International superstars searching for more success, youngsters seeking more opportunity and clubs out for redemption highlight a huge 2022/23 edition of the Women’s Super League.
The highest tier of English women’s football will get off to a hot start on Saturday, September 10, in a season which will culminate right before the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
With more eyes on women’s football than ever before, The Inner Sanctum has previewed the 12 clubs searching for glory over the next eight months.
Season 2021/22 was a bounceback year for Arsenal. Season 2020/21 saw the Gunners finish in third, but a significant nine points behind Champions Chelsea. Successful Australian coach Joe Montemuro exited the club at the end of the season.
Last campaign saw the introduction of Swedish mentor Jonas Eidevall and Arsenal looked reviltalised. The Gunners were tormented by Sam Kerr’s Chelsea, losing the league and the cup to Emma Hayes’ side.
Despite 2021/22 ending in disappointment, Arsenal can take solace in only finishing a point behind Chelsea. The frustrating side of that reality was that Arsenal only lost one game, one less than Chelsea, and it was to second to bottom Birmingham City.
Arsenal pre-season focus has been keeping its talented core together, but the summer has seen one major decision arrive. Just like Montemuro did with Australian players a couple of seasons ago, Jonas Eidevall is backing a compatriot to get the job done for the Gunners in Season 2022/23.
Arsenal announced forward Lina Hurtig to much fanfare, the Swede joining Viviene Miedema and Beth Mead in the Gunners’ explosive forward line.
Previously at Juventus, Hurtig is capable of moments of brilliance and is another weapon Arsenal can use to convert its chances against the low blocks it will most definitely be facing.
Who’s set to break out?
The Arsenal first team is mostly well-established, with senior players ready to win and players entering their prime keen to make the most out of their opportunities. Young full back Laura Wienroither is a player that could be a handy inclusion in Arsenal’s first XI.
Wienroither only arrived from Hoffenheim in January 2022; she may only be in her early twenties, but she is already an accomplished Austrian international with 25 caps since 2019.
The full back has looked promising when given a run, but will have to compete with Noelle Maritz for a spot in the side. The experience of Maritz may be a roadblock, but if and when Wienroither gets a chance she will not disappoint.
Arsenal would have felt that the 2021/22 title race was its to lose, and dropping it would have hurt everyone involved. The Gunners should be ready to right last season’s wrongs and compete for a title.
Arsenal’s home North London Derby is set to be played in front of approximately 40 thousand people and should be a stage the players use to display their intent.
Like its West London counterparts, Chelsea, Arsenal should be thereabouts fighting for the title in the pointy end of the season, even a top two finish being disappointing with the aim being the crown.
Do not be surprised if a single lapse of concentration for either side in that race ends up being fatal in the battle of attrition the WSL is turning out to be.
Life hasn’t been easy for Aston Villa since gaining promotion from the Championship at the end of the 2019/20 season. 2021/22 saw the slightest improvement, claiming six more points and winning three more games.
In the Villans first season under new manager Carla Ward, they failed when it came to finding front third firepower. They were the lowest scoring side in the WSL for the second season running, finding the back of the net just 13 times in 22 games.
English veteran Remi Allen won the club’s golden boot with just three goals in 19 appearances. Alisha Lehmann, Ramona Betzelberger and Aussie Emily Gielnik were the only other multiple goalscorers.
Allen unfortunately ruptured her ACL in late April, leaving the club without its most prolific scorer for the season ahead.
2021/22 included disastrous results including a 7-0 loss to Arsenal, and 5-0 losses to both Manchester City and Manchester United.
It was an unfortunate decline after Aston Villa started the season by claiming seven points from its first three games.
After going through the college system in the USA and eventually breaking through to the NWSL and the England national team, Rachel Daly is a huge addition to Ward’s squad.
While Daly spends a lot of her time in the back four at national level, she’s equally as capable as a central striker. She’s scored 33 times in 95 appearances for the Houston Dash.
She gives both a focal point and spades of top level experience to a side that desperately needs it. Should the front third be able to gel quickly, the Villans could find themselves a much more potent attacking side with Daly leading the charge.
Daly was a crucial part of the Lionesses’ winning EUROs campaign, and is without a doubt one of the recruits of the season.
