A-Z of the WSL

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

A full A-Z of the Women's Super League (2020/21)


Catherine Ivill

The 2020-21 season is now well and truly underway, and although we may not be able to get up close and personal to the action this time round, there is still plenty to keep us excited in what is quite possibly, the biggest year of the league so far. So, let us steer you toward key players, pioneers and points, as we run you through a full A to Z of the Women’s Super League. A is for Arsenal The North London giants have long dominated in the world of women’s football and have hordes of silverware to their name. The Gunners treasures include 3 WSL titles, 12 Premier League National Division titles, 5 Continental Cups, a mammoth 14 FA Cups and they also carry the honour of being the only English side to have ever won the UEFA Champions League. Arsenal have certainly started their season with a bang; big score lines, numerous hat tricks, and Vivianne Miedema’s history making 50th goal all conclude that there is no doubt, Joe Montemurro’s Gunners are gunning for that top spot. A is for Aston Villa Newly promoted Aston Villa have a tall order establishing themselves in their inaugural year in the top division. Villa gained promotion from the Championship after being unbeaten all season, and although the step up is a vast one, the Villans are not to be written off too soon. In their opener against Manchester City, Villa defended exceptionally well and kept City on their toes. Although they ultimately conceded two goals, they were by no means, outplayed. B is for Birmingham City Birmingham City needed a shake up after finding themselves close to relegation last season. Cue, Carla Ward. The Blue’s new manager has certainly taken the bull by the horns and breathed a fresh lease of life into the previously struggling side. Already Birmingham have impressed with their solid defensive work, as well as some outstanding individual performances, notably from newly acquired defender Rachel Corsie, midfielder Christine Murray and forward Claudia Walker. B is for Brighton & Hove Albion Former England manager, Hope Powell, heads up Brighton in her third year at the helm. After ending the 2019-2020 season in the latter half of the table, the Seagulls will be looking to climb to a middle position. True to this ethos, Brighton have made an admirable start, bagging a win and two draws from their first five games. Powell is developing a dangerous looking team, additions such as the technically gifted Denise O’Sullivan, bringing an impactful strength to the side this season. B is for Bristol City Tanya Oxtoby’s Bristol City have work to do to keep them out of the relegation zone this season. The Robins finished in tenth place last year, and will be looking to achieve the same this time round. Although they can find themselves on the back end of some big score lines, Bristol are capable of producing some very good play, as seen in their early match against Arsenal, in which they contained the Gunners with solidarity and even managed to sink a goal past Manuela Zinsberger. The Robins’ keeper Sophie Baggaley is a rising talent and is certainly one to keep your eye on. C is for Chelsea The reigning champions not only won last year’s league title, but also the Continental Cup and the reinstated Community Shield. The London Blues have brought in leading names across the year to defend their growing trophy cabinet. The signings of Sam Kerr, Melanie Leupolz, Niamh Charles and Pernille Harder have taken the staggering depth of Emma Hayes’ squad to a whole new level of primacy. Chelsea flaunt what is a rather pleasant dilemma, having at least two players for each position at any one time. In short, what Hayes is building is arguably, one of the best sides in the world.

Mia Eriksson

D is for Gemma Davies Aston Villa’s Gemma Davies, leads her team into the WSL as the league’s youngest manager. At just 28, Davies heads up the Villans in top tier after an outstanding season in the Championship. Davies has acquired former Chelsea defender Anita Asante to add to her ranks, which already include former WSL players Emma Follis and Chloe Arthur. Davies has a tough stint ahead of her, but after such a remarkable run last year, there is no doubt that she is up to the job. E is for Everton Everton have been the surprise of the season so far, seriously challenging for a higher position in the table after finishing a reputable sixth last year. Willie Kirk’s side have attacked the early part of the season with an appetite that looks to threaten the leagues typically expected outcome. Australia’s Hayley Raso, Scotland’s Claire Emslie and France’s Valérie Gauvin have brought with them an added energy and flair, making the Toffee’s all the more exciting to watch. F is for Fara Williams MBE Reading’s anchor, Fara Williams, is one of the league’s, and the country’s, most experienced players. She is the Lionesses most capped player of all time, having made 172 appearances so far, and is well on her way to achieving the same in the domestic league. The midfielder is renowned for her passing accuracy and merciless free kicks. Williams’ name should be known far and wide; she is an endless pioneer of the women’s game, her continued resilience and courage an inspiration to many. G is for Goalkeeping Perhaps sometimes a little over looked for their efforts, goalkeepers can often take the brunt of a bad day. Yet undeterred by such woes, the WSL boasts some rather fine work between the posts. Whether it is the developing gifts of Manchester City’s Ellie Roebuck, Birmingham City’s Hannah Hampton, Bristol City’s Sophie Baggaley or Aston Villa’s Sian Rogers; the growing expertise of Arsenal’s Manuela Zinsberger, Reading's Grace Maloney, Tottenham’s Becky Spencer or Manchester United’s Mary Earps; the experience of Chelsea duo Ann-Katrin Berger and Carly Telford; or City’s trusted Karen Bardsley; there is never a shortage of goalkeeping talent on display. H is for Lauren Hemp Manchester City forward, Lauren Hemp, had a magnificent season last year, so much so that she received her first senior call-up and subsequent debut for the Lionesses. Hemp was a standout player in England’s SheBelieves campaign, in which she ran rings around a certain World Cup winning side. With an instinct that sees her attack games with a proficiency, vigour and pace that is incomprehensible at times, Hemp is most certainly one to watch. I is for Sophie Ingle Wales captain, Sophie Ingle, is one that doesn’t necessarily jump out at you, yet the Chelsea midfielder is one of the league’s most accomplished players. Ingle is calm, she is collected and she does her job with such little fuss that sometimes one neglects to remember just how important she is. Ingle safeguards Chelsea, quietly dictating from the middle. But just to make sure we’re not resting easy, every now and again, she’ll treat us to a piece of Ingle magic and net an absolute screamer.

