2021/22 WSL preview: transfers, key players, predictions

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The 2021/22 Women’s Super League season is upon us and this one promises to be the biggest and best yet, not least because a new broadcasting deal with Sky Sports and BBC kicks off that will make it more visible to a wider audience than ever before.

Three clubs believing they have genuine title credentials, two others hoping to break up that top three and qualify for the Champions League. At the bottom, one club will lose the fight against relegation, while there will also be the usual unpredictable fluidity in the middle of the table.

Club by club, here’s a look at all the key information you need to know…

Arsenal are hoping to get closer to Chelsea & Man City this season / Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Major transfers

Arsenal agreed a deal worth up to £85,000 to bring Nikita Parris back to the WSL after two years in France with Lyon, winning the Champions League. But also losing influential midfielder Danielle van de Donk to the French giants is a major blow.

Departed trio Jill Roord, Leonie Maier and Lisa Evans all had masses of experience at the highest level, although international signings like Simone Boye Sorensen and Frida Maanum will help replace that. Long-term target Mana Iwabuchi also joins after getting a first taste of the WSL with Aston Villa last season.

Head coach – Jonas Eidevall

Swedish coach Eidevall has replaced Joe Montemurro in charge after the latter opted to step down at the end of last season – he is now at Juventus.

Eidevall was little known in English football prior to his appointment but guided Rosengard to the Champions League quarter-finals last season and is targeting European glory with the Gunners, who remain the last English side to win the competition.

Key player – Vivianne Miedema

There was a chance that Arsenal could have lost the prolific Miedema over the summer as she was wanted by Lyon and there rumours of potential swap deal involving Parris. But her goals would have been near impossible to replace – 60 in 67 WSL appearances since 2017 – and the Gunners are a much better side for her staying put.

What to expect this season

Arsenal fans will expect their team to mount a WSL title challenge this season and progress to the latter stages now that they are back in the Champions League.

The end of last season showed promise with a flurry of wins to secure that European place, but finishing above both Chelsea and Manchester City to be crowned champions is still a tall order. Add to that the added pressure of European fixtures and squad depth will be tested to the limit.

Everton and Manchester United pose a threat from behind as well.

Prediction: 3rd

Aston Villa have shown great ambition in their recruitment / Cameron Smith/Getty Images

Major transfers

Villa’s recruitment has been impressive to say the least. A number of players have been let go, including Emma Follis, Stine Larsen and Lisa Weiss, but those that have come in represent a significant upgrade after the club targeted proven WSL players.

Alisha Lehmann and emerging goalkeeper Hannah Hampton top a strong list of new faces.

Head coach – Carla Ward

Villa poached Ward from local rivals Birmingham over the summer and look set to benefit massively from a manager who was held in very high esteem at the Blues, helping the club punch above its weight to stay in the WSL in difficult circumstances.

Key player – Alisha Lehmann

The new arrival provides Villa with an X-factor in attack. Lehmann has been in the WSL since 2018 and spent the second half of last season on loan with Everton, but this represents an opportunity to kickstart her career and take the next step in an ambitious project.

What to expect this season

Villa’s target last season was to avoid relegation in their first ever year as a professional top flight club. They achieved it and have strengthened their squad in the months since in a bid to not only consolidate their WSL status but also start to climb the table.

Brighton showed last season that a degree of consistency is enough to secure a top half finish and there is no reason why an improved Villa shouldn’t be able to do that this season.

Prediction: 6th

Birmingham have their work cut out staying in the WSL / Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Major transfers

Significant player turnover has left Birmingham with a very thin squad ahead of this season. Hannah Hampton, Sarah Mayling, Claudia Walker, Abbi Grant and Connie Scofield have all been lost to WSL clubs and sourcing replacements to improve the squad has been tough.

New arrival Louise Quinn was a title winner with Arsenal in 2018/19 and is back in England after a season in Italy with Fiorentina. Lucy Quinn didn’t set this level alight with former club Tottenham and Jade Pennock is stepping up from the Championship.

Head coach – Scott Booth

Booth has moved south of the border from dominant Scottish club Glasgow City to replace Carla Ward, who resigned her post to join Aston Villa. The 49-year-old won six league titles in Scotland but will now be really put to the test with a massively different type of challenge.

