Villa will be looking to build on their impressive campaign last season and they have recruited well in the off-season. Midfielder, Jodie Hutton will want to continue her rich vein of form (8 goals from 15 starts in the 2018/19 season) as Villa look to mount a serious promotion push into the FA WSL and stamp their authority early on, in a league that looks to be more competitive than in recent years.
Villa pulled off a significant transfer coup this summer with the signing of Emma Follis from FA WSL side, Birmingham City. Importantly, Villa have recruited players with WSL experience in Follis, Marisa Ewers, Shania Hayles and Emily Syme who they will look towards to drive them into the top-flight next season.
Off the pitch, Villa will look to build on their impressive season average home attendance from last season of 494 and I feel that Villa fans will have much to celebrate over the course of this season. Last season, Villa finished sixth in the FA WC winning 6 of their 20 games, scoring 30 goals and conceding 39. However, taking into account the impressive recruitment drive pre-season, Villa are my early tip to finish the season as Champions.
Key Player: Emma Follis
One to Watch: Jodie Hutton
Transfers In: Marisa Ewers (Birmingham), Ella Franklin-Fraiture (Leicester City), Emma Follis (Birmingham), Charlotte Greengrass (Leicester City), Natalie Haigh (Coventry), Shania Hayles (Birmingham), Melissa Johnson (Leicester City), Emily Syme (Yeovil Town)
Transfers Out: Ashlee Brown, Hayley Crackle, Hollie Gibson, Alison Hall, Tanisha Smith
Blackburn enjoyed an impressive season last year, winning promotion from the FA WNL as overall champions; claiming a quadruple en-route. Rovers manager, Gemma Donnely scooped the well-deserved accolade of manager of the year as her side swept aside all that came before them, loosing only one game and scoring 115 goals.
Whilst Rovers have retained the majority of the squad that served them so well last season, I feel that the step up to the FA WC will be a big challenge. Rovers signed Rhema Lord-Mears from Anderlecht in the close season. Lord-Mears came through Manchester City’s Development team and has previous WC experience with Sheffield United. Much of Rovers’ attacking play and goals last season came through Natasha Flint. Flint, who won the Continental Cup with Manchester City has represented England at all age groups and is now an important member of the U23s squad. I am slightly surprised that she remained with Blackburn for this season and I think she will be the main player that Rovers will turn to in order to get the goals. Rovers signed midfielder, Lauren Thomas from FA WSL side, Liverpool. Thomas made 5 appearances for Liverpool last season and will bring some much-needed top-flight experience.
I think Rovers will have just enough to keep them in the FA WC this season but there will need to be heavy reliance on Flint to maintain her impressive goal scoring record from last season.
Key Player: Natasha Flint
One to Watch: Saffron Jordon
Transfers In: Rhema Lord-Mears (Anderlecht), Lauren Thomas (Liverpool)
Transfers Out: Danielle Gibbons, Lagan Makin, Charlotte Stuart
Charlton finished last season in an impressive third place behind Tottenham and Manchester United, picking up 41 points and scoring 49 goals. Charlton may have lost star striker, Kit Graham to Spurs but have replaced her with the equally impressive Charlie Devlin who had an outstanding season with Manchester United last campaign and can count herself to be unlucky not to be retained by Casey Stoney for this season. United’s loss, however, is certainly Charlton’s gain.
The Addicks have significantly strengthened their back line with the signings of Riva Casley, Jamie Gotch, Renee Hector and Maddie Phillips. Casley had an impressive season with Millwall Lionesses last year and showed her quality and strength on numerous occasions. Phillips graduated through Chelsea’s youth system and was ever present in the Development team. Phillips will be looking to establish herself in this Charlton side this season as she makes the step up into senior football.
Like Villa, Charlton have strengthened their side with players that have WSL experience. The loan signings from Reading of Charlie Escourt and Lily Woodham could be the difference for Charlton this season and I think they will go one better than last season and gain promotion into the WSL for 2020/2021. Charlton boast a very impressive squad, which has strength and quality in depth. I also think Charlton will go on a decent cup run too. On a personal level, I am very proud to be sponsoring Riva Casley this season and I wish her all the very best for the season ahead.
Key Player: Charlie Devlin
One to Watch: Riva Casley
Transfers In: Riva Casley (London City Lionesses), Charlie Devlin (Manchester United), Charlie Estcourt (Loan – Reading), Georgia Evans (Yeovil Town), Jamie Gotch (Reading), Alice Griffiths
(Cardiff Met), Renee Hector (Tottenham), Lois Heuchan (Le Havre AC), Ellie Leek (Le Havre AC), Rachel Newborough (Boston College), Maddie Phillips (Chelsea), Lily Woodham (Loan – Reading)
Transfers Out: Lily Agg, Harley Bennett, Kit Graham, Hayley West
Coventry won promotion to the FA WC as runners up to Blackburn in the FA WNL final that ended 3-0 to Rovers. Coventry did finish top of the National League South, seven point clear of second placed Cardiff City, losing only one game.
