2021/22 WSL Christmas Awards

5

With the WSL season 2021/22 paused for the winter break, it now feels like a good time to look back on the first three and a half months of a historic season for women’s football in England.

This year, the new WSL broadcasting agreement with the BBC and Sky Sports has arrived, which provides extra revenue and more attention to the competition.

WSL continues to be filled with world-class achievements and the level of competition still makes it the best league in Europe, if not the world.

These are the highlights of the season so far …

Arsenal have been the team to beat in the WSL this season / Jan Kruger / GettyImages

Although Arsenal have had some setbacks in the Champions League and were recently convincingly surprised in last season’s delayed FA Cup final, there is no denying that the Gunners have been the team to beat in the WSL during the first half of the campaign.

New manager Jonas Eidevall has started where former manager Joe Montemurro left after the team finished last season with almost flawless eight wins and a draw from its last nine games.

Arsenal started in the best possible way when they beat the reigning champions Chelsea on the opening weekend of the season and have only lost two points since then. They have a four-point lead at the top of the table, have scored the most goals and conceded the least.

There is no argument here.

Rehanne Skinner has transformed Tottenham / Marc Atkins / GettyImages

The previously mentioned Eidevall obviously deserves plenty of praise, after entering a new league and having had many immediate successes. But Rehanne Skinner at Tottenham has done an even bigger job.

Skinner took over on a struggling Spurs team in November last year and immediately gave the club winning form. It ended after January but the squad has improved dramatically again this season.

Spurs won just five WSL games throughout last season and have already improved that figure to just 10 games into 2021/22. After finishing eight earlier – eight points from the bottom and 28 points behind the top three, they are now in third place at the winter break and are one of several clubs well placed to try to take advantage of Manchester City’s disaster.

Hannah Blundell has been a revelation for Man Utd / Naomi Baker / GettyImages

Several players deserve positive mentions here. Frida Maanum has become an automatic starter in a very good Arsenal team, Tinja-Riikka Korpela and Maeva Clemaron have been important additions for Tottenham, and Deanne Rose now consistently impresses at Reading.

But Hannah Blundell has automatically become one of Manchester United’s best and most important players.

The full-back arrived in Manchester as a makeweight in the deal that took Lauren James to Chelsea, but so far it is United who have reaped the benefits of that particular transaction.

Blundell has become the key for United at both ends of the pitch, especially for a squad that in the summer looked like it would want to attack firepower.

Arsenal wiped out Man City in September / Catherine Ivill / GettyImages

There was a growing concern for Manchester City during the first weeks of the season. They had been forced to forgo a pre-season and were surprisingly knocked out of the Champions League before the group stage by Real Madrid, at the same time as defensive injuries also began to pile up.

City were narrowly defeated by Tottenham in the second round of the season, a result that most are expected to be a slump. But Arsenal brutally revealed every weakness in the next round of games at the end of September, beating one of their supposed title rivals 5-0.

On the same day, Chelsea also reversed the style and scored six goals after Manchester United, where Pernille Harder scored a challenger for the season’s goal.

Natasha Dowie is back in the WSL at 33 / Richard Heathcote / GettyImages

Natasha Dowie had not played WSL football for more than five years before signing for Reading this summer, thanks to a worldwide existence that had brought in spells in the United States, Australia, Sweden, Norway and Italy.

The 33-year-old could have been forgiven for thinking it was a mistake when the Royals lost four games on the spin to start the season. But Dowie, along with Canadian youngster Deanne Rose, has played a crucial role in Reading’s sudden abundance of wins and rising up the table ever since.

Alessia Russo Frodas 2021/22 / Naomi Baker / GettyImages

Alessia Russo spent most of her debut season in the WSL sidelined due to injury but is now more than once again losing time with her performances for Manchester United since returning to full fitness in 2021/22.

Russo, who trained with the iconic University of North Carolina Tar Heels after starting in the WSL with Chelsea and Brighton, has shown his talents as an all-round “number nine”. It is a role that will become relevant with England in the long term in the not too distant future.

At 22, she is still raw, but strength, power, hold up games and a deadly finish already make her one of WSL’s top strikers and one to keep watching.

Reading dug deep as a team to watch by Chelsea / Ben Hoskins / GettyImages

Reading rallied to inflict a rare defeat on Chelsea in December. The Royals had never before beaten the champions in a WSL match but everything clicked perfectly into place.

Chelsea dominated the ball as expected and Reading knew that breakaway chances were probably the best they could hope for. That’s just how it was when Deanne Rose pushed them forward in the early substitutions – then it was a matter of defending to the end for the remaining 86 minutes.

Reading’s defensive efforts ensured that the vast majority of Chelsea’s 34 goal attempts were off target. Goalkeeper Grace Moloney was there to save those who were on goal, while midfielder Gemma Evans also made two saving saves.

Beth Mead took it to Chelsea on the opening weekend / Visionhaus / GettyImages

Beth Mead had a point to prove after being left out of Britain’s Olympic squad this summer and channeled that frustration perfectly when she put Chelsea on the sword on the season’s opening weekend.

It was a huge early test for Arsenal against the reigning champions and they were able to get through thanks to Mead’s heroism.

Chelsea had already taken off an early Gunners lead, but Mead struck shortly after half-time and then got his second of the game 11 minutes. It turned out to be crucial in the 3-2 victory, although she could even have had a hat trick if it were not for a good save early in the second half.

New England coach Sarina Wiegman looked at the stands and Mead was immediately back in the lioness’ picture after her Olympic grief.

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