FA WSL 2019/20 Season Preview


Arsenal

Arsenal had an outstanding season last year where they won 18 of their 20 league fixtures with 70 goals scored, including a thumping 0-5 away win against former champions, Chelsea. Striker, Vivianne Miedema blitzed the goal-scoring charts with 22 goals in 20 games and will want to hit the ground running off the back of an impressive World Cup in the summer.

Arsenal have strengthened their side in the off-season with quality players. Jen Beattie makes a return to the Gunners following spells with Manchester City, Melbourne City and Montpellier HSC. Beattie returns to an Arsenal backline that will benefit from her height, strength and experience of Champions League football. Jill Roord will bring goals and creativity to compliment the Arsenal midfield and will again bring further Champions League experience.

A mixed pre-season, which saw losses against Bayern Munich and Barcelona but also a hefty victory against WSL newcomers Tottenham provided Champions League quality opponents and it will be interesting to see how they fare in Europe’s premier competition. Arsenal have depth in squad but it will be a challenge to see how squad rotation and fatigue affects their season.

Arsenal fans will welcome the return from injury of Jordan Nobbs who missed the majority of last season with a knee injury. Nobbs coupled with Danielle van de Donk and Kim Little poses a midfield that will ask questions of every team in the FA WSL.

That said, I do feel that the gap between my predicted top 3 will be much closer this season, however, I fancy Arsenal to be first past the post by a nose. Keeping their players fit and fresh will be the main priority for manager, Joe Montemurro.

Players In: Jen Beattie (Manchester City), Leonie Maier (Bayern Munich), Jill Roord (Bayern Munich), Fran Stenson (Manchester City), Manuela Zinsberger (Bayern Munich)

Players Out: Janni Arnth, Paige Bailey-Gayle, Dominique Bloodworth, Amelia Hazard, Lachante Paul, Sari van Veenendaal

Key Player: Vivianne Miedema

One to Watch: Jordan Nobbs

Predicted Finish: 1

Birmingham City

Birmingham had a season to remember last time out as they finished fourth. However, following a somewhat tumultuous pre-season that saw a significant number of departures the jury is out as to why badly this will affect them. It was the perfect opportunity for the Blues to build on last season and make a push on qualification to the Champions League or even a title bid, unfortunately, I think the number of high-profile departures will have an adverse effect.

Losing Ellen White to Manchester City will be a huge loss after a heroic World Cup tournament for England, in addition to the likes of Paige Williams who has been a Blues stalwart in recent seasons and Emma Follis, surprisingly to Aston Villa; further reinforcements were necessary.

Blues manager, Marta Tejedor brought in a surprise signing in the shape of former West Ham midfielder, Bri Visalli who will bring energy, pace and drive. Furthermore, Lucy Staniforth, after submitting a transfer request will also be staying with Birmingham and will look to impress.

I do, however, have defensive concerns for Birmingham; losing the majority of the main backline in Aoife Mannion, Hayley Ladd and Williams will have been a blow.

Replacing White’s goals will be a big ask of new forward Abbi Grant, however, she and new attacking midfielder, Lucy Whipp come with bags of potential. In addition, Scotland internation, Chloe Arthur will want to replicate her outstanding form in the summer throughout the season. I think Birmingham will look to solidify this season and I predict a solid finish. There is without doubt huge amounts of potential with this side but they are going to need time to gel.

Players In: Abbi Grant (Anderlecht), Rebecca Holloway (Nashville Rhythm), Adrienne Jordan (Atalanta), Brianna Visalli (West Ham), Claudia Walker (Everton), Lucy Whipp (St John’s University)

Players Out: Shania Hayles, Marisa Ewers, Emma Follis, Hayley Ladd, Aoife Mannion, Meaghan Sargeant, Ellen White, Charlie Wellings, Paige Williams

Key Player: Brianna Visalli

One to Watch: Lucy Staniforth

Predicted Finish: 8

Brighton & Hove Albion

Brighton had a disappointing last season finishing ninth and will want to improve upon that this time round. Brighton showed glimpses of what they were capable of demonstrating their resilience and toughness. Not least on the last game of the season where they ran out 0-4 winners away from home in an impressive victory.

