Women's Super League 2021/22 - Preview

Monday, 30 August 2021

A full and comprehensive preview of each team in the upcoming WSL season.

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Edward Payne

With flagship broadcasting deals and a whole new potential audience, the Women’s Super League looks to be bigger and better than ever this season. Clubs have certainly upped their game and many have spent the summer transfer window making moves and acquiring staff and players that they believe will give them the edge. Here we take a look at what each club has been up to over the off season, how this may impact their play and predict their final standings. Arsenal Arsenal have spent the summer reimplementing a sense of character after a slightly underwhelming season. Although the Gunners managed to finish third overall, performances were not quite up to the standard of the formidable years prior. This atypical campaign could partly be attributed to the high number of injuries Arsenal collected across the course of the season, their already small squad seemingly minimising each week. Due to this, many players were frequently used out of position, and whilst stand-in left back Katie McCabe thrived, the same could not be said for all, and disjointed team displays replaced Arsenal’s typical ease. At the time of the announced departures of midfielders Jill Roord and Daniëlle van de Donk, the discomfort at Arsenal was never so heavily felt. Former head coach Joe Montemurro announced he would be parting ways with Arsenal upon the conclusion of the season and Swedish coach Jonas Eidevall was appointed as his successor. Eidevall’s ‘team-built, high-press’ approach should suit Arsenal’s favoured possessional style of play and his progressive influence has been noted in their positive pre-season. In terms of signings, Arsenal have brought in some on field fire power to reinforce their standings. England’s Nikita Parris and Sweden’s Frida Maanum will bring another dynamic to flanks and the attacking presence of Japan’s Mana Iwabuchi is already prevalent. With what appears to be a new lease of life breathing into The Arsenal, it is expected that they will retain their position at the top end of the table. In: Mana Iwabuchi, Nikita Parris, Simone Bøye Sorensen, Frida Maanum Out: Jill Roord, Leonie Maier, Anouk Denton, Ruby Mace, Danielle van de Donk, Georgia Ferguson, Lisa Evans (loan), Melis Mehmet (loan) Aston Villa Aston Villa’s inaugural season in the WSL was not without its setbacks, however the Villans held tight and managed to avoid relegation by three points. Manager Gemma Davies left in January and interim replacement Marcus Bignot at the end of the season. Former Birmingham City coach and esteemed manager Carla Ward has since taken the helm after keeping the Blue’s afloat last season. Ward is renowned for her ability to salvage a sinking ship against the most testing of tides, yet hopefully this skill will not need to be quite so intensely exercised at Villa. Following in Ward’s footsteps from Birmingham are well ranked goalkeeper Hannah Hampton and midfielder Sarah Mayling. Ward’s side is further bolstered by forward Alisha Lehmann who has joined from West Ham after a loan spell at Everton and experienced midfielder Remi Allen from Leicester City. From her previous coaching roles, it can be argued that Ward, first and foremost, likes to play defensively and this will suit Villa down to the ground. However, with a capable squad across the board a more creative style of play has been promised. Villa will most likely remain towards the lower end of the table, but more cohesive and rounded performances look to be on the horizon. In: Alisha Lehmann, Remi Allen. Sarah Mayling, Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah, Meaghan Sargeant, Hannah Hampton, Maz Pacheco Out: Ella Franklin-Fraiture, Emma Follis, Amy West, Caroline Siems, Diana Silva, Mana Iwabuchi, Nadine Hanssen, Stine Larsen, Asmita Ale, Lisa Weiß Birmingham City Birmingham City had a rough ride last season. With only a handful of senior players to begin with, the Blues narrowly avoided relegation. This achievement can largely be accredited to the gritty determination of boss Carla Ward to keep her side above water by the scruff of its neck. Ward has since departed and former Glasgow City coach Scott Booth has taken the reins. Booth has entered at a time of almost complete upheaval as over ten players have parted ways with Birmingham since the conclusion of the season. However, as migrations go, this may serve as blessing in disguise. Booth has an almost blank slate to work with, reinstated backing from the club since the announcement of broadcasting deals and a new home ground. A fresh perspective and a fresh start are what Birmingham City were in desperate need of. In terms of recruitment, Booth has done well to attract a number of strong signings. Young goalkeeper Emily Ramsey has joined on loan from Manchester United, forward Lucy Quinn has joined from Tottenham Hotspur and former WSL winner Louise Quinn has returned to the league after a year with Fiorentina. It is anticipated that Birmingham will finish this season in the bottom half of the table. They will, of course, be looking to avoid the relegation zone and with a reinstated optimism, they may be able to do just that. In: Jade Pennock, Louise Quinn, Sarah Ewens, Lucy Quinn, Libby Smith, Cecilie Sandvej, Jamie Finn, Marie Hourihan, Emily Ramsey (loan), Lisa Robertson (loan) Out: Chloe McCarron, Heidi Logan, Hannah Hampton, Sarah Mayling, Claudia Walker, Mollie Green, Abbi Grant, Emma Kelly, Sophie Whitehouse, Connie Scofield, Ruesha Littlejohn
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Girls on the Ball