Who’s set to break out?
23-year-old Anna Patten continues her loan to Aston Villa from Arsenal this season, after making seven appearances in 2021/22.
Her campaign was ended early after coming down with glandular fever, but was building a name for herself in the heart of defence.
Patten was awarded the Villans’ Player of the Month award in February for her strong defensive work in a period where they gave up just one goal.
As a centre back, Patten’s strength’s lie in both her pure defending and playmaking.
Per fbref.com, she averaged 5.27 clearances per 90 minutes, and was in the top percentile of the league for progressive passes received, and progressive carries.
Patten can utilise her strong game awareness to set up opportunities for her teammates, and with a consistent run to start the season, could turn into one of the competition’s best defensive playmakers.
Though the squad looks improved particularly across the midfield and defensive lines, there’s still a number of factors stacked against the Villans.
Injuries to the aforementioned Allen and new recruit Simone Magill means the side’s finishing will likely remain an issue.
The additions of Tash Harding and Kenza Dali add such much needed experience, and could be enough to advance Aston Villa further up towards the middle of the table.
While we believe the club will avoid relegation, it’s hard to see it challenging the competition’s heavyweights. Sixth or seventh could be the peak.
Brighton and Hove Albion
Brighton and Hove Albion had another middling campaign in 2021/22, once again struggling to catch up to the big four sides in Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United.
After seven matchweeks, the Seagulls sat within touching distance of the top of the league, in third place with 15 points from five wins. The club would go on to only claim 11 more points for the remainder of the season.
This would include a seven-week winless streak, taking just a single point from a 0-0 draw with Chelsea. The horror run saw them lose 6-0 to Manchester City and 4-0 to Tottenham.
Brighton snapped the streak with three wins from its next four matches, but the damage was done. City proved to be its bogey team, losing again 7-2.
The Seagulls struggled to bolster their squad throughout the season, with loanees Rinsola Babajide and Fran Stenson playing a combined three games.
Inessa Kaagman and Aileen Whelan shared the club’s golden boot with four goals each, but both have departed the club for elsewhere.
In a side which has lost a number of defensive talents, the return of Australian Rebekah Stott will be a huge boon to the Brighton defence.
Stott was forced to the sidelines as she battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma, with no guarantees to return to football at all. She made a successful return with Melbourne City in 2021/22 though, starting in all of her 11 appearances.Embed from Getty Images
While she is well utilised as a centre back, Stott can play a successful defensive midfield role as well.
Having also returned to the New Zealand national team, she’s going to have a big impact on a back third that desperately needs stability after letting in 38 goals last season.
Who’s set to break out?
Veatriki Sarri was the shining star for the relegated Birmingham City, and is well placed to carry over her spectacular form to the Seagulls in 2022/23.
She’s also proven herself at international level, making five goal contributions (two goals, three assists) across eight UEFA qualifiers in 2021/22.
Sarri has drawn comparison to the departed Whelan, playing a similar role in the front third.
She’s a high intensity winger, averaging 31.7 pressures per 90, with a powerful left foot that’s a danger from anywhere within striking distance.
Sarri is also strongly defensively minded, averaging 2.9 tackles, 2.6 interceptions and 2.6 blocks per 90, all in the top 20th percentile for forwards.
With impressive first touch and dribbling ability, expect her to smash well past her four goals in 22 appearances last season.
Though there’s exciting new players to look forward to, the amount of talent that has departed Broadfield can’t be ignored.
Losing both of last season’s highest goalscorers puts pressure on the new starting attackers to gel quickly, while departing mainstays Felicity Gibbons, Emma Koivisto and Maya Le Tissier have all left gaps in defence.
There is plenty of talent in this squad, and if there’s anyone that can pull it together, it’s manager Hope Powell.
It may be a tough start with Arsenal and Manchester United away in its first four matchweeks, but Brighton and Hove Albion should aim to at least match last year’s 26 points and finish within the fifth to seventh range.
Chelsea became the first club in WSL history to go back-to-back-to-back, beating Arsenal to the title by one point. Arsenal led the league for the majority of the season, as Chelsea only sat on top for the final five matchweeks.
