Ben Gilby runs his eye over all of the FAWSL clubs in detail ahead of the new season kicking off tonight and makes some predictions about what might happen.
Ground: Meadow Park, Boreham Wood
Head Coach: Jonas Eidevall
Transfers In: Mana Iwabuchi (Aston Villa), Nikita Parris (Olympique Lyonnais, France), Simone Boye Sørensen (Bayern Munich, Germany), Frida Maanum (Linköping, Sweden), Tobin Heath.
Transfers Out: Jill Roord (VfL Wolfsburg, Germany), Leonie Maier (Everton), Ruby Mace (Manchester City), Danielle van de Donk (Olympique Lyonnais, France), Lisa Evans (West Ham United)
There’s been some quite big changes during the summer at Arsenal, and whilst the arrival of Tobin Heath, Mana Iwabuchi and Nikita Parris are impressive, the North London side will really feel the loss of Dutch pair Jill Roord and Danielle van de Donk. One positive for the Gunners though will be the return of a fully fit Steph Catley; injury has robbed fans in England of seeing the Steph Catley that we all know and love for the Matildas, and she will be effectively another “new” signing for the club.
The concern for Arsenal remains strength in depth: as soon as they start getting two or three injuries, you start to see a number of young teenagers on the bench. For this very reason, it would have been very disappointing to lose talented youngster Ruby Mace to potential title rivals Manchester City. It is this continued lack of depth in the Arsenal side that makes them vulnerable to missing out on Champions League football next season.
Ground: The Banks’s Stadium, Walsall
Head Coach: Carla Ward
Transfers In: Alisha Lehmann (West Ham United), Remi Allen (Leicester City), Sarah Mayling (Birmingham City), Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah (Everton), Meaghan Sargeant (Bristol City), Hannah Hampton (Birmingham City), Maz Pacheco (West Ham United), Emily Gielnik (Vittsjo), Ruesha Littlejohn.
Transfers Out: Ella Franklin-Fraiture (released), Emma Follis (Charlton Athletic), Amy West (Nottingham Forest), Caroline Siems (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Germany), Diana Silva (Sporting CP, Portugal), Mana Iwabuchi (Arsenal), Nadine Hanssen (released), Stine Larsen (BK Häcken, Sweden), Asmita Ale (Tottenham Hotspur).
The Villains did well to avoid an instant drop back to the Championship and they have made some solid signings over the summer in addition to the hugely impressive Carla Ward as head coach who crosses England’s second city to take charge. Ward has brought the excellent young keeper Hannah Hampton with her from Birmingham City along with Sarah Mayling. Ward’s fantastic qualities as a coach plus the arrival of the likes of Alisha Lehmann and Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah should mean a more comfortable season than last time round. With Lehmann an excellent creator and Emily Gielnik a great goal getter, things look positive for Villa offensively, but defensively may be another issue.
Ground: St. Andrews, Birmingham
Head Coach: Scott Booth
Transfers In: Jade Pennock (Sheffield United), Louise Quinn (Fiorentina, Italy), Lucy Quinn (Tottenham Hotspur), Sarah Ewens (Celtic, Scotland), Libby Smith (Leicester City), Cecilie Sandvej (Fleury 91, France), Emily Ramsey (Manchester United – loan), Lisa Robertson (Celtic, Scotland).
Transfers Out: Heidi Logan (Lewes), Hannah Hampton (Aston Villa), Sarah Mayling (Aston Villa), Claudia Walker (West Ham United), Mollie Green (Coventry United), Abbi Grant (Leicester City), Emma Kelly (Sunderland), Sophie Whitehouse (Bristol City).
Birmingham City were a club in crisis last season with players openly criticising their parent men’s club on social media for the appalling lack of facilities and inequality at the Blues. In addition to this, they were playing at Solihull Moors FC, a men’s fifth-tier club ground which seemed to be permanently waterlogged. Put all this together and positives were thin on the ground in England’s second city.
The departure of their hugely respected head coach Carla Ward was another massive blow, although the club have attracted a replacement with an outstanding track record. Scott Booth led Glasgow City to the 2020 UEFA Champions League Quarter-Finals and to six successive Scottish Premier titles, which included four trebles.
A move away from Solihull to the men’s venue of St. Andrews is another positive, but given this is a side who narrowly avoided relegation last season and whose squad has seen many of their better players depart, beating the drop this time round will be a staggering achievement.
