With the opening games of the Women’s Super League fast approaching, what better time to get acquainted with the top division? From Arsenal to Villa, Ashleigh Plumptre to Zećira Mušović, here is an A-Z of the WSL.
A is for Arsenal
North London giants Arsenal have long been a staple at the top of the women’s football pyramid. The Gunners remain one of the most successful sides in England and are still the only team to win the infamous treble.
The Arsenal have had a relatively quiet off-season having signed just three players in comparison to their twelve outgoings. With that being said, Jonas Eidevall’s side are a tight-knit unit largely made up of international players, including Euro’s player of the tournament Beth Mead, Austria’s number one Manuela Zinsberger, Swiss midfielder Lia Wälti, as well as England captain and Arsenal thoroughbred Leah Williamson.
The Gunners narrowly missed out on a sought league victory last time out when it came down to the wire and they fell one short of Chelsea’s 56 points on the final day of the season. The goal this year is clear, go one better. Whether it be the league, FA Cup, League Cup or even a stab at the Champions League, a trophy is sought at Borehamwood.
B is for Brighton and Hove Albion
Brighton placed seventh last season, one place below their mid-table conclusion the year before. At least a mid-table finish is sure to be what manager Hope Powell will be aiming for this time round. Similarly to the Arsenal, the Seagulls have had a fair few outgoings over the summer, yet Powell has done well to bring in signings that amplify the cultivation of a well-balanced, albeit somewhat small, squad of experience and youth.
Defenders Poppy Pattinson and Jorja Fox have arrived to counter the departures of Maya Le Tissier and Fliss Gibbons. Brighton also welcomes the return of New Zealand international Rebekah Stott after a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis in 2021. Further up field, midfielders Kayleigh Green, Maisie Symonds and new signing Yeeun Park will be looking to link up with the forward line. This will include centre forward Danielle Carter who must become more clinical in front of goal and improve upon her two-goal tally of last season if the Seagulls are to climb the ladder.
C is for Chelsea
Title holders Chelsea show no signs of slowing down and are once again seriously looking to contest in England and in Europe. Manager Emma Hayes has had an exceptionally busy transfer window, not only bringing in several international talents, but working to retain the majority of her laden squad. Among their incomings are Canadian centre-back Kadiesha Buchanan and French fullback Ève Périsset who have both made an impressive start to their time in Blue during pre-season.
Hayes now boasts a side that could easily field two quality starting elevens, which is likely her plan. A squad with such depth will a level allow rotation to avoid player exhaustion given the amount of domestic and international football the outfit will play over the coming months. Compared to rivals Arsenal and Manchester City, Hayes’ side is the largest, and whilst there are certainly pros and cons of housing a squad of such size, only time will tell whether this will play into Hayes’ hands or become a thorn in her side. Either way, one would bet on Chelsea having a good grasp on the top spot; the Blue’s will take some stopping.
D is for Dagný Brynjarsdóttir
Newly appointed West Ham captain Dagný Brynjarsdóttir might not be the most ‘high-profile’ name in the league, but the midfielder is nevertheless one to keep an eye on. The Iceland international was an involved facet for much of the Irons’ success last season having registered four goals and an assist.
Further to her goal scoring involvement, Brynjarsdóttir crucially brings a certain leading quality to the field in the absence of former captain Gilly Flaherty. The experienced 31-year-old conducts the midfield with a professionalism that rarely falters and her steady presence allows for increasingly creative movements of those around her. Using her height as an advantage, Brynjarsdóttir is also one of the top aerial performers in the league giving the Iron’s both an added defensive and offensive asset.
E is for Everton
Let’s not sugar-coat, Everton’s campaign was disappointing last season. Having brought in a large number of high-profile players in the off-season, expectations, both for and within the club, the ambitions of the club were clear. However, the reality of a such high volume of movement in a short period meant the squad did not jell particularly well and subsequently the club recycled two managers within six months.