Ini-Abasi Umotong showed what she could do at times but consistency was an issue. Brighton’s squad looks slightly depleted this season with the loss of Marie Hourihan and Chloe Peplow; in addition to the season-long injury that defender, Laura Rafferty sustained recently.

Brighton have recruited Megan Walsh from relegated Yeovil Town. Walsh will be a fantastic replacement for Hourihan after impressing last season and she made more saves than any other ‘keeper in the league. Brighton will look to the very talented Ellie Brazil to pick up goals and support Umotong in the scoring charts.

Unfortunately, I am struggling to see where Brighton will be picking up points this season. Brighton scored 16 goals and conceded 38, finishing above Yeovil Town and Everton in the league and I cannot see where or how this will improve going in to the season. Winning only of their games all season in the last campaign, I think Brighton will finish bottom of the table this time round, given that all the other teams and around them have strengthened their squads.

Players In: Danique Kerkdijk (Bristol City), Lea La Garrec (Guingamp), Matilde Skovsen (Aarhus), Megan Walsh (Yeovil Town)

Players Out: Lucy Gillett, Marie Hourihan, Chloe Peplow, Sophie Perry

Key Player: Megan Walsh

One to Watch: Ellie Brazil

Predicted Finish: 12

Bristol City

Bristol City have been a ‘hit and miss’ side in recent years, proving to be defensively strong and difficult to break down but lacking in the goals scored column. The Robins finished a respectable sixth last season, winning 7 matches but only scoring 17 goals in the process, something that they will look to improve upon.

Bristol have recruited some interesting players in the off-season, including Ebony Salmon from Manchester United and Charlie Wellings from Birmingham. Salmon impressed last season whilst on loan with Sheffield United, scoring 7 goals in 9 games. Bristol have lacked a potent striker but between Salmon and Wellings goals should start flowing.

Defensively, Bristol conceded 34 goals last season, again an area of the pitch that they must improve upon if they are to start climbing the table this year. The signing of Meaghan Sargeant from Birmingham is an outstanding piece of business as she will bring stability and experience to the defence.

That said, I’m caught in two-minds about Bristol for this season. This will be a big season for former Arsenal midfielder, Carla Humphrey as she looks to establish herself as one of the more experienced players this campaign. I think Bristol will be safe from relegation but I don’t see them setting the league alight this time. If they are to finish higher up the table they will need to demonstrate the defensive resilience that they know they are capable of.

Players In: Olivia Chance (Everton), Yana Daniels (Liverpool), Jasmine Matthews (Liverpool), Ebony Salmon (Manchester United), Meaghan Sargeant (Birmingham City), Charlie Wellings (Birmingham City), Vita van der Linden (Ajax)

Players Out: Rosella Ayane, Julie Biesmans, Lucy Graham, Alicia Johnson, Danique Kerkdijk, Juliette Kempi, Heather Payne, Poppy Wilson

Key Player: Carla Humphrey

One to Watch: Ebony Salmon

Predicted Finish: 11

Chelsea

Chelsea, by their own high standards, had a woeful last season. At times they looked stale and void of any fresh impetus and ideas. Players looked shot of confidence and there appeared to be lack of unity with far too many costly mistakes being made. Make no mistake, they will be like a wounded animal with no European competition for distraction; Emma Hayes will look to mount a serious title challenge. Chelsea won 12 of their matches last season, scoring 46 goals and conceding 14 as they just pipped Birmingham to third place but still some way behind Manchester City in second by 5 points.

Losing ‘The Wizard’, Karen Carney as she retires from the women’s game will be a big hole to fill, not just in the starting XI but also off the pitch where she was the driving force and buffer between team and manager.

Chelsea were quiet in the transfer window with only one player signed in Guro Reiten. Reiten had an excellent World Cup in the summer and will add attacking flair to a team that often lacked ideas on how to break teams down. This will be a big season for Fran Kirby, first to stay fit after her recent injury troubles and two, serve a timely reminder of her qualities after a quiet World Cup. Erin Cuthbert will also be an important member of the first team as well as Beth England following her recent inclusion in the Lionesses squad. Defensively, Emma Hayes has some choices to make. Does she drop the out of form Millie Bright or does she persevere with her in the hope that she re-discovers her best form? Personally, Bright’s performances going back to last season have been questionable and a poor World Cup, I would take her out of the firing line and ease her back in.