Prediction: 12th – relegated
BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION:
Ground: The People’s Pension Stadium, Crawley
Head Coach: Hope Powell
Transfers In: Danielle Carter (Reading), Rinsola Babajide (Liverpool – loan), Lee Geum-min (Manchester City)
Transfers Out: Kirsty Barton (Crystal Palace), Jodie Brett (retired), Cecilie Fiskererstrand (LSK, Norway), Rianna Jarrett (London City Lionesses), Nora Heroum (Lazio, Italy), Hollie Olding (Charlton Athletic), Laura Rafferty (Southampton), Bethan Roe (Charlton Athletic), Rebekah Stott (Melbourne City, Australia), Ellie Hack (Lewes).
Last season was hugely successful for the Seasiders with Hope Powell’s side the only FAWSL team to defeat Chelsea. They may have only brought in three players in the summer, but each of them are real quality: the arrival of Danielle Carter from Reading marks the first time in the club’s history that they have paid a transfer fee, while Bringing Rinsola Babajide back to the FAWSL was also an inspired move, adding some potency to the Seagulls attack.
Brighton and Hove Albion have slowly improved since they arrived in the FAWSL and are now rapidly approaching the status of being among a team that should be looking to push into the top half of the table. The only thing which might stop them this time round is the potential quality that West Ham United have added over the summer.
Ground: Kingsmeadow Stadium, Kingston-Upon-Thames
Head Coach: Emma Hayes
Transfers In: Aniek Nouwen (PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands), Lauren James (Manchester United).
Transfers Out: Jamie-Lee Napier (London City Lionesses), Hannah Blundell (Manchester United), Emily Murphy (University of North Carolina, USA), Agnes Beever-Jones (Bristol City – loan), Charlotte Wardlaw (Liverpool – loan), Emily Orman (Crystal Palace – loan)
Chelsea were deserved FAWSL champions last season, but the joy of that plus the Continental Cup final demolition of Bristol City was lessened somewhat by the way Barcelona totally dismantled the South-West London based club in the Champions League Final.
The women’s football fraternity and even some of Chelsea’s own fans have long expressed concerns about the team’s lack of depth defensively compared with the huge number of quality players in the goalkeeping, midfield and striking roles. That came back to haunt them against the Catalan side.
It is a real surprise therefore, that Emma Hayes has not moved to significantly address this over the summer as the arrival of Dutch defender Aniek Nouwen from PSV has been offset with the departure of Hannah Blundell to Manchester United.
Chelsea’s defence should be good enough to see off the top FAWSL sides, but when they compete with the best of the best in Europe, they are likely to be found wanting again. With the club becoming increasingly focused on Champions League glory, the inability to add defenders over the summer could well lead to much hand wringing among the hierarchy at Stamford Bridge.
Ground: Walton Hall Park, Liverpool
Head Coach: Willie Kirk
Transfers In: Kenza Dali (West Ham United), Toni Duggan (Atletico Madrid, Spain), Anna Anvegård (Rosengård, Sweden), Nathalie Björn (Rosengård, Sweden), Leonie Maier (Arsenal), Courtney Brosnan (West Ham United), Aurora Galli (Juventus, Italy), Cecilía Rán Rúnarsdóttir (KIF Örebro, Sweden), Hanna Bennison (Rosengård, Sweden)
Transfers Out: Ingrid Moe Wold (retired), Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah (Aston Villa), Georgia Brougham (Leicester City), Maeva Clemaron (Tottenham Hotspur), Tinja-Riikka Korpela (Tottenham Hotspur), Molly Pike (Leicester City), Hannah Coan (Blackburn Rovers), Anna Pedersen (London City Lionesses), Abbey-Leigh Stringer (West Ham United), Elise Hughes (Charlton Athletic), Hayley Raso (Manchester City)
Everton have arguably had the best summer transfer window of all FAWSL clubs culminating with the club paying a six-figure transfer fee for the hugely talented Swedish teenager Hanna Bennison.
It is a major statement of intent by Willie Kirk and the Merseyside club. There is no doubt that the departure of Hayley Raso – particularly to one of Everton’s North-West and Champions League qualification rivals – is a big blow for them, yet there is more than enough quality in the team for it to probably not impact their likely finishing position in the FAWSL.
Everton’s opening two games will go a long way to showing everyone just how big a threat they could be, as they host Manchester City at the club’s traditional home Goodison Park before travelling to Kingsmeadow to take on Chelsea the following weekend.
Ground: King Power Stadium, Leicester / Farley Way Stadium, Quorn
Capacity: King Power Stadium: 32,261 / Farley Way: 1,400
Head Coach: Jonathan Morgan
2020-21: Promoted – 1st, FAWC
Transfers In: Jess Sigsworth (Manchester United), Jemma Purfield (Bristol City), Georgia Brougham (Everton), Abbi Grant (Birmingham City), Molly Pike (Everton), Abbie McManus (Manchester United).
