by Frank Smith
Following on from a record-breaking season last time out, the Barclays Women’s Super League is back this weekend, with several games taking place in some of the finest stadiums in the country.
With 94 players from the competition taking part in the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer – more than any other professional division on the planet – the Barclays WSL truly is Where Greatness Lives.
The impact of England winning their first UEFA Women’s EURO was felt during the 2022-23 campaign as 170 per cent more fans attended Barclays WSL matches and the effect was also seen in the Barclays Women’s Championship too, with a 75 per cent increase.
The Barclays WSL also became the most-followed women’s professional league in the world with more than two million social media followers and there was a 36 per cent increase in those watching games on the television.
And whether it is from the stands or sitting at home, there are some mouth-watering clashes to kick off the 2023-24 Barclays WSL campaign on Sunday.
Two of the top five from last season face off at Villa Park as Manchester United travel to Aston Villa for the first match of the season, with BBC Two showing the 12.30pm kick-off.
Arsenal versus Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium and Bristol City against Leicester City at The Robins’ permanent home of Ashton Gate will both be shown on FA Player at 2pm, whilst reigning champions Chelsea welcome London rivals Tottenham Hotspur to Stamford Bridge at 5.30pm, in a game which will be aired on Sky Sports.
The Barclays WSL’s broadcast partners, the BBC and Sky Sports, have helped take coverage of the women’s game to a new level and as with previous seasons, all games not selected for broadcast throughout the campaign will be shown live on the FA Player, the league’s free-to-air streaming service.
You can learn more about each of the 12 Barclays WSL teams in our season preview below and with tickets for all six games still available, don’t miss out on one of the most eagerly anticipated campaigns of all time.
BWSL team-by-team season preview
Head coach: Jonas Eidevall
Primary home ground: Meadow Park (4,067) Secondary: Emirates Stadium (60,704)
2022-23 position: 3rd
Alessia Russo (transfer from Manchester United)
Amanda Ilestedt (transfer from Paris Saint-Germain)
Laia Codina (transfer from Barcelona)
Cloe Lacasse (transfer from Benfica)
Kyra Cooney-Cross (transfer from Hammarby)
Arsenal had a disappointing start to the season as they were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League at the first qualifying round, but they will be happy with the business they conducted across the summer.
The arrivals include FIFA Women’s World Cup winner Laia Codina, finalist Alessia Russo, Swedish defender Amanda Ilestedt – who scored four goals in the tournament – Canada striker Cloé Lacasse and Australia midfielder Kyra Cooney-Cross.
The strength of the Gunners squad will be boosted further by the return of world-class operators Leah Williamson, Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema, although they will have to adapt to life without influential centre-back Rafaelle Souza.
Arsenal Women sold out the Emirates Stadium for their Champions League semi-final in May and they are set to return to the world-class ground for a minimum of five Barclays WSL games this season.
With full focus on domestic competitions, three of the world’s best to return to full fitness, some quality additions in the summer and a top-class head coach in Jonas Eidevall – not to mention the return of Kelly Smith as an assistant – Arsenal are expected to challenge for the BWSL title once again this season.
Head coach: Carla Ward
Primary home ground: Bescot Stadium (11,300) Secondary: Villa Park (42,530)
2022-23 position: 5th
Daphne van Domselaar (transfer from FC Twente)
Lucy Parker (transfer from West Ham)
Anna Patten (transfer from Arsenal)
Kirsty Hanson (transfer from Man United)
Ebony Salmon (transfer from Houston Dash)
Adriana Leon (transfer from Man United)
Aston Villa have progressed season-upon-season and will look to do the same this year by booking a spot in Europe.
From sixth in the Championship in 2018-19, to winning the title the following season, to then consolidating their place in the Barclays WSL with tenth and ninth place finishes, the 2022-23 campaign saw Villa’s steady progression continue as they ended the campaign in fifth last time out.
Villa’s recruitment last season was key, with Rachel Daly finishing as the Barclays WSL’s top goalscorer and the arrival of classy operators like Jordan Nobbs, Lucy Staniforth and Kenza Dali.