Obviously, the Toffees will be looking to improve upon their standings last season by a significant margin and certainly have the means to do so. Despite the exodus of several players including Kenza Dali, Anna Anvegård and Claire Emslie, Everton arguably look in better stead coming into this season than they did the one previous. Boss Brian Sørensen has targeted fresh legs in young forwards Jess Park and Aggie Beever-Jones and has negotiated the retention of key players Megan Finnegan and Rikke Sevecke. Expect a sizeable jump up the table for the Merseyside club.
F is for Frida Maanum
Since joining The Arsenal last season midfielder Frida Maanum has more than played her part. The Norway international came in with a bang, showcasing a mixture of strength and physicality with a deft touch and a knack for progression. The Norway international does the dirty work, but does it with an increasing finesse, navigating the middle to drag opponents out of position whilst also playing an active role in attacking play for her team. As WSL icon Jill Scott has announced her retirement, Maanum should be looked at as a developing example of an authentic box-to-box midfielder.
G is for Grace Moloney
The WSL harbours a great deal of talent between the sticks; however, one urges a trip to Reading to witness the no-nonsense goalkeeping of Grace Moloney. The Rep. of Ireland international is ballsy and bold, unafraid to quite literally take things into her own hands. Moloney’s save percentage has continuously improved year upon year, as has the number of clean sheets kept, which can only aid the Royals’ ambition to climb the table. Having been part of the Reading squad for many years, Moloney is part of the furniture not just at the Select Car Leasing Stadium, but within the league, and the competition is all the better for it.
H is for Hanna Bennison
Everton midfielder Hanna Bennison has plenty to prove this season. At just 18, the Sweden international made the headlines after her six-figure sum transfer secured her place with the Toffees last year. Bennison is a dynamic player, one who likes to move around to make her presence felt through the whole of the middle third. With a knack for finding through balls and line-breaking passes, her skills as a playmaker are becoming more effective and one would bet Bennison will develop into one of the most creative midfielders the league has to offer. Whilst the Toffees may not have seen the best of Bennison just yet, movement within the squad means that her time to fully integrate into the league and make her mark is right around the corner.
I is for Izzy Christansen
Sticking with the Toffees, attention may also be drawn to Everton captain Izzy Christiansen. Firstly, Christiansen may look familiar. This is likely due to her being part of the punditry team that covered the Euro’s on the BBC, in which she was charmingly insightful yet appropriately critical throughout. Christiansen also showed her ability to read a game, a skill that she carries when on the pitch herself. Christiansen has an instinctual football intelligence and is often one step ahead. On top of this she is an adept ball player and her set-piece deliveries?…Beckham-esque.
J is for Jessica Naz
Tottenham Hotspur forward Jess Naz is a player that is growing further into her role with each passing season. Since recovering from an ACL injury that saw her out for the majority of the 2019-20 season Naz has developed into a key player for the Lilywhites, making impact every time she steps on the field. Naz is quick with nifty footwork and the ability to twist and turn in a split second which regularly sees her causing problems for defenders. At 21, Naz has plenty of time to perfect her craft but this season will be an exciting and important one as she steps firmly into the fold.
K is for Khadija “Bunny” Shaw
Manchester City striker Bunny Shaw was able to show glimpses of what she is capable of throughout City’s last campaign. The Jamaica international featured in 17 WSL matches and totalled 794 minutes on the pitch in her first season in City Blue, scoring nine goals and assisting three in this time. With Ellen White announcing her retirement, Shaw is tipped to become City’s regular central striker flanked by wingers Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly and this trio the potential to be a rather formidable frontline. Much like her wide teammates, Shaw is quick. Deceptively so. Shaw has the strength to power through the final third and capitalise on a gap or goal scoring opportunity. Whilst she is an important piece of the puzzle in linking play between the midfield and forward lines, what will stick out is Shaw’s fierce movement and ruthlessness in front of goal. Shaw is there to stick it in the net and that’s what she’ll do.
L is for Leicester City
Leicester City didn’t make quite the impression they were hoping for in their inaugural season in the WSL. Ambitions were high for the Foxes after their promotion but performances fell short of the mark. This time round Leicester will be insisting on better to avoid relegation, and have appointed former Everton manager Willie Kirk as their Director of Football for Women and Girls to help sustain a motivating environment and ensure the quality of on pitch performances.