Key player – Christie Murray

The only remaining Blues player who scored more than a single WSL goal for the club last season. She will have to step up and drag her teammates with her because no club, not even the relegated Bristol City, scored fewer goals than Birmingham in 2020/21.

What to expect this season

The hope is that Birmingham will live to fight another day, but the club has arguably been on borrowed time in the WSL since 2019. With Bristol now gone, there is no team expected to struggle more and 2021/22 is likely to be the season when that time finally runs out.

Prediction: 12th

Hope Powell guided Brighton into the top half last season / Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Major transfers

Brighton have bid farewell to a number of players since the end of last season, including 10-year Seagulls veteran Kirsty Barton. But none have left the club to go on to better things, with the majority of players who have left dropping into the Championship or lower.

Lee Geum-min has made her loan a permanent transfer, while Danielle Carter is a shrewd signing with a lot of WSL experience. Rinsola Babajide is another new face to add quality in attack.

Head coach – Hope Powell

Former long-time England boss Powell has been in charge since 2017 and guided Brighton to an impressive top half finish in the WSL last season, even ending Chelsea’s long unbeaten run.

Key player – Aileen Whelan

The versatile forward has been a key presence for Brighton throughout their time in the WSL and continues to be a leader and important player. She turned 30 this summer.

What to expect this season

Brighton will struggle to improve on last season’s 6th place finish because of the quality of the clubs ahead of them. However, maintaining it should still be the minimum target this season.

The reality of the situation is that they may have their work cut out to do so, largely because Aston Villa have improved, and West Ham and Tottenham, both of whom have brought in plenty of new faces, add further competition for those mid-table places.

Prediction: 9th

Chelsea are aiming to win a third consecutive WSL title / Visionhaus/Getty Images

Major transfers

Chelsea have a squad bursting with world class talent so improving it was always going to be difficult, but they appear to have done it by landing generational talent Lauren James from Manchester United in a big money deal.

Dutch international Aniek Nouwen also adds depth at the back, while the long-serving Hannah Blundell, who was no longer a starter, is the only departure of note.

Head coach – Emma Hayes

Hayes is rightly revered as one of the best managers working in women’s football anywhere in the world. Her long-term ambition and drive took Chelsea to the Champions League final last season, while her winning mentality continues to make the Blues the WSL team to beat.

Key player – Fran Kirby

Kirby’s career was almost ended by illness in 2019, but the 28-year-old returned to her brilliant best last season and struck up a superb understanding with Sam Kerr. She is legitimately one of the best players in the world and was a deserved winner of the FWA footballer of the year and PFA players’ player of the year prizes in 2020/21.

What to expect this season

Chelsea’s recent WSL dominance and track record of success means that second is not good enough and the expectation from fans and Hayes herself will be a third successive title.

The likelihood is that they have the quality and depth to make it happen, although one misstep at any point and Manchester City in particular will be waiting to punish them.

Prediction: 1st

Everton are targeting a Champions League place / Cameron Smith/Getty Images

Major transfers

Everton have gone very big in the transfer market this summer. Nine new signings have added quality and depth, including Toni Duggan returning to where it all began, and Swedish trio Anna Anvegard, Nathalie Bjorn and Hanna Bennison, the latter costing ‘six figures’.

The only real disappointment is losing Australia international Hayley Raso to Manchester City.

Head coach – Willie Kirk

Kirk has played a major role in Everton’s improvement since 2019 when the Toffees were in danger of getting relegated from the WSL. He has overseen steady progress each season since then and is still considered a ‘young’ coach at the age of just 43.

Key player – Lucy Graham

Club captain Graham’s time at Everton has coincided perfectly with their rise up the WSL table from relegation fodder to Champions League contenders. She joined from Bristol City in 2019 and has become a crucial player for the Toffees, even writing her name into the history books when she scored the only in the 2019 Merseyside derby at Anfield.

What to expect this season

Everton have set their target on Champions League football and their recruitment over the past two years has put them in a position where they at least have a chance of making that dream a reality.