I think Coventry may struggle this season in the FA WC. Shannon O’Brien will be keen to continue her development following 9 assists in 9 games last season. Coventry have brought in new players including exciting Welsh full-back, Ffion Morgan from Cardiff. Morgan is a Welsh international player who has already received high praise from Wales Head Coach, Jayne Ludlow.
Coventry have a good, young squad who will be eager to impress and test themselves in the next division up from the WNL, however, I do worry about whether they can remain in the division come the end of the season.
Key Player: Shannon O’Brien
One to Watch: Ffion Morgan
Transfers In: Becky Anderson (Hayley Crackle (Aston Villa), Sian Johnson (unknown), Ffion Morgan (Cardiff City), Erin Smith (Leafield Athletic), Chelsea Weston (London Bees), Fiona Worts (Leicester City)
Transfers Out: Natalie Haigh
Palace finished a disappointing tenth of eleven last season, winning 3, drawing 2 and loosing 15 games. A lack of goals scored (14) was a big problem for Palace in the previous season and they will need to improve upon that tally going into this campaign.
Defensively, Palace have strengthened with the signings of Bianca Baptiste and Leeta Rutherford, who both impressed for Tottenham and Lewes FC, respectively last season and will look to improve on the 44 goals that were shipped during 2018/19.
Palace will look towards forward, Ashlee Hinks, to be their star player. Scoring 25 goals last season (including pre-season), Hinks’ goals will be in demand if Palace want to improve on their tenth placed finish from the last season.
Despite this, I do think Palace are going to struggle to score and break down teams this season. Given how competitive the league is and the number of quality forward players there are, I feel that Palace may be overwhelmed by teams and they are my early candidate to, unfortunately, be relegated.
Key Player: Ashlee Hinks
One to Watch: Leeta Rutherford
Transfers In: Bianca Baptiste (Tottenham), Emma Gibbon, Lucy Gillett (Brighton & Hove Albion), Ashleigh Goddard (Apollon Ladies FC), Annabel Johnson, Cherelle Khassal (Chichester City), Rea Laudat (Tottenham), Magda Mosengo, Leeta Rutherford (Lewes FC), Lizzie Waldie
Transfers Out: Leesa Haydock, Megan Lynch, Pam McRoberts, Anneka Nuttall, Nikita Whinnett
Durham’s claim to fame last season was stopping Casey Stoney’s juggernaught, Manchester United, going the season unbeaten with a very well deserved 3-1 victory in December. Durham finished a very impressive fourth, winning 11 of their 20 matches and only losing 3 (only Manchester United lost fewer matches). Durham also had the second best defensive record, conceding only 16 goals (by comparison Manchester United conceded 7, Tottenham 27 and Charlton 21), with Becky Salicki at the heart of much of Durham’s defensive prowess. It is clear that Durham set themselves up to be defensively hard to beat with a decent base in which to progress forward up the pitch, scoring 37 goals. Durham will want to improve on the number of goals scored as this was the lowest tally of the top 4 teams by some margin. This appears to have been addressed by Durham manager, Lee Sanders who has signed a number of exciting and versatile attacking players.
New signing, Holly Manders will want to hit the ground running following an impressive summer representing England U18, where she scored twice in three games. The step up will be a good test for Manders, who is an exciting attacking midfielder.
Durham will look to last season’s top-scorer, Beth Hepple (10 goals) to lead the line again this season. I think that Durham will again be hard to beat but with the amount of quality in the Division I think a good, solid mid-table finish will be achieved this season.
Key Player: Beth Hepple
One to Watch: Holly Manders
Transfers In: Iris Achterhof (Heerenveen), Megan Bell (Linfield), Holly Manders (Middlesborough), Molly Sharpe (Barry University, Miami)
Transfers Out: Abi Cottam, Chloe Knott, Zoe Ness
Leicester finished a solid mid-table seventh last season, winning 6 of their 20 matches without really setting the league alight. Leicester will want to improve all round for this season; scoring more goals and tightening up a defence that conceded 44 goals previously.
Leicester have primarily looked towards bringing in quality young players including Paige Bailey-Gayle, Lia Cataldo and Aimee Everett. Cataldo is a particularly shrewd acquisition as she demonstrated her versatility and exceptional quality last season with Millwall Lionesses. Cataldo will look to kick on with her club career and progress through the international ranks for England – one that Leicester fans should be keeping an eye on this season.
