That’s right – it’s that time of year again! The (newly named) Barclays FA Women’s Super League is just a week away from kicking off for the 19/20 season and it doesn’t get much bigger than two clashes between longstanding rivals in Manchester City v Manchester United at the Etihad and Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge.
32 years old, Arsenal are a club steeped in rich history and are the most successful club in English women’s football with 15 league titles, 14 FA Cups, 10 Premier League cups, 4 Community Shields and one UEFA Champions League trophy to their name. In fact, four of those trophies – including the Champions League – were won in their 2006-07 season in which history was made as they became the first club in women’s football to do so.
Despite their previous successes, Arsenal had failed to qualify for the Champions League in five-and-a-half years – until this year, that is. Not only did they qualify for the UWCL, but they did it as league champions, ending their seven year wait to lift the WSL trophy. I guess it was only a matter of time when you have arguably one of the most prolific strikers in women’s football leading your line in Vivianne Miedema.
The Dutch forward scored a record breaking 31 goals in all competitions last season and the history making didn’t stop there. At this summer’s Women’s World Cup she became the Netherlands’ all-time top scorer – men and women’s – taking her tally of goals to 61 at (then) just the age of 22. Miedema and her fellow country and club mates Jill Roord and Danïelle van de Donk were among the Dutch side who won silver at the World Cup ’19.
- Neville dismisses US speculation and demands improvement from England
- WATCH: Giants Of Africa takes Women's Basketball to Somalia
- WATCH: NBA2K20 Exclusive interview with producer Erick Boenisch
Reigning Super League Champions Arsenal are going to be the team to watch for many fans this season – and the team to beat for teams in the league. Despite winning the league by seven points with 18 wins under their belt out of a possible 20, injury woes saw their squad significantly shrink over the course of the season with some responsibility falling on their youth players.
Joe Montemurro has brought in five signings, but perhaps the return of Jordan Nobbs will prove to be more important than any new addition. Nobbs is undoubtedly the best midfielder in the Super League and Arsenal look a more complete side with her controlling the game in the middle of the park.
The biggest concern for Arsenal is if they are struck with a similar injury crisis – as they were last season. A position under the most threat is CDM, in which their only natural player there is Lia Wälti who is only just beginning her return from a long-term injury. With four competitions to battle in – including their return to the Champions League – their lack of quality squad depth could be their downfall.
Predicted finish: 1st
Birmingham are one of the oldest founded clubs in the Super League, at 51 years old. Such a history has seen some of the finest English talents come through their doors, including Eni Aluko, Karen Carney, Rachel Yankey and more recently the likes of Sophie Baggaley and Aoife Mannion, who should be future England internationals, with the latter enjoying her first call-up for the recent friendlies against Belgium and Norway.
They’ve enjoyed their fair share of success since becoming a founding member of the FA WSL, including being runners up to the title in 2011 and 2012 and FA Cup winners in 2012. Their 2nd place finish in 2012 saw them qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their long history but they fell at the first hurdle as they were knocked out in the round of 32.
The club had a relatively strong 2018-19 campaign, winning 13 of their 20 games, finishing the season in fourth – just two points behind third placed Chelsea. Their strong finish is credit to the work the Blues did with former manager Marc Skinner before his departure to American side Orlando Pride at the beginning of the year.
Birmingham may struggle to keep up with teams in the league this season though, given that they’ve lost a lot of talent over the summer to other clubs – most notably the huge loss of Aoife Mannion who transferred to Manchester City. It’s hard to see them replicating such a high finish given their transfer window, but they’re now in a rebuilding process and it gives them an opportunity to bring through young talent.
Predicted finish: 9th
Brighton Hove & Albion
Founded in 1991, Brighton set a goal to reach the top tier of English football as part of a five-year plan back in 2015. With the WSL restructuring and becoming a stand-alone professional league with the second tier becoming the Championship, Brighton applied to join the Super League – and were accepted.
The Seagulls enjoyed their first taste of the WSL just last season where they finished ninth, avoiding relegation and staying up for a second successive season. They won just four of their games in their 2018-19 campaign, losing 12 and conceding 38 goals.
