A week later than planned, the Barclays Women’s Super League makes its long-awaited return this weekend, with more anticipation than ever off the back of England’s Euro 2022 success.
While the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II ensured big games in big stadiums at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Stamford Bridge, and the AMEX Stadium, plus Manchester City versus Arsenal were postponed, the opening weekend still throws up some interesting matchups.
Arsenal and Brighton will kick things off on Friday, while newly-promoted Liverpool against champions Chelsea bookends the weekend, with Villa Park playing host to Manchester City, and the King Power Stadium also hosting women’s football on Sunday.
It’s been a summer of big changes for many clubs, both on and off the pitch, and we run the rule over the business all 12 teams have done ahead of the big kickoff on Friday night.
Ironically, we begin with the team that has done the least business of anyone over the summer. Jonas Eidevall admitted he would have liked one more signing, but the summer was more about streamlining a squad he believed was too big.
Six first-team players have departed, with only two coming in, plus the deadline-day addition of Gio Queiroz, who has immediately headed to Everton on loan for the season.
The main addition is that of Lina Hurtig from Juventus, who adds another dimension to Arsenal’s already stacked attack. I like how Eidevall has approached this summer: Last season wasn’t perfect, but for a manager in his first season, he took the title down to the final day against a superb Chelsea side, and clearly feels consistency is the best form of attack.
With Hurtig to add to Vivianne Miedema, Stina Blackstenius, and a Beth Mead currently on top of the world, Arsenal will continue to be dangerous. Jordan Nobbs is back fit, Kim Little has returned from OL Reign, Mana Iwabuchi offers another great option, and everything seems in place to have another good go at it this season.
The question mark will be in squad depth. Is the squad deep enough to cope with the league, cup, and one group stage one way or another, either the Champions League or Continental Cup, but the quality is certainly there.
I like Villa’s approach this summer. The mid-pack of the table is so closely fought, it can be easy to go out and throw money around to bring in seven or eight players for the sake of it.
The reality is, however, just an added bit of quality can be the difference between a relegation battle and a solid mid-table finish, and manager Carla Ward now has few excuses to not be in the latter. Ward’s main criticism toward the back end of last season, fairly, was her side’s inability to put chances away.
Villa became a defensively solid side, rarely being hammered by two many teams, but often lost out by a goal or settled for a 0–0 or a 1–1 draw because they didn’t have the required quality to put the ball in the back of the net.
Ward has therefore prioritized quality over quantity this summer and has done a great job with it, on paper at least. Rachel Daly is potentially the coup of the summer, while Natasha Harding, Kenza Dali, and Kirsty Hanson all add a lot more quality to the Villa attack. Anna Patten is back on loan and another experienced head in Danielle Turner has arrived, and it’s hard to argue the squad looks better than it did last season.
Their opening game against Man City is a tough one, but after that Villa go to Leicester City before hosting West Ham United and Everton, so there’s a good chance early on to put points on the board.
Brighton & Hove Albion
I worry about Brighton a little this season, but I think a smattering of quality across the squad and the experience of Hope Powell will see them do okay.
But few teams have lost as many key players as Albion over the summer. Emma Koivisto has gone to Liverpool, Maya Le Tissier to Manchester United, and influential Dutch duo Inessa Kaagman and Danique Kerkdijk have also departed. That’s before you add in the departures of Aileen Whelan, Felicity Gibbons, Emily Simpkins, and Ellie Brazil.
Powell’s recruitment has been solid for what she has and like I said, it’s her ability to get the best out of her squad that makes me think they’ll be solidly in that mid-table pack this season. I worked with Veatriki Sarri at Sheffield United and she’s an exciting young player with a wand of a left foot. With Poppy Pattinson added at left back, it’s likely Sarri will play further forward on the wing too.
The experience of Rebekah Stott has returned, but it’s the other two young signings I really like: Jorja Fox is a really promising talent and it’s a great chance to see what she can do in the WSL, while Elisabeth Terland was one of our players to watch at Euro 2022, she could be a dark horse to shine this season.
How do you improve a team currently dominating the domestic landscape? That’s the beauty of Emma Hayes, she doesn’t stand still. She will know Chelsea, and herself, demand a European title for the quality they have and a repeat of last season’s group stage exit won’t be acceptable, but it’s really hard to see how they get toppled in the BWSL again this season.
Nobody critical has left, they still have the core of Sam Kerr, Pernille Harder, Fran Kirby, and so on in attack and the rock solid pairing of Millie Bright and Magdalena Eriksson at the back, with the mouth-watering addition of Canada international Kadeisha Buchanan to add to the party.
