The WSL faces the same dilemma as those further down the footballing pyramid; does it see out the season behind closed doors for the sake of sporting integrity, or does it end the season now and way up the fairest way to settle proceedings?
Following the FA’s most recent statement, it seems a question of when, not if, the WSL and Championship will have their season’s cancelled.
So what are the different options for finishing the season, and how fair would this be on certain sides?
Can it Return?
A huge reason clubs are so keen for the Premier League to resume is their reliance on TV broadcast revenue.
This is not the case for women’s teams. Instead, their predicament is not dissimilar to those in Leagues One and Two. Putting on games behind closed doors and constantly testing players would simply cost too much money.
What About Integrity?
The difficulty for women’s sides is the cancellations to games during the winter months means that all WSL teams have played a different number of games: between 13 and 16. That’s between 59 and 72% of their fixtures for the league season.
Simply calling the season as it is comes with a whole load of other ramifications due to this fixture completion mismatch.
Awarding the title, settling European and relegation spots while completing the season somehow – be it on the pitch or deciding it without another ball being kicked – is called for in the name of sporting integrity. But did the league really have it in the first place?
Teams have frequently been awarded a place in the WSL not based on sporting merit, but rather their infrastructure and investment in the game. Manchester City were bumped up to the WSL in 2013, as were West Ham in 2018, without actually gaining promotion.
Doncaster Rovers Belles were relegated in 2013 before the season had even kicked off.
Manchester United had never earned promotion to the Championship, they were simply formed in 2018 and automatically placed into the second division.
Clubs have spent the past decade buying their way into the top two tiers. Can we really start complaining when a global pandemic forces league positions to be decided slightly unfairly?
Points Per Game
Here’s the full @BarclaysFAWSL table and what it would look like if done by PPG (unweighted) or PPG (weighted). And a thread on it, and the @FAWC_. FYI, weighted is when home and away points are taken into account. There is very little difference as seen here. 1/5 pic.twitter.com/9PAnVbcSSt
— Suzy Wrack (@SuzyWrack) May 18, 2020
Manchester City currently lead Chelsea at the top of the table by a point but have played a game more.
Should the season be decided on points per game, this would see Chelsea crowned WSL champions and qualify for the Champions League alongside Manchester City, while Liverpool would be relegated.
In the Championship, Aston Villa would be promoted and Charlton would be relegated.
Who Does This Suit?
This would obviously benefit champions elect Chelsea, who would win the title despite collecting fewer points than Manchester City.
At the bottom of the table, Birmingham and Bristol City have both just won twice all season – and would survive by the skin of their teeth. Birmingham in particular were in a woeful run of form, and had trips to Manchester United and Everton, as well as the visit of Arsenal still to come.
Who Would Feel Hard Done By?
Manchester City can feel aggrieved should they miss out on the title, despite sitting top of the table when the league was suspended.
Arsenal would miss out on a spot in the Champions League, despite sitting just three points off Chelsea, and four points behind Man City with a game in hand over the latter. Both City and Chelsea still had a trip to Manchester United on the horizon, where Arsenal had already recorded a hard fought 1-0 victory earlier in the season.
Liverpool would also suffer: relegated despite being just a point from safety with eight games remaining.
Sheffield United, meanwhile, sit just six points behind Aston Villa with eight games left to play in the Championship, but would miss out on promotion. Charlton would still go down despite being just two points from safety with two games in hand over second bottom Coventry.
Points Per Game With No Relegation
Brighton manager Hope Powell has suggested that points per game without relegation would be the fairest way to conclude the season (via Paul Hayward), as it would be ‘sensible’ and clubs are ‘not in a position to test players every two days’.
Relegating teams when it is so tight at the bottom of the table – when not even 75% of fixtures have been fulfilled – would rightly leave clubs feeling short changed.
Who Does This Suit?
Bottom of the table Liverpool would live to fight another day, despite registering just one win and eight goals all season.
Who Would Feel Hard Done By?
Aston Villa women have enjoyed an excellent campaign in this season’s Championship; they have collected 40 points from a possible 42, as well as beating Liverpool in the Continental Cup – demonstrating they are more than ready to mix it in the WSL.
While it would seem harsh to relegate Liverpool, denying Villa promotion would also seem unjust.
Promoting Villa and extending the top flight, on the surface, would be a legitimate way of keeping both teams happy.