As the WSL opening weekend comes into sight, Maryam Naz and Florence Lloyd-Hughes take a look at the ambitions and atmosphere of three of the leagues lesser favoured sides.
Toffees Look to Hit the Ground Running
“Expect an improved Everton”, those were the final words uttered by manager Andy Spence in his press conference. After the disappointment of last season’s league position, his side are now looking to capitalise on their summer recruitment and training.Embed from Getty Images
The hard work going on behind the scenes in preparation for the new season is palpable. Spence took the girls to Gibraltar during preseason, where they not only came up against quality opposition, such as Real Betis, but crucially also bonded as a group.
But despite all this effort, he is wary of becoming too confident. Spence stated the “standard is high, but so is ours”, and the team will need “drive” and “be ambitious” to challenge in what should be a difficult season for all teams.
He will profit from the mix of youth and experience in the current squad. Elsie Hughes’ pace and skill will be an asset to the team. Likewise, the return of Claudia Walker, who has been hailed by Spence as a “new signing”, will give Everton a boost with her attacking capabilities.
Captain Danielle Turner has spearheaded Spence’s operations, and will need to assert herself as the leader of the group if Everton are to progress further than they did in the league and cup competitions last year.Embed from Getty Images
When asked about the mood within the Everton camp, she stated that the group are a “creative bunch” and have a clear sense of “identity” that they know will have a positive impact on results.
So, will Everton start the season with a bang? They will come up against difficult opponents but based on what we’ve heard from Spence and his players, there is no doubt that they are on the up.
Reading aiming to bounce back
Kelly Chambers is confident her Reading side can once again finish in the top four as a fully-professional WSL kicks off.
Reading head into the new season with familiar faces, big names and young guns all in their squad.
Veteran England player Fara Williams, club captain Kirsty Pearce and young Lioness Maz Pacheco have already impressed in the Continental Cup and Under-20 World Cup, respectively, this August.Embed from Getty Images
Chambers believes an exciting season awaits as the new professional era of women’s football begins.
However, she admits there’s still room for improvement in the WSL. Chambers explains:
“It’s great to have more professional teams in the set up, but it has been a disappointment to lose some big clubs that have been part of the women’s game for a very long time.
“The standard of refereeing is something that everybody picked up on last season. For us to push on further that is something that needs to grow with the game and with the level of the women’s game.”
A rejigged top-tier now means that just five of the WSL’s 11 teams are not aligned to a men’s Premier League side.
Despite Reading’s men’s team already struggling in the Championship this season, Chambers doesn’t see their league status as an obstacle for her side, saying: “At Reading I’ve got fantastic support, especially as we recently got a new CEO about 12 months ago who was at Chelsea and Manchester United. So, that experience of being involved in the men’s game has really helped us.Embed from Getty Images
“This season the owners have allowed me not just to improve my squad but also my staff to make sure I can support the players.”
Reading will need to challenge Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester City if they are to seal a finish in the top four again, but if Williams continues to mature like a fine wine, Chambers has nothing to worry about.
England’s success is also drawing more crowds to the domestic game and Chambers is relishing the extra attention: “If people do turn on their tellies [to watch England play Wales next week] I think they will get to see what our league is about and see how exciting the women’s game is and the high quality football that is played.
“We had people come last week to our Durham game for the first time ever and they’re just so pleased with the football they get to see, and the atmosphere and they want to come again. I know as soon as those people that haven’t see a game before step through the gate they definitely won’t turn back.”
High hopes for Albion
Brighton are one of two newcomers to the top-tier and new signing Emily Simpkins is relishing the chance to play at the top of women’s football again.
The former Doncaster Belle was lured to the seaside by former England head coach Hope Powell who has been nurturing a promising side since last year.Embed from Getty Images
Simpkins is already loving life with the Seagulls and can’t wait for the season to start. She says: “It was big jump coming down here to Brighton, but it really has been going great.
“The structure and the professionalism of the club is brilliant. We’ve got depth within our squad and Hope has got options for what she can do. I am really looking forward to this season.
The biggest challenge for Brighton? For Simpkins, it’s all about belief: “It’s about experience and believing in ourselves and fully going for it. As an experienced player I want to bring that out in them as a leader. We need to take in that game management in the big games.
“Within the group we’ve got Hope with all her experience and expertise and then within the team we have some experienced characters. We’ve got a good balance.”