Transfers Out: Remi Allen (Aston Villa), Charlotte Fleming (London City Lionesses), Grace Riglar (Coventry United), Lia Cataldo (released), Freya Thomas (Nottingham Forest), Aimee Everett (Crystal Palace), Millie Farrow (Crystal Palace), Olivia Fergusson (Coventry United), Libby Smith (Birmingham City), Holly Morgan (retired).
Last season’s Championship winners make their first visit to the FAWSL and given the impressive summer business they have done, they are likely to make it more than just a single season in the top tier.
The East Midlands club turned professional last season for the first time, and it was inspired timing as, due to the disarray at last season’s relegated FAWSL team Liverpool, the one promotion spot was going to be hotly contested. Leicester saw off the spirited challenge of Durham to make it into the promised land.
This is a club who look like doing things along the lines of Brighton – adding a few good FAWSL players bit by bit to give them quality that the teams likely to be around them at the bottom don’t have. Jess Sigsworth and Abbie McManus are particularly good signings by Jonathan Morgan and Leicester are likely to be a tough opponent, particularly on their own patch.
Ground: City Academy Stadium, Manchester
Head Coach: Gareth Taylor
Transfers In: Ruby Mace (Arsenal), Khadija Shaw (Bordeaux, France), Vicky Losada (Barcelona, Spain), Hayley Raso (Everton), Alanna Kennedy (Tottenham Hotspur), Filippa Angeldahl (BK Hacken).
Transfers Out: Sam Mewis (North Carolina Courage, USA), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign, USA), Gemma Bonner (Racing Louisville, USA), Megan Campbell (Liverpool), Aoife Mannion (Manchester United), Lee Geum-min (Brighton and Hove Albion), Tyler Toland (Celtic, Scotland), Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage, USA)
Last season was a bit of a strange one for Manchester City – s hugely disappointing start led to some questions being asked about Gareth Taylor, and the playing of Rose Lavelle out of position was baffling as well.
Yet City finished the season in some style, but were not able to get the better of Chelsea, largely due to not being able to defend against the sheer quality of the South-West London based side’s attacking players in their league encounters.
Taylor has added some impressive names over the summer – Jamaican international Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw is an outstanding goal scorer, and she could set the FAWSL alight this season and the arrival of Hayley Raso is fantastic for all lovers of the Matildas. City are likely to be Chelsea’s closest challengers this season with the league likely to be decided in the two games between the sides.
Ground: Leigh Sports Village, Leigh
Head Coach: Marc Skinner
Transfers In: Vilde Boe Risa (Sandviken, Sweden), Hannah Blundell (Chelsea), Sophie Baggaley (Bristol City), Aiofe Mannion (Manchester City), Martha Thomas (West Ham United).
Transfers Out: Jess Sigsworth (Leicester City), Jane Ross (Rangers, Scotland), Tobin Heath (released), Christen Press (Angel City, USA), Amy Turner (Orlando Pride, USA), Lauren James (Chelsea), Abbie McManus (Leicester City), Megan Hornby (Blackburn Rovers), Emily Ramsey (Birmingham City – loan), Fran Bentley (Bristol City – loan).
It has been a summer of frustration bordering on anger among the Manchester United fan base who are never backwards in coming forwards at the best of times.
The loss of Casey Stoney, citing, among other issues her huge disapproval with the poor facilities that her players have to use, plus the long wait for the announcement of a new head coach and associated lack of signing news to stem the flow of a torrent of big name departures makes the present situation at United exceptionally challenging.
The announcement of Marc Skinner, who achieved great things with Birmingham City (albeit a very different standard of Birmingham City than presently exists) was not exactly universally approved of.
The club have now begun to bring in new players ahead of the season, but as yet they do not replicate the quality of those departed.
Ground: Madejski Stadium, Reading
Head Coach: Kelly Chambers
Transfers In: Natasha Dowie (AC Milan, Italy), Gemma Evans (Bristol City), Faye Bryson (Bristol City), Chloe Peplow (Tottenham Hotspur), Deanne Rose (University of Florida, USA)
Transfers Out: Fara Williams (retired), Angharad James (North Carolina Courage, USA), Lauren Bruton (Charlton Athletic), Molly Bartrip (Tottenham Hotspur), Kristine Leine (Rosenborg, Norway), Erin Nayler (released), Danielle Carter (Brighton and Hove Albion), Silvana Flores (Tottenham Hotspur).