I do think without the distraction of the Champions League, Chelsea will be right up there and pushing Arsenal all the way. I feel Arsenal are slightly ahead of Chelsea right now and I predict that they will just pip Chelsea to the title come the end of the season. I would back Chelsea to pick up an FA Cup final win.

Players In: Guro Reiten (LSK Kvinner)

Players Out: Jade Bailey, Karen Carney, Lizzie Durack, Hedvig Lindahl, Molly Pike, Ali Riley

Key Player: Fran Kirby

One to Watch: Guro Reiten

Predicted Finish: 2

Everton

Everton were poor last season. Finishing only above Yeovil Town. Everton picked up only 3 wins, scored 15 goals and conceded 38 – lots of room for improvement across the pitch.

Everton have looked to address their defensive frailties by bringing in experienced international footballers, Tinja-Riikka Korpela and Kika van Es who, combined, have over 100 caps for Finland and the Netherlands respectively. The signing of Maeva Clemaron is a particular coup for Willie Kirk’s side as she was part of the French World Cup squad. England Under-19s captain, Esme Morgan has arrived on loan from Manchester City for the season and will bring a winning mentality to the team.

Molly Pike also arrives from Chelsea where she has represented England at all youth team stages. Last season was particularly fruitful in front of goal as she scored 14 goals in 17 appearances for Chelsea’s Development team. This will be a really good opportunity for Pike to test herself at the next step up as she was thought of very highly at Chelsea.

Like Bristol, I think Everton will be safe this season and I think they will improve on last season’s tally to finish tenth.

Players In: Maeva Clemaron (FC Fleury), Lucy Graham (Bristol City), Tinja-Riikka Korpela (Valerenga), Esme Morgan (Manchester City), Molly Pike (Chelsea) Kika van Es (Ajax)

Players Out: Emma Brownlie, Dominique Bruinenberg, Olivia Chance, Becky Flaherty, Angharad James, Claudia Walker, Siri Worm

Key Player: Maeva Clemaron

One to Watch: Molly Pike

Predicted Finish: 10

Liverpool

Liverpool have been in a decline for the past 2 season following their exodus. Last season they finished in eighth place with 7 wins, scoring 21 goals and conceding 38. Courtney Sweetman-Kirk was the stand-out player as she helped herself to 10 goals from 19 games. Liverpool fans will hope that she has the same impact this season.

Liverpool have signed some interesting reinforcements in pre-season, notably Jade Bailey (who was on-loan at Reading last season) and Mel Lawley from Manchester City. Whilst Lawley only scored 1 goal in 22 appearances for City across 3 seasons, she will bring extra pace to the flanks to feed crosses into Sweetman-Kirk. If Liverpool are to push on up the table they will need further back-up in goal scoring from Kirsty Linnett and Jess Clarke.

Becky Jane brings with her a wealth of experience following 8 years at Reading and before that at Chelsea. Jane was an indispensable player at Reading, racking up 100 appearances whilst she was there. She will bring experience to the full-back area.

The feeling is that Liverpool are very slowly starting to re-build and have a youthful feel about their squad with a British core. Conceding goals will be a big area of improvement needed this season. I predict a ninth-place finish for this season.

Players In: Jade Bailey (Chelsea), Becky Jane (Reading), Mel Lawley (Manchester City)

Players Out: Laura Coombs, Yana Daniels, Ellie Fletcher, Leandra Little, Jasmine Matthews

Key Player: Courtney Sweetman-Kirk

One to Watch: Mel Lawley

Predicted Finish: 9

Manchester City

Manchester City drew too many matches last season as their title aspirations evaporated. City won 14 but drew 5 of their 20 games scoring 53 and conceding 17. Had it not been for Arsenal’s outstanding season, City would certainly be coming into this season as Champions.

City have lost some big game players with the likes of Jen Beattie and Nikita Parris departing. Whilst City have recruited, I feel that their squad is weaker particularly with the sale of Parris to Lyon. Parris was the one magic player who City could rely on to change a game and score a goal.

Ellen White was an excellent signing for City off the back of a stand-out World Cup. She will add more goals and a focal point up top and gives City another dimension to their attack. To by-pass stubborn and defensive teams, City can look to hit the ball more directly to allow the wide players to feed off White. Lee Geum-min is an interesting signing, she isn’t a prolific forward in terms of goals but she will look to draw her team together and on attacks will be a technical player to shift the ball quickly.