Club captain, Holly Morgan will continue to be the rock at the back for Leicester this season. Starting her tenth year at the club, Morgan will be looking to steer Leicester towards the top-end of the table.
I think Leicester will improve significantly on last season’s seventh and push into the top-half of the table. The Continental Cup threw Leicester into an intriguing “Group of Death”, alongside WSL sides Birmingham, Everton, Manchester City and Manchester United. I tip Leicester to cause at least a couple of upsets in that group.
Key Player: Holly Morgan
One to Watch: Lia Cataldo
Transfers In: Paige Bailey-Gayle (Arsenal), Annabel Blanchard (Liverpool), Lia Cataldo (London City Lionesses), Aimee Everett (Liverpool), Anneka Nuttall (Crystal Palace), Lachante Paul (Arsenal), Grace Riglar (Bristol City)
Transfers Out: Ella Franklin-Fraiture, Charlotte Greengrass, Melissa Johnson, Fiona Worts
Lewes FC have been widely praised from across the women’s football community for their outstanding work on equality and being recognised as the only club that pays their male and female players the same wage.
Lewes can be slightly disappointed with their ninth-place finish last season, winning only 5 of their 20 games played – scoring 23 goals and conceding 47 along the way.
In the off-season, Lewes have strengthened their squad considerably, bringing in extra international quality firepower in Emma Jones and Zoe Ness to complement the ever-impressive New Zealand striker, Katie Rood. Defensively, Lewes look sound with the signing of Rhian Cleverly from Le Havre Caitlin Hayes. Both of whom have impressed during pre-season, producing solid displays.
Manager, Fran Alonso will be looking for his side to make real push this season, retaining a number of his side from last season and improving across the park. Shannon Moloney will be looking to put her injuries behind her and show the Lewes fans a timely reminder of her qualities that she brings to the side.
Pace and youth appears to be Alonso’s thinking with the squad that he has assembled for the 2019/20 season, particularly with the signing of Molly Peters, renowned for her rapid pace that she brings to the front line. Lewes like to play the ball out from the back, working neat triangles as they attack. I think Lewes will improve upon last season’s ninth-place finish and could cause some upsets in the Continental Cup that has seen them drawn against Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Reading, Tottenham and West Ham in the group stage of the competition.
Key Player: Jess King
One to Watch: Emma Jones
Transfers In: Rhian Cleverly (Le Havre AC), Emily Donovan (Yeovil Town), Issy Foster (Southampton), Caitlin Hayes (Barcelona FC), Emma Jones (Cardiff City), Emily Jones (Everton), Zoe Ness (Durham), Ellie Noble (Oxford United), Molly Peters (Enfield Town), Ella Powell (Cardiff FC), Filippa Savva (Liverpool Feds), Annie Timoney (Marine Academy Plymouth)
Transfers Out: Char Owen, Leeta Rutherford
London Bees are another side that will be looking to kick on from the relative safety of mid-table that they secured last season. Bees won seven of their 20 games last season, scoring 23 goals and conceding 48 – figures that they will be looking to address and improve upon for this coming season.
The acquisition of WSL player, Rosie Kmita is an impressive piece of business for the Bees. Kmita demonstrated the qualities that she had for West Ham last season, often creating goals for her teammates and scoring herself. It was a surprise to many that she wasn’t retained by the club – certainly West Ham’s loss is very much London Bees’ gain. Kmita will add pace, goals and skill to the forward line and will quickly become a fans favourite and a key player. From a personal point of view, I wish Rosie all the very best and encourage her to keep doing everything that she did from last season.
Bees boss, Lee Burch, has strengthened his squad very cleverly in pre-season, with all areas of the pitch bolstered with a mix of youth and experience. With the number of goals scored last season
fairly low, Burch has brought in extra firepower – Courtnay Ward comes in from QPR with an impressive reputation and huge potential to make her name and test herself in the FA WC.
Defensively, Bees moved quickly to sure up a leaky defence last season with the signings of Georgia Roberts, Bonnie Horwood and Georgie Giddings; Horwood and Megan Alexander bringing in further WSL experience from their time at Yeovil Town.
I think Bees will do very well this season and I feel that they will be there/there abouts come the end. If results go their way then a top 2 finish may well be realistic, however, I am going to predict a third-place finish for the London side.
