FAWSL 2021/22 Preview: Everton

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 this year and continue with Everton, a team that has improved its final league position in the last two seasons under the stewardship of Willie Kirk…

Back stronger: The class of Everton 2021/22 are looking to break into the top four.

Full Name: Everton Football Club

Nickname: The Blues, the Toffees

Founded: 1983 as Hoylake WFC

Ground: Walton Hall Park (Capacity 2,200)

Last Season, FAWSL: 5th place

WSL Pedigree / Club History

Everton was a founder member of the Women’s Super League finishing third in the first two seasons of the competition.

A fifth place followed and then key players moved on. Struggling, the Toffees were relegated in the 2014 season, competing well in the second tier before some league restructuring gave them an opportunity to head back into a 10-team top-flight.

They narrowly avoided relegation in three consecutive seasons, the last of which saw current manager Willie Kirk arrive. Since then Kirk has had them looking up the table.

Last Season

After a positive summer of recruitment Everton were seen as a bit of a dark horse capable of troubling the established top four. They compounded this view by knocking Chelsea out of a rolled-over 2019/20 FA Cup, and accruing thirteen points from their opening five league games, scoring 16 goals.

But the fixtures computer had been kind; the Blues hadn’t bumped into any of the title challengers. When they did Chelsea and Arsenal would both beat them 4-0; while the Manchester clubs won 3-0 (City) and 2-0 (United) respectively.

And that became the pattern of the season. No one below Everton could beat them, and Everton couldn’t get a single point out of the top four, putting them comfortably in the ‘best-of-the-rest’ category, but a massive fifteen points behind fourth-placed Manchester United.

Manager

Willie Kirk – Year-on-year improvement, but the Toffees have got to find a way to take points from the title contenders.

“I said to the players during the week, the way they’ve been training has been really pleasing. I said it with a smile but I’m going to have a lot of selection headaches trying to pick a team if the players continue to apply themselves like this – and the quality that they’ve been producing in training has been excellent. It’s a fantastic squad we’ve put together. We’ve got real good quality and options. We’ll be really versatile in terms of the way we want to play. It’s really exciting. It’s going to be really tough picking teams every week but that’s my job.”

Willie Kirk, Manager, Everton, via evertonfc.com 17/8/2021

Willie Kirk has done a proper apprenticeship. He was a non-league player in Scotland and it was through this route that he discovered an interest in coaching and management, joining the Livingston FC Academy as an age-group coach and then moving to Hibernian to coach their Under-17 team.

By 2011 he had led the team to a Scottish Women’s Cup and the Women’s Premier League Cup, finishing third in the league standings. In 2013 they improved on that with a second place finish.

Stints at Bristol City and Manchester United (as an Assistant Manager to Casey Stoney) led to a mid-season offer at Everton. Since then Everton have finished 10th, 6th and 5th.

Summer Recruitment

“Hi Toffees I’m home” – Toni Duggan is back where where it all began.

They’ve had another good off-season bringing in nine new players, several of which will instantly challenge for starting berths.

“It’s so nice to be back in the shirt, be back at Finch Farm and I’m enjoying my time with the team so far. It’s been nice to get this shirt back on, in my number nine as well. It’s a really good group, there are some familiar faces from the girls that I have played with before, like Gabby George and Izzy Christiansen. I had a few conversations with Willie before signing and I like his enthusiasm and the way he thinks about the game – and he way he works with the girls, his player management skills.”

Toni Duggan, Forward, Everton, via evertonfc.com 10/8/2021

The return of ‘local girl’ Toni Duggan is about as feel good as a signing can be. The forward played for the Toffees as a teenager, eventually leaving in 2013 for Manchester City. She flirted with a 1 in 2 goals to games ratio in England which was enough to attract Barcelona and she struck 20 times in 52 league appearances for the Catalan club. She remained in Spain and played more than 40 times for Atlético Madrid scoring a half dozen league goals.  Now 30-years old she returns to Everton with a mountain of senior experience, not to mention 76 England caps.

Kirk has looked to bolster his midfield with French international Kenza Dali, from West Ham United. Dali is a playmaker who also offers good dead ball delivery and likes a shot from distance.

Alongside her, ball-winning Italian Aurora Galli will brings a more defensive mind-set to enable other players to push on and attack. Galli is just 24-years old but is already closing in on 200 senior appearances, including 67 league games with Juventus where she chipped in with 10 goals. They’ve also gone a bit ‘Swede crazy’ up there at Walton Hall Park bringing in tall defender Nathalie Björn, highly rated teenage midfielder Hanna Bennison and prolific forward Anna Anvegård.

