THE BARCLAY’S FA Women’s Super League kicks off on the 7th September with a Manchester derby at the Etihad, and Bristol City hosting second-season Brighton. Twelve fully professional teams will contest the division with Arsenal seeking to defend their crown. Manchester City and Chelsea appear most likely to challenge the Gunners again, but the arrival of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, effectively backed by Premier League money, promises to make the entire division more competitive…
Every club has sought to strengthen during the summer to maximise their own chances of a strong campaign; but it also feels like a pivotal moment in time for the sport itself. Following the huge success of the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France and the public interest in England’s Lionesses, it’s important that every team in the division can put on a good show, deliver high quality football and positively promote the women’s game – in turn increasing attendances and attracting more sponsorship to push everything forward.
Right, let’s get on with it. In the absence of a more original idea, we’re going to take the clubs in alphabetical order, four per preview, starting with the champions…
Last Season: Winners of the FAWSL
Nickname: The Gunners
Founded: 1987, as Arsenal Ladies
Home Ground: Meadow Park, Boreham Wood – Capacity 5,000 (1,700 seated)*
After three consecutive seasons finishing third, Arsenal pushed on to take the spoils last season. Manager Joe Montemurro was recently shortlisted for ‘The Best’ FIFA Women’s Coach having led the Gunners to their first Women’s Super League Title since 2012/13, qualifying for the Champions League in the process. They are the most decorated side in English women’s football.
Arsenal have played some tough pre-season fixtures to ready themselves for their title defence including a 5-2 defeat to 2018 Champions League Finalists FC Barcelona. England Head coach, Phil Neville, was in attendance to open the new North Bank stand which extends the capacity of Meadow Park to 5,000*.
While the club has strengthened over the summer fans will be delighted that captain, Kim Little, has signed a new contract. A brilliant, versatile midfielder, Scottish international Little has scored 125 goals in 181 appearances for the Gunners and will be chasing her fourth title with the club.
In addition, midfield virtuoso, Jordan Nobbs, is set to return having cruelly missed half of last season plus the World Cup after sustaining a ruptured ACL. Nobbs is an outstanding player who is able to offer exactly what a team may need in a variety of match situations – creativity, character, ball retention, set piece magic, defensive resilience and/or organisation.
Cruelly, with Nobbs reaching full recovery, striker Danielle Carter was then crocked with exactly the same injury during an Emirates Cup friendly against Bayern Munich. It’s her second such injury and effectively puts her out until at least early 2020.
This is a squad full of talent, including a trio of Dutch World Cup Finalists in Daniëlle van de Donk, new signing Jill Roord and Vivianne Miedema. Striker Miedema top-scored in the FAWSL last season and has since broke the Netherlands’ international scoring record. She’s topped off a great year by being nominated for FIFA’s ‘The Best’ Women’s Player, and all by aged 23.
World Cup Golden Gloves Winner, Sari van Veenendaal, has departed for Atletico Madrid with Austrian Manuela Zinsberger coming in to compete for the goalkeeping berth with Pauline Peyraud-Magnin. Comfortable on the ball, Zinsberger arrives from Bayern Munich. Arsenal have raided the German club twice more over the summer penning deals with international full-back Leonie Maier and energetic box-to-boxer, Roord.
Jen Beattie joins from Manchester City, effectively plugging the gap left by departing Dominique Bloodworth, who has signed with German Champions, Wolfsburg. Beattie had a difficult World Cup campaign with Scotland, so a few commanding performances will be important in re-establishing her as one of the league’s strongest defenders.
There are goals throughout this team, but Miedema provides the ‘X’ factor when she’s in the mood. Expect Arsenal to mount a fierce defence of their title.
Arsenal, transfers in
- Leonie Maier [Bayern Munich]
- Jeannifer Beattie [Manchester City]
- Jill Roord [Bayern Munich]
- Manuela Zinsberger [Bayern Munich]
- Fran Stenson [Manchester City]
Arsenal, transfers out
- Paige Bailey-Gayle [Leicester City]
- Sari van Veenendaal [Atletico Madrid]
- Dominique Bloodworth [Wolfsburg]
- Ava Kuyken [Florida Gators]
- Lachante Paul [Leicester City]
- Janni Arnth [Fiorentina Women’s FC]
Birmingham City WFC
Last Season: 4th in the FAWSL
Nickname: The Blues
Home Ground: Damson Park, Solihull – Capacity 3,050 (770 seated)
Inaugural members of the FAWSL in 2011 Birmingham have a good pedigree in the competition, finishing runners up twice in the early days and perennially challenging the top five even after Chelsea and Manchester City started investing serious cash from 2014/15 onwards. Last year’s fourth spot was complemented by a record points tally.
