As the eight WSL 1 teams prepare to start the fifth WSL season, we look at the chances of each team in what promises to be the hardest season to predict yet:
Arsenal Ladies – Last Season 4th
After the upheaval and turmoil surrounding the clubs last pre-season transfer activity, fans will be much happier this time around, with the big news surrounding incoming players as opposed to players leaving the club. Manager Pedro Martinez Losa has bolstered his teams attacking threat, bringing England striker Lianne Sanderson back to the club following her stint in America, along with Bristol Academy’s top scorer from last season Natalia. Vicky Losada will add flair to the midfield after joining from Barcelona, while Arsenal’s second capture from Bristol, Jemma Rose, will add a bit of pace and strength in their back line. Japanese duo Kinga and Ohno have left, but first team players have opted to stay at the club this season, as the biggest name in women’s football aim to regain their place at the head of the table.
One to watch – Leah Williamson – looking to follow up on her successful breakthrough season last year, could form a solid midfield partnership with Nobbs. May be a little too early in regards an England World Cup place this year, but a good start to the season may sway opinion.
Prediction – May well be the entertainers of the league, will score plenty but may concede a few too many to be challengers. Expect to challenge again in cup competitions. 6th
Birmingham City Ladies – Last Season 3rd
Another quiet transfer window for David Parker’s side, which will be music to the ears of many supporters who feared last season’s heart-breaking finale would see many big name players depart for pastures new. Alex Windell (Bristol) and Freda Ayisi (Arsenal) will add versatility, pace and technical ability to a squad that has developed together over a number of years, and many within the group feel more confident than ever. The policy of allowing youth players to flourish in the first team has worked, and this remains the key ethos of the club. The loss of Chelsea Weston for the season will be a body blow, but may well act as an added incentive for a team that never know when they’re beaten, and after the events of that final day of last season will surely fan the flames of desire within a talented squad.
One to watch – Jade Moore – could have picked any of the brilliant midfield trio at Blues’ disposal, but in a World Cup year, Moore will be keen to catch the eye of Mark Sampson to secure her place on the plane to Canada.
Prediction – Will be hard to beat, will cause plenty of shocks to pundits who expect them to falter, but will need a fully fit to squad to stay in contention. 2nd
Bristol Academy Women – Last Season 7th
In stark contrast to the first two teams mentioned, the transfer window has not been kind to fans of Bristol Academy. From the joy of securing a Champions League Quarter Final place only a few months ago, they have seen the departures of many of the key figures who got them into that position. Spanish strikers Natalia and Laura Del Rio have left, along with winger Natasha Harding, while Jemma Rose and Corrine Yorston have also jumped ship to leave holes in a defence that was the second worst last season. A Welsh influence has arrived in the shape of Hayley Ladd, Nadia Lawrence and Lauren Townsend, along with Christie Murray from Arsenal, but defeat in the FA Cup to WSL 2 Everton may be a sign of the troubles ahead.
One to watch – Angharad James – Bristol will look to the likes of James to steady the ship, and the Welsh international has the ability to become the key to saving Bristol’s season from petering into a disaster.
Prediction – Can’t see where the goals will come from, and Mary Earps may well be kept very busy this season. 8th
Chelsea Ladies – Last Season 2nd
It transpired that a point away to Man City would have seen Emma Hayes’ team head into this season as Champions, but defeat in Manchester saw the title slip from their grasp. Though the season ended with disappointment, there were plenty of positives to take from the campaign, and even though some first team players have left, namely Laura Bassett, Rachel Williams and Dani Buet all to Notts County, and Yuki Ogimi to Wolfsburg, the acquisitions of the likes of Gemma Davison, Millie Bright and Marija Banusic will mean the Londoners will retain their goal threat. Niamh Fahey and Hedvig Lindhal will also provide competition on the defensive front. Will be desperate to go one better than last term and win their first WSL title.
One to watch – Ji So Yun – the Japanese playmaker made an immediate impact with Ogimi last season for the Blues, and although Ogimi has left, So Yun will be the player that Chelsea look to for the attacking flair this year.
