FAWSL 2021/22 Preview: Leicester City

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 Leicester City, who are embarking on their first foray into the WSL after winning the single promotion spot from the Women’s Championship…

Tight Knit – Leicester City are steeling themselves for their first top-flight campaign.

Full Name: Leicester City Women Football Club

Nickname: The Foxes

Founded: 2004

Ground: King Power Stadium Leicester (32,261) / Pirelli Stadium Burton upon Trent (6,912)

Last Season, FAWSL: N/A, Winners of the FA Women’s Championship

WSL Pedigree / Club History

This will be Leicester City’s first season in the top flight of women’s football. A ‘potted history’ can be found in this D2B article from last season.

Last Season

King Power officially took over the women’s set-up in the off-season before their promotion run.

During the campaign the squad moved into Leicester City’s former training facility at Belvoir Drive, transitioning to full time training, which sharpened up the good players they already had, and offered the kind of professional standards that would be attractive to future recruits.

The Foxes had the championship wrapped up by the first weekend in April. The only team that beat them in the league all season were the London City Lionesses. So, how fitting, then, that they secured their Super League berth by winning the return fixture 2-0 at former home ground Farley Way – with Sam Tierney and Natasha Flint scoring the all-important goals.

Manager

Leicester boss Jonathan Morgan knows something we don’t… His starting eleven for Villa Saturday.

“Like I’ve said all along, we want to be competitive, we want to consolidate in this league, we don’t want to be a team that comes in and fears anyone. So far, we’ve been focusing on out of possession, and I think the girls have worked hard on that and they’ve really applied that into the [pre-season] games we’ve had so far. We want to be very difficult to break down, that’s something that is really important to us for next season. Our fitness levels need to be really high too. We’ll start to focus now a little bit more now on being in possession and getting them match ready for the first game of the season.”

Jonathan Morgan, Manager, Leicester City, via LCFC.com 9/8/2021

Jonathan Morgan has been the manager of the senior team since 2014, stepping up from the reserves. He’s not the only member of the Morgan family who has been involved in their rise to the WSL. Father Rohan was Chairman of the club, sister Jade became General Manager in 2015 and another sister, Holly, played at centre back!

Morgan over saw an ‘invincible’ season in 2015/2016, winning all 22 league matches in the Midlands Division One before rising into the old Northern Division and then successfully applying to join a rebranded WSL2 – or FA Women’s Championship – for 2018.

Summer Recruitment

Jess Sigsworth: Bolstering the Leicester City attack.

Morgan has brought in seven players, all of whom have arrived from other WSL clubs.

The most experienced of these is central defender Abbie McManus. She was part of the title winning Manchester City team in 2016 and enjoyed two FA Women’s Cup wins and three League (Conti) Cup wins during two spells with the Citizens – as well as playing 17 times for England.

With 166 senior league appearances behind her, 28-year old McManus has also played for Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.

Joining Abbie is another ex-United player, forward Jess Sigsworth. She struck 22 times in 47 league matches for the Red Devils, although it’s worth noting that a high proportion of these came in the Championship winning campaign of 2018/19. Sigsworth is strong and rapid which means she can be effective as a centre forward or wide on the right of a front three.

Jemma Purfield has arrived from Bristol City and genuinely looked one of the better players in a group battling the drop week-in-week-out. The 24-year old can play pretty much any role down the left from full-back to winger. The manager will want her to get forward because she can swing in a nice cross.

Who’s moved on?

The release of Remi Allen was a little bit of surprise given her previous experience in the Women’s Super League and her contribution to the Foxes title charge last season. However, she’s been picked up by Aston Villa and they’ll all get to say ‘hi’ to each other again on the opening weekend when the two teams meet. 

Versatile attacker Libby Smith has departed for Birmingham City, and Lia Cataldo has headed back into the Championship with Bristol City. 

Key Players

Leicester striker Natasha Flint was outstanding during the Foxes Championship winning campaign.

Natasha Flint was the Foxes top scorer last season and will be keen to make her mark in the WSL. She scored 20 goals in all competitions. If she can hit double figures this season that would represent a very good return in the WSL.

To put it in perspective, only six players managed 10 or more league goals last season, and they all played for the top three.

Flint can scored all types of goals, she a bit of a fox-in-the-box (sorry, pun intended) but can hit them from distance as well.

Here at D2B we’re keen to see how midfielder Charlie Devlin gets on. She was the assists specialists last season, creating goals in open play and from some very good set-piece delivery. This year wasn’t her first promotion to the WSL, but she didn’t get the chance to feature with Manchester United when they came up – probably because she was just coming out of her teens and they may have felt a bit more experience was required.

Talking of experience, defender / midfielder Sophie Barker will retain her captain’s armband from last year. She hasn’t featured in the WSL since 2016 when she was a ‘Donnie Belle’, but was at Lincoln Ladies (later Notts County) when the league began.

There’s a bit of X-Factor in the younger ranks. Attackers Paige Bailey-Gayle and Lachante Paul are still teenagers. Both came through Arsenal’s development system – Bailey-Gayle even got a handful of games with the Gunners’ first team. They joined Leicester in the summer of 2019 and haven’t looked back. Foxes fans will hope to see the fearlessness of youth in these two, because when they are on their game they are trouble.

Opening Day

Leicester travel to Aston Villa on Saturday 4th September.

Pre-season

The Foxes had some low keys friendlies against Chelsea, Liverpool, Birmingham City and Tottenham Hotspur.

Prospects for 2021/22

It’s always difficult to gauge how well a promoted club is going to get on. There’s a significant quality difference between the WSL and the FAWC, but Leicester are bringing a positive, winning mentality with them and the players have already had 12-months of the full-time, professional experience.

Part of the challenge for a manager, of course, is to figure out whether he sticks with the players that got the club into the top-flight or clears almost everyone out to start again.

Only seven new players have arrived in a squad of 22 (at the time of writing) which feels manageable in terms of integration and suggests a strong foundation was thought to be in place. Morgan hasn’t gambled on overseas imports, either. They have just the one Dutch player, Esmee de Graaf and she was already there.

The infrastructure at Leicester is good. The parent club is right behind them. It all looks very stable. Nobody would expect them to pull up trees in their first Super League campaign but some winnable looking early fixtures could build momentum for them to push their way into the middle of the pack.

Transfer Summary

Ins

  • Jemma Purfield (Winger)
  • Jess Sigsworth (Forward)
  • Georgia Brougham (Defender)
  • Abbi Grant (Forward)
  • Molly Pike (Midfielder)
  • Abbie McManus (Defender)
  • Connie Scofield (Midfielder)

Outs

  • Olivia Fergusson (Forward)
  • Aimee Everett (Midfielder)
  • Freya Thomas (Midfielder)
  • Grace Riglar (Defender)
  • Charlotte Fleming (Midfielder)
  • Remi Allen (Midfielder)
  • Millie Farrow (Forward)
  • Libby Smith (Forward)
  • Holly Morgan (Defender)
  • Lia Cataldo (Defender)

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