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2015 Season Preview: WSL 1

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After such a thrilling and well-publicised end to the 2014 campaign, the 2015 edition of the WSL promises to be its best season yet with plenty of high profile signings made as the league’s strength and reputation grows. Manchester City are revolutionising the women’s game in England with new facilities and the ability to make so many players professional;Liverpool have attracted one of the world’s most exciting young players in Asisat Oshoala as they bid for a third consecutive title; and plenty of other teams have added some of WSL 2’s star players from last year with Mark Sampson emphasising his desire to fill his World Cup squad for the summer with top tier players. There is so much for us to get excited about and only a few days left to wait with the new season kicking off this Wednesday so, without further ado, here is my preview for the 2015 WSL 1.

Arsenal

Finished 4th in WSL 1 last season.

Following their years of dominance in English football, Arsenal have been knocked off the top in the last few seasons with the WSL becoming more competitive. Liverpool have since snatched the title from them for two consecutive years so the Gunners will be eager to prove themselves this season and get back to where they feel they belong. They have certainly made some bold signings during the off-season as they look to improve on last year’s fourth place finish too. Lianne Sanderson is in super form for England and she will be looking for that form to transfer onto the domestic stage as she returns to Arsenal, whilst Jemma Rose and Natalia arrive from Bristol having played huge parts in their successful 2014 that has seen them reach the last eight of the Champions League. They have the talent in their ranks to really push for the title this year, but I think they will fall short as a large majority of the squad is likely to travel to Canada in the summer, and therefore tiredness is likely to show towards the end of the campaign. I predict a similar finish in the standings but with a better points haul and a smaller gap between them and the top three or four.

Birmingham City

Finished 3rd in WSL 1 last season.

Birmingham were unlucky to miss out on Champions League football last season and they will be extremely determined to get a top two spot this season as a result. In my opinion, their manager David Parker is the league’s best tactician, and his instructions are always carried out well by such a talented squad. There have been few changes in personnel over the off-season, but the arrival of Alex Windell from Bristol is certainly noteworthy and she will strengthen an already superb midfield that includes last season’s top scorer Karen Carney. Carney is without a doubt the side’s best player, and she will be required to give her team another impeccable season if they are to see off the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea for a place in the top two.

However, she is so consistent that this can be expected, whilst one less reliable factor in the team is goal-scoring. Carney did well to hit the back of the net eight times from midfield, but she was not helped by her strikers at all and the signing of Freda Ayisi from Arsenal has been made to try and change this. Birmingham will have looked back on their results last season and picked out their two goalless draws with Everton, who finished bottom, as games that cost them a place in the top two. Still, I think their over-reliance on Carney will show once more and they will again fall just short of the Champions League spots.

Bristol Academy

Finished 7th in WSL 1 last season.

Bristol went through a transition period last season and so, normally, one would expect them to really kick on this campaign having had the time to gel as a team. However, they have witnessed such a massive exodus of players during the off-season that it looks like their fans will see more of the same this year. Natasha Harding, Jemma Rose, Natalia, Laura Del Rio, Alex Windell and Corinne Yorston were key performers for Bristol last year, but they have left during the winter, somewhat surprisingly too given their departures came before the Champions League quarter-final against German giants Frankfurt. Dave Edmondson has brought in a fair few players to replace them, but again it will take the well-changed squad time to gel and this will limit the amount they achieve in 2015.

They are a hard-working team who battle brilliantly, but in such a tough league I think they will struggle to really compete against sides who are going to come into the campaign so much stronger in terms of personnel. It’s really difficult to pick a team who I think will go down this season, but with Notts County looking much better this year with players returning from injury, I think it will be between Bristol and Sunderland, and the newly promoted Black Cats have the upper hand there with a squad with great chemistry. Things, unfortunately, certainly do not look promising for Bristol this season.

Chelsea

Finished 2nd in WSL 1 last season.

The hurt of losing the title on goal difference last season is what will spur Chelsea on in 2015. However, there have been plenty of changes in their squad since that Sunday in October so they could struggle to really make up for last season’s disappointment. Yuki Ogimi is the biggest departure, moving to German giants Wolfsburg, whilst Rachel Williams, Danielle Buet and Laura Bassett have all joined Notts County. As for the ins, Gemma Davison has arrived from Liverpool, Niamh Fahey from Arsenal and Millie Bright from Doncaster, whilst goalkeeper Hedvig Lindhal joins from Swedish side Kristianstads.

Chelsea will have been hoping to use the momentum from last season to propel them to the title, but with so many players leaving and so many coming in, they could experience a slow start to the campaign as the team waits to gel together properly. This is likely to hinder their title challenge and means they will probably have to wait at least another year to get their hands on the trophy. Still, they should finish strongly this season and I expect them to finish in the top three – I think they will do well in Europe too at the end of the year, which will cushion the blow of them probably not finishing in the top two.

Liverpool

Finished 1st in WSL 1 last season.