Spaniard Marta Tejedor became the club’s manager last season and began her tenure with a good win over Chelsea. Previously manager of Club Deportivo Tacón in Madrid (a women’s ‘Real’ in all but name) Tejedor has also led the Chile and Peru national teams.
The loss of the Lionesses’ Bronze Boot Winner, Ellen White, over the summer to Manchester City will surely be a blow to Birmingham’s ambitions of achieving ‘best-of-the-rest’ again. The Blues will look to experienced striker Rachel Williams, then, to deliver the equivalent of White’s almost goal per game ratio. But she’ll have help. Scottish forward Abbi Grant joins from Anderlecht having scored 8 goals in 12 games for the Belgian champions, and returning ‘loanee’, Claudia Walker, struck 17 in 54 for Everton over 3 seasons.
“We have turned the page and we are resetting the team, starting from a new point. Every new player that has come into the team has the potential to be a superstar. I appreciate that this group are yet to make a name for themselves, but they have an outstanding and undeniable team spirit.”Marta Tejedor, Manager, Birmingham City WFC – source, club website
Holding on to England’s Lucy Staniforth will be vital. As well as creativity, movement and fine dead ball delivery, Staniforth’s tremendous stamina drives the Blues from midfield with unrelenting work rate. Her ability to win and keep the ball sits well with Tejedor’s philosophy, with the manager valuing intelligent players who can make good decisions under pressure.
The Blues have gone American in a bid to add some further steel to the side. Well-travelled, attacking full back, Adrienne Jordan has joined Birmingham alongside fellow countrywoman Brianna Visalli. Jordan has made just over 100 senior appearances and was part of the 2017 title winning ÍBV squad in Iceland. Midfielder Visalli was a key member of the West Ham United team that reached the 2018–19 FA Women’s Cup final. Both ladies played for the United States at U-23 level and are reported to have settled in well.
They maintained a superb 65%-win rate in the WSL last year but, with more Premier League-backed clubs arriving, the Blues should consider a top half finish a decent return for their efforts.
Birmingham, transfers in
- Claudia Walker [Everton]
- Abbi Grant [Anderlecht]
- Brianna Visalli [West Ham United]
- Lucy Whipp [St John’s University]
- Adrienne Jordan [Atalanta]
Birmingham, transfers out
- Ellen White [Manchester City]
- Charlie Wellings [Bristol City]
- Meaghan Sargeant [Bristol City]
- Hayley Ladd [Manchester United]
- Lucy Quinn [Tottenham]
- Aoife Mannion [Manchester City]
- Marisa Ewers [Aston Villa]
Brighton & Hove Albion WFC
Last Season: 9th in the FAWSL
Nickname: The Seagulls
Home Ground: Broadfield Stadium, Crawley – Capacity 6,134
Last season was a bit of a grind for Hope Powell’s Brighton. Only Yeovil Town scored fewer league goals and the Seagulls were hardly tight at the back, conceding nearly 2 goals per game on average. They did finish their campaign with a flourish, though, walloping cup finalists West Ham 4-0 at Rush Green.
Pre-season began with a confidence building 5-1 win against Crystal Palace with Powell deploying wing backs to support the Seagull’s attack. The manager insists on playing from the back and building through the midfield with players who are comfortable on the ball, so fans shouldn’t be expecting too much ‘hoof-ball’.
High octane midfielder, Emily Simpkins, missed several months of last season with a nerve-related injury sustained against Chelsea in the Cup. The 29-year old former ‘Donny Belle’ is on course to return fully fit. Brighton sold Chloe Peploe to new WSL arrivals Spurs over summer, so Simpkins’ recovery is timely.
With 17 players retained at the end of the last campaign, transfer activity has been relatively subdued. Goalkeeper Megan Walsh has joined the Seagulls from relegated Yeovil Town to replace Marie Hourihan, and Dutch defender Danique Kerkdijk has arrived from WSL rivals Bristol City. She was part of the Netherlands’ squad that reached the World Cup Final, but didn’t feature for the Oranjeleeuwinnen. She has won the Eredivisie in Holland, though.
