Here is the second part of my preview of the 2016 WSL. You can find the first part here:
Although they won three successive FA Cups between 1994-1996, Liverpool have always been a team that have flitted in between the top and second tiers of the game. Although they were one of the founder members of the WSL, it wasn’t until their integration with the men’s team in 2013 that they finally managed to claim victory in the top division of the women’s game. This was followed by a second success in the 2014 WSL.
Last season – 7th (13 pts)
Big things were expected of The Reds after two consecutive titles but they were hugely underwhelming in 2015, finishing just above the relegation spot with the joint-second worst defence in the league. Things weren’t much better in the FA Cup, Continental Cup or Champions League and this led to the departure of manager Matt Beard at the end of the campaign.
The loss of Natasha Dowie and Fara Williams will be huge for Liverpool as they often carried the side at times last year. However, they have acquired players of huge experience in Natasha Harding and goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain and this will be vital in what is quite a young team. They have also signed the hugely excited defender Alex Greenwood and have also tied up a deal for Dutch captain Mandy van den Berg; both of these signings, along with Chamberlain, will certainly tighten up their defence.
Key player – Gemma Bonner
With wholesale changes to the playing staff this year (Liverpool have brought in 9 new faces and let 10 go), captain Bonner has a major task on her hands ensuring the squad are firing on all cylinders from the get go. She is a battler and superb leader though and will certainly want to ensure last year was a one-off.
Prediction – 7th
This is a team very much in transition so I don’t expect too much from them. The future looks bright though and they will certainly be hoping this season is the springboard that will return them to their rightful place near the top before too long.
Unlike most of the teams in the league, The Citizens have been affiliated with the men’s team since their inception in the 1980s. In 2012 they became fully integrated, with the club announcing an intention to rebuild the club and place more emphasis on their female members. 2013 saw the creation of WSL2 and it was widely expected that Man City would be placed in that league. However, to much surprise, they were fast-tracked straight into the top tier in place of an unfortunate Doncaster. They have since repaid this decision though with very strong showings and were victors in the 2014 Continental Cup.
Last season – 2nd (30 pts)
2015 was the highest league finish City had ever achieved in their history, narrowly missing out on the title to Chelsea on the final day of the season. It was a much improved season in comparison to 2014 but, with players such as Lucy Bronze and Steph Houghton in their team, they were disappointed not to come away as victors.
City have bolstered their attacking options, bringing in experienced Scot Jane Ross from Vittsjo as well as Kosovare Asllani from PSG. They have also converted the signing of Nikita Parris from a loan deal to a permanent one and these three strikers, in partnership with the superb Toni Duggan, have the potential to embarrass any defence in the world.
Key player – Izzy Christiansen
This may seem a slightly strange choice given the stature of some of the players in this team but, in Christiansen, City have a player capable of unlocking the tightest of defences with her sublime passing ability. The service she will provide to the likes of Duggan and Parris will be the undoing of many teams.
Prediction – 2nd
Although they may be the current equivalent of Real Madrid’s ‘Galacticos’ I can’t see The Blues overcoming Chelsea just yet. It will be incredibly tight though.
The club has only existed in its current format since 2014. Previous to this, the team was known as Lincoln Ladies until they were relocated to Nottingham in order to meet the WSL criteria of being completely integrated with a male club. Although this caused much controversy, the team still retains a large and loyal following and finished a creditable 6th in their first season as Notts County.
Last season – 5th (15 pts)
Last year was another highly respectable year for The Lady Magpies. They might not have the money or facilities some of the bigger clubs do but what they do have is a fantastic team spirit and this certainly showed in 2015. Their highlight of the season had to undoubtedly be a league double over reigning champions Liverpool.
County have done well to retain the majority of their star players, with the loss of England World Cup star Alex Greenwood being the only major casualty. They had brought in the promising Natasha Flint from Man City but she has already left the club for reasons as yet unclear. In spite of this, the club have also acquired an array of talent in the likes of Angharad James and Maja Krantz, whilst the addition of veteran Rachel Yankey could prove crucial in what is an otherwise youthful side.
Key player – Carly Telford
The goalkeeper had a fantastic 2015, resulting in a call-up to England’s World Cup squad, and the same will be expected of her in the forthcoming campaign. Look out for more stunning saves as Telford looks to help push Notts County towards the upper echelons of the league as well as striving to become England’s No.1.
Prediction – 5th
Although the team contains few standout players, they have proved that they are a well drilled unit under manager Rick Passmoor and should find themselves in the middle of the table once again.
By far the youngest club in the WSL, the women’s section of Reading FC was only formed in 2006. Their run since has been amazing. They won the Southern Region Premier Division in their debut season and the South West Combination the following year. This was followed by a panel voting them into the FA Premier League Southern Division in 2009/10 before further promotion the next year to the National Division, at the time the top tier of the women’s game. They stuttered a little after that but, in their first season after being accepted into the WSL 2, they came a fantastic third behind Sunderland and Doncaster.
Last season – 1st (45 pts) [WSL2]
Reading built on their brilliant WSL2 debut in 2014 by being crowned champions in 2015, thus earning promotion to the top flight. The season went right down to the wire as they needed to beat Aston Villa in their final game to take the title and, despite a late fightback, they held on to win 3-2.
It’s been fairly quiet for The Royals, with one departure from the club and four players signed. The standout acquisition is that of Jade Boho-Sayo, an experienced forward who has played in the Champions League and scored 8 goals in 9 games for Bristol City last year.
Key player – Helen Ward
The departure of superstar Fran Kirby halfway through last season threatened to derail Reading’s campaign but Ward, alongside Emma Follis, more than stepped up to the plate in her place. The former Arsenal and Chelsea striker, who only returned to the side halfway through the season after having a baby, is a proven goalscorer and her goals may be vital in the club’s fight to stay in the league.
Prediction – 9th
Whilst I think Reading will be far from outclassed in this league, I don’t think they’ll be able to stay up. Their history suggests that they should be able to but, on paper, they just don’t have the strength in depth throughout the squad.
Another relatively new club, Sunderland have enjoyed plenty of success since their inception in 1999. This included three straight FA Premier League titles between 2010-13 before being accepted into the WSL2 for the 2014 season. In the face of some tough opposition, Sunderland continued their remarkable run by securing their fourth straight league title and were promoted to WSL1 at the first time of asking.
Last season – 4th (20 pts)
Very much the surprise package of the season, The Lady Black Cats found themselves fighting for the title with just a handful of games to go. However, as the season wore on the effects of having a small squad shone through as their performance dropped off. Despite this, they very much proved they belong at the top level.
Sunderland have strengthened their resources by signing some the hugely experienced Kylla Sjoman from Celtic as well as Krystle Johnson from Manchester City. The acquisition of former youth product Lucy Staniforth from Liverpool has also proved to be very popular and, alongside Brooke Chaplen, will provide excellent support for the attacking trio of Beth Mead, Keira Ramshaw and the world-class Steph Roche.
Key player – Beth Mead
The young striker took the league by storm last year and proved that she could repeat her remarkable goalscoring record from 2014 against the very best. Even when the team were struggling at the end of the season, Mead still provided a constant threat to opposition defences. On her day, arguably the best striker in the league.
Prediction – 4th
Many critics believe Sunderland will suffer from the infamous second-season syndrome but, having watched a number of their games, I think they will be even stronger this year. They have a fantastic team spirit as well as a number of high quality players and may even challenge for a Champions League spot.