THE BARCLAYS 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.
So to part two. We got through the ‘As’ and ‘Bs’ in the last preview. Progressing in alphabetical order, let’s look next at the 2017/18 title winners…
Chelsea FC Women
Last Season: 3rd in the FAWSL
Nickname: The Blues
Home Ground: Kingsmeadow, Kingston-upon-Thames – Capacity 4,850 (2,265 seated)
The re-emergence of Arsenal as a title force meant the Blues finished outside the Champions League spots for the first time since 2013. Nonetheless, eleven Chelsea players went to the Women’s World Cup this summer, representing six different countries.
Emma Hayes, fresh from her stint providing outstanding punditry for the BBC, has been the club’s manager since 2012, presiding over a very respectable 57% win rate (league), along with two league titles, two FA Cups (there’s double in there) and consecutive semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. Hayes has been fervently outspoken about taking advantage of the post-World Cup bounce to increase attendance figures. So, Chelsea will open their season at Stamford Bridge against promoted Tottenham Hotspur with the match reportedly a sell-out.
The squad is pretty stable with only a couple of notable moves over the summer. There is a veritable Scandinavian vibe about the backline with Norwegians Maria Thorisdottir and Maren Mjelde at the heart of the defence. Mjelde is a wonderfully elegant footballer who reads the game immaculately to inform her positioning, while Thorisottir is physicality, grit and determination personified. Sweden’s Magdalena Eriksson marauds forward from left back offering a fine supply of crosses to the strikers and a palpable threat from set pieces.
England veteran Karen Carney has retired from the game, opening up a spot up in midfield, which could well be filled by sole new signing (at the time of writing) Guro Reiten. The 25-year old Norwegian joins from LSK Kvinner where she scored 51 goals in 53 league appearances. Chelsea have bagged themselves a quick and skilful player who can function as an orthodox left winger or tuck in and play more of a box-to-box role.
Graceful South Korean number 10 Ji So-yun has signed a new contract surely to the delight of Blues’ fans. While Ji’s country were unable to make a significant impact at the World Cup she remains one of the finest creative players to watch in the FAWSL.
Leaving the club is combative Kiwi captain and full back, Ali Riley, who has signed for Bayern Munich, who, incidentally, beat the Blues 5-0 in a pre-season friendly. With veteran Swedish keeper, Hedvig Lindahl, also heading to Germany (Wolfsburg), England’s Carly Telford has a big opportunity to step up and claim the as-yet unallocated number one jersey.
Chelsea toured in Israel as part of pre-season, winning their final game 3-1 against the hosts’ national team, with forward Beth England looking sufficiently sharp to be called up by Lionesses Head Coach Phil Neville for friendlies with Norway and Belgium (and getting her first cap against the latter in a 3-3 draw). The Israel match, played before 8,534 fans at the Ha-Moshava Stadium, was scheduled to support further development of women’s sport in Israel, but served as a good work out for the squad. The match was co-sponsored by the Israeli Football Association and Blues owner Roman Abramovich.
The Blues’ defence was as solid as Arsenal’s last season, but they finished 24 goals shy of the Champions’ tally. While Reiten will add speed and movement alongside Ji’s creativity, it feels like Chelsea are one clinical, proven striker short of their two main title rivals.
Chelsea, transfers in
- Guro Reiten [Lillestom SK]
Chelsea, transfers out
- Jade Bailey [Liverpool]
- Molly Pike [Everton]
- Ali Riley [Bayern Munich]
- Hedvig Lindahl [Wolfsburg
Everton Ladies Football Club
Last Season: 10th in the FAWSL
Nickname: The Toffees
Founded: 1983 as Hoylake WFC
Home Ground: Haig Avenue, Southport – Capacity 6,008
With the league being restructured to 12 teams for 2019/20 and Yeovil unable to positively affect either their league position or their finances last season, relegation never looked likely for Everton. But it was a second consecutive campaign of struggle for the Toffees since their return to the top division.
Manager Willie Kirk has had his work cut out since taking on the team at the back end of 2018, but he could at least point to a 2-1 win over city rivals Liverpool on his first game in charge. This summer he’s looked to add significant experience to the squad for the upcoming campaign.
The most eye-catching of the new signings is Dutch full back Kika van Es from Ajax, who was front and centre in the Netherlands’ successful Euro 2017 triumph. Van Es played more of a ‘bit part’ role in this summer’s World Cup, where the Dutch reached the final, but she’s still only 27 and a top-quality player. Perhaps the only concern longer term is that, since her 4 years at PSV earlier in the decade, she has only played single seasons at subsequent clubs.
