Earlier tonight, the 2015 FA Women’s Super League kicked off, and we take a look at how the new season might shape up, and who will challenge for the title.
Chelsea Ladies were inches away from winning last season’s trophy – with Liverpool Ladies, who were third at the start of the day, snatching the title on goal difference in what was one of the most nail-biting days of women’s football. Liverpool now look at this new season as chance to claim the title for the third consecutive season, whilst Chelsea, Arsenal and the divisions five other teams are hoping to change that.
A contingent of foreign stars and a bunch of England internationals, added to the fact that the Women’s World Cup is taking place in the summer, gives the 2015 season the potential to be the most exciting yet.
For most football fans in England, women’s football is something that is yet to be truly explored. However in recent years there has been a huge surge in both the popularity and the professionalism of the female game, with much increased TV coverage and support. The hierarchy is simple.
There are two main leagues – the Women’s Super League 1 and the Women’s Super League 2 (like the Premier League and Championship in men’s football). The WSL2, which started last Wednesday, has 10 teams – Aston Villa Ladies, Doncaster Rovers Belles, Durham Women, Everton Ladies (who both lost the FA Women’s Cup Final to Arsenal and were relegated from the WSL1 last season), London Bees, Millwall Lionesses, Oxford United Women, Reading FC Women, Watford Ladies, and Yeovil Town Ladies.
In the WSL1, there are eight teams, with Liverpool Ladies and Sunderland AFC Ladies locking horns earlier tonight – newly promoted Sunderland claiming a shock 1-2 away win. On Saturday, Birmingham play Manchester City and Notts County face Chelsea in a 5:00pm KO. As well as this, there is an FA Women’s Cup, where Chelsea Ladies thrashed Watford Ladies 6-0. Now, we look at Chelsea’s title contenders, and the Blues’ own Super League credentials.
1. Arsenal Ladies
Since their creation in 1987, the female Gunners have won a staggering 41 major trophies. They will want to do better than how they fared last season, coming a disappointing 4th, despite beating Everton 2-1 in their 13th Women’s FA Cup Final victory. They are the last team to get their season going, travelling to Notts County on the April 2nd in their first game of the 2015 season. But, they face a real test of their credentials as they face Manchester City away from home on April 19th. Their strikers are ones to watch, with Lianne Sanderson scoring the winner in England’s 1-0 Cyprus Cup Final success over Croatia. As well as Sanderson, they have England Women’s all-time record goalscorer, Kelly Smith, who recently retired from international football with 46 goals, in their ranks. Casey Stoner, the former England captain, and goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain also impressed last season and in recent internationals.
2. Birmingham City
Even Blues boss David Parker simply couldn’t predict how this season will play out “I could not tell you who will win the league – of course I want it to be us. Notts County have a great shout, but the real pressure is on Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea – they have invested a huge amount of money. Liverpool, as champions, will want to defend that crown.” However, Parker will hope Karen Carney will hit the same form that she did last season – she scored eight goals in the WSL1 in 2014. Jo Potter also scored an exquisite freekick against Liverpool in the Women’s FA Cup, as she looks to stamp her mark on the league. However, Birmingham face a tough opening to the season, facing Manchester City at home on Saturday.
3. Bristol Academy
Despite losing to Frankfurt 0-5 in the first leg of their Champions League QF match last Saturday, Bristol will be hoping to draw inspiration from their stunning win over Barcelona last season. Their side this season is full of fresh faces including Wales captain Sophie Ingle, whilst Mary Earps looks to turn more heads after some excellent performances. They, like Arsenal, start their season on April 2nd at home to Chelsea.
Chelsea midfielder Ji So Wun was named WSL1’s Player’s Player of the Year last season, and she will be one to watch along with new signing from Liverpool, Gemma Davidson. Chelsea have spent big, but Eniola Aluko will look to keep her place in the squad after impressive showings during the Cyrpus Cup. The Blues have a tough opening home fixture on April 19th against reigning champions Liverpool, in a game which is sure to set the tone for the season. The Ladies will also want to get their own back on The Reds after their defeat by the narrowest of margins last season – losing out on the title through goal difference.
But despite last seasons disappointment, Chelsea left-back Claire Rafferty feels confident “Last season, the league was ours to lose, but it was a position we had never been in before. We want to replicate last season and go one step further and actually win the league.”
Liverpool boss Matt Beard is aware of the threat posed by the other title contenders “It is going to be tough because you’ve got clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Notts County as well, who have all invested heavily in their playing squad. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to do that so it is going to be tough.” However, new signing Asisat Oshoala is sure to add some firepower into the mix, with the Nigerian winning both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball in last year’s Under-20 World Cup, whilst also being the first African to play in the WSL. Liverpool had the second-best defence record in the league last season, and captain and centre-back Gemma Bonner will look to play as large a role as she did last season. However, their season is yet to really take-off after a hugely disappointing 1-2 loss at home to Sunderland earlier.
6. Manchester City
Last season was a successful one for the blue half of Manchester, with City’s first WSL1 season culminating in Continental Cup success. However, if Manchester City could have a tough April, that’s exactly what they have been given, starting at Birmingham away on Saturday, then playing Arsenal and Liverpool on the 19th and 25th respectively. But, on-loan Everton striker Nikita Parris, who won Everton’s Player of the Year in 2014, as well as England forward Toni Duggan, who has recovered from knee surgery, will form a formidable front line.
7. Notts County
The Nottingham side had five players represent them for England at the Cyrpus Cup, and they may well need their quality as they host Chelsea on Saturday and the Arsenal on April 2nd. Keeper Carley Telford said the club “want silverware this season” and England striker Ellen White, who marked her debut with a goal after a long spell out through injury, along with Canada midfielder Desiree Scott, may add the little bit of quality needed to push big-spending County all the way to the top.
The Tyne and Wear side won the WSL2 by just two points last season, with England U23 striker Beth Mead firing an incredible 30 goals. The experience of former Everton and England midfielder Kelly McDougall will prove essential for the female Black Cats as they look to hold their own at the highest level. But despite the odds, they started their season in the best way possible, beating Liverpool Ladies 1-2 earlier tonight.
Both the BBC and BT Sport are covering the WSL this season through both radio and TV, in what is an increasingly popular part of the beautiful game.
For more information, news and stats about the 2015 FA WSL1 and WSL2 seasons, go to: www.fawsl.com