Brighton and Hove Albion Possibly one of the surprises of last season was the position of Hope Powell’s Brighton and Hove Albion in sixth place. The Seagulls quietly went about their business and managed to jump up three places to the middle of the table. Brighton faired reasonably well defensively; however, it was their lack of goals that inhibited them from moving further up the pile. Upon reflection, Powell pinpointed this area and has acted accordingly. Added to Brighton’s ranks this season are forwards Lee Guem-min, Rinsola Babajide and Danielle Carter. Babjide joins from Liverpool after a turbulent time with the Championship side and is likely hungry to get back on the field. Former Arsenal player Carter has signed after a year with Reading and becomes the first signing Brighton have paid a fee for. Carter is a seasoned professional and her experience will be highly valuable to Brighton’s newly formed attacking pack. Although the Seagulls have released a number of players this season, those remaining provide a reliable and stable core. Up and coming gifted defender Maya Le Tissier and midfielders Emily Simpkins and Aileen Whelan provide a hearty structure to feed off. It is unlikely that Brighton will reach the heights of the ‘big players’ this season but they are certainly making a statement of intent. Expect a mid-to-top table finish. In: Danielle Carter, Lee Guem-min, Rinsola Babajide (loan) Out: Kirsty Barton, Jodie Brett, Cecilie Fiskerstrand, Rianna Jarrett, Nora Heroum, Hollie Olding, Laura Rafferty, Beth Roe, Rebekah Stott, Ellie Hack, Katie Startup (loan) Chelsea Chelsea’s 2020-21 campaign was a season to remember. The London Blues finished top of the table, snatched the FA Cup and reached the final of the Champions League, and it is a certainty they will be looking to achieve all this and more over the coming year. Viewers were treated to the formidable attacking partnership of Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby and goalkeeping excellence from Ann-Katrin Berger. Chelsea’s weaker areas slowly became transparent throughout the season. Particularly highlighted was shaky defensive cover against teams that mirrored their own suffocating press. This became especially apparent after right back Maren Mjelde suffered and injury and during times when captain Magda Eriksson was absent. However, for the most part, Chelsea’s brimming forward line tended to offset any defensive wobbles. Whilst other clubs have used this transfer window to modify squads, Chelsea have had a relatively quiet summer. Emma Hayes has brought in two new players, defender Aniek Nouwen from PSV Eindhoven who will reinforce defensive structure, and talented forward Lauren James from Manchester United. With the addition of James, it is predicted that Hayes’ high-tempo and quick attacking system of play will remain firmly intact. Although the moves of others may cause hiccups in Chelsea’s current reign, they will remain a team to beat and their place in the top three shall not budge. In: Aniek Nouwen, Lauren James Out: Jamie-Lee Napier, Emily Murphy, Hannah Blundell, Aggie Beaver-Jones (loan), Charlotte Wardlaw (loan), Emily Orman (loan) Everton Everton boss Willie Kirk has not messed around this summer. With a mammoth eight signings Kirk has built a squad that offers options in every position and for all eventualities. Last season, the Toffees finished fifth, fifteen points behind Manchester United. Whilst might have been a slightly disappointing result, the seeds were sowed for improved future stints. England forward Toni Duggan, France international Kenza Dali and highly sought Sweden midfielder Hanna Bennison have been brought in to add depth and competitiveness to Everton’s attacking ranks. Defenders Nathalie Björn and Leonie Maier have also been recruited to fill more defensive roles. Kirk tends to favour more holistic build-up play over slick counter attacks, however with such a broad range of attacking outlets this could well become a more integrated feature in Everton’s set-up this season. With a highly bolstered squad and an encouraging pre-season, it is a certainty that Everton will be looking to advance on their position of last season. A complete upset to the apple cart is not expected, however, Everton are likely to begin to bridge gap towards the top three. In: Kenza Dali, Toni Duggan, Anna Anvegård, Nathalie Björn, Leonie Maier, Courtney Brosnan, Aurora Galli, Hanna Bennison Out: Ingrid Moe Wold, Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah, Georgia Brougham, Maéva Clemaron, Tinja-Riikka Korpela, Molly Pike, Hannah Coan, Abbey-Leigh Stringer, Elise Hughes, Hayley Raso
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Girls on the Ball

