played better football than City this season, and the eight points they have dropped can all be marked with an asterisk, given the dominant performances they put in against Brighton (a 1-0 defeat after 35 shots; 13 on target), Arsenal (a 2-1 defeat, due to a late goal) and Chelsea (a 1-1 draw, with the Blues scoring a late equaliser after City were reduced to nine players.)

City have continued to play the same way, leaning into a steadfast starting XI and allowing their attack to become greater than the sum of its parts. And, unlike in previous seasons under Gareth Taylor, when the team had their backs to the wall the players have begun to find the key goals. From Lauren Hemp's four-minute brace against Aston Villa in December, to the unexpected late pairing of a Hemp overhead kick and a Chloe Kelly OIímpico (when you score direct from a corner) against Leicester.

These are the kinds of moments City have lacked in the past. Now, on top of WSL top scorer Bunny Shaw's 14 goals from 13 games, they have the desire and improvisation to keep finding wins, as well as solutions to problems -- such as Jessica Park's recent transformation into a world-beating No. 10 to cover for the injured Jill Roord. City look unstoppable.

There will be a few more tests before the season is done, not least progression in both domestic cups that will stretch Taylor's rarely rested starting XI. But they look confident and it's a question of who, if anyone, can stop City from claiming their first title for eight years.

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Preseason prediction: 6th
Current prediction: 4th

Last season there was a suspicion that United had overperformed and rode their luck on the way to a historic second-placed finish. So what we are seeing this season is more of a rebalancing.

United lost two big players in Ona Batlle (Barcelona) and Alessia Russo (Arsenal), but still invested heavily and their last outing before the international break, a 3-1 defeat away to Arsenal, should set alarm bells ringing. That performance might have been an outlier, but it's more likely to be another indication of regression from the Red Devils this season.

Among their final eight games, United face Man City, Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea so could well fall further away than the current seven-point gap to third. But if they can remain a little more consistent than those chasing them, fourth seems to be achievable.


Preseason prediction: 8th
Current prediction: 6th

The initial thought was that it would take new coach Robert Vilahamn a good half a season to wash away the lingering debris left behind after a messy 2022-23 that saw Spurs finish ninth. Yet the Swedish manager started well and wasted little time evolving their style of play and repurposing players along the way.

Even though there have been stumbles (like the 7-0 thrashing by Manchester City away from home), there have been sizable highs as well, such as a first-ever win in the north London derby over Arsenal. Vilahamn's approach has been a holistic one and he has refused to get ahead of himself, consistently talking about accepting that not every game will be won and how to help his players maximise their growth from both the positive and negative experiences.

Like so many teams in the WSL, a good run of form in the remaining games could change Spurs' outlook and while it's more than possible they'll climb to fifth, the squad is still evolving and a sixth-place finish just behind Liverpool looks more likely.


Preseason prediction: 10th
Current prediction: 10th

Like Brighton and Spurs, there was a certain amount of clearing house to be done before the start of the season. Taking up her post later in the summer than some of her counterparts, coach Rehanne Skinner started somewhat on the back foot and any early forward steps seemed to be quickly followed with regression. But, having strengthened in January with the signings of USWNT star Kristie Mewis and Australia's Katrina Gorry, That made West Ham look to be in a better position in the New Year.

There's always ups and downs with the Hammers, with fans used to the rollercoaster, yet perhaps for the first time in a long time the foundations have firmed up and the team can finally kick on. While West Ham are not expected to race up the table, there should at least be more wins to come and a promise of a more stable future.