Leapfrogging Manchester United is a real possibility but they will need a slip up from Arsenal to help them actually break the top three this season. It is possible but not probable this season, although the club is definitely on an upward trajectory for the future.

Prediction: 4th

Leicester arrive in the WSL as Championship winners / Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Major transfers

In preparation for their first year as a WSL club, Leicester have added seven new faces who were playing in the top flight last season. That includes Jess Sigsworth and Abbie McManus from Manchester United, as well as Mollie Pike from Everton.

Most who have left the Foxes have stayed in the Championship or dropped to a lower level, but experienced midfielder Remi Allen left for Aston Villa.

Head coach – Jonathan Morgan

Morgan grew up a Leicester fan, idolising Emile Heskey in the 1990s and has been in charge of the women’s team since 2014. He has put in the miles and has seen the club’s remarkable rise up the league pyramid.

Key player – Natasha Flint

Flint was a professional with Manchester City as a teenager but proceeded to drop down the league ladder following her 2015 release. She eventually found her feet with Leicester as part of the club’s transition into professional status last summer and scored almost a goal per game as the Foxes won the Championship.

What to expect this season

There might be grander ambitions, but the minimum target for Leicester this season is survival. A lot will depend on how the squad gels together with the new recruits but they only have to be better than one other team over the course of the campaign and that should be doable.

Prediction: 11th

Man CIty have finished second in the WSL every year since they won it in 2016 / Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Major transfers

Manchester City have made impressive signings this summer, including Barcelona’s Champions League winning captain Vicky Losada. Khadija Shaw brings goals, while Ruby Mace is one for the future after poaching the teenager from Arsenal.

Losing Sam Mewis is a blow, Rose Lavelle less so, while a defensive exodus threatened to leave City short at the back. But the arrival of Alanna Kennedy somewhat addresses that.

Head coach – Gareth Taylor

Taylor leads City into his second full season as head coach after replacing Nick Cushing in May 2020. Formerly a player for the men’s team, he has already been part of the club’s fabric from a coaching perspective for 10 years after re-joining in 2011.

Key player – Alex Greenwood

The former left-back converted to centre-back stands to have a huge role to play for City this season. Defensive depth could yet be an issue, despite the late acquisition of the aforementioned Kennedy and the ex-Lyon player is a leader with elite level experience.

What to expect this season

City are determined to win a first WSL title since 2016, having agonisingly finished second in every season since that triumph – including even the shortened 2017 Spring Series. They have excellent players all over the pitch, but they have to find a way of getting ahead of reigning champions Chelsea, whose squad depth is still superior.

Prediction: 2nd

Man Utd are starting a new era this season / Visionhaus/Getty Images

Major transfers

Manchester United were in limbo for a long time when last season finished and have lost undeniably crucial players in Amy Turner, Lauren James, Tobin Heath and Christen Press. They have, however, also been active in signing players more recently.

Vilde Boe Risa adds international quality, Hannah Blundell is a four-time WSL champion, Aoife Mannion was deemed good enough to sign with Manchester City in 2019, Martha Thomas has shown promise with West Hama and Sophie Baggaley provides depth in goal.

Head coach – Marc Skinner

United frustrated their fans and players with the lengthy search for a new manager to replace Casey Stoney, eventually appointing Skinner. The ex-Birmingham boss is back in the England two years after leaving for a job in the NWSL with Orlando Pride. It didn’t work out for him in the United States but his record in the WSL with Birmingham was impressive.

Key player – Millie Turner

The centre-back has been a constant for United since the team was formed in 2018. Turner’s leadership will be even more important in a new-look back-line this season, especially as United’s strength in recent seasons, albeit under a different manager, has always been defensively. They will need that solid foundation for this new chapter.

What to expect this season

United have recruited well but it is hard to argue that the squad is in a better position than it was last season because of the significant upheaval. The aim is still Champions League football, but having been only one point behind Arsenal in the fight for third last season, the fight now is more likely to be against a rapidly improving Everton just to stay fourth.

Prediction: 5th

Kelly Chambers continues to lead Reading / Tom Dulat/Getty Images

Major transfers

Reading probably haven’t done enough to replace some of the key players that left at the end of last season, particularly in midfield – Fara Williams retired and Angharad James has moved to North Carolina Courage in the United States.