The title holders only lost two games throughout the season; a 3-2 defeat to Arsenal and a narrow 1-0 loss to Reading.
Australia’s Sam Kerr achieved back-to-back golden boot finishes, clinching the feat with 20 goals from 20 appearances. Additionally, Kerr provided four assists, claiming an average of 1.2 attacking involvements in every fixture.
Bethany England and Guro Reiten added extra firepower to the Chelsea attack, with 15 goals between them.
Canadian international Kadeisha Buchanan arrives at Chelsea following an incredible stint at Lyon.
During her time in France, the 26-year-old centre-back claimed five French league titles and eight domestic cup titles. Buchanan has had success in Europe too, winning five consecutive Champions Leagues with Lyon.
The three-time Canadian Player of the Year will add an extra element to the already successful Chelsea side. She displays brilliant aerial skills for someone who stands at 170 centimetres tall.
Her passing ranges are elite and her skillset is second to none. This signing will only strengthen the English champions, in their endeavour to win a fourth consecutive title.
Who’s set to break out?
24-year old Jessie Fleming has now played for Chelsea in the last two campaigns, progressively improving each season. Last season was her most consistent of the two, making 21 out of 22 appearances in the league and scoring six goals.
Fleming will now be joined by fellow Canadian Buchanan in the squad, which can only increase her chemistry within the squad. She looks set for another successful campaign, and could break into the elite of the squad via more goals and assists.
If Fleming continues to prosper, Chelsea could have a force good enough to conquer England and Europe.
There is no reason that Chelsea can’t compete for a fourth consecutive title. Arsenal – its biggest competition last season, will continue to be a threat, without a doubt.
The strengthening of its squad suggests it looks to not only take over England, but revive the woes of its Champions League Final loss of 2021, too.
After a brilliant 2020/21 season, where the club finished fifth on the table, Everton’s 21/22 went on somewhat of a similar path to its male counterpart, finishing just two places ahead of the relegated Birmingham City.
Having spent big money in the off-season, first team manager Willie Kirk was under pressure to achieve early results, and the Toffees didn’t start the campaign the way they would have wanted.
Kirk was relieved of his duties in the early part of the season following some major defeats to the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.
Everton would then appoint former Lyon coach Jean-Luc Vasseur who is well renowned for achieving results against quality opposition. However, the Frenchman struggled in significant fashion in the WSL, and was sacked after just one win from six league fixtures.
Everton eventually appointed Chris Roberts as interim manager, who would be assisted by Claire Ditchburn, with the pair seeing Everton through the back half of the season, and ultimately steer the side to safety. The club has now appointed Brian Sorensen, who comes with big expectation.
On the back of a disappointing previous campaign, the Toffees needed to sure up the defence, having leaked 41 goals last season – the third most of any club in the WSL. In order to rectify these issues, Everton has signed Danish international Katrine Veje.
Veje is set to join the club with a ton of experience, having won trophies in Sweden, Denmark, North America and even in the WSL with opposition club Arsenal. Veje is an experienced left back, who’s versatility also allows her to work up the ground in a wing-back role, or even through the midfield.
The 31-year-old joins the club with a total of 140 international caps for Denmark to her name.
Who’s set to break out?
With a point to prove after being loaned out from Manchester City, forward Jess Park is set to have a massive season at Merseyside.
At the age of just 20, Park is regarded as one of England’s brightest young talents, and her speed and ability to pick out quality passes is what makes her such an appealing prospect for fans of the club.
Having been benched a lot at her parent club, which is one of the big reasons she is on loan, Park is hoping to play some big minutes for the Toffees this season, and help them continue to rise up the table.
After a tough season which saw a lot of turmoil at the top of the club in the previous campaign, Everton will be hoping it is just a minor blip in the road, and it can propel back up the table.
Having finished high on the table in previous seasons, and with such a highly regarded manager at the helm as well as a haul of new signings, there is no reason Everton can’t be a problem in both the league as well as cup runs.
Fans of the Blue half of Merseyside can expect their team to finish in the top half of the table, with a finish between fifth to seventh predicted.
It was a tough first season for Leicester City in the Women’s Super League after earning promotion and winning the Championship the previous season.