Leicester City Leicester City were crowned victors of the Championship last season asserting their dominance by a country mile, and judging by their movements across the transfer window, they are looking to seriously contend in the WSL too. Jonathan Morgan’s side released a number of players and have replaced them with top-flight experience. England defender Abbie McManus has joined after a year with Tottenham and forward Jess Sigsworth has joined from Manchester United. Georgia Brougham and Molly Pike have made the move from Everton and Jemma Purfield remains in the WSL after signing from relegated side Bristol City. In terms of departures, the loss of Remi Allen will likely be the most felt. Leicester will be looking to proclaim their position in the top division without going too hard, too early. Whether they will be able to climb to the top half of the table in their initial season as Manchester United did is unlikely, however neither does one anticipate that the Foxes will be heading back down to the Championship any time soon. A stated yet realistic approach will stand Leicester in good stead for the future. In: Jess Sigsworth, Jemma Purfield, Georgia Brougham, Abbi Grant, Molly Pike, Abbie McManus, Connie Scofield Out: Remi Allen, Charlotte Fleming, Grace Riglar, Lia Cataldo, Freya Thomas, Aimee Everett, Millie Farrow, Olivia Fergusson, Libby Smith, Holly Morgan Manchester City After a rocky start to the last season, Manchester City finished in second place just two points below champions Chelsea. With new additions to the side and a new manager, it took City a little time to click, but once they did, there was no stopping them. Boss Gareth Taylor has instilled a smoothly disciplined system of play that exudes defensive and offensive competence in equal parts. Throughout points in the season, City quite possibly boasted the most solid defensive line of the league with the likes of Steph Houghton, Gemma Bonner, Abby Dahlkemper, Lucy Bronze, Alex Greenwood and Demi Stokes all ready to go. Movement across the window, and a surgical recovery for Bronze, means that City will now begin this season with just four trade defenders, Houghton, Greenwood, Stokes and Esme Morgan. However, joining the City ranks are Australian international Alanna Kennedy and gifted youngster Ruby Mace, both of whom can comfortably fill centre back roles. Also on the list of signings are Jamaica’s top scorer, striker Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, former Barcelona captain Vicky Losada and zesty Australian winger Hayley Raso. All three additions come highly commended and will provide City with a level of depth in position. Although Bronze and Ellen White are out of action in the short term, and Chloe Kelly continues her long-term recovery, on paper Taylor’s squad is as strong as ever. This season the title could well be City’s for the taking. In: Ruby Mace, Khadija "Bunny" Shaw, Vicky Losada, Hayley Raso, Alanna Kennedy Out: Gemma Bonner, Megan Campbell, Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis, Aoife Mannion, Tyler Tolan, Lee Guem-min, Abby Dahlkemper Manchester United Manchester United had a turbulent season last time round. The ambitious Red Devils were on course for a top three position throughout the first half before injury plagued the second. Stamina appeared to run thin and the squad began to dwindle when the likes of Leah Galton, Alessia Russo and Tobin Heath became side-lined due to injury. Off the pitch, and unbeknownst to supporters, tensions between the club and the women’s team management were running high and Head Coach Casey Stoney announced her shock resignation in May. Former Orlando Pride coach Marc Skinner was appointed as Stoney’s replacement. Skinner looks to build a fluid, yet physically progressive style of play that could potentially heavily utilise the skills of playmaker Jackie Groenen. Along with Stoney’s departure, United staple Jess Sigsworth also left the club as well as other notable forwards Christen Press and Lauren James. Scotland striker Martha Thomas has been brought in to counterbalance this exodus, as well as Norweigen midfielder Vilde Bøe Risa. Experience has been drafted in to the backline with Chelsea fullback Hannah Blundell and Manchester City defender Aoife Mannion signing on the dotted line. Having released ten players and with the integration of a new manager, United have a tall order to start this campaign as they did the last, yet look to be projecting for the long term. One predicts that the red side of Manchester will finish up somewhere in the middle of the park this season. In: Vilde Bøe Risa, Hannah Blundell, Sophie Baggaley, Aoife Mannion, Martha Thomas Out: Jess Sigsworth, Jane Ross, Christen Press, Tobin Heath, Amy Turner, Lauren James, Abbie McManus, Emily Ramsey (loan), Fran Bentley (loan), Tara Bourne (loan)
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Edward Payne

