The wait is over! What to expect from this weekend’s Women’s Super League opener
It feels like we’ve been waiting forever for this moment – the Barclays Women’s Super League finally commences this Sunday (1st October). This year’s league promises to be bigger and better than ever before following the success of the Lionesses at this Summer’s World Cup, which saw more than 13.3 million people tune into to watch the game in the UK. This, combined with the success of the Lionesses Euros win last summer, has catalysed the growth of the women’s game in England and with international fixtures complete (for now), all attention switches to the domestic league.
The first game of the season will see last year’s runners up Manchester United facing Aston Villa. This promises to be one of the major rivalries of the weekend. United have certainly been through a big transition, losing key players like Alessia Russo and Ona Battle. While they have gained talented replacements in the likes of Geyse and World Cup golden boot winner Miyazawa Hinata, this new look team won’t have time to find their feet as they face a very hungry Villa side.
Villa took the league by storm last season to finish in fifth; Rachel Daly really elevated their squad providing an attacking threat and tenacity. But this year, they have made further builds across the whole pitch that could really challenge the best.
Next to kick off will be Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Everton. Brighton will have their eyes on a higher table finish after ending last season second bottom. The transfer window saw 13 players depart the club, but 10 new faces have joined to refresh the side and provide a new look team. Everton, on the other hand, had a big blow on deadline day losing Gabby George, but coach Brian Sørenson says the foundations remain strong. Last season, they had momentous victories – beating cross-town rivals Liverpool at Anfield along with taking down high-flying Villa and they will look to continue that form.
The 2pm kick-off will see league newcomers Bristol City take on Leicester City. Bristol City will be looking for their first victory in the Super League, having come up from the Championship; they have made some great summer signings with Republic of Ireland and ex-Brighton player Megan Connolly leading the side. Leicester will certainly be rearing to go; despite being bottom of the table for much of last season they really found their form towards the end and took out both Reading and Brighton to finish strong in tenth.
Also kicking off at 2pm will be Arsenal vs. Liverpool, taking place at the Emirates Stadium. This game will be record-breaking, with the gunners having already sold 50,000 tickets. Despite their early Champions League defeat, Arsenal will be looking for a strong start in front of their home crowd. They have impressive new signings in Alessia Russo, Amanda Ilestedt, Laia Codina and Chloe Lacasse who will all be looking to make an impact and cement their place in the team.
The gunners also have a nearly fully fit Beth Mead who will likely start on the bench, but could be subbed on at any point to provide another attacking threat. Liverpool won’t be an easy team to beat, though. They came up to the super league last season from the Championship and finished seventh. They go quietly about their work but certainly have threats across the pitch, with the likes Missy Bo Kearns and Shanice van de Sanden in attack ready to jump on the counter.
Elsewhere, Gareth Taylor’s Manchester City will be hoping to bounce back after finishing outside of Champions League qualifications last season. Last season they were very much rebuilding after the loss of Keira Walsh, Lucy Bronze and Georgia Stanway. But the team has settled; they all know their role, understand the style of play and with additions including Jill Roord and returning loanees Ruby Mace and Jess Park, they have plenty of talent to execute. They will take on West Ham who have a new head coach – Rehanne Skinner. Skinner will be the team’s first female manager and has high hopes of elevating the club to lift them out of the middle of the table. They have been off to a good start thus far, winning all their pre-season matches, notably with French international Viviane Asseyi scoring a hat-trick against Bristol City.
The final game of the season will see last year’s title winners Chelsea take on Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea go into this as favourites and will open their bid for a fifth consecutive league title. We didn’t get to see much of star striker Sam Kerr at the World Cup due to injury, though she did score one of the goals of the tournament against England and Chelsea fans will be hoping for many more of those. We could see her linking up with USA striker Catarina Macario, who is a great young talent – a creative player with a great tactical knowledge of the game.
Spurs could struggle against such attacking prowess, especially without their newly named captain Beth England. But, last minute signing Martha Thomas could fill that void as a goal-scoring threat who will step up to the occasion.
It certainly will be an exciting opening weekend with record breaking attendances, WSL debuts from international stars, and plenty of goals. Make sure you tune into coverage across BBC, Sky Sports and The FA Player.