The Foxes lost their first eight games which led to the removal of manager Jonathan Morgan, who had been with the club for the previous seven years. England women’s under-17 head coach Lydia Bedford took over as the Foxes manager permanently on 6 December 2021.
Under Bedford, Leicester recorded its first win in the Women’s Super League against Birmingham City on December 19.
The Foxes ended season 2021/22 with four wins, one draw, and 17 losses. They narrowly missed relegation, finishing 11th, just two points ahead of Birmingham City.
Last season, Leicester conceded the most goals, with 53 goals scored against it. To help shore up the defence, the Foxes have brought in American defender Erin Simon.
Simon is no stranger to the Women’s Super League, having played for West Ham from 2018 to 2020. She helped the Hammers reach the Women’s FA Cup final in 2019.
The 27-year-old most recently played for Racing Louisville in the NWSL, making the majority of her appearances at full-back. With Leicester looking to rise further up the table, Simon will play a critical role in Lydia Bedford’s side.
Who’s set to break out?:
After missing out on the first half of last season due to injury, Connie Scofield finally made her debut for Leicester, coming on as a substitute against Vitality Women’s FA Cup against Tottenham Hotspur. The midfielder would only play one more WSL game for the rest of the season.
But a new season brings a fresh opportunity for Scofield to show off her skills. With relatively new manager Lydia Bedford at the helm with a new formation, the 23-year-old should hopefully feature more.
After a tough first season, the Foxes will be looking to avoid relegation this upcoming season, and with several new signings and loan players coming into the team, there is a sense of optimism.
All of Leicester’s four wins last season came after Bedford became manager. With a whole pre-season for her to tinker the side’s formation and the players more familiar with the level of competition, there’s no reason to not see improvement.
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Following the disappointment of the 2020/21 season, where it failed to get promoted back to the Women’s Super League from the Women’s Championship, Liverpool FC finished first in last season’s competition.
It won the title with two matches remaining in the season, gaining promotion back to the top division.
The foundation WSL club was dominant in the second division last season under manager Matt Beard, scoring the most and conceding the least goals on their way to sealing the top spot, nine points over London City after 22 matches.
Top scorer, Irish international Leanne Kiernan, scored 13 goals last season to help her side gain promotion, while goalkeeper, Rachael Laws, was named the Player’s Player of the Season.
With a host of players being released at the end of last season, Liverpool has made a host of signings as it looks to strengthen its squad ahead of the return to the WSL.
Emma Koivisto looks to be the pick of the bunch; the versatile fullback has high attributes, particularly in defence, but will also look to bolster the Reds’ attack.
Although she had been deployed mainly as a fullback at her previous club, Brighton and Hove Albion, she has also played on the right wing.
Her main strength is her defending, but she is also able to pick up good attacking positions, particularly those to set up shots for herself.
Already in pre-season, she has picked up a goal in a 1-1 draw with Manchester City in what Liverpool will hope is taste of what is to come.
Who’s set to break out?
Leanne Kiernan looks set to have a breakout WSL season for the Reds. The 23-year-old has previously made appearances in the WSL for West Ham United, before her move to Liverpool ahead of the 2021/22 season.
She reunited with her former boss at West Ham United, Matt Beard, who took charge of Liverpool ahead of the 2021-22 season.
The Republic of Ireland international striker dominated the FA Women’s Championship last season; she scored 13 goals as she finished second in the Golden Boot race. That goal tally also equaled the Liverpool record for most goals in a campaign.
Furthermore, in pre-season, she has already picked up a hat-trick in a 5-0 win against West Ham United, as well as a goal in a 1-0 win over Aston Villa.
Kiernan recently signed a new contract with the Reds, and will be hoping to repay the faith this season.
Liverpool will be hoping to springboard off the back of a positive season in the Championship and use that momentum this season in the WSL.
Expectations won’t be too high given it is the club’s first season back in the WSL after a two-year absence. However, it should be expected to be safe this season, as it looks to build toward having a side which can challenge at the top end again.
Therefore, expect Liverpool to finish this season in mid-table, around fifth-sixth, as it looks to build on creating a title-winning team again.
Manchester City would have been happy with a third place finish in the WSL last season, jumping Manchester United in the last two gameweeks and bagging themselves a chance at Champions League qualification.
