WSL Preview – Who’s competing?
Jessy Parker Humphreys previews the teams competing in the 2019/20 Women’s Super League.
Last season’s champions will again be a tough proposition to beat this year having strengthened their team without losing key players. With a backbone from the Dutch national side which made the World Cup finals (strengthened with the addition of Jill Roord from Bayern Munich) and two England players who were arguably underplayed at the World Cup in Beth Mead and Leah Williamson, Joe Montemurro’s side will be the team to beat. That’s before we even mention that Jordan Nobbs is back fit again.
Birmingham ran the expected top three of Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea pretty close last season, finishing only two points behind Chelsea in 3rd but 13 points ahead of Reading in 5th. It was impressive for a team who relied predominantly on defensive solidity with the attacking support of Ellen White. However, with White moving on to Manchester City, Birmingham will be looking for someone to step up and score some more goals to stay on the same level this season.
Brighton have very high level managerial pedigree with former England manager Hope Powell at the helm, although she oversaw a dissapointing 9th placed finish last season. They’ve done relatively little to refresh the team for the season with ex-Yeovil Town goalkeeper Megan Walsh and former Bristol City defender Danique Kerkdijk being their main acquisitions. Aside from the relegated Yeovil, Brighton scored the fewest goals in the league and with the promoted teams looking very strong, this could be a tricky season for the Seagulls.
4. Bristol City
Bristol City were a very inconsistent team last season, suffering heavy defeats to Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal but grinding out draws home and away against Man City. Their young goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley seemed to only improve as the season went on, whilst new signing Olivia Chance brings some World Cup pedigree having started all of New Zealand’s games. She missed the majority of last season at Everton due to injury but will be hoping to show her abilities fully this time round.
Despite an impressive run to the Champions League semi-finals, it was hard to ignore the feeling around Kingsmeadow last season that something wasn’t quite clicking. Regular rotation of the squad made it difficult to see what Emma Hayes actually thought was her best team. Meanwhile, despite rumours of picking up Sam Kerr, Guro Reiten is the only signing the club have made. Whilst it is undeniable that this is a squad packed with talent – the Norwegian and Swedish players in the squad all had very impressive World Cups – quickly figuring out the strongest 11 will be beneficial, especially in defence. Furthermore, if Hayes can fit Beth England, Erin Cuthbert, Fran Kirby and Ji So-Yun into the team, Chelsea will always be a very threatening team going forward.
It has often felt like Everton have only really been able to hold onto top flight women’s football by their fingertips. They were only able to join the league in 2017/18 as a result of Notts County folding, and avoided relegation thanks to the league expanding the number of teams in it. Similarly, Yeovil Town’s point deduction as a result of falling into administration kept Everton safe in 2018/19. The arrival of defender Kika van Es, who helped Holland to the 2017 Euros, might make them more secure at the back whilst midfielder Maeve Clemaron was part of the France squad at this year’s World Cup. However, it’s hard to see this squad making much of an impact on the WSL.
Liverpool have always had an up and down relationship with playing in the WSL. Despite having won the title in 13/14 under Matt Beard, currently at West Ham, they’ve struggled to maintain top of the table status, finishing 8th last year. This year they’ve signed a number of players looking to prove themselves who could push to bring this team back to where they were; Jade Bailey had a quiet stint at Chelsea after doing her ACL and will be looking to make back lost time, whilst Mel Lawley couldn’t really make the kind of impact she wanted at Man City. With an ever-reliable source of goals in Courtney Sweetman-Kirk, it’ll be exciting to see if manager Vicky Jepson can make the most of this team.
8. Manchester City
Over the past couple of years Manchester City have looked like they were ready to exert the kind of dominance their male counter-parts have managed in the Premier League, but they’ve never managed to quite put their foot down. Nikita Parris’ move to Lyon will be a big loss for them but they’ll be expecting new arrival Ellen White to make up the majority of those goals. Man City also offer an exciting glance of the future of the England team: Keira Walsh and Georgia Stanway are already familiar names at 22 and 20, whilst Aoife Mannion and Ellie Roebuck got their first call ups for the recent England friendlies. They’ll be hoping these youngsters can start to put their stamp on the team with Jill Scott, Steph Houghton and Karen Bardsley now in their 30s. This could be a year of transition in Manchester.
9. Manchester United
Manchester United took their time to start a women’s team but they comfortably topped the Women’s Championship in their first season. Managed by former England captain Casey Stoney, they’ll have to cope without their former captain Alex Greenwood who joined City’s Parris in making the move to Lyon over the summer. However, the addition of experienced players such as Jackie Groenen and Jane Ross will give a strong spine to the squad, and Jess Sigsworth will be hoping to cause Super League defences as many problems as she did in the Championship.
Reading were unlucky to miss out on the FA Cup Final after losing on penalties to West Ham but their run showed the tenacity they have as a team. Tash Harding continues to be a stabilising force in the team whilst Fara Williams’ recent England cap, her 172nd, shows she is still viewed as capable of playing at the highest level. Two new Norwegian signings in Amalie Eikeland and Kristine Bjordal Leine could be key to pushing the team on.
Tottenham are the other addition to the 19/20 Women’s Super League, bringing another traditionally large men’s team to the women’s top flight. A pre-season 6-0 defeat to Arsenal shows how big the gap between top and bottom in the WSL is likely to be but they have also beaten West Ham in pre-season suggesting they are ready to compete in the league. Gemma Davison, a title winner on multiple occasions who never holds back when running at defenders, is an exciting addition to this Spurs, whilst 18-year-old Jessica Naz might be one to watch if she can get enough game time.
12. West Ham
West Ham brought in a lot of experience last year for their first season in the WSL with Gilly Flaherty, Claire Rafferty and Jane Ross all joining the squad under the watchful eye of former Chelsea and Liverpool manager Matt Beard. They made it to the FA Cup Final but now only Flaherty remains of that trio, and it will be interesting to see how this West Ham team can develop without Rafferty and Ross. How well new signing Kenza Dali is able to adapt to England is likely to be key. The French striker has never quite managed to stamp her mark previously, but the change of scenery might give her the opportunity to let loose.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph
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