With the plethora of talent that is available to manager Nick Cushing, I expect City to be up there and challenging. I do not think they will win the title but I wouldn’t put it past them to go on a domestic cup run. I predict City to finish in third.

Players In: Laura Coombs (Liverpool), Matilde Fidalgo (Braga), Lee Geum-min (Gyeongju KHNP), Aoife Mannion (Birmingham City), Tyler Toland (Sion Swifts, Ellen White (Birmingham City)

Players Out: Jen Beattie, Claire Emslie, Mel Lawley, Abbie McManus, Esme Morgan, Nikita Parris, Fran Stenson

Key Player: Steph Houghton

One to Watch: Lauren Hemp

Predicted Finish: 3

Manchester United

Manchester United, the all-conquering team of last year’s FA WC season will have face much sterner tests with life in the WSL. United finished top of the WC losing only 1 match against Durham and scoring 98 goals and conceding 7. This will be a whole new scenario against established teams and international standard players.

United have strengthened with the likes of Mary Earps coming in and the impressive Jackie Groenen off the back of an excellent World Cup. United poached Abbi Mc Manus from their cross-city rivals and Hayley Ladd from Birmingham. It will be interesting to see how these new players complement their existing squad. United also signed Jane Ross from West Ham to add further competition up top.

I think United will struggle at times this season. I don’t think their squad depth is there and injuries to key positions will leave them short in numbers. Whilst they plundered nearly 100 goals last season, I think goals will be harder to come by. Ross hasn’t been the most prolific of strikers in the WSL, managing only 7 goals in 20 appearances last season for West Ham and 13 goals in 32 for Manchester City over 3 seasons. United will certainly require back-up from the likes of Groenen and Jess Sigsworth to find the back of the net.

Defensively, United look sound but I think with the likes of international quality strikers week-in-week-out it will be a true test of Martha Harris and Millie Turner. Hayley Ladd will add WSL experience into the backline. The departure of club captain, Alex Greenwood to Lyon was a surprise and she will be a big loss to them. Greenwood was a vocal presence on the pitch and United will need others in the squad to step up to the mark and become leaders on the pitch.

I think United will have a solid start to life in the WSL and I predict them to finish sixth and to push on in the following season.

Players In: Mary Earps (Wolfsburg), Jackie Groenen (Frankfurt), Hayley Ladd (Birmingham City), Abbie McManus (Manchester City), Aurora Mikalsen (Kolbotn IL), Lotta Okvist (Hammarby), Jane Ross (West Ham)

Players Out: Charlie Devlin, Alex Greenwood, Naomi Hartley, Lucy Roberts, Ebony Salmon

Key Player: Jackie Groenen

One to Watch: Lotta Okvist

Predicted Finish: 6

Reading

Reading had an impressive season last year where they finished fifth. Reading caused sides many problems as they went on to win 8 matches, scoring 33 goals and conceding 30. Defensively, Reading will want to improve significantly as they conceded the most out of the top 5 teams.

Reinforcements in the shape of Angahard James and Kristine Bjordal should help to shore up the back line. The evergreen legend, Fara Williams will continue to dictate play from midfield as she looks to break the 40+ appearance mark for Reading. Brooke Chaplen has had 2 impressive seasons with Reading since joining them from Sunderland as she looks to kick on again this season to add to her goal tally of 16 goals in 37 appearances.

Reading are a tough side to play against, very physical and quick on the counter. Reading caught a lot of teams out last season with their possession-based style of play. Whilst they finished some way off Birmingham in fourth, I anticipate Reading to kick on this season and go one better. They have retained the majority of their squad and added depth. I predict a fourth place finish.

Players In: Maxime Bennink (PEC Zwolle), Kristine Bjordal (ROA IL), Amalie Eikeland (IL Sandviken), Angharad James (Everton)

Players Out: Gemma Davison, Rachel Furness, Becky Jane, Kirsty Pearce

Key Player: Fara Williams

One to Watch: Brooke Chaplen

Predicted Finish: 4

Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs finished second in the FA WC last season where they won 15 games, scoring 44 goals and conceding 27.

