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HomeSportsWSL 2023-24 preview: Are Chelsea on course to win again?

WSL 2023-24 preview: Are Chelsea on course to win again?

After a long, but not-so-hot English summer dominated by the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, the Women’s Super League is back, and so it’s time for ESPN’s preview of each team.

With transfer fees on the rise with the increased interest and investment in women’s football, almost all WSL clubs (except for you, Manchester City) were notably active in the transfer window. And, despite it having been said for years, it feels like some of the gaps in the league are closing and we’re actually shaping up for the most competitive season to-date.

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Last season, we had title and relegation races going down to the wire — not a stark rarity on its own — yet so much of the league was still broken up into mini-leagues. This season, however, promises to be different and despite the teams at the top adding more depth that you’d think would keep them clear of the chasing pack, that particular chasm has been bridged.

Heading into the new campaign, it feels like around six teams will be vying for those top three* spots that carry European qualification, and much of the league will be decided on who can outscore who with many teams claiming to preach a possession-heavy, high-pressing style.

(*Based on England’s co-efficient, WSL is one of the few leagues to receive a third UWCL berth.)


  • Manager: Jonas Eidevall

  • Finish last season: Third

  • Predicted finish this season: Second

  • Key player: Kim Little

Heading into his third season with Arsenal, Jonas Eidevall’s Gunners are one of the more known quantities and with no Women’s Champions League to distract the north Londoners after their shock exit to Paris FC during qualifying, many expect them to push even harder for league success. However, there are some concerns, with a new-look defence that will take some time to gel as well as a lack of depth in central defence, with Laura Wienroither the latest to end up injured with a torn ACL last season.

Possessing more depth this time around, Arsenal will hope their injury concerns are finally behind them, but only time will tell how they cope with the increased load of back-to-back summers with major international tournaments. Falling short last season due to their increased commitments in Europe and mounting injuries, the Gunners slipped down to third, though I’d expect them to regain their familiar runners-up spot this season.

  • Manager: Carla Ward

  • Finish last season: Fifth

  • Predicted finish this season: Third

  • Key player: Rachel Daly

The team who tried to upset the top four last season only to finish 10 points back, Villa’s growth under Carla Ward was at its most effective as her front-line laid waste to most WSL defences, with “Wardball” very much on show in claret and blue.

As well as adding from further afield, with the recruitment of Dutch goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar and forward Ebony Salmon, two key pieces of business for Ward have been securing the services of defender Anna Patten and forward Kirsty Hanson, both of whom were only on loan at Villa (from Arsenal and Manchester United respectively) last season. Although the moves were expected, they’re both still key for the stability of the team with Villa not lacking in any area of the pitch heading into the new season.

The question for the Villanesses will be how they perform against those who finished above them last season. Even though they received an unexpected trouncing at Old Trafford at the end of 2022, Villa showed their strength in the cups against both Man City, Chelsea and United; should they dig out a vein of consistency this season, they should be on course to break into that hallowed top four.

  • Manager: Melissa Phillips

  • Finish last season: 11th

  • Predicted finish this season: Fourth

  • Key player: Pauline Bremer

Having struggled through multiple managerial upheavals lasts season, it’s time for the Seagulls to finally push ahead with their aim of finishing in the top third of the league — a lofty goal held by the club since their promotion to the WSL in 2018. The idea of a clean slate is key for their fortunes, even though Melissa Phillips came in at the tail end of last season and had some mixed results en route to securing another season of top-flight football.

Since the end of last season, the club has recruited smartly with a clear plan in mind and although a player like midfielder Vicky Losada — who should be known to the WSL faithful having had stints at both Arsenal and Man City — is beyond her peak years, she remains one of the most intelligent players on the pitch. There’s a similar degree of risk/reward with forward Pauline Bremer, who has struggled with multiple injuries since leaving Lyon, but can score with ease when fit. There is a degree of a gamble but should both stay available, they will be key for Phillips who is clearly building her squad with the bigger picture in mind.

Although a very different prospect to an Aston Villa or Man City on paper, Brighton could prove to be one of the surprise packages of the season.