Despite being crowned champions for two years in a row, Liverpool will not go into the 2015 season as favourites and, in my opinion, this will suit them. Manchester City are almost everyone’s pick for this year’s WSL 1 title given all the signings they have made and the fact that a large majority of their squad is professional and, thus, expected to be fitter than the rest. However, Liverpool relish the label of underdogs, and with no-one expecting them to retain their title for a third time, this is exactly what they will be seen as. Losing the likes of Amanda Da Costa, Lucy Bronze and Gemma Davison will have been tough for Matt Beard to deal with, but he has responded to these key departures brilliantly through his recruitment during the winter.

Asisat Oshoala is obviously the key incoming off the back of a superb World Cup with Nigeria’s under 20 squad and a brilliant Africa Cup of Nations campaign with the seniors, but Ingird Ryland could be the most important as she looks to fill that huge gap left in the defence by Bronze. They have managed to retain the services of some of their key players too with Katie Zelem, Natasha Dowie and Gemma Bonner signing new contracts whilst Fara Williams remains and Lucy Staniforth is getting back to full fitness. I really do think that Liverpool have the quality to win the league for a third consecutive year, especially given the fact that they claimed the title last season with a squad hampered by injuries. They will face tough competition from the likes of Man City and Chelsea, but their consistency and squad depth will help them see off their rivals for the title.

Manchester City

Finished 5th in WSL 1 last season.

Holders of the Continental Cup, Manchester City are certainly the favourites to win the WSL 1 title this season. With a squad of professional players training in spectacular new facilities, they have a huge upper hand off the pitch which should translate onto the pitch as the players should be the fittest in the division and the most well-prepared. They have some of the most talented players in the league too. England captain Steph Houghton is surrounded by fellow international teammates Karen Bardsley, Lucy Bronze, Demi Stokes, Jill Scott and Toni Duggan following Bronze’s arrival from Liverpool and Stokes’ move from South Florida. Welsh internationals Sarah Wiltshire and Natasha Harding have also joined following some brilliant performances last season, whilst England youth international Nikita Parris has is on loan from Everton with hopes of impressing enough to get herself into Mark Sampson’s squad for the summer.

The star quality in the team is quite simply amazing and, whilst they are not my pick to win the title, they are the team I am most excited to watch this season. Still, one concern is that the majority of their team will compete in this summer’s World Cup, so tiredness is likely to kick in towards the end of the campaign and this could cost them as their team is not full of depth like Liverpool’s, for example. Their best starting eleven is arguably the best in the division, but their squad is not. Any injuries, suspensions and general fatigue will hit them hard as a result, and this is why I do not see them as being strong enough to win the title. I do think they can claim second, however, and would love to see them compete against Europe’s best next year with their star-studded squad.

Notts County

Finished 6th in WSL 1 last season.

County’s squad was hit hard by injuries last season and this showed in their final position in the standings. They managed just four wins all season, scoring just twelve goals in fourteen games, but this was largely due to Ellen White missing the whole campaign with an ACL injury. Jess Clarke took over her role up front brilliantly, the makeshift centre-forward scoring six goals, and if she can recreate this type of form then County will do well in 2015. White is sure to add goals too, as well as new signings Jessica Sigsworth and Rachel Williams, whilst Leanne Crichton and Alex Greenwood, also new arrivals, will help supply their forwards with the service required to score goals. Their defence is already solid and they have built upon this strong foundation superbly to give them more of a bite up front. I think it will take them a season to properly gel together, but I am really excited to see them develop as a group and if their chemistry grows quicker than expected, they could be the season’s surprise package and have a good go at getting a place in the top two. However, a similar finish around sixth is what I expect them to produce, just with a better points haul.

Sunderland

Finished 1st in WSL 2 last season, winning promotion to WSL 1.

Sunderland were formidable last season, winning fifteen of their eighteen games, drawing two and losing just the one to second placed Doncaster on their own patch. They did not drop points against anyone outside the top three and were quite simply ruthless throughout the year with their goal-scoring, hitting three or more in ten of their eighteen matches. Beth Mead got thirteen goals, Keira Ramshaw ten and Rachel Furness six to finish amongst the top ten scorers in the division. They have retained the services of these three so crucially over the winter as well as the rest of their squad, minus Helen Alderson who has left for Durham in order to see more playing time.

However, the big change has been at the helm, with manager Mike Mulhern being replaced by Carlton Fairweather. Fairweather does not have experience in charge of a senior team, working largely with youth teams in his coaching career, and so all eyes will be on him as the Black Cats bid for survival this season. Sunderland need to get off to a good start to give them a good chance of staying up, but if their manager does not adapt to a role that is very new to him quickly, then they will struggle and find it tough to recover from this. I think they will be in the relegation battle, but given the chemistry and winning mentality in their squad, I think they will stay up.

My final standings prediction: Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Birmingham, Arsenal, Notts County, Sunderland, Bristol Academy.

You can also see a full list of fixtures for the season ahead here.

Hi, I’m Ameé, I write reguarly about the English Football League on my blog, A Pitchside View, and also women’s football at A Women’s Pitchside View. If you liked this post, please feel free to rate it and also check out other pieces I’ve written on these sites, as well as on Fanthem. Thank you.


Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Ameé Ruszkai

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