Ève Périsset adds quality in a key area, while Jelena Čanković, Kateřina Svitková, and Johanna Rytting Kaneryd all add various qualities and some really talented depth to the squad, particularly in the middle of the park.
There’s not a lot else to say beyond that. We know what Chelsea can do and what they offer, and as I said, it’s hard to see how they get stopped again this season.
More than anyone, Everton just need a quiet, solid season in the middle of the table. Last season was a disaster, both on and off the pitch. After a tough start that saw them lose three of their first five games to Manchester City, Arsenal, and Chelsea, they were too trigger happy in my opinion in getting rid of Willie Kirk, especially after such a tough start and a huge turnover of players in preseason.
After that, the question was where was the plan? Jean-Luc Vasseur was a polar opposite of Kirk and it wasn’t a huge surprise to anyone that didn’t work out well. The plus point now is the club was proactive in hiring Brian Sørensen ahead of the new season, and they’ve backed him too.
Before we even get to recruitment, there’s a good core of players still there, with plenty of exciting young players such as Hanna Bennison, experienced heads, plus some players Sørensen will be familiar with from his time in Scandinavia.
He’s added players he knows and trusts, such as the Holmgaard twins, Katrine Veje, Elise Stenevik and Australian Clare Wheeler, plus some really exciting players in attack.
With Claire Emslie, Anna Anvegard, Kenza Dali, Grace Clinton, and Valérie Gauvin out the door, there’s a lot of questions as to where the goals will come from. But Katja Snoeijs, Jess Park, Gio Queiroz, and Aggie Beever-Jones, plus the experience of Toni Duggan, promises a lot on paper.
The only drawback is it feels like a lot of it is temporary. Park, Queiroz, and Beever-Jones are all on loan from the top three clubs and not permanent solutions, but for now at least they give the Toffees plenty of options at the top end of the pitch.
There’s just a few too many question marks against Leicester City for my liking heading into their second top-flight season. There’s a good structure behind the scenes with people like Emile Heskey and Willie Kirk, but they have put a lot of faith in a young coach in a difficult position given the Foxes will be one of the favorites to be down the bottom again this season.
There’s some talented young players in the Leicester City squad, but not a huge amount of experience. I was interested in their recruitment this summer, but I’m not sure it’s enough. Aileen Whelan, Josie Green, and Erin Simon bring extra experience, as does the potential arrival of Demi Vance, but is there enough quality?
I like the addition of Carrie Jones on loan from Manchester United, who I rate highly, but it’s a lot of pressure to put on a teenager to lead the line of a team that may end up with their backs against the wall in a large chunk of games.
I just can’t help but feel Leicester needed a little more to be assured of safety this season.
Matt Beard has used his experience and gone about the summer with pragmatism, rather than doing what many promoted clubs do and add players for the sake of it.
With the caveat the Liverpool squad on paper is stronger than most coming from the Championship, Beard has only added a handful of players this summer, again prioritizing quality over quantity.
Liverpool cannot afford the bad PR that would come with another dwindling top-tier campaign, and Beard’s experience and the experience in the squad should avoid that but I also don’t see them immediately flying up challenging the established top four or five.
Koivisto and Gilly Flaherty add good quality at the back, while the return of Shanice van de Sanden is a really intriguing one. There’s no doubt quality there and pace to burn, and the Netherlands winger needs to reignite her career after being left out of the Dutch squad for Euro 2022.
Overall, a solid summer and a small turnover of players both in and out, Liverpool should be okay. Like their neighbors in blue, they just need a quiet, solid campaign.
There is potentially no team more intriguing than Manchester City this season. Still with just one title in their eight years since relaunching their women’s team, Gareth Taylor has done a good job when he’s had everyone fit, winning both domestic cups, their Continental Cup final performance last season in particular was one of the most impressive I’ve seen against Chelsea.
But too often it has gone wrong, particularly early in seasons, which Taylor can’t afford. They’re already out of the Champions League and have had a huge turnover this summer, with key players leaving at a rate that should be worrying for a club the size of City.
There are positives though. The recruitment has been good and proactive, bar failing to replace Keira Walsh. But City budgeted for other departures such as Georgia Stanway, Caroline Weir, and Lucy Bronze and on paper I like what they’ve done.
An attack spearheaded by Khadija Shaw should score for fun. Shaw is one of the best in Europe and with Lauren Hemp and the returning Chloe Kelly on either side of her and the creative sparks of Deyna Castellanos, Mary Fowler, and Yui Hasegawa around her too, there is a lot to like about a new-look Manchester City attack.
How to replace Walsh with what they have will be the big question, but there are options there, including new signing Laia Aleixandri. It may take some time to click, which perhaps Taylor can’t afford, but there’s still a lot to like about this City team. How it looks in style on the pitch will be the most interesting factor having been so used to seeing a real English core in the team.