And the signs are they have recruited impressively once again across the pitch. Villa beat 14 clubs to the signing of Netherlands goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar, ball-playing England centre-back Lucy Parker has arrived from West Ham United alongside former loanees Anna Patten and Kirsty Hanson, and in attack, ex-academy product and England international Ebony Salmon will look to add pace, power and her game-changing ability, in the words of head coach Carla Ward, whose reputation continues to grow with each season.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Head coach: Melissa Phillips
Primary home ground: Broadfield Stadium (5,800) Secondary: Brighton Community Stadium (31,876)
2022-23 position: 11th
Charlie Rule (transfer from Sydney FC)
Mackenzie Hawkesby (transfer from Sydney FC)
Pauline Bremer (transfer from Wolfsburg)
Madison Haley (transfer from Sydney FC)
Vicky Losada (transfer from Roma)
Maria Thorisdottir (transfer from Manchester United)
Li Mengwen (transfer from Jiangsu)
Tatiana Pinto (transfer from Levante)
Jorelyn Carabali (transfer from Atletico Mineiro)
Sophie Baggaley (transfer from Manchester United)
Nicky Evrard (loan from Chelsea)
The 2022-23 campaign did not go to plan for Brighton & Hove Albion, with four managers taking the reins across the season and the Seagulls finishing second from bottom.
The arrival of Melissa Phillips helped steady the ship at the end of last season and the former London City Lionesses coach has reiterated the club still harbour hopes of becoming a top-four team, even if she recognises it may take time.
Whilst there was a major overhaul on the sidelines last season, there has been similar to the squad this summer, with some key players departing, including the Barclays WSL record save-maker Megan Walsh, who left for West Ham United, and former England striker Danielle Carter.
Brighton seem to have recruited wisely with the arrivals of several players with Barclays WSL experience, including defender Maria Thorisdottir, midfielders Vicky Losada and Tatiana Pinto, plus forward Pauline Bremer, who scored the extra-time winner for Wolfsburg which knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage last season.
Centre-back Jorelyn Carabali also joined this summer having impressed while playing in all five of Colombia’s matches at the World Cup and in attack, Brighton already have two of the Barclays WSL’s most exciting young talents in England international Katie Robinson and Norway’s Elisabeth Terland, who was named the division’s player of the month in April.
Head coach: Lauren Smith
Home ground: Ashton Gate (27,000)
2022-23 position: 1st (promoted from the Championship)
Carrie Jones (transfer from Manchester United)
Megan Connolly (transfer from Brighton & Hove Albion)
Amalie Thestrup (transfer from PSV)
Jamie-Lee Napier (transfer from London City Lionesses)
Satara Murray (transfer from Racing Louisville)
Amy Rodgers (transfer from London City Lionesses)
Brooke Aspin (loan from Chelsea)
Kaylan Marckese (loan from Arsenal)
Sille Struck (transfer from Levante Las Planas)
Jess Simpson (loan from Manchester United)
After two seasons in the Barclays Women’s Championship, Bristol City are back in the Barclays WSL and in the words of head coach Lauren Smith, are out to surprise a few teams.
The Robins may not have the financial backing of the men’s Premier League like most in the division but they do have a lot going for them and look forward to welcoming fans to the 27,000-capacity stadium Ashton Gate.
Bristol City’s recruitment has been a good blend of players with Barclays WSL experience, like Brighton’s Megan Connolly, Arsenal goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese and forward Amalie Thestrup, who played for West Ham on loan last season, and a host of exciting young talent, such as Wales international Carrie Jones, who spent last season on loan at Leicester City and worked with Smith previously at Cardiff City.
The Robins, who have seen captain Aimee Palmer depart for Leicester City, were also delighted to retain England Under-19 international Brooke Aspin on loan following her sale to Chelsea. The centre-back has stated she hopes to become world-class one day and is relishing the chance to face some of the best strikers on the planet this season.
Head coach: Emma Hayes
Primary home ground: Kingsmeadow (4,561) Secondary: Stamford Bridge (40,343)
2022-23 position: 1st
Ashley Lawrence (transfer from Paris Saint-Germain)
Nicky Evrard (transfer from OH Leuven but loaned to Brighton & Hove Albion)
Mia Fishel (transfer from Tigres)
Sjoeke Nusken (transfer from Eintracht Frankfurt)
Catarina Macario (transfer from Lyon)
Alejandra Bernabe (transfer from Atletico Madrid but loaned to Real Sociedad)
Hannah Hampton (transfer from Aston Villa)
Brooke Aspin (transfer from Bristol City but loaned back)
Wieke Kaptein (transfer from Twente FC but loaned back)
Chelsea have won the last four Barclays WSL titles and they have every intention of doing the same this season.
In Emma Hayes, they have a manager who knows how to win and will not accept standards dropping so whilst the Champions League may have alluded them thus far, we can expect the Blues to be challenging in all four competitions once again.
Chelsea have seen club captain Magdalena Eriksson and forward Pernille Harder leave for Bayern Munich but as with every summer, the Blues have looked to strengthen their squad once again.