Neil Graham

J is for Ji So-Yun Chelsea’s Ji So-Yun is quite simply a force to be reckoned with. Her movement, vision and creativity are astonishing, and when given the freedom to roam there is no stopping her. The midfielder effortlessly makes the most challenging of scenarios seem positively easy to navigate. To compare her to another is difficult, but it would be fair to say that, although they are rare, Ji’s bad days are still overtly favourable by anybody else’s standard’s. K is for Kim Little Arsenal captain, Kim Little, is a player that needs no introduction. Often regarded as one of the most difficult players to come up against, Arsenal’s play is elevated just that little (pardon the pun!) bit further when she is on the field. Not the most vocal of leaders, Little instead leads by example, letting her feet do the talking. Her exemplary passing ability and movement concur with her ever-present vision, causing her to be one of the league’s most dangerous playmakers. L is for Lucy Bronze England defender Lucy Bronze is widely, and rightfully, considered as one of the best right backs in the world. Bronze has returned to the WSL with former club Manchester City after a three-year spell with French Champions Olympique Lyonnais. Bronze’s time at Lyon was nothing short of remarkable, and she ended her time there as the only English player in history to have won three consecutive Champions League titles. The fullback is perilous in every game she plays. M is for Manchester City Finishing in second place last season, Manchester City are aiming high, playing to keep their place in the “top three” after dominance in the past few years. New boss, Gareth Taylor inherited a fine side from the recently departed Nick Cushing, including no less than twelve Lionesses. City managed to secure a number of big names in their transfer window, including defender Lucy Bronze, USA midfielders Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle and Everton’s star striker, Chloe Kelly. Mewis and Kelly, in particular, have caused problems for oppositions and look to be very influential indeed. M is for Manchester United Casey Stoney’s Red Devil’s certainly look to mean business this year. After respectably finishing in fourth place last season, United’s six incredibly strong summer signings could very well see them begin to give the “top three” a run for their money. As recruitment goes, Stoney has pulled out all the stops, signing Spanish defender Ona Battle, German forward Ivana Fuso, Lionesses Lucy Staniforth and Alessia Russo, as well as world champions Tobin Heath and Christen Press. N is for Ashleigh Neville Yes, there is more than one Neville in English women’s football. Whilst Phil Neville closes out his tenure with the Lionesses, defender Ashleigh Neville continues to build a solid reputation on the pitch with the Lilywhites. The fullback is a principal figure in Tottenham’s defence. Sprightly runs, clever interceptions and a developing capability of keeping the most devilish of oppositions contained means she is sure to catch your eye. O is for Overseas Talent The WSL has seen an influx of overseas talent over the past couple of years; players have hailed from every corner of the globe to join the top tier of English football, which speaks volumes as to the growing quality of the league. Amongst these are Australia’s Sam Kerr, Alanna Kennedy, Emily van Egmond, Cailtin Foord, Lydia Williams, and Hayley Raso; Switzerland’s Lia Wälti, Alisha Lehmann and Malin Gut; Dutch powerhouses Vivianne Miedema, Daniëlle van de Donk, Inessa Kaagman, Siri Worm, Danique Kerkdijk, Jackie Groenen and Jill Roord; Norwegian stars Maren Mjelde, Aurora Mikalsen, Maria Thorisdottir, Ingrid Moe Wold, Cecile Redisch and Guro Reiten; Denmark’s finest, Pernille Harder, Stine Larsen and Nicoline Sørensen; Sweden’s Madgalena Eriksson, Lotta Okvist, Nor Mustafa and Jonna Andersson; New Zealand’s Ria Percival and Rebekah Scott, as well as sharp Canadians, Shelina Zadorsky, Adriana Leon and Janine Beckie. With these players enhancing the already abundant talent from the four home nations, the WSL is the place to be. P is for Pernille Harder Danish captain, Pernille Harder, made history as the most expensive signing in women’s football ever, with a transfer fee of a suspected €300,000 in her move to Chelsea from German Champions, Wolfsburg, in the summer. Striker, Harder, known for her positional excellence and notable finish, comes to the English league with a success of victories under her belt, including four Bundesliga titles. The 27-year-old was also named as UEFA’s Player of the Year in 2018, and has been most recently won Germany’s Women’s Footballer of the Year.

