WSL 2023-24 preview: Are Chelsea on course to win again?

After a protracted, however not-so-hot English summer time dominated by the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, the Women’s Super League is again, and so it is time for ESPN’s preview of every group.

With switch charges on the rise with the elevated curiosity and funding in girls’s soccer, nearly all WSL golf equipment (apart from you, Manchester City) had been notably lively within the switch window. And, regardless of it having been stated for years, it appears like a number of the gaps within the league are closing and we’re truly shaping up for essentially the most aggressive season to-date.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, extra (U.S.)

Last season, we had title and relegation races happening to the wire — not a stark rarity on its personal — but a lot of the league was nonetheless damaged up into mini-leagues. This season, nonetheless, guarantees to be completely different and regardless of the groups on the prime including extra depth that you just’d assume would maintain them away from the chasing pack, that exact chasm has been bridged.

Heading into the brand new marketing campaign, it appears like round six groups shall be vying for these prime three* spots that carry European qualification, and far of the league shall be determined on who can outscore who with many groups claiming to preach a possession-heavy, high-pressing type.

(*Based on England’s co-efficient, WSL is without doubt one of the few leagues to obtain a 3rd UWCL berth.)

  • Manager: Jonas Eidevall

  • Finish final season: Third

  • Predicted end this season: Second

  • Key participant: Kim Little

Heading into his third season with Arsenal, Jonas Eidevall’s Gunners are one of many extra identified portions and with no Women’s Champions League to distract the north Londoners after their shock exit to Paris FC throughout qualifying, many anticipate them to push even tougher for league success. However, there are some issues, with a new-look defence that can take a while to gel in addition to a scarcity of depth in central defence, with Laura Wienroither the most recent to find yourself injured with a torn ACL final season.

Possessing extra depth this time round, Arsenal will hope their harm issues are lastly behind them, however solely time will inform how they address the elevated load of back-to-back summers with main worldwide tournaments. Falling quick final season due to their elevated commitments in Europe and mounting accidents, the Gunners slipped down to third, although I’d anticipate them to regain their acquainted runners-up spot this season.

  • Manager: Carla Ward

  • Finish final season: Fifth

  • Predicted end this season: Third

  • Key participant: Rachel Daly

The group who tried to upset the highest 4 final season solely to end 10 factors again, Villa’s progress below Carla Ward was at its handiest as her front-line laid waste to most WSL defences, with “Wardball” very a lot on present in claret and blue.

As properly as including from additional afield, with the recruitment of Dutch goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar and ahead Ebony Salmon, two key items of enterprise for Ward have been securing the companies of defender Anna Patten and ahead Kirsty Hanson, each of whom had been solely on mortgage at Villa (from Arsenal and Manchester United respectively) final season. Although the strikes had been anticipated, they’re each nonetheless key for the soundness of the group with Villa not missing in any space of the pitch heading into the brand new season.

The query for the Villanesses shall be how they carry out in opposition to those that completed above them final season. Even although they acquired an sudden trouncing at Old Trafford on the finish of 2022, Villa confirmed their energy within the cups in opposition to each Man City, Chelsea and United; ought to they dig out a vein of consistency this season, they need to be on course to break into that hallowed prime 4.

  • Manager: Melissa Phillips

  • Finish final season: eleventh

  • Predicted end this season: Fourth

  • Key participant: Pauline Bremer

Having struggled by way of a number of managerial upheavals lasts season, it is time for the Seagulls to lastly push forward with their purpose of ending within the prime third of the league — a lofty aim held by the membership since their promotion to the WSL in 2018. The concept of a clear slate is vital for his or her fortunes, despite the fact that Melissa Phillips got here in on the tail finish of final season and had some blended outcomes en route to securing one other season of top-flight soccer.

Since the tip of final season, the membership has recruited well with a transparent plan in thoughts and though a participant like midfielder Vicky Losada — who needs to be identified to the WSL devoted having had stints at each Arsenal and Man City — is past her peak years, she stays probably the most clever gamers on the pitch. There’s an identical diploma of danger/reward with ahead Pauline Bremer, who has struggled with a number of accidents since leaving Lyon, however can rating with ease when match. There is a level of a raffle however ought to each keep out there, they are going to be key for Phillips who’s clearly constructing her squad with the larger image in thoughts.

Although a really completely different prospect to an Aston Villa or Man City on paper, Brighton might show to be one of many shock packages of the season.