Lyon and USA forward Catarina Macario, fellow countrywomen Mia Fishel and Canadian international Ashley Lawrence have all joined, plus they will have Fran Kirby to return after she missed much of last season through injury.
The Blues also have one eye on the future with the signings of players like England goalkeeper Hannah Hampton, Germany midfielder Sjoeke Nusken and Under-19 international Brooke Aspin, who has been loaned out to Bristol City.
Head coach: Brian Sorensen
Primary home ground: Walton Hall Park (2,200) Secondary: Goodison Park (39,414)
2022-23 position: 6th
Heather Payne (transfer from Florida State Seminoles)
Emily Ramsey (transfer from Manchester United)
Martina Piemonte (transfer from AC Milan)
Emma Bissell (transfer from Florida State Seminoles)
Karoline Olesen (transfer from Fortuna Hjørring)
Justine Vanhaevermaet (transfer from Reading)
Alyssa Aherne (loan from Manchester United)
After a tenth-place finish in 2021-22, a more stable Everton enjoyed a positive season under the leadership of Brian Sørensen as they finished sixth last time out.
It will be interesting to see how the Toffees cope without centre-backs Rikke Sevecke and Gabby George, who joined Manchester United after they triggered her release clause on deadline day.
But the permanent capture of goalkeeper Emily Ramsey could be key and their recruitment over the summer has looked to add a more clinical edge to the side.
Martina Piemonte will be linking up with Italy team-mate Aurora Gall, while highly rated 18-year-old Karoline Olesen has been reunited with Sørensen, who promoted the Denmark youth international into the Fortuna Hjørring senior side.
After missing half of last season with an ACL injury, another member of the ever-growing Scandinavian presence on Merseyside is Nicoline Sørensen, who is back firing and has already found the net on a couple of occasions in pre-season.
Head coach: Willie Kirk
Home ground: King Power Stadium (32,212)
2022-23 position: 10th
Courtney Nevin (signed a permanent deal after leaving Hammarby IF)
Janina Leitzig (signed a permanent deal after leaving Bayern Munich)
Lena Petermann (transfer from Montpellier)
Janice Cayman (transfer from Lyon)
Aimee Palmer (transfer from Bristol City)
Lize Kop (transfer from Ajax)
Jutta Rantala (transfer from Vittsjö GIK)
Julie Thibaud (transfer from Bordeaux)
Deanne Rose (transfer from Reading)
Leicester City looked on their way to the Barclays Women’s Championship when they found themselves seven points adrift at the winter break last season but their revival under Willie Kirk saw them stay up on the final day.
Kirk, who had been the club’s director of football at the start of last season, has overseen a club overhaul this summer but it was who they managed to retain which could be pivotal.
Turning full-back Courtney Nevin and goalkeeper Janina Leitzig’s loan moves into permanent deals could prove to be a masterstroke, with Kirk admitting he was surprised he could prise the latter from Bayern Munich.
Canada international Deanne Rose had to sit out much of the last Barclays WSL season due to an Achilles injury but her capture from Reading should bolster the attack.
Head coach: Matt Beard
Primary home ground: Prenton Park (16,500) Secondary: Anfield (61,276)
2022-23 position: 7th
Teagan Micah (transfer from FC Rosengard)
Marie Höbinger (transfer from FC Zurich)
Natasha Flint (transfer from Leicester City)
Jenna Clark (transfer from Glasgow City)
Mia Enderby (transfer from Sheffield United)
Grace Fisk (transfer from West Ham United)
Sophie Roman Haug (transfer from AS Roma)
It has been a huge summer for Liverpool as the club moved into the world-class training facility of Melwood, which was the former home of the men’s team.
It was a huge objective for the women’s side and their manager Matt Beard, who is looking to return the club to former glories once again having guided the Reds to back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014.
Beard makes no secret the objective is to get back into the top five of the Barclays WSL and he is hoping forward Sophie Román Haug, who has scored eight goals in 11 appearances for Norway, can help him do that.
England Under-23 international Missy Bo Kearns will be hoping to have another impressive season as she chases a senior call-up and with other players like Japan midfielder Fuka Nagano in the squad, there is no shortage of talent on Merseyside.
Head coach: Gareth Taylor
Primary home ground: The Academy Stadium (7,000) Secondary: City of Manchester Stadium (53,400)
2022-23 position: 4th
Jill Roord (transfer from VfL Wolfsburg)
It is often said in football that “if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards” so eyebrows were raised when Manchester City only made one major signing in the summer.
However, you only have to look at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand to be reminded of just how much quality is already in this City squad.
