FAWSL 2021/22 Preview: Aston Villa

The 2020/21 FA Women’s Super League kicks off on the weekend of the 3rd – 5th September. D2B is here to preview all twelve teams in the title race and assess their chances. We’re going back to an alphabetical approach and continue with Aston Villa, who avoided relegation on the very last day of their first WSL campaign…

Right full-back / midfielder and Aston Villa fan Sarah Mayling re-joins the club after several years at Birmingham City.

Full Name: Aston Villa Women Football Club

Nickname: The Villans, The Villa, The Lions

Founded: 1973; 48 years ago (as Solihull FC)

Ground: Bescot Stadium, Walsall, Capacity 11,000

Last Season: FAWSL: 10th Place

WSL Pedigree / Club History

Even though the club has been in operation since the early 1970s, Aston Villa have just the one season in the top flight of women’s football.

Last Season

They arrived in the division as convincing points-per-game winners of the FA Women’s Championship, but their debut in the Super League was a struggle from the get-go, losing six of their opening eight fixtures.

Bringing in Marcus Bignot as team manager mid-season was designed to get their season back on track, but it still wasn’t looking good for the Villans heading into April.

Bignot – aided by former manager Gemma Davies – made them harder to beat. Five draws to close their fixture schedule enabled Villa to limp to safety, although they should have made it a bit more comfortable than it was; throwing away winning situations in stoppage time against relegation rivals Bristol City and Birmingham respectively.

Manager / Head Coach

Carla Ward left Birmingham City for Aston Villa : No redirection of mail required, then…

Carla Ward replaced Bignot over the summer, coming in from cross-city rivals Birmingham City. While Blues’ supporters are unlikely to be happy about this switch, it’s unlikely she’ll anything like the white-hot animosity, reserved for Villa’s men’s team, unleashed on her when the clubs meet on the 14th November.

Ward steered the Blues to WSL safety in spite of a whole host of on-and-off-field obstacles throughout the campaign that the Villa organisation looks better equipped (and resourced) to avoid. As a player, she racked up over 100 senior goals with Sheffield FC. 

In her first Head Coach appointment Ward built a decent Sheffield United side in the second tier.

Recruitment

Ward has brought in seven new players at the time of writing and, on paper, there’s been a net gain in quality.

She raided her former club for goalkeeper Hannah Hampton and right full-back / midfielder Sarah Mayling. Hampton kept her side in a number of matches last season, catching the eye of the senior England international set-up, while Villa fan Mayling was extremely consistent for the Blues and may end up being one of the best ‘unheralded’ signings of the summer – few can cross a football with her quality that’s for sure.

Central defender Meaghan Sargeant comes in from Bristol City having barely featured for the Vixens last season. Remi Allen will bring WSL experience to Villa’s midfield, having (surprisingly?) been released from FA Women’s Championship winning Leicester City.

Former Everton winger Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah will add speed to Villa’s right wing. Maz Pacheco looks a solid addition at left-back, and could enable promising youngster Freya Gregory to play further forward.

Swiss forward Alisha Lehmann hasn’t yet realised the potential she hinted at with West Ham and will want to deliver more productivity than she managed on loan at Everton. She’ll hope for more regular opportunities to play, though. Villa struggled for goals last year, no club scored fewer.

Who’s moved on?

Ten players left during the off-season with Mana Iwabuchi heading to Arsenal and goalkeeper Lisa Weiß signing for German club Wolfsburg.

Young full back Asmita Ale had a decent WSL campaign which sealed her a move to Tottenham Hotspur, but Villa fans may feel their manager has adequately replaced the quality she takes with her. International forwards Diana Silva (Portugal) and Stine Larsen (Denmark) just never really got going with the Villans so their decisions to go to Sporting CP and BK Häcken respectively weren’t a massive surprise.

Key Players

It’s not unreasonable to expect that several of the new signings could end up being key to achieving Villa’s aspirations this season.

However, central defenders Anita Asante and Natalie Haigh have been retained for the forthcoming campaign. Their joint experience will be invaluable in bringing together new additions with last season’s group. Next to them 24-year old Elisha N’Dow is going into her eighth season with the club and has now had a good look at the standard required – with nearly 1,600 WSL minutes under her belt last season.

And if Carla Ward is looking for an experienced block through the middle, team captain Marisa Ewers could be a perfect partner for Remi Allen.

Forward Shania Hayles and attacking midfielder Ramona Petzelberger both showed flashes of brilliance last year and always looked like they could cause problem for defenders, but they both need to up their conversion rate.

Pre-season

On the face of it pre-season results have not been good, with defeats at Chelsea (0-1) and Manchester United (0-2), plus a home loss to Everton (1-3) which yielded their only goal.

The team is still gelling, however; all three opponents were top five finishers last season, and to be fair none of them gave Villa a hiding.

Opening Day

Remi Allen gets an early reunion with her former teammates as Aston Villa host Leicester City on Saturday 4th September.

Prospects for 2021/22

Hannah Hampton: one of the most promising young English keepers playing in the WSL…

“I’m really excited to get going. It’s a great Club with great ambition and it’s something I want to be a part of. I can’t wait for the season to start. Now it’s time for me to take a step forward. Joining a club like Villa… I feel like I can do that. Improving my personal development as a player, with the facilities here I can really do that, whether that’s in the gym or on the pitch.”

Hannah Hampton, Goalkeeper, Aston Villa, via avfc.co.uk, 08/07/2021

Aston Villa look like they can put out a better starting eleven than last season but don’t yet have the squad depth to suggest they can deliver the sort of consistency to finish top-half.

They’ll need to address their lack of goals quickly, so that they can get a few points on the board early. In this second respect, at least, the fixture list has been reasonably ‘kind’. Villa don’t come across any of the title challengers until Week 4.

Carla Ward will be able to organise her players defensively and, if her work at Birmingham is anything to go by, the team should build on the mental strength and resilience they gained in the closing matches of last season. Objectively, though, finishing above the bottom four by the end of the campaign would represent a good result.

Transfer Summary

In

  • Alisha Lehmann (Forward)
  • Remi Allen (Midfielder)
  • Sarah Mayling (Midfielder)
  • Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah (Winger)
  • Meaghan Sargeant (Defender)
  • Hannah Hampton (Goalkeeper)
  • Maz Pacheco (Defender)

Out

  • Ella Franklin-Fraiture (Defender)
  • Emma Follis (Midfielder)
  • Diana Silva (Forward)
  • Nadine Hanssen (Midfielder)
  • Mana Iwabuchi (Forward)
  • Caroline Siems (Defender)
  • Stine Larsen (Forward)
  • Amy West (Midfielder)
  • Asmita Ale (Defender)
  • Lisa Weiß (Goalkeeper)

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