Women's SL preview
Ahead of the new Women's Super League season Hayley Paterson assesses all eight clubs and selects her ones to watch for the forthcoming campaign...
Last Updated: 22/03/13 3:48pm
One word can sum up Arsenal; dominant. Having won 38 major trophies in 25 years - two of which are FA WSL titles, as well as last year's Continental Cup - the reigning champions will be the team everyone wants to beat this season. This could be a transitional year for Arsenal, however, following the appointment of new manager Shelley Kerr. Taking over from the success of previous chief Laura Harvey, who has gone to manage Seattle Reign in America, will be no mean feat for Kerr - but she certainly has a strong CV having been a key part of the Scottish FA and overseeing the under-19s squad. It will be interesting to see how the team, once known as 'The Invincibles', will bond with their new boss who has just seen her team take a 3-1 first-leg lead over Italians ASD Torres in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Arsenal players to watch: It is often hard to pinpoint just a couple of players for Arsenal, such is their dominance, with stalwarts Kelly Smith and Rachel Yankey still very much the first couple of names on the team sheet - their experience proving vital. However, Kerr may be sweating on the fitness of Smith who limped off in their midweek Champions League win. The prolific Kim Little is also always going to be a threat in front of goal, surging from her midfield position. But for me, the player to watch will be England international youngster Jordan Nobbs. The 20-year-old midfielder, who also scored against the Italians on Wednesday, has been tipped as 'the next big thing' following her switch from Sunderland. The daughter of former Hartlepool defender Keith Nobbs seems to be coping well with the incredible coverage she has received in such a short space of time and will certainly be one of Arsenal's big players this term.
Birmingham City Ladies:
Finishing as runners-up in last season's WSL campaign, Birmingham are a team not to be overlooked and will again be a side which should be challenging once more for top honours. Despite their disappointment of an early Champions League exit to Verona in 2012, Birmingham will take heart from lifting the Women's FA Cup last season as well as being Continental Cup runners-up for the last two years. They have had a taste of success and it looks like that drive to be Women's Super League champions has not wavered.
Birmingham players to watch: Rachel Williams is an absolute powerhouse. The England international forward has a ruthless eye for goal and the ability to pick out a pass in the blink of an eye, as well as break up any opposition attacks. It could also prove a massive season for former Arsenal player Kirsty Linnett who at just 19-years-old is Birmingham's big acquisition during the winter break. With Eni Aluko going to Chelsea, it will be interesting to see how she features in the side with several vying for those coveted forward positions, none more so than England striker Karen Carney.
Bristol Academy Women:
Not to be discounted, the Academy finished fourth last season and proved that training every day as part of their preparation really does pay dividends. Having been founded in 1998 as Bristol Rovers Women's FC, Bristol - who became known as the Academy in 2005 - have had to adapt quickly in their fledgling status and have done so with hard work and determination. That attitude has seen them claim semi-final spots in the Women's FA Cup and also lift the Gloucestershire FA Women's Challenge Cup in six of the last seven seasons. Bristol are continuing to improve, but without star striker Jess Fishlock - who is currently playing for Seattle Reign - they have a big void to fill.
Bristol players to watch: Academy ace Laura Del Rio Garcia is Bristol's mercurial forward, keen to attack at any given opportunity, the Spain international is also a bit of a set-piece specialist. Skipper Corinne Yorston also leads by example for Bristol. Despite her defensive role, Yorston is noted for her dangerous attacks and superb corner-taking abilities.
Founder members of the WSL in 2010, and needing financial help from club president John Terry, Chelsea were tipped to be competing for league honours last season, however, found themselves in mid-table obscurity. They fared better in other competitions, notably making it into an FA Cup final - a match they eventually lost on penalties to Birmingham. Their manager Matt Beard later resigned after three years at the helm with Emma Hayes taking over. This season, I can see Chelsea proving a force to be reckoned with and I'm sure they will improve on their sixth position last year, starting with a Continental Cup tie against Doncaster on Saturday.
Chelsea players to watch: England striker Eni Aluko is a top signing for the Blues. Returning to the club she played for back in 2007, Aluko possesses blistering pace and an eye for goal as well as over 60 appearances at international level. Doncaster's former captain Katie Holtham is another vital signing for Hayes' side and boasts plenty of experience from her spells in America.
Doncaster Rovers Belles:
The Belles had a disappointing time last term, finishing second from bottom and often struggled to find the net. John Buckley's side, although historically one of the longest-running clubs in the world, may struggle to compete with the big-spending clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Birmingham. However, they have a solid foundation of youth coupled with the experience of captain Leandra Little who is the heartbeat of Buckley's squad. Suffering disappointment in last weekend's FA Cup fifth round, Doncaster will be looking to progress in the Continental Cup - with Chelsea standing in their way on Saturday.
Doncaster players to watch: Sue Smith. The experienced playmaking midfielder was billed as something of a star signing for the Belles last season, however, a career-threatening injury brought her debut season with the Doncaster club to an abrupt end in her first game. She will be pivotal this season. Also, Millie Bright is one to look out for - a marauding midfielder who puts her body on the line for the club.
Former national champions, Premier League and FA Cup winners along with several other accolades, Everton have an impressive history since the 1990s. They have enjoyed a bit of action in the transfer market, notably letting elite players leave for their Merseyside rivals such as Fara Williams, Becky Easton, Lucia Bronze, and star striker Natasha Dowie who have all made the switch to Liverpool. Long-serving manager Mo Marley resigned from the club in October, with her former number two Andy Spence taking over - which should make this season's transition somewhat easier.
Everton players to watch: Nikita Parris is an academy product of Marley's and tipped to achieve great things at the club. At just 19-years-old, Parris is already part of England's junior set-up having made her debut at the tender age of 16. Regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the country, Rachel Brown-Finnis is an England regular and is excellent at one-on-one situations. Add to that the towering presence of Jill Scott in midfield and Spence has quite the squad to challenge for this year's league title.
Lincoln have been a part of the WSL for the last two years and in that time have enjoyed a best position of fourth, an achievement supplemented by reaching the semi-final of the Continental Cup. Lincoln went on to finish fifth in the 2012 campaign and claimed another semi-final spot in the Continental Cup. Glen Harris has since left the club as manager, with Rick Passmoor taking over in February - again another managerial switch which could make or break a team.
Lincoln players to watch: With very little activity in the transfer market, Lincoln's stellar signing has to be goalkeeper Karen Bardsley who had been playing in Sweden. Bardsley will also be well backed up in defence by current England captain Casey Stoney. Jess Clarke will be the one to watch for me. The tricky forward's pace is not to be taken lightly and her direct play can often prove a relentless force in breaking down teams.
With just one more goal than Doncaster last season on 15, basement club Liverpool found it difficult to cope with the demands of the Super League. However, ruthless manager Matt Beard has since come in and rebuilt the team, offloading several players and making some strong acquisitions that should see Liverpool at the right side of the table - if not, challenging for honours.
Liverpool players to watch: Beard's impressive acquisitions will all be ones to look out for, most notably 24-year-old USA international defender Whitney Engen from Los Angeles club Pali Blues. It will be interesting to see how Engen settles into her new life on and off the pitch. Everton duo Natasha Dowie, who won the FA Cup with her former club, and attack-minded set-piece expert Fara Williams (who boasts more than 100 England caps and over 35 goals for her country), could prove to be the signings of the season for me if they live up to their reputations upon making the move across the Mersey.