Whether it is Alex Greenwood, one of England’s star performers, and Esme Morgan at the back, Lionesses Laura Coombs, Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly creating, or Australia’s Mary Fowler and Jamaica’s Bunny Shaw applying the finish, this City team is full of internationals, with 14 in total competing at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Gareth Taylor acknowledges last season was a transitional one, which is hardly surprising when you consider Lucy Bronze, Keira Walsh, Georgia Stanway, Ellen White and Caroline Weir all left the building.
But City, who are bolstered by the arrival of Netherlands midfielder Jill Roord, are confident they can improve on their fourth-place finish last time out and be challenging for the BWSL title once again.
Head coach: Marc Skinner
Primary home ground: Leigh Sports Village (12,000) Secondary: Old Trafford (74,310)
2022-23 position: 2nd
Hinata Miyazawa (transfer from MyNavi Sendai)
Evie Rabjohn (transfer from Aston Villa)
Gemma Evans (transfer from Reading)
Geyse Da Silva Ferreira (transfer from Barcelona)
Emma Watson (transfer from Rangers)
Melvine Malard (loan from Lyon)
Phallon Tullis-Joyce (transfer from OL Reign
Gabby George (transfer from Everton)
Irene Guerrero (transfer from Atletico Madrid)
Manchester United pushed Chelsea all the way last season in both the Barclays WSL and the Women’s FA Cup and will hope they can do the same once again as they look to balance domestic competitions and UEFA Women’s Champions League football for the first time.
After seeing Lauren James depart in the summer of 2022, this year they have watched two more world-class players leave the building in Ona Batlle and Alessia Russo.
But United appear to have recruited very well. At the back, United fan Gabby George arrived on deadline day, Spanish World Cup winner Irene Guerrero has bolstered the midfield and in attack, Brazil forward Geyse and four-time UEFA Women’s Champions League winner Melvine Malard will be supported by 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup golden boot winner, the creative Hinata Miyazawa of Japan.
With an already impressive spine to the team, which includes the world’s best goalkeeper Mary Earps, captain Katie Zelem, the charismatic Ella Toone and the classy Leah Galton – to name a few – if United’s new signings find their feet quickly, they will be a force to be reckoned with once again.
Head coach: Robert Vilahamn
Primary home ground: Brisbane Road (9,271) Secondary: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (62,850)
2022-23 position: 9th
Barbora Votíková (transfer from Paris Saint-Germain)
Olga Ahtinen (transfer from Linköpings FC)
Grace Clinton (loan from Man United)
Luana Bühler (transfer from Hoffenheim)
Martha Thomas (transfer from Manchester United)
Zhang Linyan (loan from Wuhan)
Tottenham Hotspur’s flirtation with Barclays WSL relegation last time out was a bit too close for comfort but Spurs are entering a new era following the arrival of head coach Robert Vilahamn.
The former BK Häcken boss has a very clear idea of how he wants his teams to play and has spoken of how performance in these opening weeks is more important than the results, with no plans to come up with an end-of-season objective until around Christmas time.
It is fair to say the British record transfer fee signing of Beth England in January paid off as her 13 goals in 14 games in all competitions helped keep Tottenham in the Barclays WSL, and the EURO winner and World Cup finalist has now been made club captain, although she will miss the start of the season due to hip surgery.
The summer signing of Martha Thomas from Manchester United should soften the blow of losing England in the short term and Spurs do have some talented youngsters in their ranks in the shape of youth internationals Grace Clinton, Jessica Naz and Asmita Ale, to name a few.
West Ham United
Head coach: Rehanne Skinner
Home ground: Victoria Road (6,078)
2022-23 position: 8th
Jessie Stapleton (transfer from Shelbourne)
Megan Walsh (transfer from Brighton & Hove Albion)
Katelin Talbert (transfer from SL Benfica but loaned to Djurgårdens IF)
Emma Harries (transfer from Reading)
Riko Ueki (transfer from Tokyo Verdy Beleza)
West Ham United are another club entering a new dawn under the guidance of Rehanne Skinner.
The Hammers enjoyed a good start to the 2022-23 campaign under Paul Konchesky and it was a good job they had as the East Londoners ended up winning just one of their final 12 games following the turn of the year.
The arrival of Japanese World Cup star Riko Ueki should help the Hammers’ attack which already includes France international Viviane Asseyi, who scored six and created another three in her first 15 appearances last season before going on a dry patch.
Both West Ham and Skinner enjoyed torrid second halves to the 2022-23 season but the Hammers will be hoping for a return to form under the popular and tactically astute coach.