As contrasting fortunes go, today’s WSL match between Reading and Chelsea doesn’t come much bigger, with the full-time whistle deciding both the WSL champions and relegated team.
For Reading there’s only one option: they must beat the current league leaders just to stand a chance of survival. Even then, they need to rely on Brighton in reality taking all three points in their home match against relegation rivals Leicester.
Unfortunately for the Royals, Chelsea also need a win and maximum points would guarantee their fourth consecutive WSL title. Chelsea could, however, still be crowned champions if they match the Manchester United result, who are away to Liverpool.
Last week, before the match at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Reading tweeted to say ‘Make no mistake, this is our cup final’.
Well, mistakes excepted (and after the 4-1 defeat), this week is genuinely our cup final! If Reading lose they don’t have the privilege of reflecting in the summer and going again in the WSL. Instead, they will have the new challenge of rebuilding, rebudgeting and restructuring ready for a new and different campaign, one league below, in the Championship.
Leading up to the match, the views of the different managers were also contrasting, sounding more like match-day deflection with Chelsea’s Emma Hayes stating that ‘people had written off her Chelsea team this season’ and Marc Skinner saying his Manchester United team ‘deserve more credit’.
The two relegation-fighting managers’ comments were certainly much more realistic and honest. Reflecting on last week’s defeat against Spurs, Kelly Chambers said “I’m hurting, we are all hurting, but I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason so we will see what happens.”
It feels difficult to disagree with her comment when she said: “We’ve seen with the growth of the women’s game, the injection of finances available and there comes a point where you just cannot keep up.”
Optimistically, Chambers added: “This is the position we’re in, can we do it? Well, if you don’t believe what’s the point stepping out there on Saturday?”
Leicester manager Willie Kirk thought his team switched off last weekend, following their disappointing defeat at home to West Ham, after playing 24 hours later than the Royals. “I believe that if Reading had beat Tottenham or if the matches were played at the same time we (Leicester) would have won. We let an external feeling dictate our emotions,” he said.
Kirk implied he didn’t want his players being distracted again by what may be happening at the SCL Stadium on Saturday. ‘’The players have been on it in training and want to prove a point. We want to stay away from (the psychology of) matching Reading’s result.”
It’s expected to be a record attendance today, with the East Stand just about sold out and prior to kick-off there will be two presentations. The first is to mark Amalie Eikeland reaching 100 appearances for the Royals (against Tottenham last weekend) and, in a really nice touch, there will be a guard of honour by both Reading and Chelsea players to recognise the work that Kelly Chambers has done throughout her career - from a player to manager, including promotion to the WSL in 2015.
If the match ends in defeat and relegation the pre-match accolades for Kelly Chambers may be a fitting final tribute to a new phoenix rebuild during the summer.
Is it possible? I’m trying to stay positive. As Kelly Chambers says, there’s no point otherwise and, of course we’ve done it before, beating Chelsea live on Sky, holding on after an early Deanne Rose goal in December 2021 (and look who’s back for this game!).
Fingers crossed for a miracle or lightning striking twice - see you there.