Chelsea Ladies and Manchester City Women have been locked in a domestic battle as the top-two teams in English football since the 2014 season – and that competitive rivalry is continuing to grow week by week.
The rivalry began in conjunction with the club rebranding of City back in 2014, which included a slight name change from Manchester City Ladies. The current manager, Nick Cushing, was appointed just a few months previous. Ahead of the 2014 WSL season, a number of big-name players joined the club, including England internationals Steph Houghton, Jill Scott and Karen Bardsley.
Following the influx of top quality players into the Manchester club, they claimed their first piece of major silverware in 2014 – the FA WSL Cup. On their way to lifting the trophy, City dumped Chelsea out of the cup in the semi-finals, to mark the beginning of their rivalry.
As the Citizens continued to grow in the WSL 1, the Blues were also going from strength to strength. The 2015 season saw the pair battle it out for the league title, with Chelsea just pipping City by two points to be crowned champions.
The following campaign, Nick Cushing’s side got their revenge, as they claimed the WSL 1 title for the first time, finishing the season five points clear of the Blues in second place. To cap off the Citizens’ remarkable season, they claimed the 2016 FA Cup after beating Birmingham 1-0 in the final.
Last year, the WSL 1 was shortened into the ‘Spring Series’, which was an interim edition of the regular season, played between the 2016 and 2017 campaigns. There were just eight games played in the Spring Series, which saw Chelsea regain their title with only goal difference separating themselves from City.
This season is the first edition of the league running as a winter league, with sides competing in more of a similar schedule to the men’s game.
The Citizens began their campaign determined to challenge for the title once again, and they got off to an excellent start, astonishingly winning 15 out of their first 16 domestic matches.
However, despite that excellent run, City have since hit their worst form in over two years, losing three of their last five domestic games. That run saw them lose the Continental Tyres Cup final to Arsenal and slip from the top of the WSL 1, with Chelsea leapfrogging them into first place.
The Blues also had a superb start to the season, recording victories in 11 out of their opening 12 games. Unlike the Citizens, Chelsea have managed to maintain their form, with their only domestic defeat coming in the Continental Tyres Cup semi-finals. Any guesses as to who that loss came against? Yep, it was City, of course.
The first league fixture between the sides this season resulted in a 0-0 stalemate at Chelsea. Then, to show how little there is between them at the moment, the return fixture saw them play out a 2-2 draw, in which the Blues threw away a two-goal lead.
City are three points behind Chelsea at the top of the league, but they have a game in hand on their WSL 1 rivals, giving them the chance to go level on goal difference.
The pair have also been drawn against each other in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, which is sure to be yet another tense, closely-fought game between English footballs top-two sides. The tie will also be broadcasted on the BBC, with the semi-finals of the competition being shown on TV for the first time.
The two clubs added yet another string to their bow last week, as they both contributed to making Champions League history. After qualifying for the semi-finals of the competition, they became the first two British teams to make it into that stage of the Champions League in the same year.
Following City and Chelsea’s passage through to the semi-finals, the Blues’ star striker, Fran Kirby, said:
“We have got one of the best leagues in Europe, if not all over, and it is improving all the time. It will generate people wanting to come and play in this league. People are interested to see what is going on here.”
In addition, the Chelsea manager, Emma Hayes, said:
“I know some people will probably want us to face each other in the semi-finals as then at least one English team goes through. Who’s to say both English teams can’t qualify and meet each other in the final?”
It will be thrilling to see whether Chelsea and Manchester City can make it through to the final, where they could emulate the 2008 men’s Champions League finale between the Blues and Manchester United, and show how big of a force the English league is becoming.
The domestic battle between the Blues and the Citizens is sure to rumble on until the end of the season, with them both vying for the FA Cup and league bragging rights. Who will end up on top? It is impossible to say – but it is certainly going to be exciting.