Brighton were amongst the three teams battling relegation last season – and like others, will be hoping to climb the table and avoid a similar situation this season. Their addition of former Yeovil goalkeeper Megan Walsh is their best piece of summer business and is set to see them challenge clubs for a midtable spot.
With a formidable shot stopper at the back, Brighton will be looking to take chances at the front with Ini Umotong leading the line, who has scored 10 goals in 33 appearances for the club.
Predicted finish: 12th
Bristol City had their WSL licence granted in time for the 2011 Super League season, in which they grew from strength to strength over the three years that followed – including finishing second in the 2013 campaign. Come 2014 however, despite reaching the Champions League quarter final, they found themselves in a relegation battle which they narrowly survived, finishing seventh out of the eight teams. The following season they weren’t to be so lucky, finishing bottom of the table and were relegated to the second tier.
The Robins then began an impressive rebuild under Willie Kirk and – in his first full season in charge – immediately bounced back, gaining promotion back to the WSL have spent just one year out of it. They have since grown as the seasons go on under the new leadership of Tanya Oxtoby and finished 6th last season.
Bristol are arguably one of the most exciting teams in the league in terms of their commitment to youth talent, guided with experienced players. In fact, the average age of their squad is just 21.95. 2018’s summer transfer window saw them lose highly rated youngster Lauren Hemp as well as Millie Turner, Aimee Palmer and even manager Willie Kirk.
However, reinforcements in the form of Ella Rutherford, Poppy Pattinson etc. helped the Robins to sixth in the table where they will only continue to grow and develop under Oxtoby.
While brimming with youth and under solid foundations, the lack of experience is something that could trip Bristol up in the upcoming season, especially with teams around them strengthening during the summer. Having said that, they’ve recruited well with a good balance of both youth and experience and should be looking to better their position from last year where they achieved impressive results against the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.
PFA Team of the Year goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley will be vital to Bristol’s success and should be on the international radar to be potentially become England’s future no. 1.
Predicted finish: 6th
Chelsea were among the eight founding teams of the FA WSL after bidding successfully back in 2011. After three years in the league, in 2014 they finished second in the league behind Liverpool and – for the first time in the club’s history – qualified for the UEFA Champions League. In the same year, they had a successful domestic run reaching the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and Conti Cup but couldn’t progress beyond that.
Just a year later however, they went on to win their first FA Cup after defeating Notts County at Wembley. This transcended into their league form when they successfully clinched the league title for the 2015 season – completing the first of their two domestic doubles. The second came in the 2017-18 season, once again winning both the league and the FA Cup. Emma Hayes’ side have twice reached the Champions League semi-finals in successive seasons but fell short to Wolfsburg and Lyon respectively.
This season, for the first time since 2015, Chelsea will not be playing in the UWCL after failing to secure a top two league finish behind both Arsenal and Manchester City. Despite undoubtedly being disappointed with their exclusion, it could play in their favour as they look to get back on top. Hayes believes her squad are capable of doing so, given that they have made just one summer signing in Norwegian midfielder Guro Reiten.
Since returning to Chelsea after a successful loan spell at Liverpool, Bethany England has proved to be invaluable for the Blues, netting 22 times in 27 appearances – the second highest across the league, second only to Miedema. While there may be concerns about their defence over preseason and the significant number of goals conceded, there can be some comfort found that in the league last season they only conceded 14 goals – the second lowest.
Predicted finish: 2nd
Despite being founded in 1983, it wasn’t until 1995 that they became formerly known as Everton Ladies. Under their new name, Everton continued to make waves in the women’s game and that included winning three Liverpool County FA Cups, a Premier League Cup and the second of their two FA Cup wins in 2010. They even went on to have a run in the Champions League before being knocked out by FCR Duisburg in the quarter-finals.
Everton were to become one of the eight founding members of the FA WSL back in 2011 and enjoyed relatively good seasons, consistently finishing mid-table. However, come 2014 they began to struggle following the departures of key players Jill Scott and Toni Duggan and their relegation to the FA WSL 2 (now named Championship) was confirmed after a defeat to Notts County.