United, respectively, has had a good summer. One key name has departed in Jackie Groenen, but they’ve recruited extensively and added quality in key positions, and will look to do so again in January.
I like what United has done. Is it enough to get in the top three? I’m unsure. Chelsea and Arsenal look mega strong, their main hope may be it takes neighbors City too long to get up to speed, but I’m not as convinced as some that it will. But just looking at United’s business from their own point of view, they now have a lot more depth in attack.
Crucially, Ella Toone and Alessia Russo now have all the confidence in the world off the back of the Euros, and with the flair, quality, and experience of additions Lucía García, Adriana Leon, Grace Clinton, Nikita Parris, and Rachel Williams, Marc Skinner now has options to rotate and play different ways.
Maya Le Tissier and Aïssatou Tounkara are great signings too and in positions where strengthening was required. Tounkara adds experience as a France international center back, while Le Tissier is the brightest defensive prospect in England right now. Skinner has admitted this now looks more like his team and with fans expectant, he has to walk the walk and not just talk the talk this season.
If Champions League football isn’t secured, a good cup run and a trophy or a final would at least show further progress.
You have to respect the job Kelly Chambers has done and continues to do at the now only non-Premier League backed side in the BWSL.
Chambers has always had Reading fighting in at least the mid-table and while they may start to get overtaken by those with more money, Reading continues to have a solid-looking squad, and I think they’ve got enough to steer clear of danger for at least another year.
Impressively, they’ve lost few players over the summer and have retained key players such as Natasha Dowie, a number nine being a valuable commodity in the middle part of the table, as well as the likes of Amalie Eikeland and Deanne Rose.
Their recruitment, with a smaller budget than most, looks shrewd and smart, if unspectacular. I’ll say it though, I think Lauren Wade could go under the radar. Glentoran to Reading is a big step up, but I was impressed with Wade in a Northern Ireland side at the Euros more used to defending than attacking. Against England, she used her pace and movement to get in behind the Lionesses several times.
Charlie Wellings is another good addition. Wellings always did well in the WSL and comes off the back of a fantastic season with Reading, while they’ve added experience in a key area at the heart of defense in Diane Caldwell and Brooke Hendrix.
Overall, it seems a job fairly well done.
Tottenham had one big question mark for me coming into this season. Where do the goals come from? Last year, their defensive record was remarkable, as good as most of the top sides, but they struggled for goals.
It’s hard to say if they’ve answered it or not, but I still expect them to be in the top half. They’re well-coached, well-drilled, and have added another layer to their defensive solidity with the arrival of Amy Turner at the back and Angharad James in the midfield. I like the experienced additions of Drew Spence and Ramona Petzelberger in the middle too, but they’ve taken a risk up front.
Celin Bizet and Nikola Karczewska are too relative unknowns to BWSL fans. Bizet was in the Norway squad at Euro 2022 and after an impressive goal-scoring record back home was snapped home by French giants PSG, where she couldn’t break into the starting eleven. Bizet is only 20 though and has loads of time to grow and definitely has the talent.
At 22, Karczewska is a little more experienced and joins after a solid season at Fleury 91 in France, and her record in front of goal for Poland is solid too. If Rehanne Skinner has got it right in her scouting network, Tottenham may have dropped on a couple of superb little pickups, but we’ll see.
West Ham United
Similarly to what I said about Brighton, I’m a little worried about West Ham United. They’ve recruited fairly well, but lost a lot of key players, too many for me, and don’t have Hope Powell in charge.
That’s not to say ex-Hammer himself Paul Konchesky won’t work out after the former assistant manager replaced the outgoing Olli Harder, but there’s certainly an unknown there for now and they’ve endured some tough preseason results, including a 0–5 loss to newly promoted Liverpool.
Gilly Flaherty, Adriana Leon, Tameka Yallop, Yui Hasegawa, and Kateřina Svitková have all departed, which is a lot of quality and experience. Lisa Evans joining permanently is a plus, as is the addition of her international teammate Kirsty Smith, who I think will be a shrewd signing.
The big question is Viviane Asseyi. At 28, she’s in her peak years and has a good scoring record wherever she’s gone, but Asseyi is used to being in top teams across Europe, dominating games and having plenty of chances. It may not be the same with West Ham, and the difference in their season may come down to how she adapts to life at the club.
Elsewhere, they’ve snapped up several youngsters from Arsenal, but I like their other pick ups too. Jessica Ziu is an exciting prospect, and I’ve heard a lot of good things about Japanese duo Risa Shimizu and in particular, Honoka Hayashi, their deadline-day signing from AIK in Sweden.