The Women’s Super League relegation battle is heating up and February could be a crucial month.
The transfer window has closed, meaning clubs can no longer strengthen their squads before the end of the season and an exciting finale is in store in the WSL.
Liverpool, Reading and Leicester City are involved in key fixtures in February, Tottenham face tough opposition and Brighton are still seeking a first victory under a new manager.
Leicester are bottom of the table with one win from 10 matches this season and are favourites to go down.
However, they made several signings in the transfer window and got their sole victory in January under new manager Willie Kirk, who took over in November.
That win came against Brighton, who are yet to win a WSL game under their new boss Jens Scheuer, although they have games in hand on the teams around them.
Tenth-placed Reading have lost their past three successive WSL games, but those defeats were all by a single goal and included matches against high-flying Chelsea and Manchester United.
Liverpool, meanwhile, sit five points off the bottom after struggling with injuries to key attacking players in recent weeks.
The team on the most worrying run of form are Spurs, who have suffered five straight league defeats after the high of beating Brighton 8-0 in October.
Leicester are the team most in need of points but they were beaten heavily by this weekend’s opponents, Manchester City, in October so their next fixture against Liverpool will likely be their key focus in February.
However, they can take heart from being the only team in the bottom five to have won their most recent WSL match.
Kelly Chambers’ Reading, who had a quiet transfer window, will also face Liverpool in what is their only game this month.
They have played at least two games more than the rest of the teams in the bottom five so will be desperate to pick up something from that game.
For Liverpool, those two fixtures against relegation rivals in back-to-back showdowns at Prenton Park could have a big say in whether they survive their first year back in the top flight.
Matt Beard’s side have won only two matches this season – but both of those came at home.
The Reds, however, have few attacking options because of injuries, while Natasha Dowie, who joined on loan on transfer deadline day from the Royals, will also be unable to face her parent club.
Second-bottom Brighton play an injury-hit Aston Villa twice in eight days during the same period.
Scheuer may still be seeking his first league victory as manager, but Brighton claimed a morale boosting 7-0 win in the FA Cup on Sunday – albeit against a West Brom side in the third tier.
It promises to be another challenging month for Tottenham, who have not picked up a point since October, as they host defending champions Chelsea before playing league leaders United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 12 February.
Leicester manager Kirk said he had a “target number of points” which he feels would secure safety in the WSL but would not disclose what it was when asked in January.
Seven clubs have been relegated from the top tier based on performance since the WSL was introduced in 2011.
Sunderland were demoted two tiers after not being awarded a licence during a restructure in 2018. The previous season the Football Association had removed promotion and relegation.
Two-time English league champions Doncaster Rovers Belles fell to the second tier as part of another restructure in 2013, while Liverpool were relegated on a points-per-game basis during Covid in 2020.
The highest points tally of the relegated teams was Bristol City’s 12 after a 22-game season.
Liverpool came closest to safety in 2020 when they were just one point off Birmingham City after 14 games when the league was cut short by the pandemic.
Yeovil Town were the most comfortably relegated side – 15 points off their nearest challenger – while Everton were 12 points away from safety in 2014.
The relegation battle has become closer in recent seasons with Bristol City and Birmingham City two points off safety when they went down.
Birmingham City were the only team to go down having won more than two games in a WSL season (three), with two of those coming away from home.