A very different team to the one that was relegated at the end of the 2020-21 season, the Robins have grown and invested off the pitch despite their limitations. Indeed, Lauren Smith’s installation as manager — one that came with a sizable amount of work to simply field a starting XI at times — the vibes have returned to the west country and there can be no question the once great team more than earned their promotion back to the top flight. That said, the season ahead for the Robins is likely to be strewn with obstacles that come with the increased competition and investment in the WSL and the squad, dotted with talent, will be pushed to the limits.

Just as we saw at the end of Bristol’s last spell in WSL, having talented players will only get you so far if you can’t get a foothold in games and one of the Robins’ key issues when they were relegated was how often they found themselves pushed back, asked to defend rather that finding a way to get the ball to their attackers.

One team will have to go down and for this prediction, it’s Bristol who have the unfortunate honour of claiming last place.

  • Manager: Emma Hayes

  • Finish last season: First

  • Predicted finish this season: First

  • Key player: Guro Reiten

Although they were less convincing in winning the title last season, Chelsea again showed that they can even do it on a cold night in Shkodër if needed. That said, a busy summer of adding strength in depth means they look renewed and refreshed for a long campaign.

Making up for key players they lost — namely defender Magdalena Eriksson and forward Pernille Harder to Bayern Munich — manager Emma Hayes has added depth across the pitch, from Catarina Macario and Mia Fishel in attack to Sjoeke Nüsken in midfield, Ashley Lawrence in defence and even Hannah Hampton as another goalkeeping option. The savvy coach has also continued to show her commitment to future seasons with the singings of defender Alejandra Bernabe (Real Sociedad), defender Brooke Aspin (Bristol City) and midfielder Wieke Kaptein (FC Twente), all of whom have been loaned back to their former clubs for the season to come.

Though they made a habit of grinding out results last season, Chelsea’s increased options should help alleviate some of the strain as they try to compete across multiple competitions while balancing out international commitments. Once again, we’re heading into a new WSL season asking: Can anyone stop the Blues?

  • Manager: Brian Sørensen

  • Finish last season: Sixth

  • Predicted finish this season: 11th

  • Key player: Martina Piemonte

There’s nothing wrong or bad about the Everton squad: that’s a major caveat here. Three or so years ago, the squad Sørensen has would have had little problem competing with the “chasing pack” in WSL. Even last season, through mixed results and performances, we saw the Toffees finish sixth. However, based more on the work and recruitment by Everton’s competitors, the Merseyside club feel half a step behind, not least with long-time Blue, Gabby George, leaving for Manchester United at the tail end of the transfer window.

As we saw last season, Sørensen is a manager with a clear long-term vision in mind and an ethos for player development, but if the season unfolds in a competitive fashion and the fine margins make all the difference, Everton could find themselves slipping down the pecking order.

Much like Brighton, there is a sizable asterisk around Leicester’s 2022-23 season: the first half was a forgettable struggle, while the second was a cohesion of ideas and smart squad additions that saw the Foxes pull off one of the greatest escapes in recent memory. Going into the new season, you sense some momentum as the team found their feet under Willie Kirk, who stepped in as head coach after the club parted ways with Lydia Bedford.

Having added further to the team over the summer — notably getting Janina Leitzig to sign a permanent deal after a string of memorable performances on loan, as well as Champions League winner Janice Cayman from Lyon — the squad possesses both depth and balance. Although still not a match for a giant like Chelsea, the mix of experience and added depth for rotation will be key for Kirk and Leicester this season; they’re unlikely to find themselves getting pulled into a relegation scrap.

  • Manager: Matt Beard

  • Finish last season: Seventh

  • Predicted finish this season: Seventh

  • Key player: Fuka Nagano

A team reborn under coach Matt Beard, the Reds struggled for consistency on their return to WSL last season, memorably beating Chelsea in their first game back as well as losing heavily to relegation-threatened Leicester. If Liverpool are to make any serious inroads up the table, the wild fluctuations in results needs to stop even if they were frequently unlucky last season, running teams close on the pitch only to fall short.