A really completely different group to the one which was relegated on the finish of the 2020-21 season, the Robins have grown and invested off the pitch regardless of their limitations. Indeed, Lauren Smith’s set up as supervisor — one which got here with a large quantity of labor to merely subject a beginning XI at occasions — the vibes have returned to the west nation and there will be no query the as soon as nice group greater than earned their promotion again to the highest flight. That stated, the season forward for the Robins is probably going to be strewn with obstacles that include the elevated competitors and funding within the WSL and the squad, dotted with expertise, shall be pushed to the boundaries.

Just as we noticed on the finish of Bristol’s final spell in WSL, having gifted gamers will solely get you to date if you cannot get a foothold in video games and one of many Robins’ key points after they had been relegated was how typically they discovered themselves pushed again, requested to defend relatively that discovering a approach to get the ball to their attackers.

One group can have to go down and for this prediction, it is Bristol who’ve the unlucky honour of claiming final place.

  • Manager: Emma Hayes

  • Finish final season: First

  • Predicted end this season: First

  • Key participant: Guro Reiten

Although they had been much less convincing in successful the title final season, Chelsea once more confirmed that they will even do it on a chilly night time in Shkodër if wanted. That stated, a busy summer time of including energy in depth means they give the impression of being renewed and refreshed for a protracted marketing campaign.

Making up for key gamers they misplaced — particularly defender Magdalena Eriksson and ahead Pernille Harder to Bayern Munich — supervisor Emma Hayes has added depth throughout the pitch, from Catarina Macario and Mia Fishel in assault to Sjoeke Nüsken in midfield, Ashley Lawrence in defence and even Hannah Hampton as one other goalkeeping possibility. The savvy coach has additionally continued to present her dedication to future seasons with the singings of defender Alejandra Bernabe (Real Sociedad), defender Brooke Aspin (Bristol City) and midfielder Wieke Kaptein (FC Twente), all of whom have been loaned again to their former golf equipment for the season to come.

Though they made a behavior of grinding out outcomes final season, Chelsea’s elevated choices ought to assist alleviate a number of the pressure as they struggle to compete throughout a number of competitions whereas balancing out worldwide commitments. Once once more, we’re heading into a brand new WSL season asking: Can anybody cease the Blues?

  • Manager: Brian Sørensen

  • Finish final season: Sixth

  • Predicted end this season: eleventh

  • Key participant: Martina Piemonte

There’s nothing mistaken or dangerous concerning the Everton squad: that is a significant caveat right here. Three or so years in the past, the squad Sørensen has would have had little downside competing with the “chasing pack” in WSL. Even final season, by way of blended outcomes and performances, we noticed the Toffees end sixth. However, primarily based extra on the work and recruitment by Everton’s rivals, the Merseyside membership really feel half a step behind, not least with long-time Blue, Gabby George, leaving for Manchester United on the tail finish of the switch window.

As we noticed final season, Sørensen is a supervisor with a transparent long-term imaginative and prescient in thoughts and an ethos for participant growth, but when the season unfolds in a aggressive style and the effective margins make all of the distinction, Everton might discover themselves slipping down the pecking order.

Much like Brighton, there’s a sizable asterisk round Leicester’s 2022-23 season: the primary half was a forgettable wrestle, whereas the second was a cohesion of concepts and sensible squad additions that noticed the Foxes pull off one of many biggest escapes in current reminiscence. Going into the brand new season, you sense some momentum because the group discovered their toes below Willie Kirk, who stepped in as head coach after the membership parted methods with Lydia Bedford.

Having added additional to the group over the summer time — notably getting Janina Leitzig to signal a everlasting deal after a string of memorable performances on mortgage, in addition to Champions League winner Janice Cayman from Lyon — the squad possesses each depth and steadiness. Although nonetheless not a match for an enormous like Chelsea, the combination of expertise and added depth for rotation shall be key for Kirk and Leicester this season; they’re unlikely to discover themselves getting pulled right into a relegation scrap.

  • Manager: Matt Beard

  • Finish final season: Seventh

  • Predicted end this season: Seventh

  • Key participant: Fuka Nagano

A group reborn below coach Matt Beard, the Reds struggled for consistency on their return to WSL final season, memorably beating Chelsea of their first recreation again in addition to shedding closely to relegation-threatened Leicester. If Liverpool are to make any critical inroads up the desk, the wild fluctuations in outcomes wants to cease even when they had been continuously unfortunate final season, operating groups shut on the pitch solely to fall quick.