Key Player: Rosie Kmita
One to Watch: Lauren Pickett
Transfers In: Megan Alexander (Yeovil Town), Billie Brooks (unattached), Georgie Giddings (London City Lionesses), Amelia Hazard (Arsenal), Bonnie Horwood (Yeovil Town), Rosie Kmita (West Ham), Megan Lynch (Crystal Palace), Georgia Robert (unknown), Courtnay Ward (QPR), Hayley West (Charlton), Nikita Whinnett (Crystal Palace)
Transfers Out: Ocean Rolandsen, Katie Wilkinson
London City Lionesses
London City Lionesses are very much an enigma and sealed within Pandora’s box. London City Lionesses are a new, independent team, following their breakaway from Millwall Lionesses earlier in the summer. Very little has changed from the side that were formerly Millwall Lionesses last year; Chris Phillips is still the manager and the majority of the playing squad has been retained. Director of Football, Pedro Martinez Losa has joined French side Bordeaux.
The key difference this year is the experience that much of the young squad will have gained from last year, coupled with WSL experience in several signings. There may be more new players that will not be known until the first game of the season this weekend.
London City Lionesses will want to drastically improve on their bottom-place finish last season, however, the transformation from the start to the end of the season was quite astounding. It is clear that Phillips has highly talented players that are playing for him and they will be looking to kick on this season. Evie Clarke will be looking to carry on where she left off, shouldering much of the goal-scoring burden with the long-term injury to Gabby Ravenscroft that saw her miss much of the second part of the season. It will be interesting to see Clarke and Ravenscroft renew their partnership this season. Clarke impressed and grew in confidence throughout the season, demonstrating pace and an eye for goal. Had Ravenscroft not missed the second half of the season, I feel that Millwall would have turned defeats into draws and wins; she is certainly one to watch this season – one of the most clinical strikers in women’s football, I am quite excited to see her and Clarke grow this season, both as a partnership and individually.
Defensively, Millwall conceded a lot of goals – 70 in total and this is something that must be addressed. The signing of Hannah Short will be important as she has shown with Yeovil Town that she is strong, powerful and isn’t afraid to put her foot in for a tackle. A centre back partnership of Short and Ylenia Priest will be especially interesting to see develop. Both of whom have the quality and capability to shut up shop at ease.
I feel that this season will be the making of Annie Rossiter. Rossiter showed that she is more than ready last season and impressed with her pace, finishing and perseverance. It was encouraging to see Phillips continue to give her opportunities and minutes under her belt. More of the same this season will be particularly welcome.
Whilst London City Lionesses are an unknown entity, I get the impression that there are big things taking place behind the scenes with a more professional setting and outlook. The known signings of Ellie Mason and Poppy Wilson will add much needed depth and experience to the squad and I feel that this team will surprise a lot of clubs this season. Mason and Wilson fit within Phillips’ ethos of talented young players and their additions will bring more quality to depth. A strong start will be needed and carried forward. The Clarke and Ravenscroft partnership will need to fire up top and Short and Priest at the back – both of which I am confident will happen and a top-table finish is achievable.
Key Player: Evie Clarke
One to Watch: Gabby Ravenscroft
Transfers In: Ellie Mason (Yeovil Town), Hannah Short (Yeovil Town), Poppy Wilson (Bristol City)
Transfers Out: Fran Ali, Riva Casley, Lia Cataldo, Georgie Giddings
Sheffield United caught a lot teams by surprise last season, finishing a very impressive fifth – winning 11 of their 20 games and losing only 8. Sheffield United are a very well balanced side that will want to push on this season.
Sheffield United have completed some impressive signings in pre-season, notably Kasia Lipka, who returns to the club following her time at The Blades’ academy. Lipka is returning following 18 months out with an ACL injury but she brings in WSL experience.
The signing of former Liverpool captain, Leandra Little, is a surprising but significant transfer coup. Little will add experience and leadership to Sheffield United’s defence. Further up the field, newly appointed vice-captain, Katie Wilkson will added experienced firepower after she scored 10 goals for London Bees in the last two seasons.
Sheffield United’s manager, Carla Ward, will be happy with the squad that she has assembled for the coming season and I tip The Blades to finish mid-table.
Key Player: Katie Wilkinson
One to Watch: Olivia Fergusson
Transfers In: Emily Batty (Doncaster Rovers Belles), Olivia Fergusson (Yeovil Town), Becky Flaherty ( Everton), Naomi Hartley (Manchester United), Ali Johnson (Bristol City), Leandra Little (Liverpool), Kasia Lipka (unattached), Keri Matthews (York City Regional Talent Centre), Katie Wilkinson (London Bees)
Transfers Out: Danielle Cox, Jodie Hartley, Nikki Davies, Nicole Kemp, Tania Marsden, Georgia Stevens