The Foxes have had some movement over the summer and have brought in WSL veterans Aileen Whelan and Josie Green from Brighton and Tottenham respectively. Leicester have also retained many of their key players, including Tash Flint, Jemma Purfield and Sam Tierney as well as both of their high performing goalkeepers Kirstie Levell and Demi Lambourne. However, it is Leicester’s zesty midfielder Shannon O’Brien who will likely catch the eye with her and formidable work rate.
L is for Liverpool
Liverpool will make their return to the WSL after being relegated into the Championship in 2020. The Reds were standout performers in the second division and earned promotion long before the season was over. With Matt Beard at the helm, Liverpool look to be in good shape ahead of their re-entry, harbouring a squad that presents a a good amount of top-flight experience with young talents peppered throughout.
Existing know-how was clearly a key factor in Beard’s vision for the upcoming season as he brought in seasoned players Gilly Flaherty and Shanice van de Sanden to join Rachel Furness and Niamh Fahey to provide a solid foundation. More creatively, forwards Leanne Kiernan and Katie Stengel who will be assisted by fullbacks Taylor Hinds and Emma Koivisto are able to cause a sting in front of goal.
Whilst it is improbable that Liverpool will immediately thunder their way back to the top part of the table, a consistent run of results will be crucial to avoid being part of the relegation battle, which is likely to be extremely a close one this season.
M is for Manchester City
Manchester City had a downright dreadful start to the season last year when several starting players concurrently picked up injuries and remaining squad members were used largely, and somewhat questionably, out of position. This made for a difficult period for the club with a top-three finish looking unlikely at times. However, City are never to be written off and indicative of the force we know they are, the Sky Blues rallied and pulled it together, overtaking local rivals Manchester United to take the bronze medal on the final day of fixtures.
The summer has been a busy one for boss Gareth Taylor with several key players, including Ellen White, Lucy Bronze, Keira Walsh, Caroline Weir and Georgia Stanway walking out the door. Nevertheless, their incomings are nothing short of impressive and go some way to revealing Taylor’s ambitions for he wants his team to play. Spain internationals Laia Aleixandri and Leila Ouahabi, Australia’s Mary Fowler, as well as Venezuelan dynamite Deyna Castellanos have all joined the Citizens. The question that immediately hangs over City as the season approaches is whether this change of personnel can jell quickly enough to secure a positive start.
N is for Noëlle Maritz
Whilst Arsenal’s Noëlle Maritz might not be the first name you look for when the Gunners team news hits socials, it should be one that worries you when it’s not there. The right back is a worker, her role understated and arguably undervalued as other teammates receive the glory. Maritz plays a more ‘traditional’ full back role, focussing less on participating in offensive plays as she does at preventing the goal scoring opportunities of opponents. This duty, for Arsenal, is particularly important as the left back, either Steph Catley or Katie McCabe, and centre-back Leah Williamson, are usually involved as supporting figures in attacking play. Maritz’s responsibilities therefore, more so lie in defensive work across the thirds. There may not be skills and frills, but the Switzerland international is a chief cog in the North London machine. Maritz walks so the Mead’s and Miedema’s can run.
O is for Ona Batlle
Manchester United’s Ona Batlle is one of the league’s most inspired fullbacks. The Spain international has plainly been one of United’s most consistent performers since her arrival in 2020. Batlle is highly progressive and often forges the role of a supplementary winger in attacking phases of play. Pairing her pace with quick shifts of the ball, Batlle tends to make light work of oppositions before releasing passes that feed in others. Yet, Battle packs a punch when retracting to defensive duties, tussling toe-to-toe or using her body to cut out an opposing threat. Batlle is quick, slick and easy to watch, certainly one to look out for.
P is for Ashleigh Plumptre
Leicester City are in for a tough season and will have to irrefutably lock down forward lines in order to avoid falling into the relegation zone. A crucial figure in keeping their heads above water will be centre back Ashleigh Plumptre. The 24-year-old put in a top shift for the Foxes last season and was often the final buffer between opponent and goal. Plumptre is knowing and excels in using her body to cut off angles and forcing oppositions to take the more difficult route. She is challenging to compete with in the air and comes out on top in the majority of aerial duels at both ends of the pitch. Plumptre also made her senior debut on the international stage earlier this year for the Nigerian national team and has taken each succeeding international match in her stride.
