28 Jun 2022 | 08:25 | Football
With the Women’s Super League season wrapped up for another year, who impressed and which teams need improvement next year? Here, Sky Sports rates each team…
It’s hard to disagree that Chelsea have had a stellar season – or at least a stellar second half of the campaign.
By their own high standards, it was a slow start for Chelsea. They lost to Arsenal on the opening day and Reading in December. It was around Christmas the Gunners looked assured of the title – but Chelsea came roaring back into form in 2022.
They were unbeaten in the WSL after the winter break, winning 11 games and drawing two. Chelsea were pushed all the way by a much-improved and determined Arsenal, but this is a team that thrives under pressure and came out on top once again.
It shows Emma Hayes’ “mentality monsters” can never be written off. A third successive WSL title – a record streak – and fifth overall, plus the Spring Series title in 2017. While the Champions League exit in the group stage on goal difference was a cruel blow after reaching the final the year before, there is still a FA Cup final this weekend to complete a domestic double.
While Hayes continues to prove herself as a tactical genius, let’s not forget about the talent she has at her disposal. Sam Kerr won the WSL Golden Boot once again and has had another standout season, Millie Bright and Magdalena Eriksson continue to lead by example in defence with Erin Cuthbert, Guro Reiten and Pernille Harder continuing to impress.
Overall, another successful season for Chelsea with another WSL title in the trophy cabinet. Now, they will be aiming for an unprecedented four in a row.
Although Arsenal fell at the final hurdle – something Jonas Eidevall said made his side feel “empty” – there is plenty for the Gunners to be proud of this season.
This campaign, they led for a huge 182 days, but the last few weeks of the season saw an unstoppable Chelsea pip them to the title.
They could not quite pick up the points needed against their nearest rivals – an area where Chelsea excelled – and will point to a damaging 2-0 defeat to eventually-relegated Birmingham as an ultimately title-costing result.
But they have played exciting, attacking football while looking assured at the back, scoring the most WSL goals this season and conceding the fewest. England internationals Beth Mead and Leah Williamson have had a hand in both at each end to pick just two standout players, making it an especially mouth-watering prospect for the upcoming Euros.
While Arsenal will want to go a step further next season and win the WSL, they should and are likely to be aiming for every cup final. They have not won a domestic cup competition since 2018.
Much of this will hinge on the future of Vivianne Miedema, who is out of contract this summer. The striker says she is yet to decide on her future and Arsenal would need a huge name to take her place if she did move elsewhere.
Six months ago, many had written off Man City this season. They were languishing in the bottom half of the table after injuries decimated their squad – Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton and Chloe Kelly were among a long list of sidelined players.
Their injury issues were perhaps epitomised as veteran midfielder Jill Scott was used as a centre-back in the early half of the season. “I played with Jill for 15 years and I’ve never seen her play in defence,” Sky Sports’ Karen Carney said.
The number of missing players City had, as well as their quality, would have been enough to hamper even the best sides and once the talent started trickling back, so did Man City’s form.
After losing 4-0 to Chelsea in their WSL meeting in November, City went on to win 13 of their remaining 15 games, drawing one and losing another – also to Chelsea.
“If you think about where we were seven or eight games in, earlier in the season, to do what we’ve done is amazing,” Taylor told ManCity.com on Sunday.
Credit must be given to the club too for not sacking Taylor when things were looking extremely bleak. The manager has proven he is the right man to succeed when all the talent is at his disposal, and they still have an FA Cup final to come. After beating Chelsea in the Women’s League Cup final in March, it sets up a mouthwatering prospect for this weekend’s showpiece at Wembley.
Ultimately, ending the campaign with Champions League football and a potential double of domestic trophies marks a brilliant year for City given their early issues. Now, they will want to push for the title and hope to keep key injuries at bay.
A positive first season for Man Utd under Marc Skinner. While Casey Stoney steadied the ship after their promotion to the WSL, Skinner has used all of his league experience to help build United further.
Things were looking ever so slightly worrying when Christen Press, Lauren James and Tobin Heath left the club in the summer with Stoney also making her exit. But signings such as Hannah Blundell, Vilde Boe Risa, Martha Thomas and Aoife Mannion has made sure the transition to a new era was pretty smooth.
Man Utd’s aim this season would have been to break the top three, although they ultimately fell at the last hurdle. Not securing Champions League football – and missing out on it to their local rivals – will give them fire for next season.
Skinner must also improve United’s ability to see games out. They lost the most points from winning positions last season (13), which will help them to secure European football for the first time.
But there is plenty to build on for next season and with a manager who knows how to be successful in the WSL
A remarkable season from Tottenham. In just their second full season in the WSL, they pushed the traditional ‘top three’ as well as Manchester United all the way. They benefitted the most from City’s injury woes and Man Utd’s lack of consistency, but struggled themselves with form towards the end of the campaign.
Rehanne Skinner’s shrewd summer acquisitions helped propel Spurs into the top half of the table, fostering a hard-working but enjoyable environment within her team. The contract extensions of key players like Ashleigh Neville and Shelina Zadorsky – as well Skinner herself – is the marker of how exciting the future is at Spurs.
A Champions League finish was always going to be a bonus, and despite a winless run during the final few weeks, can still be viewed as a great success.
Skinner told Spurs TV on Sunday: “The players have bought into the vision and what we’re trying to do here as a football team. As a result of that, it’s got us some fantastic results and upset a few people along the way, which has obviously been great.
“We’ve got ourselves in and around the top three for large chunks of the season and it’s all down to the work they’ve put in and investment they make into this team on a daily basis.
“We’ve pretty much cleared 10 points from last season and jumped higher up the table so it’s a fantastic achievement for everyone, the whole club and I’m really pleased and grateful for the support from behind the scenes.”