French Midfielder, Maéva Clémaron, also brings 2019 World Cup experience to the group – perhaps unsurprisingly bench experience given the players in front of her in Les Bleues. At 26-years old, Clémaron can point to 166 senior appearances since 2008.
One wonders what the plan is for 22-year old ‘stalwart’ Kirstie Levell in the Toffee’s goal. Finland’s 33-year old international goalkeeper Tinja-Riikka Korpela has been brought in having made 80 caps for her country and 152 senior league appearance including spells at Bayern Munich and Vålerenga. So, is Levell destined to stay between the posts under the wise tutelage of a veteran? Or is Kirk looking to stem the tide of the last two seasons? (74 goals conceded in 38 league games)
Looking at the Everton strike force, Player of the Season, Simone Magill, signed a new three-year contract with the club earlier this summer to give Kirk a foundation from which to build. Magill has 21 league goals in 95 appearances for the Toffees including 3 in 20 last season. The 24-year old also passed a half-century of senior caps for her country, Northern Ireland.
Bristol City’s top scorer from last season, Lucy Graham was a key target having worked with Kirk and coach Chris Roberts at Hibernian. The 22-year old will hope to grab enough goals put her back in Scotland Head Coach Shelley Kerr’s thoughts for Euro 2021 qualification. Forward Chloe Kelly should be fit to return to active duties following her recovery from ankle surgery last February.
“Pre-season is all about getting into habits, that habit of winning, scoring goals and creating chances. There has been steady progress. I think most of the things we are working on in training are coming through on the pitch.”Willie Kirk, Manager Everton Ladies, source club website
They’ve had a decent pre-season, with six victories in seven matches, including an eyebrow raising 2-1 win over Eredivisie 2019 runners-up, Ajax. Kirk has been pleased with how well the new players are integrating into the squad and, as a group, developing understanding and application of his ideas.
There’s no way around it, this is a big season for the Toffees and some tough challenges lie ahead. But there’s hope that a healthy smattering of experienced players throughout the squad can make them much more difficult to beat.
Everton, transfers in
- Kika van Es [Ajax]
- Tinja-Riikka Korpela [Vålerenga]
- Lucy Graham [Bristol City]
- Maeva Clemaron [FC Fleury 91]
- Molly Pike [Chelsea]
- Esme Morgan [Manchester City] Loan
Everton, transfers out
- Claudia Walker [Birmingham City]
- Siri Worm [Tottenham]
- Angharad James [Reading]
- Emily Jones [Lewes]
Liverpool FC Women
Last Season: 8th in the FAWSL
Nickname: The Reds
Founded: 1989 as Newton Ladies FC
Home Ground: Prenton Park, Preston – Capacity 16,587
The contrast between Liverpool’s opening two seasons in what was a fledgling FAWSL and the following two couldn’t be more marked. A paltry pair of victories in their first 28 league matches had them propping up the division, but they followed this up with back-to-back Super League titles in 2013 and 2014. Since then, the Reds have fallen into the middle ground with last year’s eighth place perhaps a bit disappointing.
This summer, Manager Vicky Jepson took the squad over to the US playing two friendlies: first up the defensively minded Cleveland Ambassadors, where they grabbed a late 1-1 draw, and then the Metropolitan Conference Allstars who they played at Harvard University, culminating in a confidence-boosting 6-0 victory.
Courtney Sweetman-Kirk has been in good goal scoring form ahead of the season, netting five times on the US tour. She struck 12 times for Liverpool in all competitions last season and will be a key player at the sharp end of Liverpool’s attack again.
The imminent return of wide attacker Jessica Clarke following long-term injury will be a boost, in terms of supplying chances for Sweetman-Kirk, team shape and professional experience. Clarke has made over 100 senior appearances in women’s football and has 52 England caps. At 30 years old her paced and power haven’t deserted her.
Winger Melissa Lawley is looking a smart acquisition from Manchester City. Genuinely two-footed, she can attack down either flank taking on defenders or pulling teams out of shape. Lawley has been out of Lionesses contention for a while (although was called in off the reserve list to replace injured Jade Moore last week – ed!), but she’s still only 25 and has the pace and skill to cause opponents the kind of damage that Phil Neville might want in see within his squad.
The departures of defensively minded pairing Jasmine Matthews and Yana Daniëls back to Bristol City has potentially opened up spots for new signings Jade Bailey and Becky Jane.
Previously at Chelsea, Bailey is a holding midfielder by trade who can cover in central defence. She ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament midway through 2017 and couldn’t force her way back into the Blues’ side following recovery. Reading took her on loan last year and this provided a sufficient shop window for Liverpool to take a punt.