Reading Reading were a surprise in the final standings last season, but not for the right reasons. They ended up coming seventh, which in itself is not an awful position, but certainly much more was expected of the Royals. From what was observed, nothing obvious stood out as to why Reading did not perform as they have done before. They boasted the likes of seasoned pro’s Jess Fishlock and Fara Williams, the defensive attributes of Molly Bartrip, the midfield prowess of Rachel Rowe and Angharad James and the safe hands of Grace Moloney, a full recipe for success if ever you’ve seen one. However, as the season progressed it became apparent that nothing quite gelled, nothing was quite working as planned, and an air of defeatism became detectable in the latter stages. However, Kelly Chambers has made moves over the summer that could iron out some of the kinks that held the Royals back. Possibly Reading’s most exciting signing comes in the form of Canada international, and newly crowned Olympic Champion, Deanne Rose. The midfielder possesses a great deal of creativity and an attacking mindset that will set things in motion for Reading’s forward line. In the upcoming season it is expected that Reading will be looking to re-establish themselves as a team that should comfortably sit higher up the table. Whether the Royals will be able to achieve this in just one campaign will remain to be seen. A drastic move up nor down the ranks for the Royals is not expected. In: Tash Dowie, Gemma Evans, Faye Bryson, Chloe Peplow, Deanne Rose, Justine Vanhaevermaet Out: Angharad James, Fara Williams, Kristine Leine, Lauren Bruton, Molly Bartrip, Erin Nayler, Molly Childerhouse, Silvana Flores, Danielle Carter, Sophie Quirk, Kiera Skeels Tottenham Hotspur London club Tottenham Hotspur were another side that faced some obstacles along the way last season. Long standing coaches Karen Hills and Juan Amaros were let go by the club in November after thirteen, and nine, years of service respectively. Former England under-21’s coach Rehanne Skinner was then announced as Tottenham’s new manager. Skinner did well to hoist Spurs out of the relegation zone after a poor start to the season and ended up finishing in a respectable eighth place. Spurs released a large number of players this summer, including forward Rianna Dean and WSL staple Gemma Davison, but have brought in some rather exciting replacements. One of the most highly rated is that of defender Molly Bartrip. The centre back has joined from Reading and will provide astute and bold defensive cover, something that has been suspect on occasion at Tottenham. Australia international Kyah Simon has also joined after a successful stint at the Olympics. The forward is quick and tenacious creator and scorer who is more than capable of standing her ground in the big leagues. With such a large turnaround over the summer it is difficult to predict exactly how this almost new look Tottenham Hotspur will fair, however a solid mid-table conclusion is likely. In: Cho So-hyun, Tinja-Riikka Korpela, Maéva Clemaron, Molly Bartrip, Gracie Pearse, Chioma Ubogagu, Asmita Ale, Kyah Simon, Silvana Flores, Eleanor Heeps, Tang Jiali (loan) Out: Rianna Dean, Alanna Kennedy, Gemma Davison, Anna Filbey, Hannah Godfrey, Lucia Leon, Aurora Mikalsen, Chloe Peplow, Lucy Quinn, Siri Worm, Elisha Sulola, Gracie Pearse (loan), Eleanor Heeps (loan) West Ham West Ham navigated a tricky season relatively well in the end. Former head coach Matt Beard stepped down from his role in November and was replaced by Olli Harder, assistant manager of Norwiegan club Sandnes Ulf. Harder had a solid foundation of players to start with, including the likes of midfielder Kenza Dali and forward Martha Thomas, both of whom have since departed. The Hammers scored a reasonable number of goals and they did not concede a vast amount more than other sides in the lower half of the table, however, they only managed to win three games. This will form their basis to improve upon this season and signings such as Claudia Walker should help in this department. Walker, who has signed from Birmingham explicitly displayed her goal scoring abilities with the Blues and will be looking to achieve a similar feat once again. Arsenal forward Lisa Evans has also joined the club on loan and her experienced head will do much to drive on field spirits. West Ham will also be looking to pin down a clean sheet or two and goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold, defenders Grace Fisk, Lois Joel and Gilly Flaherty will need to tighten up their line in order to begin to accomplish this. With a few touch and go moments last season, the Hammers will be hoping to keep themselves out of hot water. It is anticipated that West Ham will finish up towards the lower part of the table. Whether they are able to avoid the relegation zone, time will only tell. In: Tameka Yallop, Zaneta Wyne, Claudia Walker, Mel Filis, Abbey-Leigh Stringer, Lucy Parker, Anna Leat, Yui Hasegawa, Brooke Cairns, Grace Garrard Out: Kenza Dali, Courtney Brosnan, Emily van Egmond, Leanne Kiernan, Cecilie Redisch, Martha Thomas, Laura Vetterlein, Alisha Lehmann, Cho So-hyun, Maz Pacheco

Women's Football, Preview, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Brighton and Hove Albion, Chelsea, Everton, Leicester City, Manchester City, Manchester United, Reading, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham