The new season of the FA Women’s Super League gets underway this weekend, with Manchester City looking to defend their 2016 title.
They currently hold all three English domestic trophies – with the FA Women’s Cup and the Continental Tyres Cup as well – and were unbeaten in 2016, conceding just four goals in sixteen games.
Their hopes for this season will be to continue their domestic dominance and to challenge in the European Champions League, where they reached the semi-finals last season, losing to eventual champions Lyon.
Manager Nick Cushing says that it will be their “hardest season that we’ve had”, with City’s success having provided extra motivation to their competitors.
They’ll also have to cope without stars Toni Duggan and Lucy Bronze, who left during the summer to Barcelona and Lyon respectively.
Cushing, on the outside at least, doesn’t seem phased.
He told MM: “Players will come and players will go and we’re really, really grateful for the contribution that those two players gave us, but we’re excited to where we’re going to take this team.”
Both Cushing and recent history suggests that City’s main rivals this season will be Arsenal and Chelsea.
It is a league where anyone can beat anyone though, Cushing says, and that “every game will be tough, [so] we just need to make sure we focus on that Yeovil game on the 24th and make sure that we’re ready.”
The long coach-ride down to Yeovil will be City’s opening game this Sunday, and Cushing’s side will play their first home game against Arsenal on Saturday 30 at City’s Academy Ground.
The WSL is transitioning from a summer to winter league system, bringing it in line with the football calendar that most fans are familiar with. The ten teams will play each other twice between now and May.
The Spring Series bridged the gap earlier this year, in which City came second, beaten by Chelsea on goal difference.
Cushing says that he is “really happy” that their Champions League fixtures will now be within their own league season, thanks to the move, but thinks that the gap since the previous league campaign “will motivate everybody else and we have to make sure that we don’t become complacent.”
Here’s a run-down of the teams competing in the 2017/18 Women’s Super League 1:
There are still plenty of talented players at the Etihad, despite Duggan and Bronze’s departures, with no fewer than six Manchester City players being picked in the latest England squad.
Nikita Parris, who opened the scoring against Russia in a highly convincing 6-0 victory, is one of them.
There’s also the talismanic Steph Houghton, captain of club and country and a strong fixture in central defence.
As well as Parris to provide the goals, City still have Scotland’s Jane Ross, who was their top scorer in 2016.
The most successful club in English women’s football seems to have come to an end with the arrival of City and Chelsea on the scene.
Since their league titles in the first two WSL seasons in 2011 and 2012, they haven’t finished higher than third, consistently behind the Blues and the Sky Blues.
They have some quality players though: England stars such as Jordan Nobbs and Jodie Taylor; World Cup and three-time Olympic champion Heather O’Reilly; and European Championships winners Daniëlle van de Donk and Vivianne Miedema.
Birmingham finished runners up in the WSL in 2011 and 2012, as well as reaching three cup finals in those years, but haven’t matched that success since.
Their main star name is England forward Ellen White, but they also have a lot of young talent in the squad including 19-year-old Jess Carter, who was called up to the most recent England squad.
Bristol, then under the name Bristol Academy, were runners-up of WSL 1 back in 2013, but were relegated from in 2015.
They bounced straight back and finished 8th (of 9) in this year’s Spring Series (a short competition to bridge the gap as the WSL transitioned from a summer to a winter league system).
Though City won the league comfortably in 2016, they were pipped to this year’s Spring Series by Chelsea on goal difference.
They were also runners-up during the last season-proper, and won the league title in 2015.
They have a variety of talented players at their disposal, stars from home (Fran Kirby, Eni Aluko, Millie Bright, to name a few) and abroad (South Korea’s Ji So-Yun, the United States’ Crystal Dunn, and Norway’s Maria Thorisdottir, who impressed at this summer’s Euros).
Everton were a founding member of the WSL but have been newly promoted back into WSL 1 for this season.
While they don’t currently have any big names, an array of talent has featured for the club in previous years, including Nikita Parris and Toni Duggan who came through their youth system.
Two-time winners of WSL 1, in 2013 and 2014, but have struggled since, finishing 7th of 8 teams in 2015 and 5th of 9 in 2016.
The lack of star power likely means that they will be a way off the fight for the title again this season, but they do have the third highest scorer of last season in Caroline Weir.
Reading had four players in the latest England squad, including the recent addition of Fara Williams, who has been capped 162 times.
Sunderland have immense pedigree at producing players, with Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze, and Jill Scott all having come through their ranks.
This hasn’t generally translated into first-team success, and they have finished safely mid-table since they joined WSL 1 in 2015.
Newcomers Yeovil were promoted in 2016 and finished last in the Spring Series with just one point and, as such, are likely favourites for WSL 1’s one relegation spot.
City travel there this Sunday, in a round-trip which will come close to 500 miles.