Highly experienced left back Jane also arrives from Reading, having made 112 league appearances for the Royals. Just 27, she likes to get forward and is another player that will add pace to Jepson’s side in this respect. After a self-confessed inconsistent season last year, a fresh start could be exactly what she needs to reignite her WSL career. She’s also going to be coaching an under-11 side in the club’s Regional Talent Centre, so clearly considering options beyond her playing career.
Liverpool’s first eleven looks like it will be tidy enough, but is there the depth to mount more than an upper mid-table challenge?
Liverpool, transfers in
- Becky Jane [Reading]
- Melissa Lawley [Manchester City]
- Jade Bailey [Chelsea]
Liverpool, transfers out
- Laura Coombs [Manchester City]
- Jasmine Matthews [Bristol City]
- Yana Daniels [Bristol City]
- Annabel Blanchard [Leicester City]
- Aimee Everett [Leicester City]
- Leandra Little [Sheffield United]
Manchester City WFC
Last Season: 2nd in the FAWSL
Nickname: The Citizens, The Blues, City
Home Ground: Academy Stadium, Manchester – Capacity 7,000 (5,000 seated)
Nick Cushing has built one of the bigger squads in the division with 23 players on the roster at the time of writing. Although they have been around for over 30 years, City have been regarded by many fans as one of the newer, monied teams in women’s football.
They were controversially granted a place in the 2014 Super League by the FA during the opening weeks of the 2013 season, at the expense of Doncaster Belles, who subsequently finished bottom anyway. Demonstrating financial stability played a big part in that decision and City’s cash has made them competitive with one league title and three runners-up spots in five campaigns.
But even with money – perceived or otherwise – the transfer window doesn’t always go your way. Some very high-quality players have left the club. A trio of attacking wide players have moved. Winger Claire Emslie has crossed the Atlantic to take a position on the Orlando Pride roster. Emslie was arguably Scotland’s best performer at the World Cup. Nikita Parris, capable of playing as an out-and-out striker or wide of a front three has signed with 2018 French treble winners Lyon. Melissa Lawley has sought a starting eleven berth at Liverpool.
Two international defenders have switched out as well with Jen Beattie heading South to champions Arsenal and, worse still, Lioness Abbie McManus joining those Red Devils across town.
The spine of their team will eventually mirror that of England’s with Karen Bardsley in goal, captain Steph Houghton at centre half, reliable ball-winner Keira Walsh next to talismanic box-to-boxer Jill Scott in midfield and recently added World Cup hotshot Ellen White up front.
However, White and Bardsley had their pre-season interrupted picking up injuries that rendered them unable to travel to North Carolina for the Women’s International Champions Cup, where City were beaten 2-1 at the death by North Carolina Courage in the semi-finals (but pulled a similar rabbit out of the hat, versus Atlético Madrid, in securing third place with a 3-2 victory).
The England keeper will be out for three to four months following a hamstring operation, so 19-year old Ellie Roebuck stepped in to deputise for her in America making some particularly outstanding stops against the current NWSL champions. Striker White is due to return sooner, following knee surgery.
Georgia Stanway, surely the league’s most exciting young player for her fearlessness, flair and quick feet, will wear the number 10 shirt, a statement of attacking intent if ever there was one. Scottish international Caroline Weir will provide creativity in open play, while Canada’s Janine Beckie will offer pace and width; both are good on the dead ball.
Fans might remember new signing Lee Geum-min’s clever, backheeled assist for Yeo Min-ji’s goal in South Korea’s 1-2 World Cup defeat to Norway this summer. Lee has a 1 in 3 goals to games return for her country but is a completely unknown quantity given a ‘wet Wednesday in Romford’ scenario.
Aoife Mannion, with 93 senior league games under her belt, looks a very decent prospect to replace McManus. Just 23 years old and part of the Birmingham squad that finish 4th last year, Mannion is strong, good in one v one defensive situations and technically capable to play out from the back, which is vital for Cushing’s philosophy and style. She’s also fortunate to find herself stationed next to one of the world’s best centre backs in Houghton every week.
Any team that finishes above City should win the league – they were only beaten once last season in the WSL, after all. Cushing’s squad still looks strong, but not necessarily better than last season. Up front, White’s palpable goal threat edges them ahead of Chelsea, so champions league qualification as a minimum.
Manchester City, transfers in
- Ellen White [Birmingham City]
- Matilde Fidalgo [SC Braga]
- Laura Coombs [Liverpool]
- Aoife Mannion [Birmingham]
- Lee Geum-min [Gyeongju KHNP]
- Tyler Toland [Sion Swifts]
Manchester City, transfers out
- Abbie McManus [Manchester United]
- Melissa Lawley [Liverpool]
- Jen Beattie [Arsenal]
- Claire Emslie [Orlando Pride]
- Nikita Parris [Olympique Lyon]
- Esme Morgan [Everton] Loan