via Islington Gazette

Q is for Quality There is often a lot of comparison between the men’s and women’s game, typically with the onus of the difference in “quality”. Whilst there will always be differences of opinion on this, the Women’s Super League unequivocally has a tremendous amount of “quality” running though it. World class players from across the globe, World Cup winners, captains of the four home nations, developing youth, intensifying competition; it’s all there for the taking. R is for Reading With a simmering pool of experience in their ranks, Reading are not to be underestimated. Welsh midfielder Jess Fishlock, England’s Fara Williams, Scotland’s stout defender Emma Mitchell, the recently recovered Danielle Carter and captain Natasha Harding at the very core of the maturing side. The knowledge these players bring to Kelly Chambers’ squad should certainly not be overlooked this season. S is for Sandy MacIver Everton’s Sandy MacIver, is one of the league’s most exciting goalkeeping prospects, and she looks ready to prove herself the same with England. Since returning to the WSL in January, the 22-year-old has been one of the Toffee’s stand out players. Her critical decisiveness has been hugely influential in Everton’s impressive start to the season thus far. Duly noted by Lionesses boss Phil Neville, MacIver was called up to this year’s SheBelieves Cup, as well as the recent consecutive training camps, marking her as a future England staple. T is for Tottenham Hotspur Head Coaches, Karen Hills and Juan Amos, had an active transfer window, bringing in the experience of Rachel Williams and Kerys Harrop from Birmingham City, as well as bagging USWNT forward, Alex Morgan, from NWSL side, Orlando Pride. Spurs finished in 7th place last season and will be looking for more of the same this time round. The early fixtures haven’t been particularly kind to the Lilywhites, but there is still plenty of football left to play. Big performances from Lucia Leon, Gemma Davison and Becky Spencer look set to continue as Spurs head into their upcoming games. U is for USA Five, yes, FIVE, World Cup winning USWNT players have made the move across the pond. Four have landed either side of Manchester and the other in North London. Forwards, Tobin Heath and Christen Press have bolstered Manchester United’s attacking ranks, making them all the more dangerous. Whereas Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle have opted for a Manchester blue, completing City’s finely-tuned set of midfield maestros. USWNT captain and new Mum, Alex Morgan, has joined Tottenham Hotspur just five months after giving birth, her hotly anticipated debut will hopefully soon be upon us. V is for Vivianne Miedema Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema is one of the greatest strikers in the world; a statement that on the face of it may seem a little exaggerated, but one that is absolutely true. The Dutch forwards efforts often make the extraordinary seem anything but. She recently became the league’s all-time top goalscorer reaching 50 goals in 50 games, significantly succeeding Nikita Parris’ 50 in 110 games by some margin. Miedema has also achieved the same feat with her country, she is Holland’s leading goalscorer in both the men’s and women’s sides. W is for West Ham Matt Beard’s West Ham ended last season in 8th place, four points behind fellow London club Tottenham Hotspur. The Iron’s first few games have been tough, the table perhaps not baring a true reflection of their performances thus far. Yet, with steadfast captain Gilly Flaherty on hand, as well as Swiss dynamo, Alisha Lehmann, and Houston Dash captain, Rachel Daly, bringing an attacking fire power, the Irons will surely shake themselves into gear before long. X is for Ex-Players As the league grows, so does the level of coverage surrounding it. Fortunately, the WSL is on its way to obtaining the punditry and commentary it so deserves. Much of this comes in the form of ex-players who use their first-hand knowledge to provide in-depth analysis, justified criticism and honest reviews. Alex Scott, Karen Carney, Siobhan Chamberlain, Rachel Brown-Finnis, Rachel Yankey and Jane Ludlow are amongst those offering their expertise, spearheading the mainstream broadcasting of the game in the right direction. Y is for Youngsters Coursing through the league is a throng of budding young talent, each ripening with every match played. Manchester City’s Chloe Kelly, Esme Morgan and Ellie Roebuck; Manchester United’s Ella Toone and star-in-waiting, Lauren James; West Ham’s Alisha Lehmann and Grace Fisk; Brighton’s Maya Le Tissier; Birmingham’s Jamie-Lee Naiper and Hannah Hampton, and Chelsea forward Niamh Charles are all sure to impress. Z is for Katie Zelem Manchester United captain, Katie Zelem, is fast proving herself as the perfect leader to drive Casey Stoney’s Red Devil’s to the next level. The midfielder sits at the heart of United, often dictating the pace and flow of play, and she is also pretty handy with a set piece as well. Zelem has kicked off her season in style. Not only did she manage to grab Player of the Match in United’s opener against champions Chelsea, but her growing leadership and pinpoint accuracy have led to her first senior call-ups with the Lionesses.