After spending 2015-2017 in the second division, the Toffees were presented with the opportunity to apply to replace Notts County in the WSL after they were forced into folding. Their application was accepted, and they returned to the top tier of football where they continue to play.
Everton found themselves in a bit of a relegation battle with Yeovil and Brighton last season – up until Yeovil were deducted 10 points for after going into administration, which all but sealed their fate. They’ll be looking to climb the table this season and with the additions of Dutch European Champion Kika van Es and the loan signing of highly-rated Manchester City youngster Esme Morgan they are well equipped to do so.
Standout signing Lucy Graham from Bristol will add an extra dimension to their midfield and attacking options. The 22-year-old netted seven times in 19 appearances for Bristol last season and was among the assists, one of her most notable being a remarkable cross-field ball met by then teammate Ella Rutherford on the volley.
Predicted finish: 10th
Three-time FA Cup winners Liverpool were among the eight founding clubs of the WSL and had a tough time of it in their first two seasons, finishing bottom of the league. In 2012, they appointed Matt Beard who came in and essentially overhauled the squad, both releasing and signing players where he saw necessary during his first summer at the club.
They went onto win back-to-back WSL titles in 2013 and 2014 under Beard – the latter going down to the final game of the season in which they went into the Bristol match needing a win as they sat in third behind Chelsea and Birmingham.
In the season it was announced Beard would leave the club, Liverpool reached the semi-finals of the FA WSL Cup, R32 of the Champions League and finished 7th in the league. They’ve consistently finished around the mid-table mark since those title wins, losing key players along the way.
Last summer Liverpool found themselves on the end of a mass squad overhaul as losing players to newly formed rivals Manchester United. They sat somewhat comfortable in the middle of the pack but with their new summer reinforcements, they’ll be hoping to push even further up the table.
Perhaps the standout signing for Liverpool is 25-year-old Melissa Lawley. After a successful spell at Birmingham she transferred to Manchester City in 2016. Unfortunately, injuries were not in her favour and she only made 22 appearances for the club in three years, scoring one goal before making the switch to Merseyside. Some time at the England camp in their recent friendlies and a steady run of games could be enough to help her rediscover her form.
Predicted finish: 8th
Formed in 1988, Manchester City are domestically dominant but have only been crowned WSL title winners once since becoming a part of the WSL set up when they replaced Doncaster Rovers Belles in 2014 as part of the league expansion plans. They finished 5th in their first WSL season and went from strength to strength thanks to the addition of England internationals Karen Bardsley, Jill Scott and Steph Houghton.
They are three-time Conti Cup winners, two-time FA Cup winners and one-time league winners – doing the cup and league double in 2012 and the cup double in 2019. They’ve also had two successful Champions League runs – both of which saw them knocked out at the semi-final point in back-to-back seasons by powerhouses Lyon.
Last season was perhaps one of the most frustrating ones for City, finishing second to Arsenal in the league and almost going unbeaten. That was of course until the very last game of the season where Arsenal capped off their title-winning league campaign in style beating Manchester City, handing them their one and only loss of the season. It was in fact the five league draws that were to be the undoing of City’s title campaign and meant a prolific Arsenal side could win by seven points even in spite of their injury woes.
Nick Cushing will be looking for his side to be far more clinical this season. The WSL is a season of fine margins and it has been shown that draws are simply not good enough, hence the signing of forwards Ellen White and Lee Geum-min, the former having had a blinding World Cup in the summer but coming into the new season with an injury. Geum-min scored 6 goals in 10 appearances last season and will be looking to kick off her first season outside of Korea in style.
At the other end of the pitch, defensive reinforcements come in the form of Matilde Fidalgo and Aoife Mannion. Mannion in particular showed last season at Birmingham why she is one of the best defenders in the league. City’s impressive quality is their squad depth which gives them the ability to spread themselves across domestic and European competitions, something that makes them formidable when it comes to winning trophies.