As many around the club have said themselves, it’s now about building and maintaining the progress this season to further test the teams around them. They have the players, manager and facilities to do so.
Another team that is relatively new to the WSL by all accounts, a sixth-place finish for West Ham is certainly a success. Olli Harder made his team difficult to beat, but will also look to seeing games out as an area to improve, losing eight points from winning positions this term.
They also reached the FA Cup semi-finals, ultimately losing to Man City, and have one of the brightest girls academies in the league.
But this summer will test the Hammers. Harder announced his departure after the final game of the season, with former West Ham midfielder Paul Konchesky taking over on a two-year deal. They will also lose captain Gilly Flaherty, who will be searching for a new club this summer.
West Ham may need to tap into that young talent to help them next season and improve further on what Harder had implemented this year. However, any push above mid-table will likely take a few more years to craft.
It’s a halfway mark for Brighton after a middling season. Hope Powell’s side began brightly in a bid to beat their highest league finish of sixth from the 2020/21 campaign.
They won six of their opening seven games – losing only to Chelsea – and looked on course for a European push. But after a 1-0 win against Leicester on November 14, would go on to win just three more WSL games this season.
They suffered defeats to the bottom two in their reverse fixtures, but did grind out a respectable 0-0 home draw against Chelsea in January. In both of their WSL matches against Man City, they conceded 13 goals and scored twice.
But Brighton were just a place and a point worse off from their best WSL tally from the previous year and were never truly in danger of a relegation battle. They will want much more though and with the wealth of experience from Powell guiding the way, there is still plenty of potential there for Brighton.
Another solid season for Reading and Kelly Chambers. She is the WSL’s second-longest serving manager behind Emma Hayes and continues to pave the way for talented female coaches.
Summer signing Deanne Rose has been one of the revelations of the WSL season, fresh off her Olympic gold with Canada in the summer of 2021. She was Reading’s second highest scorer in the WSL this season (4) and registered the most assists (3).
But they will lose another big player in Natasha Harding this summer, following Fara Williams’ departure last year. This will give Chambers and Reading another big hole to fill heading into the new season.
While the Royals were never considered relegation contenders this year, the question remains will they ever push further up the table? The WSL is becoming more and more competitive – and only continuing to grow with the arrival of Matt Beard’s Liverpool next year – and Reading could be in danger of being left behind.
There was plenty of summer hullabaloo when Carla Ward jumped ship from Birmingham to Aston Villa, taking Hannah Hampton with her. Their season proved to be another of consolidation in their second WSL season.
Ward has put together a talented squad as well – Remi Allen and Alisha Lehmann have impressed. Jill Scott and Anita Asante also brought experience, although the latter will be retiring this summer and Scott returning to parent club Man City.
It means Villa will be looking for more leaders in their dressing room, and really need a reliable goalscorer. They scored the fewest number of WSL goals this season (13) and had the fewest number of goalscorers (6).
Again, room to improve for Aston Villa as they look to be more than just a potential relegation contender next year.
It was not Everton’s year. Much of the pre-season hype was their potential push of the traditional ‘top three’ and how they might fare with European football the following year. The club also broke their transfer record to sign Hanna Bennison in the summer and welcomed Toni Duggan back into the fold in two of nine summer signings.
Things quickly began to unravel with the departure of Willie Kirk in October, winning two and losing three of his opening five games. However, the defeats came against Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal, with wins against Birmingham and Reading.
Champions League-winning manager Jean-Luc Vasseur was hailed as the answer and came with an impressive CV. But he was also unable to turn things around, with The Telegraph reporting players were unhappy with his training methods.
Since his departure on February 1, interim manager Chris Roberts has overseen two wins, three draws and six defeats, and there was a nervous moment where relegation was very possible.
There is plenty for new manager Brian Sorensen to compete with and organise when he arrives this summer. However, one of the most important aspects is Everton remain a WSL club.
It was job done for Leicester this season – surviving relegation. It was always going to be a tough ask for the Foxes to go much higher than they finished as they steadied themselves in a competitive and demanding league.
Although Jonathan Morgan was instrumental in helping the Foxes get promoted, it was new manager Lydia Bedford that helped Leicester to all 13 of their WSL points.
They won their first game of the league season against Birmingham in December, going on to win three more games and draw once against Reading in the penultimate game of the season.
Bedford is working with the youngest squad in the WSL by some distance (24 years and 127 days), but has experience in there, including Abbie McManus, Jess Sigsworth and Jemma Purfield.
There is plenty of room for growth and improvement, with continuing additions to the squad crucial this summer, but they ultimately achieved their main goal.
It’s a sad end for one of the WSL’s founder clubs, but one that is not wholly surprising. The women’s team have long been at loggerheads with the hierarchy at Birmingham, even going so far as to send a letter to the board in April 2021 with a series of issues and grievances.
It led to the departure of Ward in the summer, with Scott Booth failing to win any of his opening games. He was replaced by interim manager Darren Carter, who almost pulled off a great escape when the Blues drew with Everton before beating Brighton – one of their three wins all season – in their final few games.
But defeats to Chelsea and Man City ultimately sent them down, although their 2-0 win against Arsenal did have a massive impact at the other end of the table. There will also be fingers pointing to the controversial defeat to Leicester in which goalkeeper Emily Ramsey was incorrectly sent off – only to have the red card rescinded a few days later.
With two points between Birmingham and Leicester, any result there could have proved vital. But overall, their squad has simply not had the quality or budget to compete in an incredibly tight league.
More than just adding better players or finding a permanent manager – although Carter would surely fit the bill – there needs to be a real culture change at Birmingham in regards to their women’s team if they are to return to the WSL.