Prediction – Second highest scorers last year will be full of goals again, but I wonder what that Man City game will do to their confidence. 5th
Liverpool Ladies – Last Season 1st
Last season’s Champions have once again placed their faith in bringing in foreign players in the transfer window, with four new signings coming in to replace some important members of the 2014 squad moving on. Asisat Oshoala is the most eye catching signing, the young Nigerian with big potential will hope to settle in quickly. Surprisingly, names like Lucy Bronze and Gemma Davison have joined opposing WSL teams, and Amanda da Costa has moved back to the USA. Despite these departures, the strong English spine of the team remains, captain Gemma Bonner marshalling defence, Fara Williams the playmaker in midfield, and Natasha Dowie will be hoping to score more than the three league goals last year. Nicole Rolser and Lucy Staniforth returning from long term injuries will also boost the squad. Already out of the Champions League and FA Cup, the WSL season is the main focus.
One to watch – Natasha Dowie – as mentioned above, will be disappointed with last year’s goal tally, and with a World Cup only months away, will be desperate to start the season on fire to try and grab a late call up to the squad.
Prediction – Big squad full of talent, will start the season in the eyes of many as favourites, but will have to start the season strongly. 3rd
Manchester City Women – Last Season 5th
It has been another busy pre-season for the Continental Cup holders, with plenty of players in and out of the door. Unsurprisingly, the additions have caught the eye, especially the signing of Lucy Bronze from Liverpool, a deal struck at the very start of the window, which signalled City’s intent early on. Jennifer Beattie and Demi Stokes will bolster the back line, but the attacking signings have been impressive, with the club opting for young, British talent as opposed to foreign incomings. Sarah Wiltshire and Natasha Harding will bring pace and ability in the wide areas, and Nikita Parris will challenge Toni Duggan for the striker role, possibly even partnering her at some stage. Playing this season at their new home of the Academy stadium, there is no doubt where this club intends to be, and the sooner the better.
One to watch – Sarah Wiltshire – among the many big name signings over the last two years, the Welsh attacker may well prove to be the most exciting. Impressed regularly at WSL 2 level, this is her chance to shine at the top
Prediction – It is clear that City’s aim is title winners not just once, but to dominate the game. They now have a very strong squad, and could start that this year. 1st
Notts County Ladies – Last Season 6th
The surprise package during the off season, and arguably the big winners in terms of transfer activity. Bringing in Bassett, Buet and Williams from Chelsea was shrewd business, as was exploiting Everton’s relegation by bringing in Alex Greenwood and Fern Whelan. They will miss their best player last year in Rachel Corsie, but now look to have a seriously strong squad, with cover for all areas of the pitch. Jess Clarke will no doubt be a key attacking player, and Ellen White will practically be a new signing to them, having missed the previous campaign with a long term injury. County boasted the best defence in the league last year, and are very well organised under Rick Passmoor. If they can avoid a repeat of last season’s injury curse, they will cause a lot of teams a lot of problems, and within the squad have confidence to go well this year.
One to watch – Ellen White – will be desperate to get playing again after last season’s disappointment, and another with realistic England ambitions to go to the World Cup. A flurry of goals early on may well see her achieve that.
Prediction – On the face of it, the strongest defence last year now has a serious goal threat, which means they have a really good chance of upsetting teams, especially in cups. 4th
Sunderland Ladies – WSL2 Champions
The newcomers to WSL 1 having won WSL 2 last year, winning 15 of their 18 league games. Their biggest strength, similarly to Birmingham, is that the main core of their squad is still in place, with not much movement in the transfer window, however they have had to endure a chance of management. Mick Mulhern had to resign his post due to his role as a full time police officer, and this would have prevented him spending enough time as manager. His replacement, Carlton Fairweather, has managed to bring in experienced WSL 1 players in Victoria Williams and Brooke Chaplen, leaving Doncaster and Everton respectively. Last season’s Continental Cup showed a gulf in class, where they lost 6-0 at Liverpool, but they will back themselves to be stronger this time around, and in Beth Mead they have a goal threat up front.
One to watch – Beth Mead – has to be the one Sunderland will look to to keep them in the top division. 10 goals in 15 games last season shows she has an eye for goal, and she will hope for more in the biggest league.