However, City were still slightly off the pace as far as the top of the table goes, with league winners Chelsea finishing nine points clear, and runners-up Arsenal only one point adrift of the champions.
City have completed some big transfers over the window, and the signing of Barcelona left-back Leila Ouahabi is perhaps the most impressive.
With the club aiming to finally break into the Women’s Champions League, picking up one of the most experienced defenders in the world will go a long way to completing this goal.
The Spaniards’ recent tenure at Barcelona was extremely successful, seeing her pick up three Primera División titles, one Champions League, and five Copa de la Reina titles.
Her winning nature may very well take Manchester City to another level this season.
Who’s set to break out?
Another new transfer, Australian midfielder/forward Mary Fowler is a bright young star, and has the chance to announce herself on the big stage following her move from Montpellier in France to the Women’s Super League.
City manager Gareth Taylor himself described Fowler as one of the “most exciting young talents” in women’s football, and his admiration for her ability surely suggests that she will have an opportunity to showcase her talents this season.
Manchester City would be hoping to contend with Chelsea and Arsenal next season, and there is no reason it can’t bridge the gap at least a little bit. Regardless, City should be thereabouts, and in with another shot at Champions League qualification for next season.
They will still have to withstand a battle from Manchester United underneath them, and there obviously is no reason why any other team can’t climb up the table and have a crack as well.
The loss of important players such as Georgia Stanway to Bayern Munich, and Lucy Bronze to Barcelona, may hurt City slightly. However, they still have the talent to compete and should be ready for the challenge that awaits them and third place should be the minimum that is expected for City this year.
The Red Devils finished fourth for the third season straight, ultimately missing out on Champions League football once again. Though finishing outside of the top three, there were still plenty of positives in the inaugural season of the Marc Skinner era, who took the reins of senior coach at the start of the season.
Ella Toone was the standout last season, the 22-year-old continuing to develop into one of the best English talents, finishing the campaign with 15 goals contributions (seven goals, eight assists) as one of the competition’s top players.
Fellow attacker Alessia Russo was also prolific, finishing the season with nine goals.
French international Aïssatou Tounkara comes to United with big plaudits, having joined during the offseason from Spanish outfit Atletico Madrid.
A league winner and cup winner during a four-year stint with Atleti, Tounkara has been a key part to her side’s success.
Having been a top contributor at both club and international level, Tounkara is a great acquisition who can help settle United’s defensive woes, having come undone several times last season at the back.
Who’s set to break out?
Having shown signs of promise on international duty with Wales, the 2022/23 WSL season could be the one which youngster Carrie Jones breaks out at club level.
Having made just the five league appearances in two years with United and none while on loan with Leicester last season, Jones may just get her opportunity this season.
The 18-year-old in her limited playing time has already shown she can more than hold her own physically at senior level, and will be one of the teenagers to watch this season.
Having finished fourth three seasons running, United will be thereabouts again in the 2022/23 season and should be once again pushing for a top three finish.
While retaining their key players, they had also bolstered their squad ahead of the new season.
In addition to Tounkara, Nikita Parris joins from Arsenal, one of the most exciting youngsters from the league last season Maya Le Tissier joins from Brighton, and Rachel Williams comes from Tottenham Hotspur. All of these additions should come in and have an immediate impact and try propel United up the table.
It was an inconsistent 2021/22 campaign by Reading FC, but there were caveats. A number of exciting signings were made at the beginning of the season, headlined by Natasha Dowie from AC Milan, but they would take time to adjust to the league and each other.
Manager Kelly Chambers did a remarkable job rebuilding the squad in such a short amount of time, especially considering that Reading is working with less resources than the bigger clubs in the top half of the table.
Reading started the season slowly, losing the first four matches, conceding 10 goals in the process, but performances steadily improved. The club went on an eight game unbeaten run and secured an incredible 1-0 win over eventual champions Chelsea.
An eighth place finish feels disappointing, if only because Reading proved it can match it with the best, and Chambers has shown that she can achieve consistent results. She was awarded manager of the month in November and established herself as a rising star in the coaching ranks.
With some strong off-season signing, fans will be cautiously optimistic for 2022/23.