Q is Quality
The debate as to whether the WSL is the most competitive league in the world continues and whilst there are, and always will be, differing opinions, the quality across the league as a whole is constantly developing. The WSL attracts some of the world’s most exciting talents from across the globe and as they join these players are now becoming less concentrated to just the “big three”. As this happens the competition becomes less predictable with teams lower down the table more regularly putting their foot on the pedal rather than to being forced to park the bus. This makes things all the more exciting. Certainly, new eyes experiencing the WSL for the first time will not be disappointed with the quality of football that is on show.
R is for Reading
Reading have taken a slight dip in form over the last couple of seasons, dropping from fifth to eighth since 2020. Whilst they have remained consistent in the number of goals scored, the number of goals conceded has risen quite considerably. Boss Kelly Chambers appears to seek improvement in this area and has brought in three defenders and a goalkeeper over the summer. Newly appointed captain Emma Mukandi (née Mitchell) has also returned after giving birth to a baby girl last year and will fill the leader-shaped void left by departee Natasha Harding.
The Royals find themselves in a rather unique situation as the only remaining WSL side that is not affiliated with a Premier League club. This is a tricky position to be in as others invest heavily with resources and larger budgets. The Royals, however, with the talents of players such as Deanne Rose, Faye Bryson and Gemma Evans, have enough in their tank to see them through at least one more season in the top-flight.
S is for Shanice van de Sanden
Returning to Liverpool and to the WSL is Dutch forward Shanice van de Sanden who has not played in the English league since 2017. The 29-year-old has played for two of Europe’s most prolific clubs, German side Wolfsburg and current European Champions, and proclaimed “Queens of Europe”, Lyon. Van de Sanden credits her two seasons with Liverpool as the ones that changed her as a player and states that the club is one she has always wished to return to. With the Reds seamless promotion, seasoned manager and stacked squad, now is the perfect time for the energetic winger to increase her minutes on the pitch and re-stamp her mark. Prepare to hear rousing choruses of ‘Van de Sanden, plays like a dream!’ around Prenton Park once more.
T is for Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs finished in fifth place last season, their highest ranking in the WSL since their promotion back in 2020. They will most definitely be looking to retain this with an aim to climb even higher this time round. Tottenham have recruited well bringing in defender Amy Turner, midfielders Angharad James, Ramona Petzelberger and Drew Spence, as well as attacking reinforcement Ellie Brazil, all of whom have experience in the top-flight. On top of this, Spurs have secured the overseas signings of Nikola Karczewska and Celin Bizet Ildhusøy to offset their five departures that include long-term Lilywhite Josie Green.
Rehanne Skinner’s side have shown significant improvement in specific areas in recent years, most notably in defence where the partnership of Shelina Zardorsky and Molly Bartrip, along with fullback Ashleigh Neville, only allowed 23 goals to pass last season. To progress, Spurs need to build these relationships further afield and create plays that hit the target more often. Again, steady improvement is noted here, but to test the big dogs more goals are needed.
U is for Manchester United
Last year, Marc Skinner’s Manchester United were on the cusp of breaking into the top three and though this may not be the season they claim a spot on the theoretical podium, their summer business may well see the Red Devils knock on the door. It may be said that United do not present a squad of ‘stars’, however what they do possess is a certain level of quality that is fairly consistent across the board. United, for the most part, have kept hold of the core contingent of their squad which includes Lionesses Mary Earps, Ella Toone, Katie Zelem and Alessia Russo, as well as the Norweigen midfielder Vilde Bøe Risa and Spain international Ona Batlle. The biggest loss for United has been Netherlands midfielder Jackie Groenen who jumped ship to PSG at the last hour.
