FA WSL Preview – Reading

The 2020/21 FA Women’s Super League kicks off on the weekend of the 5th / 6th September. D2B is here to preview all twelve teams in the title race and assess their chances. Last year we went alphabetical in presenting the teams, but this year we’ve plumped for reverse order of where each club was placed when the league was finally abandoned due to the COVID-19 crisis. Having looked at Everton in the previous article now we turn our attention to Reading who, despite the arrival of several Premier League-backed clubs, continue to find ways to punch above their perceived weight…

Reading Football Club Women

Manager Kelly Chambers – the pack has been shuffled over summer but the Royals will remain highly competitive.

Last Season: 5th of 12

Nickname: The Royals

Founded: 2006

Home Ground: Madejski Stadium (capacity 24,161)

A few eyebrows may have been raised when Reading put out the names on their release list at the end of last season. England midfielder Jade Moore had already announced she was heading to Orlando Pride (to eventually not play in the 2020 Challenge Cup because six players tested positive for COVID-19), but then it came to light that Remi Allen, Sophie Howard and Jo Potter would also be leaving the club.

What was partly surprising was the total number of players moving on (10 in all), but equally so was how many, on the face of it, were still so important to Reading achieving a third consecutive top five finish – in a division filling up with teams that have ostensibly bigger budgets to work with.

The club went fully professional for the 2018/19 season with the board making a firm commitment to integrate the Women’s set-up into a one-club mentality; this has now included moving all 2020/21 home games to the 24,161 capacity Madejski Stadium.

And Manager Kelly Chambers has steadily been able to assemble a really hard-working and competitive side that are hard to beat, never say die when it’s going wrong and have talented individuals within the group that always give opponents something to think about.

While there’s an element of pragmatism required against the top sides, they don’t set out to look deliberately stodgy on the eye, and played out some entertaining games last season. Half of their league fixtures yielded four or more goals. They were shut out just three times. Only Manchester City and Arsenal beat them at home (two of the aforementioned shut-outs) – and it’s the Gunners that will host the Royals on the opening weekend of the new season, live on the BBC, so an early opportunity to publicly blood the nose of a title contender.

Only half of the ten vacated squad spaces have been filled by the manager at the time of writing which suggests a priority on quality over quantity which presumably comes with better remuneration for those incoming players.

Captain Versatile – Natasha Harding, one of five Welsh players in the squad, can adapt to play in different roles for the team.

One might expect a raft of new midfielders but that is not the case as several of the current squad can move around and adjust tactically.

Jess Fishlock MBE has arrived on loan from OL Reign, having featured sparingly in the recent NWSL Utah Challenge Cup. The combative 33-year old is highly respected in the game and has an honor roll than includes Champions League winner’s medals with Lyon and Frankfurt. The signs are positive that she’s fully recovered from an ACL tear sustained in 2019, we should expect to see Fishlock slot into the middle of the park next to Welsh international teammate Angharad James.

Another player recovering from the same injury is striker Danielle Carter who has transferred to the Royals from Arsenal. In fact, the 27-year old has suffered two such injuries so might be seen as a bit of a risky acquisition. But if she stays healthy Carter could be a very smart signing. She can play as an orthodox centre forward holding the ball up and getting on the end of moves in the box, but can also run channels and play off the shoulder of the covering centre back.

Danielle Carter – Ready to remind the WSL what it’s been missing while she’s been recovering from a torn ACL.

“This league is getting closer – I think [Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have] been the ‘big three’ for as long as I can remember, but the league is getting more competitive. More players are coming from abroad and more young players are stepping up.”

Danielle Carter, Striker, via Club Website

Defensively, Reading have looked to upgrade with Deanna Cooper and Emma Mitchell arriving.  Cooper is a versatile defender who can play anywhere across the back line. She’s a good player but just couldn’t force her way into the starting line-up regularly enough at Chelsea. Mitchell made 79 league appearances for Arsenal at left back. Self-described as a ‘tough tackler’ she left the Gunners midway through last season and enjoyed a very decent, confidence-building loan spell at Tottenham.

“Football Ferns’ No.1, Football Ferns’, Football Ferns’ No.1” – A catchy new terraces chant for Erin Nayler?

New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler has also signed with the Royals to provide competition for Grace Moloney. With 61 international caps Nayler was courted by Lyon but couldn’t make the number one spot her own. She stayed in France and enjoyed three seasons at FC Girondins de Bordeaux where the side improved year-on-year. Only well-financed Lyon and PSG were better than Bordeaux by the time Nayler left.

Having proven grafters across the midfield, plus Carter’s movement stretching opposing backlines should allow Chambers some flexibility to continue getting the max out of evergreen Fara Williams who can play as a deep lying midfielder, a freer, link-up role further up the pitch at ‘10’ or even as a striker. Donning her trademark number four shirt, Williams will still get around the pitch, but she’s not going to be doing it at breakneck speed in her 37th year. It’s her technical quality, experience and brainpower that brings value to the first eleven. And goals. Still goals. Really, really good goals.

“I want to get on the pitch, contribute goals, help us win as many games as possible… I’m here to raise standards, and take the club to the next level!”

Danielle Carter, via @ReadingFCWomen Twitter Account

Everton, Tottenham and West Ham all look like they will be stronger this year while Aston Villa are a bit of an unknown quantity. The WSL has never been tougher. But Chambers has shown that she can build a competitive side in the league and her summer signings are talented and experienced. With the exception of Fishlock, they are all arriving in their peak performance years (26-29). If Danielle Carter can stay fit and find a way to achieve a double figure goal tally the Royals should be looking good for yet another top half finish.

Departures

  • Jade Moore, Midfielder
  • Millie Farrow, Forward
  • Jo Potter, Midfielder
  • Sophie Howard, Defender
  • Maxime Bennink, Forward
  • Remi Allen, Midfielder
  • Charlie Estcourt, Midfielder
  • Lisa-Marie Utland, Forward
  • Rachael Laws, Goalkeeper
  • Maz Pacheco, Defender

Arrivals          

  • Deanna Cooper, Defender
  • Erin Nayler, Goalkeeper
  • Danielle Carter, Forward
  • Emma Mitchell, Defender
  • Jess Fishlock, Midfielder
  • Jeon Ga-eul, Forward (after original article)

Earlier this year, we charted on the Feedspot Top 40 list of Women’s football blogs. No one was more surprised than us here at D2B Towers; there’s so much other good stuff out there. Anyhoo, check out the link above, there’s a heap of great blogs and websites written by people who really know their stuff and have an infectious passion for the women’s game…

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