It will be a new look Reading this season after the Berkshire side lost three key players with the retirement of the iconic Fara Williams, Angharad James’ move to the USA, and Danielle Carter’s departure to Brighton and Hove Albion – a particularly big loss to a team who are likely to be in a similar league position to Reading this season.
On the plus side, Kelly Chambers has acquired Deanne Rose who looked impressive for Canada throughout the Olympics. Tash Dowie, a W-League star of the past is an interesting signing but the jury is out as to what sort of impact she may have in the FAWSL at the age of 33.
The Royals are likely to be too strong against the bottom three or four sides to be dragged into a relegation battle. Instead the key games for them will be against the likes of West Ham United and Brighton and Hove Albion with a place in the top half of the table a reward.
Ground: The Hive, Edgware
Head Coach: Rehanne Skinner
Transfers In: Cho So-hyun (West Ham United), Maeva Clemaron (Everton), Tinja-Riikka Korpela (Everton), Molly Bartrip (Reading), Tang Jiali (Shanghai Shengli, China), Gracie Pearse (Crystal Palace), Chioma Obogagu (Real Madrid, Spain), Asmita Ale (Aston Villa), Kyah Simon (PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands), Eleanor Heeps (Liverpool), Silvana Flores (Reading).
Transfers Out: Rianna Dean (Liverpool), Alanna Kennedy (Manchester City), Gemma Davison (released), Anna Filbey (Charlton Athletic), Hannah Godfrey (Charlton Athletic), Lucia Leon (Real Betis, Spain), Aurora Mikalsen (Sandviken, Sweden), Chloe Peplow (Reading), Lucy Quinn (Birmingham City), Siri Worm (Eintracht Frankfurt, Germany), Elisha Sulola (Charlton Athletic), Gracie Pearse (Crystal Palace – loan), Eleanor Heeps (Blackburn Rovers – loan).
Tottenham Hotspur are one of those clubs who you feel should have a women’s team in the FAWSL. Yet they are not performing anywhere near as strongly as perhaps they could be. Last season they suffered with the double curse of conceding too many goals too often, and looking blunt in attack, seldom taking advantage of chances when they had momentum in games.
This does not look like changing for the new season. Kyah Simon’s arrival is impressive; having been strongly linked with Aston Villa, West Ham United and Manchester United, it was a bit of a surprise when she signed with Spurs. Simon is likely to have her work cut out as even at her creative best, she does not have a goal scoring team mate to convert all the chances that she will manufacture in white and navy.
Spurs’ season is likely to be decided by how they get on against the trio of Midland based sides – Leicester City, Aston Villa and Birmingham City. They will probably just do enough to remain in the FAWSL – just.
WEST HAM UNITED:
Ground: Victoria Road, Dagenham
Head Coach: Olli Harder
Transfers In: Tameka Yallop (Brisbane Roar), Zaneta Wyne (Glasgow City, Scotland), Claudia Walker (Birmingham City), Melissa Filis (London Bees), Abbey-Leigh Stringer (Everton), Lucy Parker (Kansas City, USA), Anna Leat (Georgetown University, USA), Lisa Evans (Arsenal).
Transfers Out: Courtney Brosnan (Everton), Kenza Dali (Everton), Leanne Kiernan (Liverpool), Cecilie Redisch (Sandviken, Sweden), Martha Thomas (Manchester United), Laura Vetterlein (Zürich, Switzerland), Emily van Egmond (released), Alisha Lehmann (Aston Villa), Cho So-hyun (Tottenham Hotspur), Maz Pacheco (Aston Villa).
West Ham were the ultimate enigma wrapped up in a mystery last season. On paper, they had a very strong team, yet ended up only avoiding relegation in the final fortnight of the season. Indeed, if Bristol City had started picking up points a week or so earlier, then the EastEnders would be playing Championship football this season.
Whilst it was disappointing for Hammers fans to see Emily van Egmond leave (how good would it have been to see her link up with Tameka Yallop this season!), there are still some decent signings coming in.
Zaneta Wyne was a success at Glasgow City and deserves a shot at the English top fight. Then, of course there is Tameka Yallop. Having been in sensational form for the Matildas at the Olympics, it’s clear the English media don’t realise what a potential superstar will be plying her trade in East London this season. If Yallop brings her form from Tokyo to the FAWSL then West Ham are going to be a real threat.
Whilst the Hammers confirmed to everyone last season that football is not played on paper, it seems inconceivable that a team with the players that they have cannot have two such poor seasons back to back. Therefore, I can only see big positives in the East End this season.