A group that managed to discover extra steadiness throughout the pitch after the winter window, Liverpool shall be trying to construct on that stability, conserving Prenton Park as a robust base — it is the place the vast majority of their factors got here final time period — whereas bettering their away kind.

  • Manager: Gareth Taylor

  • Finish final season: Fourth

  • Predicted end this season: Fifth

  • Key participant: Khadija Shaw

Along with Chelsea and Arsenal, Manchester City have dominated the silverware in England, with the blue half of Manchester one of many common top-three finishers within the league (save for final time period) and no strangers to cup finals. Yet for all their would possibly since being fast-tracked into WSL, Man City did look susceptible final season and are, once more, one of many greater query marks.

Only signing one participant in the summertime — Jill Roord from Wolfsburg — there’s a clear want to closing discover some actual rhythm and consistency. While the group appears to be like robust on paper, it is also overly predictable and reliant on Khadija “Bunny” Shaw. This is not a difficulty when Shaw is match and firing, however there’s a lack of contingencies if the objectives or health desert her.

It’s extremely potential that expertise will merely discover a approach because it so continuously has for City over time, however with the entire league bettering round them, their margin for error has by no means been slimmer.

  • Manager: Marc Skinner

  • Finish final season: Second

  • Predicted end this season: Sixth

  • Key participant: Ella Toone

Finishing final season in second, Manchester United, very like their cross-town rivals, have a query mark hanging over their heads: can they construct upon final season’s robust end, or was it pure over-performance?

Leaning on a robust defence final time period, United managed to do what rivals Chelsea have so typically and floor out wins, successful “ugly” the place crucial. There was consistency on the pitch, too, with Marc Skinner not one to rotate a lot between or throughout video games; it labored out, fortunately, as a number of groups struggled to do the identical.

This season, ought to they qualify for the Champions League group stage, the added journey and calibre of opposition will make rotation a necessity; nonetheless, in the event that they fall to PSG subsequent month within the closing qualifying spherical, their solely remaining goal can be the Conti Cup, which is the place we noticed unsuccessful rotation from Skinner final season.



Man Utd face ‘tough scenario’ in conserving Mary Earps

Rob Dawson explains why Manchester United face a “difficult situation” of their bid to maintain their goalkeeper whose contract expires in 2024.

Much has been made about shedding ahead Alessia Russo (to Arsenal) and defender Ona Batlle (to Barcelona) over the summer time, in addition to a potential exit for England goalkeeper Mary Earps earlier than the tip of the season, however United have recruited properly in response, including a mixture of expertise from all over the world. But once more, there are unanswered questions over how a lot time the brand new additions will see on the pitch and of course with all signings, how properly they will take to their new membership.

For United, probably greater than different groups within the league, solely time will inform.

  • Manager: Robert Vilahamn

  • Finish final season: Ninth

  • Predicted end this season: Eighth

  • Key participant: Olga Ahtinen

One of two WSL groups to have modified their supervisor over the summer time, Robert Vilahamn is trying to stamp his type on his new group, however he is nonetheless bought loads of gamers who might not match his concepts regardless of a summer time of robust recruitment. As such, it may be slightly tough to get a learn on the group forward of the beginning of the season, though they’re anticipated to play within the dynamic attack-dominant approach that stood Häcken in good stead when the Swede was in cost on the Gothenburg-based membership.

Like Leicester and Brighton, Spurs’ 2022-23 season is greatest left previously, with upheaval off the pitch doing little to assist issues on it. The Lilywhites additionally suffered an unfortunate blow earlier than the season, with star striker (and new group captain) Beth England compelled to endure surgical procedure for a hip criticism, leaving her sidelined for the beginning of the season. With much more depth, her group ought to find a way to dig objectives out from elsewhere.

One of the various groups who will doubtless be squeezed collectively within the chasing pack, Spurs ought to find a way to focus on the soccer with out distractions over a relegation struggle.

  • Manager: Rehanne Skinner

  • Finish final season: Eighth

  • Predicted end this season: tenth

  • Key participant: Dagny Brynjarsdóttir

On their fourth supervisor in as a few years, issues have been removed from clean crusing for the Irons since their WSL arrival in 2018. Just as the image has modified behind the scenes, so has the one on the pitch, with a disjointed squad giving Rehanne Skinner a much bigger job to do.

A group that will want slightly longer to discover their footing and carve out [another] new identification below their new coach, there ought to not less than be sufficient expertise on the pitch to information the group safely by way of one other season.

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