A team that managed to find more balance across the pitch after the winter window, Liverpool will be looking to build on that stability, keeping Prenton Park as a strong base — it’s where the majority of their points came last term — while improving their away form.

  • Manager: Gareth Taylor

  • Finish last season: Fourth

  • Predicted finish this season: Fifth

  • Key player: Khadija Shaw

Along with Chelsea and Arsenal, Manchester City have dominated the silverware in England, with the blue half of Manchester one of the regular top-three finishers in the league (save for last term) and no strangers to cup finals. Yet for all their might since being fast-tracked into WSL, Man City did look vulnerable last season and are, again, one of the bigger question marks.

Only signing one player in the summer — Jill Roord from Wolfsburg — there is a clear desire to final find some real rhythm and consistency. While the team looks strong on paper, it’s also overly predictable and reliant on Khadija “Bunny” Shaw. This isn’t an issue when Shaw is fit and firing, but there is a lack of contingencies if the goals or fitness desert her.

It’s highly possible that talent will simply find a way as it so frequently has for City over the years, but with the whole league improving around them, their margin for error has never been slimmer.

  • Manager: Marc Skinner

  • Finish last season: Second

  • Predicted finish this season: Sixth

  • Key player: Ella Toone

Finishing last season in second, Manchester United, much like their cross-town rivals, have a question mark hanging over their heads: can they build upon last season’s strong finish, or was it pure over-performance?

Leaning on a strong defence last term, United managed to do what rivals Chelsea have so often and ground out wins, winning “ugly” where necessary. There was consistency on the pitch, too, with Marc Skinner not one to rotate much between or during games; it worked out, luckily, as several teams struggled to do the same.

This season, should they qualify for the Champions League group stage, the added travel and calibre of opposition will make rotation a necessity; however, if they fall to PSG next month in the final qualifying round, their only remaining target would be the Conti Cup, which is where we saw unsuccessful rotation from Skinner last season.

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Man Utd face ‘difficult situation’ in keeping Mary Earps

Rob Dawson explains why Manchester United face a “difficult situation” in their bid to keep their goalkeeper whose contract expires in 2024.

Much has been made about losing forward Alessia Russo (to Arsenal) and defender Ona Batlle (to Barcelona) over the summer, as well as a possible exit for England goalkeeper Mary Earps before the end of the season, but United have recruited well in response, adding a mix of experience from around the world. But again, there are unanswered questions over how much time the new additions will see on the pitch and of course with all signings, how well they’ll take to their new club.

For United, possibly more than other teams in the league, only time will tell.

  • Manager: Robert Vilahamn

  • Finish last season: Ninth

  • Predicted finish this season: Eighth

  • Key player: Olga Ahtinen

One of two WSL teams to have changed their manager over the summer, Robert Vilahamn is looking to stamp his style on his new team, but he’s still got plenty of players who may not fit his ideas despite a summer of strong recruitment. As such, it can be a little tricky to get a read on the team ahead of the start of the season, although they’re expected to play in the dynamic attack-dominant way that stood Häcken in good stead when the Swede was in charge at the Gothenburg-based club.

Like Leicester and Brighton, Spurs’ 2022-23 season is best left in the past, with upheaval off the pitch doing little to help matters on it. The Lilywhites also suffered an unlucky blow before the season, with star striker (and new team captain) Beth England forced to undergo surgery for a hip complaint, leaving her sidelined for the start of the season. With far more depth, her team should be able to dig goals out from elsewhere.

One of the many teams who will likely be squeezed together in the chasing pack, Spurs should be able to focus on the football without distractions over a relegation fight.

  • Manager: Rehanne Skinner

  • Finish last season: Eighth

  • Predicted finish this season: 10th

  • Key player: Dagny Brynjarsdóttir

On their fourth manager in as many years, things have been far from smooth sailing for the Irons since their WSL arrival in 2018. Just as the picture has changed behind the scenes, so has the one on the pitch, with a disjointed squad giving Rehanne Skinner a bigger job to do.

A team that may need a little longer to find their footing and carve out (another) new identity under their new coach, there should at least be enough talent on the pitch to guide the team safely through another season.

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