Where United fell short, as is a running theme, is in their stamina. The Red Devils start out positively and with a high energy but begin to run out of steam as the season heads into its latter stages. This is where Skinner has recruited well. By bringing in the attacking firepower of Nikita Parris, Lucia Garcia and Adriana Leon, Skinner can more freely rotate his forward line to lessen burnout. These additions also suit Skinner’s encouragement of fluidity between the midfield and attacking lines of play and offer an exciting prospect for the Red Devils. At the back, United have also acquired Maya Le Tissier, who despite her young age, has long been recognised as one of the league’s most skilful, yet versatile defender.
V is for Veatriki Sarri
Following Birmingham City’s relegation to the Championship, and after showing she is WSL material through and through, Veatriki Sarri has joined Hope Powell’s Seagulls on a two-year deal. Sarri was one of Birmingham’s standout players last season, operating as their primary creative outlet with great influence on the game. The Greece international potted three goals last season and assisted a further two, levelling captain Louise Quinn with the highest goal involvement for the Blues.
Sarri is a lively attacking midfielder with both progressive and defensive qualities. In possession, Sarri is difficult to keep hold of as a nifty ball carrier who likes a nutmeg or two. Off the ball, she defends from the front, intelligently taking precaution and positioning herself to block and intercept. Sarri’s move to Brighton is a smart one for both parties and she is sure to be a key figure for the Seagulls over the next couple of years.
W is for West Ham
It must be said that West Ham were very impressive last season. Manager Olli Harder led the Irons to the midway point of the table before announcing rather surprising exit as the campaign came to a close. Former Hammer Paul Konchesky has since taken the helm and has a task ahead to continue this upward trajectory.
Whilst the London club released a number of players, including former captain Gilly Flaherty, they secured a whole host of notable signings. Lisa Evans has joined permanently after her season long loan and fellow Gunners Alex Hennessy and Halle Houssein have also signed. Fullback Kirsty Smith has joined from Manchester United, as well as forward Viviane Asseyi from Bayern Munich. These incomings added to a squad that is growing in confidence will likely see the Hammers through with another consistent season. Forward Claudia Walker is probable to stand out and the fierce passion of lifelong Iron Kate Longhurst is not to be missed.
X is for Ex-Players
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the WSL’s growth is that increasingly viewers are becoming lucky enough to hear the insights of players that have lived and breathed the league. Many are now in media and punditry roles and their first-hand knowledge of clubs, players and coaching staff both enriches and improves the game. Sue Smith, Siobhan Chamberlain, Fara Williams, Anita Asante, Rachel Yankey, Lucy Ward, Alex Scott and Karen Carney, amongst others, will all grace our screens and our ears once more this season, lovely stuff.
Y is for Yui Hasegawa
The move of Yui Hasegawa kept us on our toes when the midfielder signed for City very late in the day. After losing Caroline Weir, Georgia Stanway and the departure of Keira Walsh, City needed to bring in a midfielder that would partway soften the blow – enter Yui Hasegawa. The Japan international made quite the impression in the WSL with former club West Ham last season. Undoubtably a natural with a football, Hasegawa has the ability to track back and retrieve from deep to carry the ball through the middle third. However, where she really turns it on is in a more attacking role, roaming just behind the forward line which allows her the freedom to create.
With Walsh’s exit still fresh in the mind, it is likely that boss Gareth Taylor may repurpose Hasegawa slightly to adopt more of the defensive midfield role. Whilst she is certainly capable to holding the fort, fears of stifling and performance detriment might well be raised. But, not to dwell, Hasegawa is an excellent signing and is sure to serve City well.
Z is for Zećira Mušović
Sweden international Zećira Mušović has a big season ahead of her as Chelsea’s number one. After the sad news of Ann Katrin-Berger’s cancer recurrence, Mušović will step up to the plate and guard Chelsea’s netted fortress as their principal goalkeeper. The Sweden international played a total of ten games in the WSL last season, allowing only three goals to slip past as well as keeping six clean sheets. Mušović also managed to register an assist last time out which, whilst also being pretty remarkable, gives good indication of her ability to read the game that lays in front of her. Whilst on the pitch Mušović has large boots, or rather gloves, to fill, off of it she is the undisputed queen of memes and has already won our hearts for unapologetically putting the dinosaurs in their place.