Anvegård, fresh from scoring against New Zealand in the Tokyo games converted 26 times in 37 league appearances for the Malmö-based side. Bennison can top that. Earlier this year the Goal NXGN Awards named her the best young female footballer in the world.

Fans will be keen to see teenage midfielder Hanna Bennison in action at Walton Hall Park.

Who’s moved on?

Australian international Hayley Raso was probably the most disappointing loss of the summer for Toffees’ fans after a good 2020/21 campaign. The right winger opted for Manchester City, which is also a bit frustrating for the armchair fan who enjoyed Raso’s energy and dynamism every week, as it’s likely she’s gone from starter at Everton to squad player at City.

Raso will join up former team mate Jill Scott whose loan with Everton ended in May. Evergreen box-to-boxer Jill did liven up the Everton midfield when she arrived in the January window, contributing two goals in eleven starts.

Combative midfielders Maéva Clemaron and Abbey-Leigh Stringer have gone to Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham respectively. Everton fans may feel that the arrivals of Dali, Bennison and Galli will prove to be an upgrade on last season.

Capable 31-year old Norwegian right-back Ingrid Moe Wold retired after making 260 combined league appearances in three different countries.

Long serving attacker ‘Chaney’ Boye-Hlorkah was released and has taken up an offer from Aston Villa, a club that she should get more starts with.

Key Players

Midfielder Izzy Christiansen – Leading by example…

Central midfielder Izzy Christiansen was a great fit for Everton last season and delivered a string of excellent performances complete with trademark energy, competitiveness and work rate. She leads by example and would become a favourite of team mates and fans alike winning their player of the season award. She’s the standard in the group. If a few more can emulate it Everton will be looking up the table all season not down it.

With the return of Toni Duggan to her home town club it’s easy to overlook the fact that Everton already has one of Europe’s best penalty box strikers in its ranks.

Injury struck in week six of Valérie Gauvin’s first WSL season after she’d started on fire, scoring to put Chelsea out of the FA Cup and contributing important goals that got the Toffees up and running with four straight wins out of the gate. If she can stay healthy and rediscover that groove again opponents are in for trouble.

Opening Day

The fixtures computer wasn’t particularly kind to Everton. They host Manchester City on Saturday 4th September, a match that is going out on the BBC. Still it will give them an early opportunity to see whereabouts they are against a title contender. 

Pre-season

The Toffees have had some good results in pre-season beating Hibernian 2-0, Brighton & Hove Albion 6-1 and Aston Villa 3-1.

Prospects for 2021/22

Overall Everton’s squad looks stronger than it did this time last year, but nine players have come in and sixteen have left. That’s a fair amount of upheaval and a lot of gelling which will be required with players spanning eleven nationalities.

There are a lot of unknowns. Nobody really knows how the Swedish contingent are going to fair. Will Toni Duggan be able to rekindle her previous WSL levels? Can the group that remains from last season overcome the “mental block” that Willie Kirk described every time they came across a top four side?

The Toffees finished 16 points shy of Arsenal last season who grabbed the new Champions League qualifying spot. One place behind the Gunners, Manchester United still had a 15-point gap plus a considerably better goal difference. That is the gap that Everton is seeking to close.

Excitement about the squad is justified because on paper it looks as anything they’ve had at the club has gone before. But football’s not played on paper. Can this squad chase down United and Arsenal at the first attempt? Can supporters be patient? Consolidation of fifth and another Cup foray looks more likely. and wouldn’t be awful – providing they can significantly reduce that point differential.

Transfer Summary

Ins

  • Kenza Dali (Midfielder)
  • Toni Duggan (Forward)
  • Nathalie Björn (Defender)
  • Anna Anvegård (Forward)
  • Leonie Maier (Defender)
  • Courtney Brosnan (Goalkeeper)
  • Aurora Galli (Midfielder)
  • Hanna Bennison (Midfielder)
  • Cecilia Ran Runarsdottir (Goalkeeper)

Outs

  • Ingrid Moe Wold (Defender)
  • Jill Scott – Loan Ended (Midfielder)
  • Georgia Brougham (Defender)
  • Hannah Coan (Midfielder)
  • Molly Pike (Midfielder)
  • Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah (Winger)
  • Tinja-Riikka Korpela (Goalkeeper)
  • Maéva Clemaron (Midfielder)
  • Georgia Brougham (Defender)
  • Anna Pedersen (Goalkeeper)
  • Molly Pike (Midfielder)
  • Abbey-Leigh Stringer (Midfielder)
  • Elise Hughes (Forward)
  • Hayley Raso (Winger)
  • Brooke Cairns (Midfielder)
  • Alisha Lehmann – Loan Ended (Forward)

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