Nine nationalities are represented in the squad including summer signing Léa Le Garrec. The midfielder was a member of the France side that secured the 2010 UEFA Women’s U-19 Championship. She brings considerable experience with a career spanning 183 senior appearances – including spells at Guingamp and Paris Saint-Germain – and having scored 52 league goals.
It would also be helpful to Hope Powell if Nigerian international Ini Umotong could have a big WSL breakthrough season. She’s got all the physical attributes to cause defences problems but now needs to couple that with the experience and composure that a 25-year old should be starting to exhibit.
The league is getting stronger and Brighton will definitely suffer patches where results are hard to come by. Securing 2-3 more wins, though, on top last season’s four in twenty matches, could be enough for them to beat the drop.
Brighton, transfers in
- Danique Kerkdijk [Bristol City]
- Matilde Skovsen [VSK Aarhus]
- Megan Walsh [Yeovil Town]
- Léa Le Garrec (Guingamp]
Brighton, transfers out
- Chloe Peplow [Tottenham]
- Marie Hourihan [SC Braga]
- Jenna Legg [Charlton Athletic]
Bristol City WFC
Last Season: 6th in the FAWSL
Nickname: The Vixens
Founded: 1998 as (incredibly) Bristol Rovers WFC
Home Ground: Stoke Gifford Stadium, Filton – Capacity 1,500
Renamed Bristol Academy in 2005, the Vixens were members of the original WSL for the 2011 season and finished a club best 2nd behind Liverpool two years later. Relegated in 2015, they bounced back into the top-flight, at the first time of asking, with a new name: Bristol City.
Australian Manager, and former player, Tanya Oxtoby has worked for a number of clubs including Nottingham Forest, Perth Glory and Birmingham City. She puts a strong emphasis on recruiting and developing young players and ensures the club provides a “high-performance environment” to improve individual players, supplemented by first team opportunities. Oxtoby arrived at Bristol City in 2018 an took them to 6th, their best finish in Women’s football since 2013.
Pacey striker, Ebony Salmon, joined over the summer fresh from England U-19 duties in Scotland, where she scored in the 1-0 win over Belgium. Although brought in from Manchester United, Salmon plied her trade last season at Sheffield United on loan, where she maintained close on a goal-per-game average in the second tier. Alongside her, the squad contains several other raw talents at or below aged twenty including homegrown players Jess Wooley (18), Flo Allen (20) and Ellie Strippel (18); and recruited talents Ella Rutherford (19), and Poppy Pattinson (19).
“We’ve bought in players that know the club inside and out, they know how we want to operate and that helps to share that load. I think it’s good thing for the younger players and it’s a great thing for the older players and we’ve got a really good combination going on at the moment.”Tanya Oxtoby, Bristol City Manager, source club website
Two players have re-joined the club after a season each with Liverpool. Defensive midfielder Jasmine Matthews returns to the club that provided her first opportunity in the game, together with Belgian striker Yana Daniëls.
The Vixens will look to England U-21 striker Charlie Wellings to replace the goals from last season’s top scorer Lucy Graham, who has departed for Everton. Wellings joins up with former Birmingham colleague Meghan Sergeant who also made the switch this summer.
Retaining 2018/19 WFA Players’ Player of the Year, Sophie Baggaley must have been high on the boardroom list of priorities. The goalkeeper is going into her third season with the Vixens. Only in her early 20s, Baggaley is already a key player within the group.
Bristol City conceded twice as many goals as they scored in the last campaign, so it’s fair to say that work is needed at both ends of the pitch. The emphasis on player development is commendable and appears to be cost effective, but it’s unlikely to carry them above mid-table in a division that’s going to be more competitive than ever.
Bristol City, transfers in
- Charlie Wellings [Birmingham]
- Meaghan Sargeant [Birmingham]
- Jasmine Matthews [Liverpool]
- Yana Daniels [Liverpool]
- Vita van der Linden [Ajax]
- Ebony Salmon [Manchester United]
Bristol City, transfers out
- Danique Kerkdijk [Brighton]
- Lucy Graham [Everton]
- Rosella Ayane [Tottenham]
- Grace Riglar [Leicester City WFC]
- Ali Johnson [Sheffield United]
- Poppy Wilson [London City Lionesses]