Spurs have recruited cleverly and with purpose in pre-season, bringing in a mix of experience with very talented young players. There is a balanced feel to the Spurs squad and I think they will surprise a lot of teams with their style of play. Spurs like to keep possession of the ball and look to the pace of Gemma Davison and Lucy Quinn to get in behind the oppositions defensive lines.

Experienced players such as Davison, Quinn and Percival will be valuable. Rianna Dean showed her goal scoring prowess last season and it will be interesting to see how she fairs against a higher standard of opposition week-in-week-out. In addition to Dean, Spurs also, somewhat controversially, signed Kit Graham from Charlton to add further firepower up-front.

Spurs bagged an impressive pre-season win against West Ham, coming from behind to win 1-2 at Rush Green. They demonstrated their ability to dig deep and ride passages of play where the opposition were on top. Their season opener at Stamford Bridge will be a very tough test first up.

I think Spurs will surprise a lot of teams this season and I think they will finish high up the table. Establishing themselves as a WSL side will be the main priority, which I feel they will do quite comfortably. I predict a fifth-place finish.

Players In: Rosella Ayane (Bristol City), Gemma Davison (Reading), Rachel Furness (Reading, loan), Hannah Godfrey (University of South Alabama), Kit Graham (Charlton), Lucy Quinn (Birmingham City), Chloe Peplow (Brighton), Ria Percival (West Ham), Becky Spencer (West Ham), Siri Worm (Everton)

Players Out: Bianca Baptiste, Emma Beckett, Emma Gibbon, Renee Hector, Anne Meiwald, Wendy Martin, Maya Vio, Ryah Vyse, Sarah Wiltshire

Key Player: Lucy Quinn

One to Watch: Hannah Godfrey

Predicted Finish: 5

West Ham

West Ham did well last season after they won their application for a licence to compete in the WSL. A squad built on talented young players complimented by experience won a lot of fans along the way to an FA Cup final at Wembley. They won 7 matches, scored 25 but conceded 37 goals. The defensive frailties need to be addressed going into this season.

It is very much a brand new start again for West Ham this season with the mass exodus of players that had to be replaced in pre-season without scope for any real opportunity to build on what had been established last year.

West Ham manager, Matt Beard has signed players outside of the WSL who come with the promise of talent and potential. It will be interesting to see how they compliment the squad. Martha Thomas looks to be an outstanding acquisition as the new number 9, she has demonstrated her willingness to drop back and win the ball as well to provide a focal point for the attack. Thomas also opened her West Ham account in pre-season against Spurs. West Ham fans should be very excited to see more of her this season and is a big upgrade on Jane Ross.

The comeback of Tessel Middag from injury will be a significant bonus as she will add much needed strength, height and ball-retention in the midfield. This will allow the likes of Cho, Leanne Kiernan and Adriana Leon to push forward to provide a more attack-minded base for the team. Defensively, I think West Ham may be a little light through the middle and the full-back area and the goal-keeping department comes with question marks. Courtney Brosnan appears to be a decent and solid young ‘keeper, however, new number 1 Anna Moorhouse had a few moments to forget last season with her decision-making.

The departures of some players raised eyebrows and questions were asked as to why the likes of Rosie Kmita, Bri Visalli and Ria Percival were allowed to leave when they performed well in every game that they played.

My main concern with West Ham is squad-depth. This was evident last season where the substitutes bench would only have, at times, 2-3 names on it. With a squad where there have been some big injuries to the likes of Esme de Graaf and Julia Simic, you feel that West Ham are light on numbers to add real competition to the starting XI, which I feel picks itself at the moment.

Another cup run would be nice for the club and I think they will be safe from relegation, however, this time next year I would like to see squad retention but with further additions to really kick on. The base is there, however, some extra quality in depth will be needed to fulfil the potential that this outstanding squad possesses.

Players In: Courtney Brosnan (Le Havre), Katharina Baunach (Wolfsburg), Kenza Dali (Dijon), Jacynta Galabadaarachchi (Perth Glory), Cecilie Kvamme (IL Sandkiven), Martha Thomas (Le Havre), Laura Vetterlein (SC Sand)

Players Out: Rosie Kmita, Ria Percival, Claire Rafferty, Lucienne Reichardt, Jane Ross, Vyan Sampson, Becky Spencer, Brianna Visalli

Key Player: Tessel Middag

One to Watch: Martha Thomas

Predicted Finish: 7

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