Predicted finish: 3rd
Manchester United, technically, are one of the newest teams in women’s football. For 30 years they had an ‘unofficial’ club that was recognised as their club’s senior women’s team and enjoyed success throughout the 90s through levels of the National League. In 2001, they became official partners with the club and enjoyed successful seasons in the third tier of women’s football.
It was somewhat short-lived however, as the club was disbanded following the Glazer’s takeover in which they did not see a women’s team as part of the ‘core business’ and unprofitable for the club. Instead, they decided to focus on their girls’ academy which inevitably saw talented youngsters come through the club and leave for rivals once they reached the age of 16 due to the lack of a senior team.
That was until 15 months ago. United finally announced they were to start a women’s team again and essentially they built a team from scratch ready to take on the Championship. They enjoyed a blossoming season in the second tier of women’s football, winning the league and earning promotion to the WSL. Their squad included the return of academy graduates Ella Toone, Emily Ramsey, Fran Bentley, Katie Zelem, Kirsty Hanson, Millie Turner and Naomi Hartley.
Manager Casey Stoney opted for youth when competing in the FAWC and has since added experience to her squad with the likes of Jane Ross, Hayley Ladd, Jackie Groenen and Mary Earps all coming in. United faced WSL sides last season in cup competitions and showed they can cut it with the best, so there’s no reason Casey and her side can't be successful in the top tier.
Predicted finish: 5th
Reading ended their affiliation with Reading Royals in 2006 in order to start their own women’s team. They enjoyed successful seasons that followed before in 2014 they were granted a licence to play in the WSL 2. They went onto win the 2015 league and gained promotion to the top tier.
They’ve firmly established themselves as a mid-table club after finishing their first season in 4th, and last season in 5th. However, Reading have a squad packed full of talent with the likes of Grace Maloney, Fara Williams, Jade Moore, and Natasha Harding and should be challenging for the title, especially with their latest squad additions. Last season they finished a significant 13 points behind fourth place Birmingham, suffering nine defeats in 20 and winning just eight.
The addition of Angharad James and Amalie Eikeland are much needed reinforcements in midfield and upfront that should give them the extra push to challenge for a Champions League place, if not the title.
The Royals should also be aiming for domestic success after continuously coming close but always falling short at the final hurdle.
Predicted finish: 4th
Tottenham Hotspur are steeped in history after being founded 34 years ago and, like United, they’ll be going into their first of the Super League season and have already had a taste of what to expect in pre-season thanks to a thumping 6-0 loss to Arsenal.
They gained promotion to the WSL after finishing second. Their successful season in the second tier was helped by notable signings Coral-Jade Haines and Sarah Wiltshire but it was Rianna Dean who was pivotal to promotion.
The 20-year-old scored an impressive 14 goals in 19 games last season – joint second in the league. Such impressive form led her to be one of the 11 players retained by Spurs on the road to their debut season as a top tier professional team.
Their mass summer overhaul saw them bring in the likes of NZ international Ria Percival, Gemma Davison and Lucy Quinn. It’s a real statement of intent and ambition from Spurs as they head into the season.
Having said that, a lot of new players doesn’t always bode well and it could take a while for them to work effectively together, which ultimately could see them struggle at times in the league.
Predicted finish: 11th
West Ham United
West Ham had enjoyed widespread success through the different tiers of English football but in 2018 took the next step as they successfully applied to become a WSL team. Their first ever season in top flight football was matched by bringing in experienced manager Matt Beard who, in turn, stocked his team with a mixture of youth and experience.
Last season the Hammers finished 7th in the league and missed out on domestic glory after being beaten by Manchester City in the FA Cup final. Positives were to be taken from their debut season, however, including an exciting campaign from 20-year-old Alisha Lehmann, who scored 11 goals in 25 games for Beard’s side.
The Hammers have had arguably one of the best transfer windows out of the Super League clubs this summer – specifically bringing in highly rated youngster Jacynta Galabadaarachchi and experienced midfielder Tessel Middag. Fans can look forward to attacking football as Beard’s desire to develop young talent could make West Ham one to look out for as they continue to climb the table.
Predicted finish: 7thNews Now - Sport News