Striker Natasha Dowie has come back to the WSL for the first time since a brief spell at Doncaster in 2016 and has scored goals abroad consistently in recent years. Canada international Deanne Rose could prove to be a shrewd signing, while Chloe Peplow joins after leaving Tottenham.

Head coach – Kelly Chambers

A former Reading player, Chambers remains in the dual director of football/first-team manager role she has held since 2015. She is a Royals legend and has overseen the club’s rise up the league pyramid, peaking so far with a fourth place WSL finish in 2017/18.

Key player – Natasha Dowie

Reading are going to need someone to fill the shoes of Fara Williams, even if not in the same role on the pitch, and 33-year-old striker Dowie could be just that. She last played for AC Milan and had a good goal record in Italy, as well as previously in Australia, and was once a back-to-back WSL winner in the past with Liverpool.

What to expect this season

Reading are sadly not at the same level as they were when they enjoyed three successive top five WSL finishes between 2017 and 2020. Part of that has come from the increased competition towards the top of the WSL and other clubs like Everton and Manchester United accelerating much faster the Royals, who at absolute best might hope just to match last season’s seventh place.

Prediction: 10th

Shelina Zadorsky has brought an Olympic gold medal back to Tottenham / Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Major transfers

Two years after first arriving in the WSL, Tottenham have gone through a bit of a squad overhaul this summer. As many as 11 players were released almost as soon as last season finished and seven new faces have been added to a new-look squad since then.

The loss of Alanna Kennedy was a big one, while Chloe Peplow, Rianna Dean and Gemma Davison have gone. In have come Chioma Ubogagu from Real Madrid, Molly Bartrip from Reading and Maeva Clemaron from Everton, among others. Cho So-hyun is also back after agreeing a permanent deal.

Head coach – Rehanne Skinner

Experienced coach Skinner starts her first season as Spurs boss after being hired as a replacement for former joint managers Karen Hills and Juan Amoros last November. She has worked with Leicester, Arsenal, Wales and England in various capacities over the last 15 years.

Key player – Shelina Zadorsky

The Canadian defender initially joined Spurs on loan from Orlando Pride last summer and made that deal permanent in January. Unlike the rest of the NWSL imports last year, Zadorsky has stayed and is now further buoyed by winning an Olympic gold medal last month.

What to expect this season

After a respectable debut season as a WSL club in 2019/20, during which they finished seventh, Spurs went backwards in 2020/21 by dropping one place to eighth. That section of the table is usually tight enough that only a couple of extra wins could drive a club into contention for a top half finish, although for Spurs a lot will depend on how quickly the new squad gels together.

Prediction: 7th

West Ham are determined to try and drive up the WSL table / Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Major transfers

The Hammers have brought in former WSL champion Lisa Evans on loan from Arsenal, ex-Everton midfielder Abbey-Leigh Stringer and Claudia Walker, who was Birmingham’s top scorer last season. Australia’s Tameka Yallop and Japan’s Yui Hasegawa add international quality in midfield.

In terms of outgoings, Martha Thomas and Kenza Dali will be missed and have both joined bigger WSL clubs in Manchester United and Everton respectively. Alisha Lehmann and Cho So-hyun have also gone, although both were already out on loan last season.

Head coach – Olli Harder

Harder came in midway through last season when Matt Beard was sacked. The 34-year-old has chosen for his progressive coaching and has built an impressive level experience from a body of work that has taken him to the United States, China, Norway and New Zealand.

Key Player – Lisa Evans

The Scottish winger is something of a coup for West Ham. She has challenged at the top of the WSL table with Arsenal for the last four years, previously spent five years playing in Germany with Bayern Munich and Turbine Potsdam, and brings a direct threat from wide areas.

What to expect this season

West Ham are part of a group of clubs who have the potential to finish anywhere between sixth and 10th in the WSL this season. A lot of it will depend on who starts well and can build some positive momentum. The Hammers have dropped one place every season they have been in the WSL after initially finishing seventh in 2018/19, so breaking that run would be ideal.

Prediction: 8th

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