Chelsea have been named winners of the Women’s Super League title on a points-per-game ratio, while Liverpool have been relegated.
When the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic in March, Chelsea were one point behind leaders Manchester City with a game in hand.
Aston Villa, who were top of the Championship, will replace the WSL’s bottom club Liverpool next season.
The Reds said they are “disappointed” with how the season has been concluded.
It was decided on 25 May that the season would end with immediate effect, with 45 games outstanding in the WSL and 36 in the Championship.
The Football Association board reached a “majority decision” to decide final positions on a “basic points-per-game basis”, with promotion and relegation “determined on sporting merit”.
How the WSL table has changed
This is how the table looked at the time of the suspension:
Based on points gathered per game during the 2019-20 season, Chelsea have jumped above Manchester City into first position:
Everton and Tottenham Hotspur are the only other two clubs to change positions in the top flight compared to how the table looked at the time of the suspension, with Everton moving above Spurs into sixth place.
Chelsea and Manchester City will be England’s representatives in next season’s Women’s Champions League.
The FA’s statement added that it will “work with the clubs and our stakeholders across football to plan for next season”, and hope to announce a target start date for the 2020-21 season soon.
It is still not known if this season’s Women’s FA Cup, which had reached the quarter-final stage, will be concluded, with further discussions planned for later this month.
Tom Garry, BBC Sport
Of all the leagues required by Uefa to decide on a fair way to put forward teams for European competitions by “sporting merit”, the WSL was arguably in the most difficult position of all, following a thrilling, three-way title race, and many will find it strange for the ‘champions’ to have been sitting in second spot.
Nevertheless, Chelsea are more than worthy winners. Unbeaten in the WSL since January 2019 and having come out on top in this season’s head-to-head fixtures against their closest rivals, they had the destiny of the title firmly in their hands prior to the pandemic’s intervention.
Arsenal will feel particularly unfortunate to have missed out on a European spot by just 0.1 points per game, but the Gunners’ hopes of competing in next season’s Women’s Champions League are technically not over yet, because a decision on how to finish the 2019-20 competition is still pending and Joe Montemurro’s side had reached the quarter-finals.
If that competition were to resume later this summer, the rules state the winners would be given a qualification spot for 2020-21, even if they had not earned a place via their domestic league.
At the bottom, some will see Liverpool’s relegation as controversial, with such a large proportion of the fixtures remaining, but the Reds had looked in serious danger of the drop throughout the campaign.
Their demise comes amid the hugely contrasting backdrop of their men’s team enjoying a 25-point lead in the top flight, but other Premier League-backed WSL sides have seen much more investment from their men’s club owners by comparison and the Reds’ board must now decide whether they seriously want to take on the women’s game’s elite.
Replacing them are an Aston Villa setup packed with ambition, having recently hired former England forward Eniola Aluko as their director of women’s football, and their arrival sets up the first WSL West Midlands derbies for next term against Birmingham City, whose longstanding unofficial status as the city’s top women’s side may well be under threat.
Chelsea claim third WSL title
For Chelsea, who were unbeaten throughout the league campaign, the title is their third in the WSL era, and their second in the space of three seasons.
They also claimed victory in this year’s Continental League Cup final, beating Arsenal at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground.
They have ended up on top of the table after one of the closest, three-way title races in recent years, with just 0.2 points per game separating them and last year’s champions Arsenal.
None of the top three were beaten by any of the league’s other nine sides this term, but Chelsea enjoyed the best head-to-head record from the matches involving the trio, all six of which had been played before the season was curtailed.
Emma Hayes’ side did the double over Arsenal and beat Manchester City at home, before being involved in a dramatic 3-3 draw with City in February.
The success gives Chelsea boss Hayes a seventh major trophy with the club, including two Women’s FA Cups and 2017’s transitional Spring Series league.
Hayes dedicated the title win to the “frontline workers who have been the real heroes throughout this pandemic”.
She added: “Football pales into insignificance at a time like this, but it also has the capacity to bring joy and happiness to fans and communities everywhere. For my players and staff, winning the league is something to be proud of and I will tell them that when I speak to them.
“Of course we would have preferred to play the remaining games, but player welfare was always our priority and finishing the season was ultimately not possible.
“We have to respect the decision of the FA, clubs and people involved in the game who have decided this was the best and fairest outcome.”
‘The realisation of a dream’
Kelly Simmons, FA director of the women’s professional game, said: “I would like to thank the clubs for their ongoing collaboration and support throughout this period. They have played a crucial role in helping to shape the decision-making process, with the welfare of the players and clubs first and foremost.
“I would also like to congratulate the players, coaches and staff of Chelsea and Aston Villa. Although the 2019-20 season has been prematurely curtailed, it has been a hard-fought campaign and their success is well deserved, with the outcome based on sporting merit.”
Villa will appear in the WSL for the first time next season, and their head coach Gemma Davies said: “We wanted to finish the season on the pitch and win the league by showcasing the work that players and staff had put in to get us to this point.
“We put so many hours, so much hard graft and so much passion into this season that it’s fantastic to have been rewarded for that.
“For every player, staff member and supporter, promotion to the Super League is the realisation of a dream that we’ve all worked so hard to achieve.”
Tiers three to seven of the women’s domestic pyramid were cancelled in March and results expunged, meaning there will be no promotion and relegation between the second and third tiers.
Where did it go wrong for Liverpool?
As two-time winners, Liverpool are the WSL’s highest-profile relegated side since the breakaway league began in 2011.
Vicky Jepson’s team won just one and drew three of their 14 completed matches this season, but with more than a third of their original 22-game campaign unplayed, they had held high hopes of getting out of trouble on the field.
With eight games left, they were one point adrift of 11th-placed Birmingham City, but Blues had a game in hand on the Reds.
Scoring goals has been an issue for Liverpool, who netted only eight times in their 14 league games in 2019-20.
In the previous season, they managed more than one goal per game and finished eighth.