Brooke Hendrix has signed a two year deal with The Royals. Australian fans will be familiar with the centre back as one of the most important signings of last season’s A-League Women.
Hendrix arrived late in Victory’s injury plagued season and made an immediate impact as they won the championship.Embed from Getty Images
This season will be her second in England after signing with West Ham in 2018. Hendrix is a strong defender who is capable of scoring, and has shown that she needs little time to settle in and make a difference in new surroundings.
Who’s set to break out?
Charlie Wellings is an exciting inclusion into the squad. The English striker joins from Celtic after scoring 40 goals in 34 appearances for the Scottish giants.
Reading is her third English club after seasons at Bristol City and Birmingham City. Wellings is a fast, powerful striker with an instinct for goal.
She is approaching the height of her powers, and will make Reading a threat in any game.
It is hard to see Reading finishing above fifth, but it has the talent to beat anybody on its day. Any improvement on last season will be an achievement.
A fifth place finish last season was an improvement on eighth the previous year. It was Tottenham’s highest finish in the league’s history and for a few weeks, it looked like it might be in contention for a Champions League place.
Spurs’ season was eventually stalled by COVID cases, and injuries. The resurgent form of Manchester City and Manchester United saw them leapfrogged on the table.
Tottenham had a strong defensive record last season, but it accurately reflected its ladder position. Some impressive reinforcements for 2022/23 might make the difference.
Drew Spence is a major signing. The Chelsea legend and Jamaican international has collected accolades and trophies over 14 years at the London rival.
Spence is a versatile and creative midfielder that will help unlock Tottenham’s attacking potential while offering a strong presence in the centre of the park.
Who’s set to break out?
Tottenham fans have still not seen the best of Australian striker Kyah Simon. In her second season at Spurs, she could be poised to make a huge difference and enter the 2023 World Cup with a good run of form.
Simon scored one of Tottenham’s best goals of last season. After running on to a long pass, she delicately lifted the ball over the Brighton and Hove Albion goalkeeper.
Simon scored three times in 17 appearances in 2021/22, and if Tottenham is to close the gap on the sides above, a strong season from the Matilda will go a long way toward achieving that.
Tottenham knows that it can match it with the best, and the signing of Spence is a signal of intent. Finishing above Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal will be a challenge however, and fourth place is the best that they will likely achieve.
Another fifth place finish is likely.
West Ham United
West Ham United battled long and hard all season. The club had a tough start to the season, but quickly adapted and sat mid-table throughout the season, finally finishing in the top half.
Its efforts granted it a sixth-placed finish – the club’s highest since joining the WSL. Seven wins, six draws and nine losses had West Ham as the best of the rest, five points behind Tottenham Hotspur in fifth.
Captain Dagny Brynjarsdottir was West Ham’s top scorer, with just four goals, proving it needs something extra to break into the top five.
West Ham suffered disciplinary issues – with two red cards, no team recorded more.
Norwegian under-19 international Thea Kyvag arrived at West Ham from Norwegian club LSK Kvinner. The winger is another needed player for West Ham, who struggled going forward last season.
Kyvag played a hand in Norway’s under-19 team, which made the final of the UEFA Women’s U19 Championship. Norway eventually lost in the final to Spain, which scored in the 94th minute of the final to complete a comeback victory.
Alongside fellow forward signing, Viviane Asseyi, she will complement the West Ham attacking structure. The addition of these two will hope to shoot West Ham up the table and become a deadly team.
Who’s set to break out?
Australian Mackenzie Arnold has now played at West Ham for two seasons as a goalkeeper, since arriving from the Chicago Red Stars. In her 34 appearances, she has kept 10 clean sheets, five in each season.
West Ham is a team currently on the rise and with that comes better results. Arnold could be on the receiving end of praise if West Ham continues to improve.
She will hope to improve her clean sheet record and propel West Ham further up the table. As the old saying goes: ‘everything starts from the back’.
As mentioned, West Ham achieved its best finish in the FA WSL in the 2021/22 season. A coup of well-timed signings may help it improve.
Nonetheless, West Ham is still some way from the top five. A mid-table finish would be a success for it, while falling any lower could put it in dangerous territory.
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